Religious Right leaders are rallying to defend Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee to run the U.S. Department of Education, even as grassroots opposition has reportedly swamped congressional switchboards with a record number of calls. Mike Pence may be on hand in the Senate on Tuesday to cast a potentially tie-breaking vote.
DeVos is both unqualified and ideologically unfit to run the Department of Education, given that she has devoted much of her time and fortune to diverting money away from public schools, so it makes sense that parents and educators concerned about the future of public education would oppose her nomination. But on Monday, Religious Right political operative Ralph Reed used the FoxNews.com platform to portray opposition to DeVos as part of a Democratic “war on religion” and a “despicable” liberal “smear campaign.”
Reed rails against “stories planted by teacher’s union apparatchiks” that “smear” DeVos for wanting to divert tax dollars into religious schools. “In opposing Mrs. DeVos for being a Christian who supports providing children with access to private and charter schools,” writes Reed, “the Democrats are doubling down on a failed strategy of demonizing people of faith.”
Also on Monday, the American Family Association’s One News Now quoted Religious Right activist Gary Bauer calling criticism of DeVos “unjustified.” Bauer charged that the two Republican senators who have announced they will vote against confirming DeVos—Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—are doing the bidding of “the public school establishment.”
But Bauer’s defense of DeVos unwittingly confirms the fears of public education advocates that Trump is appointing her to use the power of the federal government to advance the same privatization agenda she has championed with her family fortune. Says Bauer, “The Department of Education is not the Department of Public Education—it’s the Department of Education.”
DeVos and her family have been major donors to both Religious Right and Republican Party organizations and have pushed anti-union and anti-equality efforts as well as anti-public education efforts. DeVos’s underlying ideology was made clear in a 2015 education speech in which she declared that among the primary principles underpinning her education agenda was “Government really sucks.”