The Conservative Future

By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, November 19, 2012

If you listened to the Republican candidates this year, you heard a conventional set of arguments. But if you go online, you can find a vibrant and increasingly influential center-right conversation. Most of the young writers and bloggers in this conversation intermingle, but they can be grouped, for clarity’s sake, around a few hot spots:

Paleoconservatives. The American Conservative has become one of the more dynamic spots on the political Web. Writers like Rod Dreher and Daniel Larison tend to be suspicious of bigness: big corporations, big government, a big military, concentrated power and concentrated wealth. Writers at that Web site, and at the temperamentally aligned Front Porch Republic, treasure tight communities and local bonds. They’re alert to the ways capitalism can erode community. Dispositionally, they are more Walker Percy than Pat Robertson.

Larison focuses on what he calls the imperial tendencies of both the Bush and Obama foreign policies. He crusades against what he sees as the unchecked killing power of drone strikes and champions a more modest and noninterventionist foreign policy.

Lower-Middle Reformists. Reihan Salam, a writer for National Review, E21 and others, recently pointed out that there are two stories about where the Republican Party should go next. There is the upper-middle reform story: Republicans should soften their tone on the social issues to win over suburban voters along the coasts. Then there is a lower-middle reform story: Republicans should focus on the specific economic concerns of the multiethnic working class.

Salam promotes the latter. This means acknowledging that working-class concerns are not what they were in the 1980s. The income tax is less burdensome than the payroll tax. Family disruption undermines social mobility. Republicans, he argues, should keep the social conservatism, which reinforces families, and supplement it with an agenda that supports upward mobility and social capital.

Similarly, Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute has argued for a Republican Party that listens more closely to working-class concerns. Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review has argued for family-friendly tax credits and other measures that reinforce middle-class dignity. Jim Manzi wrote a seminal article in National Affairs on the need to promote innovation while reducing inequality.

Soft Libertarians. Some of the most influential bloggers on the right, like Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok and Megan McArdle, start from broadly libertarian premises but do not apply them in a doctrinaire way.

Many of these market-oriented writers emphasize that being pro-market is not the same as being pro-business. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago published an influential book, “A Capitalism for the People,” that took aim at crony capitalism. Tim Carney of The Washington Examiner does muckraking reporting on corporate-federal collusion. Rising star Derek Khanna wrote a heralded paper on intellectual property rights for the House Republican Study Committee that was withdrawn by higher-ups in the party, presumably because it differed from the usual lobbyist-driven position.

There are a number of unpredictable libertarian-leaning writers, including Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic on civil liberties issues, and Eugene Volokh on legal and free speech concerns.

Burkean Revivalists. This group includes young conservatives whose intellectual roots go back to the organic vision of society described best by Edmund Burke but who are still deeply enmeshed in current policy debates.

Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs is one of the two or three most influential young writers in politics today. He argues that we are now witnessing the fiscal crisis of the entitlement state, exemplified most of all by exploding health care costs. His magazine promotes a big agenda of institutional modernization.

The lawyer Adam J. White has argued for an approach to jurisprudence and regulatory affairs based on modesty, but not a doctrinaire clinging to original intent. Ryan Streeter of Indiana champions civil-society conservatism, an updated version of the Jack Kemp style.

By and large, these diverse writers did not grow up in the age of Reagan and are not trying to recapture it. They disdain what you might call Donor Base Republicanism. Most important, they matured intellectually within a far-reaching Web-based conversation. In contrast to many members of the conservative political-entertainment complex, they are data-driven, empirical and low-key in tone.

They are united more by a style of feedback and mutual scrutiny than by a common agenda. Some politically unorthodox people in this conversation, such as Josh Barro of Bloomberg View, Meghan Clyne of National Affairs and Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, specialize in puncturing sentimentality and groupthink.

Since Nov. 6, the G.O.P. has experienced an epidemic of open-mindedness. The party may evolve quickly. If so, it’ll be powerfully influenced by people with names like Reihan, Ramesh, Yuval and Derek Khanna.

The Obama Realignment

By ROSS DOUTHAT, New York TImes, November 7, 2012

When you do it once, it’s just a victory. When you do it twice, it’s a realignment.

The coalition that Barack Obama put together to win the presidency handily in 2008 looked a lot like the emerging Democratic majority that optimistic liberals had been discerning on the political horizon since the 1990s. It was the late George McGovern’s losing coalition from 1972 finally come of age: Young voters, the unmarried, African-Americans, Hispanics, the liberal professional class – and then more than enough of the party’s old blue collar base to hold the Rust Belt for the Democrats.

But 2008 was also a unique political moment, when George W. Bush’s immense unpopularity was compounded by a financial collapse, and when the possibility of electing the country’s first black president fired the imagination of the nation (and the nation’s press corps). So it was still possible to regard the Obama majority of ’08 as more flukish than transformative – or at the very least, to see it as a fragile thing, easily shattered by poor choices and adverse developments.

There were plenty of both during the president’s first term. The Obama White House underestimated the depth of the recession, it overreached politically on the health care bill and the failed push for cap and trade and it reaped a backlash at the polls in 2010. The Republican Party, left for dead after 2008, revived itself, and at many points across the 2012 campaign season Obama’s majority coalition looked vulnerable. Its policy victories seemed to teeter on the edge.

