Mitt Romney's willingness to prostrate himself has been one of the many unpleasant surprises of the last year. At first, he was one of the GOP voices of reason, calling Trump a phony and a fraud who was “playing members of the American public for suckers.” Then Herr Trump waved the Secretary of State job, and Mittens set himself up for this:
Perhaps this was the very moment when he realized that he was never even going to be on the short list for Secretary, that Trump was exactly a very Trumpian revenge. Mittens took back all the mean things he said and made the trip to kiss the ring, only to be rejected and ignored. Give Herr Trump credit-- no politician has ever executed a more perfect F#@! You to a former rival.
And yet, this week, here comes Romney in the pages of the Washington Post to stick up for Trump's USED nomination, Betsy DeVos. There could be any number of reasons-- DeVos was a Romney supporter, and she circulates in the same circles of rarified richness where Trump aspires to visit, but Romney and DeVos actually live.
At any rate, Romney's defense of DeVos is really an indictment of his own failure to understand anything about education in the world of the Lesser People.
Romney understand the ed reform debates as being mostly about money.
Essentially, it’s a debate between those in the education establishment who support the status quo because they have a financial stake in the system and those who seek to challenge the status quo because it’s not serving kids well.
See that? Everyone who opposes ed reform is someone trying to make a buck off the system; the education "establishment" couldn't possibly be made up of people who have devoted their adult lives to public education, who are trained and experienced experts who understand what works and what doesn't.
And then he launches his argument in favor of DeVos.
First, he uses the old "she's rich, so she's impartial" argument. This is actually clever-- because DeVos, who inherited and married money, has never had to work for a living, she's unbiased (because being aware of and concerned about the interests of people who have to make a living is a kind of bias?) Her lack of anything remotely resembling experience with public education is a plus, you see, because she didn't come from an education job and she won't be looking for one afterwards, and so she can be perfectly unbiased while in office.
Her qualification? She "cares deeply about our children." My first question is, what does Romney mean by "our," because empathizing with that 47% of the public that is freeloading off the rich is not a Romney strong suit. If by "our" he means "we people who really count," then he may well be right.
My second question is-- seriously, is that the best qualification you can come up with? She cares deeply? When you go looking for medical treatment, do you look for an actual trained and experienced physician, or just some rich person who really cares about your health?
Next, Romney says its important to have someone who will challenge the status quo, and he pulls out the observation that we spend more for education now than we did in 1970. The establishment calls for smaller classes, which is just their sneaky way to get more teachers and more money-- certainly not because there's reason to believe that it works. And then Mitt goes on to explain that when he sent his kids off to school, he found a really cheap one where students were shoved into classrooms of 200-- ha, no, just kidding! Romney's children went to the Belmont Hill School for Boys, a school founded in 1923 by seven men looking for a school "that would allow for small classes and personal accountability." The student-teacher ration is 6:1. Tuition costs are about $35,000 per year.
The number Mitt throws out (based on CATO research) is $164,426 for K-12. Meanwhile, it costs $210,000 to put a boy through six years of the Belmont Hill School.
So when Romney says we spend too much on educating students, he actually means that we spend too much money educating students who don't come from rich families. You know. Those People.
Romney says that the "interests opposing DeVos's nominatoin" (you know-- those shadowy interests) keep mentioning that her work in Detroit has not worked out well. He tries to trot out some studies that show charter students doing better than the general population, which, given the freedom to cherry pick students, ought to be true. But it isn't. They have not only failed to succeed on their own, but the charter effect on the public system and the communities they are supposed to serve has been disastrous. Need another article-- there are plenty, including this indictment of Detroit charters by Doug Harris, who has been a charter cheerleader for New Orleans. Harris's most stinging point-- even charter-friendly philanthropists have stopped investing in Detroit's charter scene.
Romney also wants to debunk the criticism that DeVos has fought against any oversight or regulation for Michigan charters. All she wanted to do, he insists, is oppose "a new government bureaucracy intended to stifle choice and limit competition in Detroit education." Well, yes-- limiting by insisting that Detroit charters actually provide an education and account for how they're spending taxpayer money. The facts here are that DeVos opposed-- successfully--oversight that even many charter fans welcome, like not allowing a failing charter to open new branches.
Romney trots out his own experience in Massachusetts (class size doesn't matter at all) and winds back around to his main idea-- education is best served by people "who have no financial stake in the outcome" which-- wait! what? Do you suppose Mittens understands that he just argued against free-market competition as a instrument of school reform-- because that whole free-market competition thing-- which DeVos loves like she loves Jesus-- is supposed to work because when people have a financial stake in how a charter school does, they will work harder and be more innovative.
Hilariously, Romney's example of How This Works is McKinsey and Company, the king of consulting (which, I believe, involves being paid money in order to help other people make more money) and their insights into education.
So what's going on here? Is Romney a conservative or not? Does he believe in the healing, constructive power of money, or not?
Here's my best read. Romney is a plutocrat, a bettercrat who believes that Things Should Be Run by the Better Sort of People. For these folks, money is not the objective, and making more of it is not the goal-- it's just the way you keep score. If you have more money, that proves you're the Better Sort of Person. Trump has failed throughout his life to make it into these circles precisely because he doesn't understand that a true Bettercrat doesn't wave the money around, buy shiny stuff with it, fight over it, or actively pursue it.
I believe that Romney really believes that people who have no financial interest should run schools because their richness shows that they are the Better Sort of People who should run these things. But Bettercrats can't shake their belief that the only proof of success is "did it make money?"
I am truly excited that someone of Betsy DeVos’s capability, dedication
and absence of financial bias is willing to take an honest and open look
at our schools. The decades of applying the same old bromides must come
to an end. The education establishment and its defenders will
understandably squeal, but the interests of our children must finally
Capable of what? Romney never really got into that. But she's dedicated, and she's wealthy, and that should be good enough for the rest of us who are, tellingly, described as "squealing" rather than "opposing" or "arguing." We are like farm animals, not like fellow human beings who matter just as much as plutocrats. We should just shut up and let our Betters do as they will.