Education Secretary Arne Duncan invited 4,000 department employees to attend the Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Reclaim the Dream” rally, organized to counter Glenn Beck’s and Sarah Palin’s “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial, reports the Washington Examiner.
Although the e-mail does not violate the Hatch Act, which forbids federal employees from participating in political campaigns, Education Department workers should feel uneasy, said David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute.
“It sends a signal that activity on behalf of one side of a political debate is expected within a department. It’s highly inappropriate … even in the absence of a direct threat,” Boaz said. “If we think of a Bush cabinet official sending an e-mail to civil servants asking them to attend a Glenn Beck rally, there would be a lot of outrage over that.”
Brookings Institution director Russ Whitehurst, a Department of Education program director from 2001 to 2008, said, “Only political appointees would have been made aware of such an event and encouraged to attend.”
Sharpton’s event, held on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, featured praise of President Obama and jabs at the Tea Party, the Examiner reports.
“[Conservatives] think we showed up [to vote for Barack Obama] in 2008 and that we won’t show up again. But we know how to sucker-punch, and we’re coming out again in 2010,” Sharpton said.
In his remarks, Duncan called education “the civil rights issue of our generation.”
Education Department spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya defended Duncan’s decision to speak at the rally and ask department employees to attend. “This was a back-to-school event,” she said.
President Obama will give his second annual Back to School speech on Tuesday, Sept. 14. It will be available for broadcast in schools and online. Last year’s speech raised a lot of fuss, culminating in a big fizzle as Obama told students to work hard in school.