Common Core Could Be a Problem for Hillary Clinton

Dr. Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Dr. Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Which presidential candidate is most likely to be tripped up by their position on the Common Core? Jeb Bush comes to mind, of course. Yet the candidate whose support for Common Core could be most personally perilous—and most consequential for the larger 2016 race—is Hillary Clinton.

Yesterday, Clinton effectively endorsed the Common Core. Yes, she threw a bone to liberal opponents of Common Core by calling on teachers to "lead the way" in further developing these national standards. It's obvious from Clinton's overall remarks, however, that she supports Common Core.

That is hardly surprising, since Bill and Hillary Clinton both strongly supported Goals 2000, the de facto national education standards that were a kind of stillborn predecessor to the Common Core. Like Common Core, Goals 2000 amounted to a roundabout strategy for nationalizing American education, using federal grants to states as lures. And as with Common Core, GOP establishment politicians and businesses generally supported Goals 2000, while a phalanx of grassroots opponents fighting to defend the principle of local control ultimately shut the Clinton plan down.

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Hillary was deeply involved in the development and selling of Goals 2000. Around 1997 putting America's education system under effective federal control was set to be her next transformative, big-government scheme. Goals 2000 was going to redeem her after the failure of Hillarycare. But grassroots opposition and the advent of the Lewinsky scandal swept those plans aside. Hillary inserted a line in Bill's 1997 State of the Union Address that portrayed his national education program as apolitical. Echoing this yesterday, Hillary denied that there was anything political about Common Core. Supposedly this is because Common Core has supporters in both parties, but you could just as well say that opponents of Common Core are apolitical, since people on both left and right reject it. In any case, Hillary hasn't changed, right down to her rhetorical strategy on this topic.

Up to now Common Core has been a second-tier issue. Since both parties are internally split, it's soft-pedaled by pundits and candidates alike. That would change dramatically if the Republicans were to nominate a strong opponent of Common Core. At that point, Hillary and the Republican nominee would square off over what would likely emerge as a substantial national issue.

Several factors could combine to give Common Core a significant role in the general election.

Internal party splits have masked the fact that Common Core hits home with many parents and teachers. Parents favor local control, and many are just plain outraged by the crazy homework spun off of Common Core's dumbed-down math. There's a volcano of grassroots emotion ready to explode onto the national scene if this issue were to become clearly partisan.

Common Core has the additional merit of bringing out Hillary's latent weaknesses. The Goals 2000 precedent will force people back to the 1990s, reminding them that what Hillary presented in Iowa yesterday as fresh is in fact stale. This issue also drives it home that, on policy substance, Hillary has never really "grown." She's still in love with the unwieldy, centralized, big-government schemes she pushed back in the 1990s, nationalized health care and Goals 2000 alike.

Hillary's education policy also represents a powerful line of continuity between her early leftist writings and the present. Hillary's controversial articles on "children's rights" were questionable because they revealed her to be enamored of social engineering at the expense of the authority of the family. Nothing has changed. Common Core kills local control—i.e. parental control.

If there were ever a president who could legitimately raise alarms about abusing the federal role in a national standards scheme, it would be Hillary Clinton. Everything about her history says that she will take maximum advantage of any quasi-nationalized education system to impose federal control—and then hand a nationalized curriculum to the left. This is arguably Hillary's favorite issue (well, maybe tied with health care). America's schools would be her ultimate policy plaything.

In short, a battle between Clinton and a Republican nominee strongly opposed to the Common Core would put Hillary's staleness and leftist ideology directly on the table.

Recognizing this, Hillary may try to back away from yesterday's de facto endorsement of the Common Core. A GOP nominee ought not to let her obfuscate on this score. Not only is Hillary's support for Common Core perfectly evident after yesterday, but we've got a long and detailed history of her support for what amounts to the predecessor of the Common Core. Smart Republicans will make this an issue in 2016.

Stanley Kurtz, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. On a wide range of issues, from K-12 and higher education reform, to the challenges of democratization abroad, to urban-suburban policies, to the shaping of the American left's agenda.

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