And the Obama coalition was vulnerable. I believed that at the beginning of the campaign season; I believed it in mid-October, when I thought Mitt Romney might just pull the election out; and I believe it even now that the president has won a narrow (in the popular vote) but electorally decisive victory.

But the lesson of the election is that the Obama coalition was truly vulnerable only to a Republican Party that took Obama seriously as an opponent – that understood how his majority had been built, why voters had joined it and why the conservative majority of the Reagan and Bush eras had unraveled.

Such understanding eluded the Republicans this year. In part, that failure can be blamed on their standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, who mostly ran as a kind of vanilla Republican instead of showing the imagination necessary to reinvent his party for a new era. Romney’s final month of campaigning was nearly flawless, though. His debate performances were the best by any Republican since Reagan and he will go down in history as one of the few losing challengers to claim a late lead in the polls. A weak nominee in many ways, he was ultimately defeated less by his own limitations as a leader, and more by the fact that his party didn’t particularly want to be reinvented, preferring to believe that the rhetoric and positioning of 1980 and 1984 could win again in the America of 2012.

You could see this belief at work in the confidence with which many conservatives insisted that the Obama presidency was not only embattled but self-evidently disastrous, in the way so many voices on the right sought to raise the ideological stakes at every opportunity, in the widespread conviction that the starker conservatives made the choice between left and right, the more votes they would win.

You could also see this conviction shaping the punditry and predictions that issued from conservatives in the days leading up this election. It was remarkable how many analysts not normally known for their boosterism (I’m thinking of Michael Barone and George Will in particular) were willing to predict that Romney would not only win but win sweepingly, capturing states that haven’t gone Republican since Reagan. But even less starry-eyed conservatives – like, well, myself – were willing to embrace models of the electorate that overstated the Republican base of support and downplayed the Democrats’ mounting demographic advantage.

Those models were wrong about 2012, and they aren’t likely to be right about 2016 or 2020. Republicans can console themselves that they came close in the popular vote. They can look ahead to a favorable Senate map in 2014 and they do still have their House majority to fall back on.

But Tuesday’s result ratifies much of the leftward shift in public policy that President Obama achieved during his first term. It paves the way for the White House to raise at least some of the tax revenue required to pay for a more activist government and it means that the Republicans let a golden chance to claim a governing coalition of their own slip away.

In this sense, just as Reagan Republicanism dominated the 1980s even though the Democrats controlled the House, our own era now clearly belongs to the Obama Democrats even though John Boehner is still speaker of the House.

That era will not last forever; it may not even last more than another four years. The current Democratic majority has its share of internal contradictions, and as it expands demographically it will become vulnerable to attack on many fronts. Parties are more adaptable than they seem in their moments of defeat, and there will come a day when a Republican presidential candidate will succeed where Mitt Romney just failed.

But getting there requires that conservatives face reality: The age of Reagan is officially over, and the Obama majority is the only majority we have.

The Right’s ‘School Choice’ Scheme

By Rachel Tabachnick [1], Political Research Associates, November 2, 2012|

This article originally appeared at Public Eye [2], the Web site of Political Research Associates.

In June 1995, the economist Milton Friedman wrote an article for the Washington Post promoting the use of public education funds for private schools as a way to transfer the nation’s public school systems to the private sector. “Vouchers,” he wrote, “are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system.” The article was republished by “free market” think tanks [3], including the Cato Institute and the Hoover Institution, with the title “Public Schools: Make Them Private.”

While Friedman has promoted vouchers for decades, most famously in his masterwork Free to Choose, the story of how public funds are actually being transferred to private, often religious, schools is a study in the ability of a few wealthy families, along with a network of right-wing think tanks, to create one of the most successful “astroturf” campaigns money could buy. Rather than openly championing dismantling the public school system, they promote bringing market incentives and competition into education as a way to fix failing schools, particularly in low-income Black and Latino communities.

Even before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling deregulated campaign finance and unleashed millions in political donations, concentrated wealth has played a role in politics. Now in the limelight for its attacks on unions and the exposure of 800 model bills and documents, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has produced model bills [4] favorable to its corporate and right-wing funders behind closed doors for decades– including school vouchers and tax credit bills.

This concentrated wealth is reaching into America’s classrooms state by state, promoting the transfer of public funds to private education through vouchers that allow parents to pay for tuition at private schools with public money. Promoting “school choice” through privately run charter schools doesn’t go far enough for these billionaires. Today, “private school choice” programs, as vouchers are called in the annual report of the Alliancefor School Choice, are in place [5] in 13 states and theDistrict of   Columbia. In 2011, a year when states across the nation slashed their education budgets, 41 states introduced 145 pieces of private school choice legislation.

When enacted, the scale can be enormous. InLouisiana, a recently passed school voucher program allocating private school slots for 5,000 students for the coming school year is expected to swell exponentially, encompassing as many as 380,000 students by the 2013-2014 academic year out of a total public school population of just over 700,000 students.

