July 30, 2007


Hillary Clinton wants to create a Public Service Academy providing a “paid education…just like the service academies.”

John Edwards proposes a “College for Everyone” program with the government picking up the tuition tab.

Barack Obama wants to “get the middle man out of the college loan process” to make college affordable.

All three Democratic presidential candidates got enthusiastic cheers for those campaign promises from hundreds attending the College Democrats of America convention on the campus of the University of South Carolina this week. They all passed Politics 101: Knowing Your Audience.

Education was not the central issue in any of the candidates’ speeches, but it was enough to be noted and more than we’ve been hearing in the televised debates or on the campaign trail to date. Granted, education is primarily a state and local province.

Federal funding makes up only a small part of what is spent on public education—about nine percent in South Carolina.

On the other hand, substantial funding for university level research comes from federal institutions—NIH, NSF, IMLS and others. Pell grants and Stafford loans come from the federal pot. No Child Left Behind is the 2002 Bush administration legislative mandate intended to raise the performance and accountability of public schools.


Democrats almost uniformly give No Child Left Behind failing grades. It has tended to increase the amount of teaching to the test that is already compacting school curricula. It has enticed individual states to game the system because it does not create uniform standards. But so far, the solutions of the Democrats running for president have not gotten much beyond “scrap it” and “start all over.”

The three putative front-runners for the Democratic Party nomination–Clinton, Obama and Edwards—were the only ones to appear at the Cge Democrats of America convention. The University of South Carolina’s only recently revived chapter attracted the convention, in good measure, because of the state’s pivotal date early on the 2008 primary calendar.

Senator Clinton spoke to a full house Saturday morning, former Senator Edwards to a thinner Friday evening audience at an outdoor rally, and Senator Obama to an overflow crowd at Thursday’s convention kickoff. For the record, Clinton did not meet local media on her visit. Edwards took a few minutes to answer questions, mostly mine about education. Obama, waylaid after posing for photos with student leaders, was asked if he’d answer just two questions about education. “How about one?” he suggested. “How about one two-part question?” I pushed my luck. He was gracious.

Obama had told the students how he and his wife had college loans payments that exceeded their first home mortgage. “We can save $8 billion,” he said by getting the middle man out of the college loan process. “We’re also going to have to work with colleges and universities to make sure they don’t have 10% inflation every year.” (Left out of that equation is the countervailing dilemma that public university tuition goes up as state contributions go down. It’s part economics, part physics.)

Edwards’ “College for Everyone” is modeled on a North Carolina pilot. It would provide students a year of college tuition, fees and books in return for 10 hours of weekly work. Edwards would fund the program by rolling back Bush tax breaks for higher incomes.

Clinton, in addition to the Public Service Academy, calls for universal pre-kindergarten with federal funding to help states launch programs available to all four-year-olds. “It’s tragic that kids start behind and never catch up,” Clinton told the college crowd.

There’s more about the candidates’ education proposals on their web sites. Check the “issues” sections, but be prepared to hunt to find education beneath long lists of issues that include health care, poverty, taxes, energy, immigration, America’s global image and, of course, Iraq.


Charles Bierbauer draws his interests in media, politics and education together as Dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina. The views here are his own, not those of the university. He is a former CNN political correspondent and currently is a consultant and senior contributing editor for SCHotlline.




Charleston—The eight Democrats running for president were at center stage, but the spotlight at the CNN/YouTube debate was on technology. CNN, not surprisingly, hyped the debate to the nth degree. Just about every local reporter circling The Citadel’s parade ground called it “unique” or “groundbreaking.”

Conceptually, it wasn’t. Town meetings have been a staple of politics for a couple of centuries. Technologically, it was. Sort of. We’ve had Internet questions inserted into televised debates before. CNN’s PR squad might recall the network used the Internet approach in its recent debates in New Hampshire.

Still the marriage of old reliable CNN (after all, the network’s been around since 1980) and the online upstart YouTube was visually innovative. Self-effacing people in t-shirts and ball caps asking questions, rather than self-important journalists in suits and ties. I liked it. Why not YouTube?

True, about 80 percent of the questions could predictably have been asked by journalists. The other 20 percent, though, exposed the intimacy, tragedy and everyday dilemmas of American citizens in a way that journalists would not have asked. We journalists tend not to talk about our illnesses, finances or sexual orientation. We don’t pose as snowmen. Well, most of us don’t.

The questions—38 by my count out of close to 3000 submitted, by CNN’s count—ranged too widely for much lasting dialogue. Moderator Anderson Cooper, at times, prodded the candidates. Other times, he seemed rushed to get to the next YouTube submission. The candidates, fortunately, have now been in enough debates to engage and challenge each other. There is more telling body language and less deference.

When Bill Richardson said he’d have all U.S. troops out of Iraq in six months, Hillary Clinton and others questioned the practicality of a hastened withdrawal. When relief workers in Darfur questioned America’s absence from that scene of genocide, Richardson and Joe Biden could say they had been there. We need to hear about these places before the U.S. gets embroiled in another foreign war zone, assuming we can extricate ourselves from what the candidates repeatedly called the “quagmire” of Iraq.

