In one sense, Betsy DeVos seems like an odd target for unrelenting, condescending vitriol. Christians like DeVos are constantly being told that they would be far more loved and respected if they poured their time and money into helping the most vulnerable members of society. That’s exactly what DeVos did. Rather than merely enjoying her billions and donating money to fashionable causes, she poured money, time, and energy into education reform — with a particular focus on the least economically advantaged. She became an expert in her field, directly participated in some of the most important reform efforts in the United States, and did what everyone says Christians should do — focused on serving the poor.
And now she’s a hate object in parts of the Left. Why? My colleague Kevin Williamson is right — part of it is the simple fact that the teachers’ unions oppose DeVos, and in Democratic politics the teachers’ unions get what they want. I had to laugh at the Democratic memes on Twitter implying that DeVos bought her confirmation votes with campaign contributions. But DeVos’s contributions are a drop in the ocean compared to the financial impact of the teacher’s unions in American politics. In 2016 alone, teachers’ unions gave $33.2 million in political contributions, 93 percent to Democrats. DeVos’s contributions — even if you include contributions from her entire family — are inconsequential by comparison. Who’s buying whom?
But it’s about so much more than money. The public educational system is indispensable to leftist cultural power in the United States. As a practical matter, if your child goes to public schools from kindergarten through college, they are (with some exceptions) educated by the Left. Yes, there are conservative teachers here and there (especially in conservative towns), but they work in a system designed, built, and maintained by the other side of our great ideological divide. Moreover, given the public school monopoly in town after town, parents often have little choice but to expose their kids to public school morality, (often) public school incompetence, and public school ideology for seventeen consecutive years. It’s simply naive to believe this reality doesn’t carry with it profound cultural and political consequences.
Finally, you can never forget the extent to which large numbers of secular progressives simply hate DeVos’s brand of Christianity. The idea that even a dime of taxpayer funds (through school choice) would go to a single Christian school is abhorrent to them, and they’d prefer that such schools vanish from the face of the earth. These ideologues want to control public education, they want to use public education to inculcate secular progressive values, and they want public education to be freed from any meaningful competition. DeVos opposes all those goals, so her desire to help poor kids, her millions of dollars in philanthropy, and thousands of hours of work weren’t even deemed worthy of respect. The lesson here is clear: If you’re a religious conservative, the only way to be “good” enough to earn the respect of radicals is to change your beliefs.