One of the infuriating things about Barack Obama is the way he can be both totally right and totally wrong at the same time, even in the course of a single interview.
A reminder of this came recently in an interview the president gave to Bloomberg Businessweek and Bloomberg News.
There was one Obama in that interview who I wanted to hug and cheer. That was the Obama who criticized, “socialist approaches to the economy that stifled creativity and growth and innovation in India.” And the Obama who said America isn’t close to fulfilling its economic potential. “I do believe we can grow a lot faster than we’re growing right now,” the president said.
Then there is the other President Obama, the woefully out-of-touch-with-reality one I want to grab by the shoulders and ask, “What planet are you living on?”
That is the President Obama who, in this same interview, attempted to generate sympathy for the plight of unionized public school teachers.
Obama said, “Think about how difficult it is right now for a young, idealistic person who wants to go into teaching to figure out how they’re going to live a middle-class life as a teacher. There’s no job that’s more important to our economy than having really good teachers in the classroom, but right now, the way our economy is structured, it’s very hard for young people to make that decision unless the parents are subsidizing them in a fairly significant way.”
That is just nonsense. In Massachusetts, public school teachers earned an average of $74,737 in 2015, according to the Boston Business Journal. That’s significantly higher than the state’s average annual wage of $59,010, and teachers, unlike most other workers, get the summer off. (They can also earn more money by working other jobs in the summer.)
In the New York City public schools, starting salaries for teachers range from $51,650 to $81,346, according to the city’s education department. The most experienced teachers earn $119,000 a year. Benefits include health insurance plans with no employee contributions — rare in the private sector — along with dental, vision, prescription drug coverage, and a retirement plan.
How to “live a middle-class life” as a teacher? Would $119,000 or $74,737 a year, with summers off, or with some additional income from a second working family member, do it? With employer-paid health insurance? You would think that might be sufficient without much additional parental assistance, but the president doesn’t get it.
It’s almost enough to make a person wonder if the president is engaging here in some constituent service — that is, a little favor to the teacher unions that are reliable Democratic donors and political volunteers. He was not, after all, bemoaning the entry-level pay of evangelical pastors, or of lumberjacks, or of radio talk-show hosts or U.S. military personnel, to name some traditionally more Republican-leaning occupations.
The one thing that might indeed make it hard for an entry-level teacher to live a middle-class life would be a load of student debt. There, Obama has been loath to take on another traditional Democratic constituency — university professors — and instead has launched a regulatory crackdown on the for-profit and online providers that have been trying to offer lower-cost alternatives to traditional college and graduate degrees. Obama’s preferred solution has been to attempt to shovel more government subsidies into the existing higher-education system.
It’s nice to see Obama acknowledge that socialism in India stifled creativity, growth and innovation. Missing, alas, is an acknowledgment from the president that it can happen here, too.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative. His column appears Sunday.