These programs drain tax dollars from public into private schools, including into religious schools with fundamentalist curricula (see below). This effort is cloaked in the language of school “reform” and marketed with the claim that these programs will improve the quality of education for minority students in underserved urban schools. Despite an effort to promote private school choice as a nonpartisan, grassroots effort, the engine behind the national effort and its local offshoots has been, and continues to be, a surprisingly small group of wealthy conservatives.

Betsy DeVos: Four Star General of the Privatization Juggernaut

Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State described Betsy DeVos as the “four-star general” of the school privatization movement shortly after DeVos announced the formation of the “new” American Federation for Children (AFC) in March 2010. AsBostonnoted, the American Federation for Children was not new, but a rebranding of an organization called Advocates for School Choice.

The American Federation for Children is now the umbrella organization for two nonprofits that have been at the center of the pro-privatization movement for over a decade. In addition to the renamed Advocates for School Choice, it includes theAlliancefor School Choice, formerly known as the Education Reform Council. Both entities received extensive funding from the late John Walton, one of the Wal-Mart heirs. The boards of the two related entities included movement leaders Betsy DeVos–scion of a Christian Right family who married into the Amway home goods fortune–William Oberndorf, Clint Bolick, John Kirtley, Steve Friess (son of Foster Friess), James Leininger, John Walton, and Cory Booker.

These two nonprofits–Alliance for School Choice, a 501(c)(3) and Advocates for School Choice a.k.a. American Federation for Children, a 501(c)(4)– provided over $17 million in grants [6] to 35 other national and state-level pro-privatization nonprofits from 2006 to 2010. These grants represented a significant portion of the total budgets for many of the state organizations. Today Betsy DeVos and John Kirtley are the chair and vice chair of both boards.

Betsy DeVos and her husband Dick also initiated a nonprofit (527) in 2003 with the name All Children Matter, dedicated to electing pro-voucher state legislators. [See box on DeVos and All Children Matter.] Today the American Federation for Children is the standard bearer for the movement and includes a network of state political action committees that have provided millions of dollars of campaign funds to legislators in states around the nation, in addition to the grants to pro-voucher nonprofits.

21st Century Strategies

When given a clear choice, voters across the United   Stateshave consistently opposed school vouchers. Between 1966 and 2000, state ballot initiatives to allow public funding for private schools were rejected [7] 24 out of 25 times. This dismal record led the pro-voucher strategists to rebrand the movement as “school choice” and as beneficial to public schools. In 2002, Dick DeVos suggested to a Heritage Foundation audience that the school choice movement should conceal its conservative roots. He advised that “properly communicated, properly constructed, [school choice] can cut across a lot of historic boundaries, be they partisan, ethnic, or otherwise.”

He continued [8]:

We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities. Many of the activities and the political work that needs to go on will go on at the grass roots. It will go on quietly and it will go on in the form that often politics is done – one person at a time, speaking to another person in privacy.

Dick and Betsy DeVos followed through. By 2009, the media packet of the DeVos-founded All Children Matter promoted the following successes:

  • · Spent $7.6 million in 2003-2004 directly impacting statewide and state legislative elections in ten targeted states.
  • · In races with significant ACM involvement, we have a won/loss record of 121 to 60, phenomenally successful for a political organization.
  • · In an era where incumbents are rarely challenged or defeated, ACM had a role in defeating 17 incumbents that opposed school choice for low-income families.
  • · ACM has supported the campaigns of four school choice Governors – Bobby Jindal inLouisiana, Matt Blunt inMissouri, Mitch Daniels in Indiana, and Jon Huntsman, Jr., inUtah.

How It Works: The Case of Pennsylvania in 2010

The wealthy benefactors use a system of “rewards and consequences” across the states. It includes funding the campaigns of pro-voucher candidates and funding attack ads against anti-voucher candidates. Legislators who oppose funding private schools with public funds are accused of selling out [9] to teachers’ unions–the primary “villains” behind underperforming schools in the pro-voucher narrative. The 2010 election in Pennsylvania is an instructive example of the ability of American Federation for Children and its core of wealthy donors to conduct a large-scale astroturf campaign [10] under the public radar.

First, a PAC named Students First, which would be used as the conduit for millions of dollars of political contributions, was registered by Joe Watkins in March 2010. This organization was named in such a way to be easily confused with the national school reform organization, StudentsFirst, led by former Washington, D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee. Watkins, an African-American pastor, had advised the George W. Bush campaign and appeared in Citizens United advertisements against presidential candidate Obama in 2008, but his GOP credentials were omitted from the Students First PAC website.

Pennsylvaniahas no limits on individual contributions in state campaigns. During the 2010 gubernatorial election, the Students First PAC outspent the combined state teachers’ unions by a factor of more than ten to one. Most of this funding came from three investment firm partners. An additional $1.1 million of Student First’s funding came from the AFC’s PAC in Indiana. The Indiana PAC was registered in January 2010 under the address of Bopp, Coleson, and Bostrom, a prominent law firm representing political Right causes, including Citizens United.12 In 2010, the Indiana PAC received over $5.8 million [11] from only 14 donors, including Betsy DeVos and Alice Walton, another heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, and three megadonors from Pennsylvania. The following May, Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a sweeping voucher bill.

