Matt Damon, Education Department Engage in Bitter War Dance

It turns out that the Obama administration was quite concerned about Matt Damon's very YouTube-able appearance at the Save Our Schools rally in Washington a few weeks ago.

It's easy to see why: The rally, which was organized in part to protest the Education Department's support of "education reform" policies like greater standardized testing, merit pay, and so on, was being drowned out in news attention by the last-minute debt deal coverage, and a celebrity like Matt Damon could have the power to break through.

Now, as the Washington Post reports, Education Secretary Arne Duncan was truly worried about this, and offered to meet Damon several times before the speech. Nicely planted story from the White House, here:

It turns out that people in the Obama administration made several attempts to reach actor Matt Damon just before he spoke at last month's Save Our Schools rally in Washington D.C., blasting education policies that focus on high-stakes standardized tests.

According to two people familiar with the efforts, the administration tried to arrange a meeting with Damon and government officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, before the July 30 march. The sources declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

In fact, Duncan was willing to meet Damon at the airport when he flew into the Washington region and talk to him on the drive into the city, according to the sources. Damon declined all of the requests.

The reaction to this story neatly showcases the split among liberals on education reform.

  • If you're, say, a pro-education reform, anti-teachers unions careerist at The New Republic, you see Damon as a cowardly moron who's too scared to debate Arne Duncan: "If Damon feels he doesn't know enough about the issue to survive a meeting with Duncan with his convictions intact, then he has no business speaking at a rally."
  • If you write for the anti-education reform FireDogLake blog, you're more likely to see the weasel Duncan as trying to talk Damon down before he was likely to bring a heap of bad press on Duncan's lil' operation. "What's even more interesting," David Dayen writes, "is that the teachers who organized the Save Our Schools march were suddenly invited to a meeting with Administration officials the day before the march. I assume this occurred once the Education Department realized they couldn't get to Matt Damon. The teachers declined the invitation, and asked if they could meet after the march. They were told no. Obviously they wanted to blunt the criticism, not engage on the policy."

So is Matt Damon a coward, or is Arne Duncan a mischievous hack? You must choose, now!

[Images via AP]