Disagreement Without Hate or Hyperbole

This week Senator Elizabeth Warren urged Massachusetts's Governor, Charlie Baker, to be more assertive in his repudiation of Donald Trump's candidacy for president. Baker, a Republican, declared earlier this political season that he would not vote for Trump, but as Politico reports, Warren wants him to go further:

“It’s not enough for any Republican leader," Warren said. "It’s not enough to do this dance in-dance out, ‘Oh, I’m not voting for him but on the other hand I’m not going to condemn what he said … Donald Trump is right now the leader of the Republican party. I think that means that every Republican needs to make clear where they stand.”

Senator Warren and I agree on this issue. In August I argued that:

Governor Charlie Baker … should dispense with his public ambiguity and endorse Hillary Clinton for president, thus avoiding causing political headaches for Democrats who go to the polls in November. The Republican governor has said that he will not support his party’s presidential candidate, but that’s not going far enough. 

Senator Warren and I agree on a lot of other things besides this, including protecting women’s reproductive rights and the role of government in curbing the financial sector’s excesses. We disagree, however, on a local ballot question that would allow for the expansion of Massachusetts’s strong charter schools.

Even in a statement defending her position against lifting the statutory cap on charters, Warren celebrates the performance of the state’s high-performing public charter schools. She is correct in that assertion, and researchers from Stanford, MIT, and the Brookings Institution agree that charter schools in Massachusetts overwhelmingly outperform comparable schools. The only justification Warren provides for her position against the ballot question is an unsubstantiated suspicion that expanding charters will come at the expense of traditional schools. As Tom Kane, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, writes in Commonwealth Magazine, “When students choose to attend charter schools, a school district suffers a loss in enrollment, analogous to having its geographic boundaries redrawn … Once the adjustment is made, there’s no reason to believe that the school district will be any less viable.” In other words, Kane’s research negates Warren’s speculation.

Warren is right to be concerned about all schools in the Commonwealth, but she’s wrong to blame charters for the others schools’ woes. Charters are a symptom of public education’s missteps, not their cause. The racial and socioeconomic opportunity gaps in this state were around long before charters showed up. The same goes for the financial fragility of the Commonwealth’s tiny school districts. In her statement she expresses “hope that the Legislature” can solve these problems, which is admirable, but obviated by that legislature’s failure to do just that for the last five years.

I trust that Warren’s disagreement with lifting the cap comes from a place of principle, even if that principle involves privileging certain stakeholders over others in a way that disappoints me. While the Senator is wrong on this issue, my disagreement does not involve invoking hate, falsehood, or hyperbole, nor does it mean that we cannot agree on other issues. It does mean, however, that I intend to hold Senator Warren accountable for both pushing a legislative solution for these issues, which she has not yet done, and for defending the assertions that led to her decision, which I do not believe stand up to factual scrutiny.

The tenor of our politics has become toxic, and that’s bad not just for interpersonal dynamics, but also for the policy issues at hand. Progress seems possible when we have an existence proof for political agreement. Often the faith to pursue that path can be found in shared values. The Senator and I share many of the same values, so my hope is that we can find our way to agreement in the future.