The three Pennsylvaniamegadonors were described in state press as simply “pro-voucher supporters” with no mention of their association with right-wing think tanks. Joel Greenberg is on the board [12] of American Federation for Children; Jeffrey Yass is on the board [13] of the Cato Institute; and Arthur Dantchik is on the board [14] of the Institute for Justice, which is working to circumvent or change the wording in state constitutions that disallows public funding of religious schools. There was also noPennsylvania press coverage in 2010 of the Betsy DeVos-led AFC.

Students First poured more than $6.5 million into the 2010 election, most of it in the gubernatorial primary in support of Anthony H. Williams, an African-American pro-voucher candidate and Democratic state senator. Their candidate had little chance of winning, but the ploy apparently lured the eventual Democratic nominee, Dan Onorato, into embracing some of Williams’ voucher plan. Onorato failed to secure the millions in funding for himself that the pro-voucher movement had given Williams, but he did anger labor unions across the state. Republican candidate Tom Corbett won and Williams sponsored a voucher bill in early 2011–Senate Bill 1 (SB1). Corbett was the keynote speaker at the AFC national conference in 2011.

Students First worked with prominent Republican media firm Brabender Cox to generate support for the legislation, blanketing the airwaves with ads promoting SB1 as the salvation of poor urban children and attacking the bill’s opponents as being under the influence of “powerful teachers’ unions.” Joining the push for SB1 was the Scaife- and DeVos-funded FreedomWorks, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, theScaife-fundedCommonwealthFoundation, and the state pro-voucher organization REACHAlliance. REACH, by the way, secured $460,000 from AFC/Advocates for School Choice andAlliancefor School Choice from 2006 to 2010.

Nevertheless, Pennsylvanians across the political spectrum opposed the school voucher scheme and the bill failed to pass.

Still, the pro-voucher effort continues. Students First has already received $1.4 million in 2012 to continue the battle–$1.25 million from AFC and $50,000 each from Greenberg, Yass, and Dantchik.

Using Corporate Tax Credits to Promote “Choice”

AlthoughPennsylvaniadoes not have a voucher program, the state has one of the largest school choice programs in the country, second only toFlorida. This is made possible through a corporate tax credit program named the Education Improvement Tax Credit, initiated in 2001.

State Senator Sam Rohrer (R-128th District), an opponent of teaching evolution in schools, claims credit for writing the state’s education tax bill. Under the law, companies can divert their tax liability to private school scholarships, with 75 percent credited toward their state taxes 90 percent on a commitment of two consecutive years. According to Pennsylvania accounting firms, as well as the private schools promoting the tax credit and REACH Alliance, these donations cost the corporation little or nothing, and also count as a charitable contribution on the corporation’s federal taxes.15 (Individuals contributing to nonprofit charities still pay the bulk of their donations from their own pockets.) The tax credit has been expertly (and falsely) marketed inPennsylvaniaas costing the taxpayers nothing.

In Pennsylvania, some of these funds are going to schools using texts from A Beka Book, Bob Jones University Press, and other fundamentalist curricula. [See sidebar]. Some of the private schools now receiving students through this funding have testified to the legislature in support of vouchers and bussed students to the state capitol for rallies in support of SB-1. One of the pro-voucher schools was featured on the Glenn Beck Show [15] in 2011, with a parent representative celebrating the school’s promotion of “biblical principles” and the “flight of public school students to private schools” to escape secularism and socialism. This same academy takes its students on field trips to the Creation Science Museum south ofCincinnati, where exhibits show dinosaurs and people living on earth together.

Pennsylvaniais one of 37 states that have strict constitutional prohibitions against using public money for religious schools, and specifically disallows [16] appropriations to educational institutions “not under the absolute control of the Commonwealth.” The corporations’ education tax credit, however, is not the obvious violation of state law that a school voucher program would be.Florida’s constitution also disallows using public funds for religious schools, but in November, Floridians will be voting on an initiative that could eliminate the prohibition.

Promoting Vouchers to Latino and African American Leaders

By the time of Dick DeVos’ 2002 Heritage Foundation speech, strategists had already begun trying to rebrand vouchers, which have a racist history. Following federal efforts to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, Southern states devised a “private school plan” to defend segregation by leaving public schools and taking the money with them. Georgia Governor Herman Talmadge advanced a constitutional amendment that could have allowed the privatization of the state’s entire public school system [17]. “In the event of court-ordered desegregation, school buildings would be closed, and students would receive grants to attend private, segregated schools.”

More recently, voucher supporters recognized the need to reinvent the movement by obscuring its White, conservative support base and cultivating the support of Latino and African-American leaders as the face of the movement. These leaders have valid complaints about inequality in public education and the failure of public schools to provide quality education to low income Black and Latino children. Having their parents support vouchers–and charters–in the name of improving education is a potent political force.

The most prominent among these leaders is Howard Fuller, the former Black Nationalist who brought vouchers to the Milwaukeeschool system when he led it in the early 1990s. In August 2000, he launched the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). Its major funders included John Walton and the Harry and Lynde Bradley Foundation, based in Milwaukee, which also funded Fuller’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning at MarquetteUniversity, founded in 1995. These funders, as People for the American Waycommented in an extensive report on the group [18], are “better known for supporting education privatization and affirmative action rollbacks than empowerment of the African-American community or low-income families.”

