This didn’t get much attention, but it’s a disappointment:

Last year, the Obama administration vowed to stop for-profit colleges from luring students with false promises. In an opening volley that shook the $30 billion industry, officials proposed new restrictions to cut off the huge flow of federal aid to unfit programs.

But after a ferocious response that administration officials called one of the most intense they had seen, the Education Department produced a much-weakened final plan that almost certainly will have far less impact as it goes into effect next year.

The story of how the for-profit colleges survived the threat of a major federal crackdown offers a case study in Washington power brokering. Rattled by the administration’s tough talk, the colleges spent more than $16 million on an all-star list of prominent figures, particularly Democrats with close ties to the White House, to plot strategy, mend their battered image and plead their case.[…]

“The haranguing had zero effect,” said Cass R. Sunstein, the White House official who oversees rule making. Rather, he and other administration officials said they listened to what they viewed as reasonable arguments and decided to narrow the scope of the original plan.

But Robert Shireman, a former Education Department official who helped shape that original plan, said the intense politics surrounding the issue played a part in “watering down” the final result.

“From early on, the industry was going to friends inside and out of the administration and saying, ‘They’re out to get us,’ and creating the impression that these regulations were unfair or irrational,” said Mr. Shireman, who left the department before the plan was finished.

Reading the article is quite depressing, and it seems almost certain that Sunstein is lying. It seems pretty clear that fundraising dollars were threatened, which isn’t outright stated but it’s not exactly difficult to read between the lines. Seems like it’d be a pretty good scandal opportunity if Republicans were interested in the integrity of education and federal regulations, but they aren’t (lucky us?), so I guess this gets dumped next to the mess that is the Volcker Rule and, well, the Plan B decision, cancelling EPA regs on smog, medical pot crackdowns and so on. I’ve given up on seeing any new greenhouse gas rules out of the EPA before the election. They’ve been teased for about a year now, something tells me they’ll be hanging out in a drawer for another 11 months at the least. I don’t know how Lisa Jackson does it–she can’t quit in this environment, and she gets messed with from all sides. Truly, one of the unsung heroes of the Administration who puts up with much more garbage than she could ever have thought she would have to (or should have to).

This is what I don’t get. The Obama Administration has made a big deal out of its “We Can’t Wait” concept, under which Obama has taken a couple of worthwhile steps unilaterally. This was well and good. But it’s hard to take it seriously when they keep backing down from taking these other steps (apparently controlling smog can wait?), giving lamer-than-lame excuses that merely reinforce the idea that this is political capitulation. It seems like every time I’ve gotten over my anger at this Administration, they toss another one of these things at me. I’m no purist, and I get that timing can be important in things, but it’s not easy to watch this steady trickle of worthy initiatives that could easily be implemented just die because the White House is worried about 30 second ads or something. And this is just bread-and-butter Democratic stuff, for the most part, that’s getting killed. At least this time they didn’t leave behind a terrible precedent for future GOP administrations to use, as when they overrode the FDA’s scientific consensus over Plan B or decided to deal over the debt ceiling, or did his thing in Libya in willful disregard of the law. At least.

For me personally, I’m long past the point where I see Obama as some sort of unique change agent–he’s a very normal example of the politician type, and this year has proven it time and again. I find it hard to see the guy as an especially responsible steward these days, or as especially willing to stand up to powerful interests in any way but rhetorically. Much as I want to believe in his Kansas speech, just how progressive is he going to be with Tim Geithner as his #1 economic adviser? As always, I say: prove it. Letting lobbyists talk you into a U-turn on for-profit schools on this just inspires little confidence when it comes time to take on, I don’t know, Wall Street. To be sure, I’m hardly going to go for whatever Americans Elect ends up being about (being American and electing?), but it keeps getting harder for me to see Obama in a generally positive way. Am I seeing this wrong? Should I hope that a second Obama term is thoroughly kickass? I’m past believing Obama has a grand plan with a 11-dimensional chessboard, there have been too many times when it’s seemed that way but just wasn’t.


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