As Amanda Marcotte noted today, the American right and left have been stuck in a pointless series of confrontations in which conservative figures claim that liberals cannot withstand intellectual debate. A conservative critique has been that, on college campuses, the left has responded by trying to silence debate instead of embracing it.
But as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proved Sunday night, conservative policy ideas do not always stand up to intellectual scrutiny. And so, it's much easier to throw out names and try to enrage people instead of trying to debunk ideas.
Long before she was appointed to her position, DeVos had been advocating for privatizing America’s education system. To listen to DeVos’ rhetoric, the idea of letting students leave their colleagues behind in under-performing schools is a no-brainer, as simple as understanding that Earth is a globe.
So why couldn't she be a champion of those views Sunday night?
Under questioning by "60 Minutes" anchor Lesley Stahl, DeVos revealed that she seems to know very little about the effects of school choice programs, including on educational institutions in her home state of Michigan.
With her appearance on "60 Minutes," DeVos perhaps realized that being grilled in the spotlight of national television is a lot different than are appearances at press conferences, such as this one last year in which she was able to get away with slamming critics and then moving on:
In order to succeed, education must commit to excellence and innovation to better meet the needs of individual students. Defenders of our current system have regularly been resistant to any meaningful change . . . In resisting, these flat-earthers have chilled creativity and stopped American kids from competing at the highest levels.
On Sunday she told Stahl, “In places where there is a lot of choice that’s been introduced — Florida, for example — studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually, the results get better as well.”
Stahl asked her, "Now, has that happened in Michigan? We’re in Michigan. This is your home state."
“Michigan, yes. There’s lots of great options and choices for students here,” DeVos said as she dodged the question.
Stahl pressed harder: “Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?”
“I don’t know. Overall, I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better,” DeVos answered.
“No, but your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better, is not working in Michigan where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here,” Stahl shot back.
“I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because — schools are made up of individual students attending them,” DeVos replied, completely contradicting her earlier characterization of Florida.
And that's how Betsy DeVos avoided taking a stand.