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Obama and McCain Fight Over A Woman

As the two presidential candidates fight over vouchers and charters in their third debate, DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee gets a shout-out. Where was she? "Asleep," she says. But she dismisses any talk of her becoming the next Secretary of Education as "ridiculous."

When D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee got a shout-out from Barack Obama in the third presidential debate on Wednesday night, she was asleep. "I was trying to watch it," she tells Fast Company. "But it was so boring. Then, all of a sudden, my phone and BlackBerry start blowing up. Someone sent me a link to the transcript, and I saw what they said, and I was like, 'Oh, good Lord!'"

It wasn't a surprise that both candidates, who have used the words "reform" and "change" about a million times in an effort to be seen as forces of reform and change, tried to align themselves with the only woman in Washington who can unmistakably be called a maverick and a reformer. Obama praised her as a "wonderful new superintendent"; McCain tried to pull Rhee over to his side, citing her as a supporter of vouchers. Obama shot back that she was a supporter of charters, implying that she was against vouchers.

Who was right? The National Review and the Washington Post’s Marc Fisher came down on McCain’s side, claiming that Rhee supports vouchers. Mike DeBonis of the Washington CityPaper reminded readers that Rhee told the Wall Street Journal she "would never, as long as I am in this role, do anything to limit another parent’s ability to make a choice for their child. Ever."

But as far as I can tell, it was the blog Sassafras Mama that got it closest in its liveblog, saying "Michelle Rhee, the Superintendent of D.C schools supports charters, but as I understand it, she doesn't support a widespread system of vouchers." Rhee’s office quickly issued a statement that said she "disagrees with the notion that vouchers are the remedy for repairing the city’s school system." But she reiterated to Fast Company that she has "not taken a formal position on vouchers," and she said she won’t—because she’s more concerned about fixing the schools where nearly 50,000 kids are still being educated.

The back-and-forth was enough to get some post-election buzz going about Rhee. Matthew Bishop of the American Spectator instantly touted her for Secretary of Education, in either administration.

Rhee hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for either candidate, but told me earlier this year that McCain has the much stronger education policy from her point of view. "He isn’t great, but he hasn’t said he’s going to throw NCLB out—and now everyone who says I’m a right-wing wingnut is going to be like, 'I knew it!'" she said.

As for Obama, she told me in May that what he might do on education policy "terrifies me," even though she’s a staunch Democrat. She criticized his stance on No Child Left Behind, which she portrayed as "an ‘NCLB is evil, sucking the life out of teachers’ angle. It’s a total victim mentality." (Obama did voice support for charters, which won’t be good news for his hard-core union supporters.)

That might take care of her Sec of Ed prospects in a Democratic administration, but let’s say the White House did call her in January and offer her that job. How would she feel? "People say that I’m not even qualified for this job," she says with a laugh. "I think that would be ridiculous."

Photo by Ali Goldstein / NBC Newswire/ Alessandra Petlin / Mountaineer / Flickr creative commons

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  • Gena Jackson

    As a boomer woman myself, I will be glad when this election and all the tactics of dirty politicians quieten down. This boomer is also afraid of Obama's stand on school policy.

  • Gena Jackson

    As a boomer woman myself, I will be glad when this election and all the tactics of dirty politicians quieten down. This boomer is also afraid of Obama's stand on school policy.

  • John Agno

    Actually, they are fighting for votes from many undecided boomer women.

    White women age 45 to 64 are one of this year's most hotly contested voting blocs, evenly divided between Barack Obama and John McCain, and wide open to being pulled either way, according to a recent Associated Press-GfK poll.

    A sizable 44 percent of them remain persuadable--that is, either completely undecided or favoring one candidate while conceding they may change their minds. That's bigger than the 33 percent of all voters still persuadable!

    About one is six voters in the 2004 presidential election was a white woman in that age range, exit polls showed. These are the Boomer women--middle-aged children of the post-World War II generation. Many are veterans of balancing jobs with running households, and often acutely aware of their families' economic pressures because they write the checks, buy the groceries and fill the tank with gas.

    These Boomer women are valued and needed to exercise their responsibility, serious work ethic, "can do" attitude and competitiveness in stopping the bankruptcy of their country. They need to exercise their leadership capabilities in finding, promoting and voting for the best political candidate in 2008 who is for sound money, reasonable tax policies, and ready, willing and able to fight terrorism the way Canada, Sweden and Switzerland do.

    They are feisty, used to demanding answers and making choices. With a worldwide economy that's lurching toward recession, they're demanding that the presidential candidates show them concrete solutions to the financial crisis and other problems.

    As a group, these middle-aged white women have not yet been swayed by either contender in contrast to black and Hispanic women, who back Obama by the same heavy proportions that minority-group men do. They're split between McCain and Obama, and identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans in about equal numbers, the AP-GfK poll showed.

    While voters overall trust Obama more than McCain on the economy, Boomer women in the AP-GfK poll are about equally split over which candidate they prefer on the issue, though they narrowly say Obama better understands how the financial crisis affects them.

  • Karma Martell

    I have heard Michelle Rhee speak and she is a force. Very passionate about what she does and highly intelligent.