The conservatives had found their standard bearer. BAEO immediately launched a massive media campaign in support of vouchers in Washington, D.C.The Annenberg Public Policy Center reported that the BAEO spent over $4.3 million on print and television ads. By 2002, BAEO had 33 chapters [19]. And today, about one quarter ofMilwaukee’s students use vouchers to attend private, often religious schools.

According to school choice supporter Hubert Morken’s extensive histories of the programs, outreach to key African American Democrats in various parts of the country was the product of carefully cultivated relationships with free-market think tanks and organizations like the Pennsylvania Family Institute and REACH Alliance. Particularly important for recruiting supporters in these ranks is the former Congressman, Rev. Floyd Flake, a BAEO leader. Flake is the longtime senior pastor of the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Queens, one of the largest churches inNew York. In 1999, Flake introduced George W. Bush to an audience at the Manhattan Institute and described the future president as his “compatriot in the politics to change public education in theUnited States.” In 2000, Flake became head of the charter schools division of Edison Schools, at that time the largest for-profit school management company in the country.

Morken quotes Flake,

“I was on the phone Thursday withTomRidge, who is the governor ofPennsylvania, who worked with me in Congress, where they are taking over the schools and may be taking over thePhiladelphiaschools. So I’ll be meeting with [Philadelphia]Mayor Streeton Wednesday morning. I’ve already had telephone conversations with the secretary of state ofNew Jerseywhere they are taking over the schools inCamdenandJersey City. I’m all over the country right now.”

Shortly thereafter, Edison took over management of 20Philadelphiaschools.

Morken describes Flake as “targeting core groups of swing voters” in “Black and Latino caucuses” and often promoting charter schools from “the pulpits of their churches.” Morken states that Flake was “at the center of a major funding coalition in New Yorkstate” that included rightwing funder John Walton. Flake and his wife had founded a 750-student private school affiliated with their church in 1982; it closed in June 2012 in the face of a $1.7 million budget shortfall [20]. Edison Schools failed to produce the promised improvements and their contracts for Philadelphia schools were ended in 2008 and 2011 [21].

The AFC claims that 91 percent of Latinos polled in five states support vouchers or corporate tax credit programs [22], and that this will be an issue in the 2012 election. AFC and its related entities provided almost a half million dollars in funding for the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options between 2006 and 2010.

Private school choice is not only a way to privatize education but viewed by some as a wedge issue to bring Latinos and African Americans into the Republican Party.

Grading the Privatization Report Card

The pro-corporate ideology behind school choice asserts that business style competition will be invariably good for education, and that putting school management and teaching into private (and nonunion) hands will make education less expensive, more efficient and more effective.

The statistics do not bear out their claims. By the time of the 2010 election and 2011 campaign for Pennsylvania’s SB1, test results for the two oldest school voucher programs in the nation – Milwaukee and Cleveland [23] – had reported disappointing results. Participating students scored no better or worse [23] than their peers who had remained in the public schools. Voucher proponents responded by asserting that voucher students attending private schools graduate at a higher rate. They fail to mention the lack of standards or accountability for some of the institutions bestowing those diplomas.

Much of the positive reporting on private school choice quotes the Foundation for Educational Excellence, founded by Milton Friedman; the Department of Education Reform atUniversityofArkansas, recipient of a $300 million donation from the Walton Foundation; and other entities funded by pro-privatization supporters.

Louisiana’s new voucher program, signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal in spring 2012, has a list of approved schools that includes church schools using home schooling DVDs for instruction and schools that lack the facilities to house the students they are offering to enroll for the 2012-2013 school year. Louisianalegislators threatened to withdraw support if an Islamic school was included in the approved list, of which over 90 percent are Christian schools [24]. The program promises to be such a debacle that the Cato Institute is already recommending a corporate tax credit program instead of vouchers [25].

But the private school choice juggernaut will roll on and the claims of privatization as the magic bullet will continue, no matter how baseless these claims may be. The multi-billion dollar budget for the nation’s schools is a rich prize for those who would profit from the privatization of public schools, and they are joined by equally determined anti-public education ideologues. In May 2011, a headline in the Wall Street Journal trumpeted, “The Evidence is In: School Vouchers Work [26].”

Tax Dollars Supporting Creationism

The private “school choice” movement has found a way to circumvent the federal courts, the National Council for Science Education (NCSE) and the ACLU by thinking outside of the box. The Education Improvement Tax Credit program in Pennsylvania has provided a way to use public funds to teach creationism and global warning denial to students enrolled in religious schools. This circumvents the ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover, a 2005 federal case resulting in a decision that Intelligent Design is not science, and should not be taught in public school science classes.

Many Pennsylvania schools receiving education tax credit funding are using A Beka Book and other fundamentalist curricula [27]. These textbooks are hostile to Roman Catholicism and other Christian and non-Christian religions [28], and teach a radical form of market fundamentalism, young earth creationism, and distorted American history where, in the words of researcher Frances Paterson, “Democrats are deluded, liberals are villains, and conservatives are heroes.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and The National Center for Science Education, (whose logo is “Defending the Teaching of Evolution and Climate Science”) led the fight against Intelligent Design. Nevertheless, when contacted, both institutions described the Education Improvement Tax Credit issue as being outside the boundaries of their mission, since the teaching of creationism is taking place in private schools.

