NEA RA: Sunday morning. “Good job, Arne.”

The headline in the New Orleans Times-Picayune described yesterday’s RA perfectly:

Teachers union chief blasts Obama administration’s education policies.

If I had questions about whether the differences between the largest teacher union in the country and the Obama administration’s education agenda would become an open issue at this RA, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel answered it in his opening speech in spades.

“Our members feel betrayed. And so do I” said Van Roekel to loud applause.

Politically, this is a real problem for Obama.

I had dinner last night at Tommy’s Cuisine, an Italian restaurant in the Warehouse District. I was joined by a friend from the UFT, the New York teacher union.

The whole NEA RA thing was a major culture shock for him.

“What’s the deal with members from the same state delegation wearing the same color shirts?”

I had to laugh. It was kind of the reverse of “Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore.” This ain’t Brooklyn.

There are two teacher unions in America. One urban and with a large minority membership. The other rural and suburban and largely white. The latter, the NEA, represents 3.2 million teachers, para-professionals, custodians, bus drivers and secretaries who work in schools.

The AFT is large, but smaller. It’s roots are in the traditional labor movement while the NEA’s are not. The AFT’s politics and political affiliations are more homogenous and reliably tied to the urban Democrats.

The NEA has provided a large base of support for the National Democratic Party. But not as reliable as it also has sizeable numbers of Republicans. Some estimate that at least a third voted for McCain in the last election.

This is all to say that given the already bleak picture Democrats face in November, to have turned a group that was a significant factor in Obama’s election into a group whose president and members now declare openly that they feel betrayed is not good news for the Democrats.

Good job, Arne.

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