NYTimes Report on DeVos’ Hearing Illustrates Republicans Double Standards, Artful Framing of Debate
I just finished watching the NYTimes video and reading the NYTimes article on Betsy DeVos Senate confirmation hearing held yesterday and find myself bemoaning the Republicans double standard in reviewing appointed and begrudgingly praising Lamar Alexander for his artful framing of the debate as committee chair.
It is appalling to see the Republican party’s dramatic shift in the process used to review of cabinet appointments. When they were in the minority in 2008 and Mr. Obama was the President elect then Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell insisted that the Senators on the hearing committee receive a full report from the Ethics office and an FBI clearance for each nominee before a hearing was convened. From my perspective as a “good governance” advocate, this was eminently reasonable and given Mr. Obama’s choices for each cabinet position and the full staffing in the Ethics office it was possible to do so. Furthermore, as the Times article notes, Committee Chair decided to limit each Senator to a single round of five minutes of questioning of Ms. DeVos, a break from the typical method of providing two rounds of questioning. As Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut noted, “It suggests that this committee is trying to protect this nominee from scrutiny.” Given Ms. DeVos glaring lack of qualifications and advocacy for funneling public funds to religiously affiliated schools and her advocacy for deregulated charter schools, Mr. Alexander’s structure for the hearings was artful.
But Mr. Alexander’s framing of Ms. DeVos’ qualifications was even more artful. He said opposition to her appointment was based on three elements: her support for public charter schools; her advocacy that poor children be given more choices for where their children attend public schools; and the use of her “considerable wealth” to advance those ideas. Mr. Alexander is no fool. He must know that the opposition to her is rooted in her advocacy for deregulated and privatized charters and her openness to using public funds for religiously affiliated schools. He must know that the value of the vouchers he is advocating for each child are far below the amount any child raised in poverty can use— that is unless they want to attend a cut-rate for-profit charter school or a religiously affiliated school that underpays their staff and can exclude children based on their religious beliefs. He also must know that Ms. DeVos has used her “considerable wealth” to effectively bully State legislators to endorse some of the ideas she advocates, ideas that have not resulted in an improved education for her state.
Mr. Alexander is also an adroit politician… which is why he was able to point out that the Democrat party has also supported “public charter schools”, tacitly inserting the words “deregulated for-profit” in front of that phrase. Moreover, he noted that this is now a popular public sentiment.
And this is where the Democrat party’s record comes into play. Under President Obama the party supported Race to the Top which effectively advocated for the privatization of “failing schools” and thereby facilitated the expansion of privatization. Indeed, the Democrat’s track record on public charters only varies from Mr. DeVos in two significant respects: she wants to strip all regulatory oversight away and she wants to allow public funds to follow children into religiously affiliated schools. And while the public may support public charters, I doubt that they would support the funding of institutions like Trump University that bilk students into paying large sums for a worthless degree or madrases that teach the Koran.