The DeVoses–Dollars at the Intersection

Dick and Betsy DeVos represent the merger of two wealthy and politically influential families. Dick DeVos is the son of Richard DeVos, one of the founders of the Amway pyramidal home products business and owner of the Orlando Magic basketball team. Listed as the 60th wealthiest person in the United States and the 205th richest in the world, his net worth has been estimated at $5 billion. He has played a central role in bringing together the “doers and the donors” as he once described the New Right merger of the Religious Right with major funders of the political Right.

Dick’s wife, Betsy, is the daughter of Elsa and the late Erik Prince, major contributors to conservative causes including Focus on Family and the Family Research Council. Betsy’s brother Erik Prince founded the infamous military contractor Blackwater USA (rebranded “Xe”), which sought to privatize another type of activity that previously had been presumed to be under the control of government agencies. Betsy DeVos heads the American Federation for Children, the national umbrella organization at the center of the private school choice movement.

In 2003, Dick and Betsy DeVos founded All Children Matter, a 527 organization, and established Political Action Committees (PACs) in Virginia, Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Ohio. PACs can make contributions directly to political campaigns. All Children Matter’s media kit advertised expenditures of $7.6 million in 2003-2004, “directly impacting statewide and state legislative elections in 10 targeted states.”

In 2008, All Children Matter was fined $5.2 million in Ohio for breaking campaign finance law, a decision that was appealed and confirmed in 2010. All Children Matter was moving money from the Virginia PAC to PACs in states around the nation. Some states allow unlimited contributions, but Ohio fined All Children Matter for contributions over the maximum limit allowed. In 2011, it was reported that the fine was still unpaid. Wisconsin also fined the organization $500 for supporting candidates without registering a PAC.

Between 2009 and 2011, the All Children Matter state PACs were disbanded. During the same time period, PACs affiliated with the Betsy DeVos-led American Federation for Children were registered in several of the same states.

See more stories tagged with:

education [29],

k-12 [30],

Advocates for School Choice [31],

Alliance for School Choice [32],

school vouchers [33],

American Civil Liberties Union [34],

american legislative exchange council [35],

Betsy DeVos [36],

bobby jindal [37],

cato institute [38],

charter schools [39],

family research council [40],

Education Reform Council [41],

heritage foundation [42],

hoover institute [43],

michelle rhee [44],

milton friedman [45],

religious right [46],

Richard DeVos [47],

studentsfirst [48],

Walton Family Foundation [49]

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The Sick Social Darwinism Driving Modern Republicans by Robert Reich

Robert Reich’s Blog, Posted on, December 6, 2011

What kind of society, exactly, do modern Republicans want? I’ve been listening to Republican candidates in an effort to discern an overall philosophy, a broadly-shared vision, an ideal picture of America.

They say they want a smaller government but that can’t be it. Most seek a larger national defense and more muscular homeland security. Almost all want to widen the government’s powers of search and surveillance inside the United States – eradicating possible terrorists, expunging undocumented immigrants, “securing” the nation’s borders. They want stiffer criminal sentences, including broader application of the death penalty. Many also want government to intrude on the most intimate aspects of private life.

They call themselves conservatives but that’s not it, either. They don’t want to conserve what we now have. They’d rather take the country backwards – before the 1960s and 1970s, and the Environmental Protection Act, Medicare, and Medicaid; before the New Deal, and its provision for Social Security, unemployment insurance, the forty-hour workweek, and official recognition of trade unions; even before the Progressive Era, and the first national income tax, antitrust laws, and Federal Reserve.

They’re not conservatives. They’re regressives. And the America they seek is the one we had in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century.

It was an era when the nation was mesmerized by the doctrine of free enterprise, but few Americans actually enjoyed much freedom. Robber barons like the financier Jay Gould, the railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, controlled much of American industry; the gap between rich and poor had turned into a chasm; urban slums festered; women couldn’t vote and black Americans were subject to Jim Crow; and the lackeys of rich literally deposited sacks of money on desks of pliant legislators.

Most tellingly, it was a time when the ideas of William Graham Sumner, a professor of political and social science at Yale, dominated American social thought. Sumner brought Charles Darwin to America and twisted him into a theory to fit the times.

Few Americans living today have read any of Sumner’s writings but they had an electrifying effect on America during the last three decades of the 19th century.

To Sumner and his followers, life was a competitive struggle in which only the fittest could survive – and through this struggle societies became stronger over time. A correlate of this principle was that government should do little or nothing to help those in need because that would interfere with natural selection.

Listen to today’s Republican debates and you hear a continuous regurgitation of Sumner. “Civilization has a simple choice,” Sumner wrote in the 1880s. It’s either “liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest,” or “not-liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members.”

Sound familiar?

Newt Gingrich not only echoes Sumner’s thoughts but mimics Sumner’s reputed arrogance. Gingrich says we must reward “entrepreneurs” (by which he means anyone who has made a pile of money) and warns us not to “coddle” people in need. He opposes extending unemployment insurance because, he says, ”I’m opposed to giving people money for doing nothing.”