As an educator, I’d like to hear more about the candidates’ views on education.

Barack Obama showed a sense of place when the candidates were asked if there should be reparations for slavery. “The reparations we need right here in South Carolina is investment…in our schools,” Obama said, citing the state’s so-called “corridor of shame.”

There were three questions about education, but one was a throw-away: “who was your favorite teacher.” Another sought, but failed, to provoke a public-private divide. Well-off Democrats send their kids to private schools, too.

The only effective question on education brought uniform denunciation of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind program. “Scrap it. It doesn’t work,” said Richardson. “It was a mistake. Start from the beginning,” added Biden.

Afterward in the “spin room”—a no-tech holdover from late 20th century politics—

former S.C. Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum noted that the federal government accounts for only nine percent of the state’s education funding, but has been “invasive” through No Child Left Behind. The question Tenenbaum, an Obama backer, would have asked the candidates: “How will you close the achievement gap?”

Also in the spin room, Democratic Party national chairman Howard Dean was effusive, calling the debate “fantastic.” Dean, an early adapter of the Internet for political campaigning, said he “knew it would be good because it was different.”

That means when the Republicans get their YouTube turn in September in Florida, it will no longer be different. How long today’s gimmick will last is anyone’s guess, but remember the Internet is heavily populated by surfers with purportedly short attention spans.

South Carolina voters will get at least one more look en masse at the candidates, or those that remain, with debates for Republicans (on Fox) and Democrats (on CNN) planned for January. Format? How about an old-fashioned town meeting?


Things you didn’t see on the CNN/YouTube debate:

The names of the 12 Citadel alumni who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, though reference was made to them. The names are posted outside Summerall Chapel.

A small plane circling the campus trailing a banner that read “” Not too many years ago, the Citadel was compelled by the U.S. Supreme Court to admit women cadets. But this was about Hillary Clinton.

The bookshelves of The Citadel’s gift shop had books by or about Clinton, Obama and John Edwards. Also Republicans Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and non-candidate Newt Gingrich.

The political biographies were displayed near a slim volume titled “The Art of Good Taste: A Guide to Social Skills for Ladies and Gentlemen.” Read whatever you like into that juxtaposition.


Charles Bierbauer covered political debates, among other things, for 20 years as a CNN correspondent. He is now dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Dean Bierbauer is also the senior contributing editor and consultant to



July 18, 2007


by Charles Bierbauer 

There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse. Ronald Reagan said it. So, apparently, did Winston Churchill, Lord Palmerston and a posse of others. I heard Reagan say it, and that’s good enough for me. Almost as good as a horse.

A week of riding in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado is my idea of therapy. A week without television, radio, most newspapers, e-mail, cell phones and all but one call that seeped through the aspens and ponderosa pines to reach me is the antidote for ennui. A week without politics is close to heaven.

President Reagan, on one Air Force One flight back to his beloved Rancho del Cielo in California’s Santa Ynez mountains, called his place “688 acres of dog heaven.” But what our 40th president really liked to do there was saddle up and put at least some of the cares of office in his saddle bags for a while.

Whether sitting in the saddle on long climbs or sitting on a rock in mountain meadows, my riding companions and I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about politics.

I’m not entirely sure why amid a small cross-section of Americans from Massachusetts to California. A doctor, a lawyer, businessmen, a plumber. No one slapped any bumper stickers on their horse’s haunches.

When politics and the coming election did filter into the conversation, it was more as a quandary. “I’m not a Democrat, not a Republican,” one companion explained. “I just want a strong person in the office.” Emphasis on “strong.” An executive in the field of health care, he contemplated a Hillary Clinton victory and recalled her role in her husband’s endeavor to reform health care back in 1993. “I guess we’d have to learn to work with her.”

Lingering over second and third cups of after dinner coffee one evening, another ranch guest lamented the Bush administration handling of the war in Iraq. But one of the ranch’s young wranglers, an Iowa National Guardsman, was still upbeat and positive about the year he served in Afghanistan. “The people liked us,” he said, recalling the hardscrabble life of Afghan villagers in the Tora Bora area.

The mountains of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan are stark and foreboding. The San Juans of Colorado are lush and welcoming, at least under a summer sun. On a frisky horse named “Moonshine”, it’s a perfect place to forget about what’s on the other side of the mountain or around the corner on the calendar.

Around the corner lies yet another debate, CNN and YouTube. Candidates are beginning to rein in their aspirations and unsaddle from the campaign trail. The mountain horse intuitively knows the upward climb is hard work, but steady going. The descent is trickier and potentially swift. Political descents are similar.

As we descended from the Colorado mountains on our drive to the airport, we spotted a bumper sticker that reminded us of one political stream of thought:

Re Elect

No One


Incumbents and aspirants take note. The electorate is not above changing horses, metaphorically, of course. A good horse, as Ronald Reagan knew, can get you away from the travails of politics.


Charles Bierbauer was CNN’s senior White House correspondent during the Reagan administration. He is currently dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Dean Bierbauer is also the senior contributing editor and consultant to