Rahm Emanuel, the former White House staffer, and the inspiration behind West Wing’s Josh Lyman, has had a bad news week. Politicians on this side of the Atlantic will sympathise. Just a few months into his first term as Chicago mayor – a position he had to fight darn hard for – he’s being accused of betraying his city’s public school system.
The reason? This avowed Democrat, a guy who pledged to champion the cause of education, decided to send his kids to private school.
For the Examiner, it was a “snub” and an insult to the Chicago school system, most other papers emphasised just how private and prestigious the school he’d chosen was.
A blogger for NBC Chicago noted snarkily that Rahm was rich enough to go to Thailand, while the rest of his neighbourhood could barely afford Thai meals.
“Decisions he makes in that private life may have public ramifications,” wrote Edward McClelland. “If the mayor doesn’t send his kids to public school, he’ll send a message that Chicago is not a city for the middle class, but a city for well-to-do families who can afford private school tuition.”
Time and again, this issue flares up, for politicians in different countries and of all stripes. Tony Blair dealt with it over the selective Oratory school, Nick Clegg too. It even came up in an episode of spoof series The Thick of It.
How can a politician not practice what he preaches, shriek the critics, as if they can solve problems only when their children are put at a disadvantage.
Hypocrisy? Maybe? But too often it’s beside the point.