Obama's Education Trip: As Much About Campaigning as Classrooms


Alex Wagner

White House Correspondent
Given President Obama's recent (and very public) focus on education, one might think that he was stepping above the partisan fray to tackle long-term "strategic investments in America's future," as the White House would put it.

Having decided that March is, unofficially, Education Month, the commander in chief went on the road to tout education reform, a historically bipartisan issue. But a closer read of Obama's message -- and the fact that his visits were coupled with party fundraisers -- are signs that this effort wasn't simply about schools and teaching.

Despite whatever consensus exists on education, the president has used the issue strategically to draw a sharp contrast between his vision for the country and that of the GOP.

While Republicans continue to beat the drum on debt and deficit, Obama is making his case for targeted spending to help America, in his words, win the future. In so doing, Obama is seeking to cast himself (and his party) as forward-thinking and optimistic, compared with a Republican Party Democrats would like to characterize as filled with gloom and doom.

On this trip to Boston, Obama pitched the need for higher, more competitive educational standards, turning around under-performing schools, reforming teaching methods and teacher evaluation processes, creating "21st century" classrooms, and building stronger parent-teacher partnerships.
"Even as we find ways to cut spending, we cannot cut back on job-creating investments like education. We cannot cut back on the very investments that will help our economy grow and our nation compete and make sure that these young people succeed," Obama said Tuesday at the TechBoston Academy, which integrates technology throughout all of its academic courses.

While this is not the tough-talking partisan rhetoric of the 2010 election cycle -- remember the metaphor about the GOP "driving the car into the ditch?" -- make no mistake: the president is on the campaign trail.

And beyond the rhetoric about education, the president also engaged in the most classic of campaign activities: raising money. At each of his last two stops to tout education reform, Obama made time to hit Democratic congressional campaign fundraisers.

In Miami last Friday, he stopped in at two Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) events: the first was at the ritzy Fountainbleau hotel and the second at a private home. Donations from both events totaled an estimated $1 million.

In Boston on Tuesday, he stopped in at the Museum of Fine Arts for another DSCC event, where he raised another million.

Obama is a legendary fundraiser: After drumming up an unprecedented $750 million in his 2008 campaign for president, he used the same skills to rack up millions for Democratic candidates in the 2010 campaign. In August alone, the president filled Democratic coffers with nearly $8 million. And for the 2012 presidential election, analysts say Team Obama is on track to haul in a record $1 billion.

The president, of course, has not officially entered next year's race (like so many GOP contenders) -- and so the funds he's raised thus far are mostly for the Democratic Party. But all signs point to a reelection team with a battle plan for the months ahead.

As my colleague Lynn Sweet points out, Obama campaign chair Jim Messina was also recently in Miami, though not with his boss. On Tuesday, Messina was scouting the town for -- what else? -- big-ticket donors who might be called upon for contributions to President Obama's 2012 campaign.