Sumner, likewise, warned against handouts to people he termed “negligent, shiftless, inefficient, silly, and imprudent.”

Mitt Romney doesn’t want the government to do much of anything about unemployment. And he’s dead set against raising taxes on millionaires, relying on the standard Republican rationale millionaires create jobs.

Here’s Sumner, more than a century ago: “Millionaires are the product of natural selection, acting on the whole body of men to pick out those who can meet the requirement of certain work to be done… It is because they are thus selected that wealth aggregates under their hands – both their own and that intrusted to them … They may fairly be regarded as the naturally selected agents of society.” Although they live in luxury, “the bargain is a good one for society.”

Other Republican hopefuls also fit Sumner’s mold. Ron Paul, who favors repeal of Obama’s healthcare plan, was asked at a Republican debate in September what medical response he’d recommend if a young man who had decided not to buy health insurance were to go into a coma. Paul’s response: “That’s what freedom is all about: taking your own risks.” The Republican crowd cheered.

In other words, if the young man died for lack of health insurance, he was responsible. Survival of the fittest.

Social Darwinism offered a moral justification for the wild inequities and social cruelties of the late nineteenth century. It allowed John D. Rockefeller, for example, to claim the fortune he accumulated through his giant Standard Oil Trust was “merely a survival of the fittest.” It was, he insisted “the working out of a law of nature and of God.”

Social Darwinism also undermined all efforts at the time to build a nation of broadly-based prosperity and rescue our democracy from the tight grip of a very few at the top. It was used by the privileged and powerful to convince everyone else that government shouldn’t do much of anything.

Not until the twentieth century did America reject Social Darwinism. We created the large middle class that became the core of our economy and democracy. We built safety nets to catch Americans who fell downward through no fault of their own. We designed regulations to protect against the inevitable excesses of free-market greed. We taxed the rich and invested in public goods – public schools, public universities, public transportation, public parks, public health – that made us all better off.

In short, we rejected the notion that each of us is on his or her own in a competitive contest for survival.

But make no mistake: If one of the current crop of Republican hopefuls becomes president, and if regressive Republicans take over the House or Senate, or both, Social Darwinism is back.
Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama’s transition advisory board. His latest book is Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future. His homepage is

© 2011 Robert Reich’s Blog All rights reserved.
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Republican myths

From Bergdahl to Benghazi, Republicans fire up the scandal machine By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, June 4, 2014

The Self-Made Myth: Debunking Conservatives’ Favorite — And Most Dangerous — Fiction By Sara Robinson, AlterNet, April 25, 2012 The self-made myth is one of the most cherished foundation stones of the conservative theology. Nurtured by Horatio Alger and generations of beloved boys’ stories, It sits at the deep black heart of the entire right-wing worldview, where it provides the essential justification for a great many other common right-wing beliefs. It feeds the accusation that government is evil because it only exists to redistribute wealth from society’s producers (self-made, of course) and its parasites (who refuse to work). It justifies conservative rage against progressives, who are seen as wanting to use government to forcibly take away what belongs to the righteous wealthy. It’s piously invoked by hedge fund managers and oil billionaires, who think that being required to reinvest any of their wealth back into the public society that made it possible is “punishing success.” It’s the foundational belief on which all of Ayn Rand’s novels stand…Brian Miller and Mike Lapham have written the book that lays out the basic arguments we can use to begin to set things right. 

 Conservative Fantasies About the Miracles of the Market by Robert Jensen, Common Dreams, January 23, 2012  - A central doctrine of evangelicals for the “free market” is its capacity for innovation: New ideas, new technologies, new gadgets — all flow not from governments but from individuals and businesses allowed to flourish in the market…As is often the case in faith-based systems, reconciling doctrine to the facts of history can be tricky….thought of the long list of modern technological innovations that came directly from government-directed and -financed projects…without the foundational research funded by government, none of those products and services could exist…The larger context for this assertion of market fundamentalism is the ongoing political project to de-legitimize any collective action by ordinary people through government. Given the degree to which corporations and the wealthy dominate contemporary government, from the local to the national level, it’s not clear why elites are so flustered; they are the ones who benefit most from government spending. But politicians and pundits who serve those elites keep hammering away on a simple theme — business good, government bad — hoping to make sure that the formal mechanisms of democracy won’t be used to question the concentration of wealth and power.

Throughout history, the political projects of the wealthy have been driven by propaganda. There is no reason to expect that to change anytime soon, which means popular movements for economic justice and ecological sustainability not only have to struggle to change the future but also to tell the truth about the past.

Twenty Myths About Unions By Paul Jay, The Real News, March 23, 2013

Five Preposterous, Persistent Conservative Myths by Paul Buchheit, Common Dreams, April 2, 2012  With the mainstream media in the hands of the mostly conservative wealthy, it’s difficult for average Americans to learn the truth about critical issues. The following five conservative claims are examples of mythical beliefs that fall apart in the presence of inconvenient facts:
1. Entitlements are the Problem
2. Charter Schools are the Answer
3. Corporate Taxes Are Too High
4. Jim Crow is Dead
5. Poverty Is Declining Everywhere
6 and 7. Evolution and global warming don’t exist.
These are just too preposterous for words.

