Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) caused a bit of a stir last week when he referred to “the Twitter” and made a series of odd beeping sounds that were intended to mimic online discussion. It suggested the Republican might not be as tech friendly as he likes to believe.
But Bush’s comments immediately beforehand were largely overlooked. What he said would “light up the Twitter” was his condemnation of public education systems, which he blasted as “government-run, unionized monopolies.”
We rarely hear this kind of talk about other parts of the public sector. For example, Republicans don’t usually run around chastising police departments or fire departments as “government-run, unionized monopolies.” Conservatives do, however, direct this ire at public education.
It was a reminder that as Republican politics becomes more radicalized, GOP opposition to public education is becoming more obvious. In Wisconsin, for example, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) already won a brutal union-busting fight directed at school teachers, and he’s now going after higher education.
[A]s he woos supporters around the country for a possible presidential bid, Walker (R) is once again picking a fight against a powerful institution at home – public universities.Walker’s new budget proposal would slash $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system over the next two years. That’s a 13 percent reduction in state funding.
As Rachel noted on the show earlier this week, “To put it in perspective, the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison … says that if she just outright eliminates the school of nursing, and the law school, and the business school, and the pharmacy school, and the school of veterinary medicine, if she outright eliminates all of those schools from the Madison campus, that still would not be enough to make up for what Scott Walker wants to make up from that campus.”
Many political observers, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, chalk this up to little more than presidential politics and the governor’s efforts to curry favor with the GOP base. But think about that for a minute: Republican politics has reached the point at which candidates benefit when they’re seen going after schools, teachers, and universities with a vengeance.
In other words, for the first time in a long while, hostility to education is apparently seen as a plus in GOP circles.
And it’s obviously not just Walker. Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) last week made the case against education investments, arguing at a congressional hearing, “Socrates trained Plato in on a rock and then Plato trained in Aristotle roughly speaking on a rock. So, huge funding is not necessary to achieve the greatest minds and the greatest intellects in history.”
At the local level, far-right activists have spent much of the last year targeting Advanced Placement U.S. History classes, and this week, a legislative committee in Oklahoma voted to ban the class altogether.
In Mississippi, a state lawmaker said he opposes investments in elementary schools because he came from a town where “all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’ They don’t work.”
And at the national level, it’s not just Jeb Bush who’s hostile to public schools because they’re “government-run, unionized monopolies”; Rick Santorum, another likely presidential candidate, has said several times that he doesn’t believe public schools should exist.
To be sure, this isn’t entirely new. Back in 2003, a Republican state lawmaker in Texas said of public schools, “Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.”
GOP officials tend not to go quite this far, at least not yet, but brazen hostility towards schools, teachers, and universities seems to have become far more common and institutionalized as Republican politics moves further to the right.
Remember when both parties used to compete to see which side could support education more? Those days are over.