Opinion: Obama goes to school, talks Iraq, royalty, decimals and dog poop

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As predicted on The Ticket on Monday, President-elect Barack Obama named Chicago public schools chief Arne Duncan as secretary of Education today.

Then, as usual at these Cabinet trot-outs, he pretended to answer some questions from pre-determined media, saying virtually nothing new. (See video at bottom of post; click on ‘Read more’ line.)

He still thinks embattled Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich should resign but ducked an answer about holding a special election to fill his vacant Senate seat, as his fellow state Democrats increasingly fear an actual election over simply having Democratic Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn name a Democratic successor after dumping the incumbent one way or another.


Obama also cut off a reporter seeking a reconciliation between Obama’s previous promise to keep a hands-off approach to choosing his Senate successor and revelations that his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, did, in fact, discuss the succession with Blagojevich in meetings apparently wiretapped by federal agents but not yet released by Obama.

Obama said he wouldn’t let the reporter waste time asking a question he had no intention of answering. So there.

Next Cabinet spot up to bat: Agriculture, expected to be short-time Democratic presidential candidate and longtime Hillary Clinton-backer Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor.

The 44-year-old Duncan, like the new president and his wife, is a Harvard alum. He played pro basketball in Australia for a few years. He has run ...

... the 400,000-student Chicago system for seven years and is credited with reaching out to many constituencies, including unions, and employing more charter schools. Test scores have improved but on-time graduation rates still lag.

Obama went upstairs after the Chicago news conference to a school and actually made more news with about a dozen primary-school pupils than with the media pros downstairs. The new chief executive even got a dig in on his new No. 2, Joe Biden.

Obama, who touted the highly praised Duncan as an innovative reformer of urban public schools, has decided to send his two girls to a Washington private school anyway.

He asked today’s students what they were working on. One piped up, ‘Decimals.’ And the president-elect replied about his partner, the former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, ‘Wow! Joe doesn’t even know his decimals.’

Obama took twice as many student questions as media queries. He told one youngster he planned to have American troops home from Iraq within 18 months. (The child did not follow up whether that means all troops or if some residual security or training forces will be left behind, and what the impact on surge troop movements to Afghanistan would be.)

Obama repeated an oft-cited promise that he’d be getting his daughters a dog but added: ‘I want to make sure my daughters take care of this dog, and if they do their business, and you’ve got some poop, you don’t just leave it there.’ So watch your step if you’re invited to the White House anytime soon after Jan. 20. It takes a while to train them.

Obama said he’d be traveling to other countries next year and meeting some kings and queens. So that narrows it down somewhat. (See video below.)

The student session with the nation’s new chief executive ended on a sour note, however. The president-elect revealed that he’s considering imposing longer school days. Also, perhaps an unpleasant surprise for struggling school boards around the country who didn’t know this either.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credits: Associated Press