How Ayn Rand’s Bizarre Philosophy Made the New Right so Toxic By George Monbiot, The Guardian, March 7, 2012

Challenging the Republican’s Five Myths on Inequalityby David Morris,, January 23, 2012  - The Republican position on inequality rests on five statements, all false. 1. Income is Not All That Unequal – 2. Inequality doesn’t matter because inAmericaambition and hard work can make a pauper a millionaire. – 3. Income inequality is not a result of tax policy. – 4. Taxing the rich will slow economic growth – 5. Taxing the rich would not raise much money …

10 Things Conservatives Don’t Want You to Know About Reagan By Alex Seitz-Wald, Think Progress, February 6, 2011

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism: Item #1 — There’s No Such Thing as a Free Market By Ha-Joon Chang, Bloomsbury Press, Posted on, January 31, 2011

Perpetual Growth Myth’ Leading World to Meltdown by Common Dreams staff, Common Dreams, February 20, 2012

Mocking the Right’s ‘Free Market’ Agenda Is Almost Too Easy — A Real Problem Is That the Dems Don’t Challenge It By Elizabeth DiNovella and Thomas Frank


Worldview – Conservative’s right wing extremism

Conservatives, Evil and Psychopathy: Science Makes the Link! By Paul Rosenberg, Salon, posted on May 1, 2014

Diagnosing Paul Ryan’s Psychopathy: Arrogant, Manipulative, Deceitful, Remorseless By Paul Rosenberg, Salon posted on, May 5, 2014

…The highest value in the conservative moral system…is the perpetuation and strengthening of the conservative moral system itself…Obama, Tea Parties, and the Battle for Our Brains by George Lakoff, Cognitive Policy Works, February 23,

Racism and Cruelty Drive GOP Health Care Agenda By Robert Scheer, Truthdig, October 13, 2013 Before he was disgraced into resigning his presidency over the Watergate burglary scandal, Richard Nixon had successfully engineered an even more odious plot known as his Southern Strategy. The trick was devilishly simple: Appeal to the persistent racist inclination of Southern whites by abandoning the Republican Party’s historic association with civil rights and demonizing the black victims of the South’s history of segregation. That same divisive strategy is at work in the Republican rejection of the Affordable Care Act. GOP governors are largely in control of the 26 states, including all but Arkansas in the South, that have refused to implement the act’s provision for an expansion of Medicaid to cover the millions of American working poor who earn too much to qualify for the program now. A New York Times analysis of census data concludes that as a result of the Republican governors’ resistance, “A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help. …“Why anyone who claims to be pro-life would want to deny health care to single mothers is an enduring mystery in the morally mischievous ethos of the Republican Party. But the exclusion of a working poor population that skews disproportionately black in the South is simply a continuation of the divide-and-conquer politics that have informed Republican strategy since Nixon. (This is the full text)

The real conservative scandal By E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, November 13, 2011…the problem for conservatives. Their movement has been overtaken by a quite literally mindless opposition to government… This is a long way from the conservatism I used to respect. Although I often disagreed with conservatives, I admired their prudence, their affection for tradition and their understanding that the intricate bonds of community are established with great difficulty over time and not easy to reweave once they are torn asunder. At their best, conservatives forced us to think harder. Now, many in the ranks seem to have decided that hard and nuanced thinking is a telltale sign of liberalism…that so many other members of a movement theoretically devoted to traditional values on sexual matters would eagerly jump into this mess on Cain’s side speaks volumes about its condition. To paraphrase Bennett from another context, where’s the outrage about a conservatism that is losing both its intellectual moorings and its moral compass?

The politics of hatred by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, The Washington Post, June 11, 2012 -  …I believe the worst legacy of Richard Nixon is the soul-destroying hatred that he himself described and that he bequeathed to the nation…Nixon saw he had destroyed himself, but he also bequeathed a politics of hatred to the country that is still destroying us at the most fundamental level. This is a soul-destroying hatred of one another; the idea that it is not enough to simply achieve one’s policy aims in politics, it is necessary to obliterate the other side. I believe that nations, like individuals, have souls….Nixon attacked our most cherished national value: the rule of law…Nixon was a master of playing off one group of Americans against another…Nixon realized that political power in an enduring sense could be gained from making Americans permanently resent and even fear each other…Anger that is “profound and long-lasting,” however, is best described as hatred. Hatred is a deep-seated aversion to either individuals or groups that goes well beyond anger, though it is born in anger..Soul-destroying hatred is too high a price for any nation to pay for political power…We should therefore judge our political candidates and political parties on whether they pursue a politics of love and justice, or a politics of hatred. Then, and only then, can we as Americans finally escape the legacy of Richard Nixon.

How the Right-Wing Brain Works and What That Means for Progressives

The Death of Self-Interest Fundamentalism

How the Conservative Worldview Quashes Critical Thinking — and What That Means For Our Kids’ Future By Sara Robinson, AlterNet, May 18, 2012

The Conservative Psyche: How Ordinary People Come to Embrace the Cruelty of Paul Ryan and Other Right-Wingers By Joshua Holland,  Alter­Net,  August 14, 2012

How the Right-Wing Brain Works and What That Means for Progressives