In an American political system ripped apart by partisanship, the school choice movement stands out as a rare example of centrism, former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Tuesday. But the movement can build even better bridges if it eases up on the name calling and finger pointing, he continued.
“We cannot demonize our opponents,” McCurry told several hundred people at the American Federation for Children summit in Washington D.C. “I hear too often, as I do the work I do at (the Children’s Scholarship Fund), hear people talk about teachers unions in a way that’s frankly ugly. Those people love our children just as much as anyone in this room. They happen to be particularly wrongheaded about the way … to improve their lives. But it’s not because they are ill motivated.”
“We need to recognize that, and have compassion for the people on the other side,” he continued. “Not everything needs to be mud wrestling on CNN with people calling each other names. … We’ve got to nurture the better angels on that side and understand where they’re coming from.”
McCurry worked for liberal Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (himself a strong school choice supporter) early in his career and later for President Bill Clinton. He serves on the board of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides privately funded scholarships for low-income students in grades K-8.
The school choice movement’s appeal to all points on the political spectrum is a source of pride, McCurry said. The movement needs to continue doing the hard work of making the center hold, of putting aside differences on other issues to find common ground on kids and education. He suggested it might even model good behavior in other realms.
“We should be thinking of this movement as part of the antidote to the poison that’s now invaded our political system,” he said. “It makes everything you do more noble than it already is.”
McCurry also put a little pep talk into his speech, telling the audience it should keep the big picture in mind when there are short-term setbacks.
“Look back at the road we’ve travelled,” he said. “We’ve got the momentum on our side.”