President Jed Bartlet of West Wing backs school vouchers for low-income students, but real-life Democrats lack the courage, writes Clarence Page. On the TV show, as in real life, the mayor of Washington, D.C. and the president of the school board want a voucher experiment to help kids trapped in dreadful schools. Bartlet, a liberal Democrat, produces his young black assistant, a graduate of D.C. public schools. The assistant says he wishes he’d had a voucher to go to Catholic school. The fictional president decides to spend political capital to support vouchers.
The vignette made me wonder: Will we ever see a real-life Democratic president willing to go up against his party’s base, particularly the teachers’ unions, with the sort of statesmanlike independence that Bartlet did?
The episode’s writer, Lawrence O’Donnell, a former Moynihan aide, told Page he was “inspired by his earlier experiences as a substitute teacher in troubled schools in his hometown of Boston.”
“I saw kids academically dying before my eyes,” he said. “I found it too painful to actually look in their eyes and say, No, even if there is a better school around the corner, there are policy reasons why I cannot tell you to go there. Or help you to go there.”
Most black Americans support school vouchers, Page points out.