George McGovern & the Democratic shift on school choice

None of the recent obituaries of George McGovern – the former U.S. senator and Democratic presidential candidate who died Oct. 21 and was buried Friday – discussed his long struggle to reconcile loyalty to teachers unions with his belief that poor and working-class parents should be able to pick their children’s school.

McGovern, an end-the-war, feed-the-poor, liberal’s liberal, was for years a school choice champion. He once proposed his own tuition tax credit plan to help parents offset the cost of private school, and he was among 23 Democratic senators who co-sponsored a similar proposal from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, another liberal lion. But over time, his position changed, mirroring that of the Democratic Party as it became more dependent upon teachers union support.

Adam Emerson, founding editor of redefinED and now school choice czar at the Fordham Institute, wrote more about McGovern’s shift in this post from December 2011, shortly after the release of McGovern’s book, “What It Means to Be a Democrat.” Here’s a taste:

“We cannot abandon these schools and we will not,” McGovern announced to a throng of Catholic high school students in Chicago in the fall of 1972, according to the Washington Post. Catholic schools, McGovern added, are a “keystone of American education,” and without government help, families would lose the right to give their children an education in which spiritual and moral values play an important role.

Presidential candidates were born to flip-flop, but McGovern’s newest manifesto reminds us how far Democrats have strayed from a movement they once breathed life into. Moynihan was prophetic in 1981 when he wrote that as vouchers become more and more a conservative cause, “it will, I suppose, become less and less a liberal one.”