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Las Vegas Sun - Talk of Education Takes Back Seat to War

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Location: Reno, NV

Las Vegas Sun - Talk of Education Takes Back Seat to War

By J. Patrick Coolican

About 150 people came to UNR for a Brookings Institution symposium featuring two Democratic presidential candidates, and although the topic was education, the war in Iraq hung over the proceedings.

"Until we solve Iraq we're not going to get anywhere," said Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He noted the war's cost — $120 billion this year alone — and said the spending is a major impediment to any domestic agenda.

Hanging over the proceedings was the speech made earlier in the day by President Bush at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, Mo., in which he compared Iraq to Vietnam. He made the provocative claim — not shared by the majority of Vietnam War historians although long embraced by neoconservatives — that America's withdrawal from Indochina was a mistake that led to more war, tyranny and genocide in the region.

Biden rebuked Bush. "Is he saying we should have stayed in Vietnam longer?" he said.

Biden favors easing the violence in Iraq through partitioning it into a loose federation of three states: Sunni, Shiite and Kurd.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, an experienced diplomat, also discussed Iraq at the forum and later released a statement that condemned Bush's Vietnam analysis.

Despite the war, the candidates did put on their school hats and talk education as part of Opportunity '08, a project of the Brookings Institution, the venerable centrist Washington, D.C., think tank that has sought to broaden the presidential discussion with a series of in-depth forums.

Education is an issue overshadowed this year by war and health care, although still at the top of voter concerns.

"Education is the most important issue in my judgment," Richardson said, perhaps playing to the crowd.

The New Mexico governor, who has also been a congressman, energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations, said he would scrap the Bush administration's controversial No Child Left Behind law.

He proposed universal preschool and all-day kindergarten, expressing surprise that Nevada still has half-day kindergarten for many of its students.

Richardson also proposed school-based health clinics, a healthy breakfast for children who need it and no junk food in schools.

To attract better teachers, he recommended a $40,000 wage floor for all teachers, with incentives to hire 100,000 math and science teachers.

He also discussed college affordability.

That was a central theme for Biden, who related the story of his father trying to get a loan so his son could attend the state university, only to be denied: "I'll never forget his face, that look in his eye," he said of his father's disappointment.

To hold a crowd, Biden combines poignant personal reflection, broad policy knowledge that comes from living nearly his entire adult life in the U.S. Senate, and an easily whipped-up outrage.

He also called for significant raises for teachers and 100,000 more of them to reduce class sizes, access to early childhood development and education, as well as more money for college students.

Biden closed with a verse from Seamus Heaney:

"History says, Don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme."

J. Patrick Coolican can be reached at 259-8814 or at

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