Friday, February 28, 2020
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Republicans debate each other on Fox News

Republican candidates for president participated in a 10-way debate, preceded by a 7-way debate, on Fox News last night, taking stabs at Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee, each other, and, in a few cases, the moderators, who asked some pleasantly tough questions despite the wide-field format, which made focusing on any one issue a challenge.

Gov Scott Walker, left, and Donald Trump participate in the first presidential debate of the 2016 election
at the Quicken Loans Center in Cleveland, Ohio, Aug 6. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Normally we would cover education and quote the candidates on education, but that wasn’t the leading story from the first presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle.

First, the role of the federal government in our schools and the micromanagement thereof will be significantly curtailed in whatever version of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act passes both houses of Congress and is signed by the president, a challenge unto itself.

Second, with the possible exception of Jeb Bush’s support for the Common Core and the majority of Republicans showing very little support for the learning standards, Republican candidates don’t differ very much in their opinions on education.

The big story from the debate wasn’t necessarily the toughness of questions on issues like political correctness, immigration, Iran’s nuclear build-up, abortion via Planned Parenthood, and same-sex marriage—issues many people expected to be covered in a “debate” focused on Republican candidates. The moderators, with their insistent tone and stamina, instead helped to diminish the feeling I have that the network will “rubber stamp” the eventual Republican nominee. There’s no doubt in my mind Fox News was the biggest winner.

If I had to pick a winner among the 10 candidates in the main debate, I would probably pick Gov John Kasich of Ohio. He spoke as a decent person who can govern, and his record backs it up. I may not agree with some of his education policies in Ohio, but he helped to expand Medicaid and enabled the implementation of health insurance exchanges in Ohio. He also spoke about same-sex marriage, coming across as a pragmatist in a sea of demagoguery. The rationales for his decisions seem to include economically sound and compassionate principles.

From the candidates’ perspective, though, the big story was the moderators’ failure to address some issues at all, especially when the omitted issues far outweigh the included issues in any debate of national significance.

Climate change not discussed

No candidate or moderator mentioned climate change. This was an opportunity squandered.

I admit Republicans don’t like this issue, because past positions the party has taken, backed by a small handful of scientists, are no longer tenable.

It’s my opinion, though, that if a candidate truly wants to shake up the Republican Party and make it so independent voters can’t vote for the person who got the most publicity in the first Republican debate—by which I mean Ms Clinton—the candidate would adopt a position to do something to stop the downhill roll of the climate change boulder.

If candidates want literate people to vote for them, they need to change course on climate change. Nothing, in my opinion, would be a braver move for a Republican.

Vouchers came up, as did teachers’ unions

Jeb Bush mentioned the voucher program he instituted during his service as governor of Florida. Voucher programs have indeed shown some success, but even conservatives generally consider them less effective than other strategies at giving parents a choice in where to send their children to school.

In many voucher programs, such as one in Louisiana, religious schools receive the bulk of the money from vouchers, and this brings additional burdens of documentation, testing, and other state-imposed controls on those schools.

The idea of education savings plans, which have parents controlling their own money, not the tax money paid into public coffers by others, has gained considerable favor among Republicans and other conservatives. And such savings accounts don’t blur the line between religious institutions and the federal or state government.

Gov Scott Walker of Wisconsin took command in discussing his steps to end collective bargaining for teachers. He sometimes, though not last night, says there’s a connection between the state’s rise in ACT average score from third to second in the nation and his “Act 10,” which drastically reformed collective bargaining rights for unions in 2011. He has made the same connection between Act 10 and the state’s improved graduation rates and reading scores.

The website Politifact rated both of these connections as mostly false. That doesn’t stop Mr Walker, however, from pointing out his corporation-friendly drive to end collective bargaining rights for teachers, a law that teachers’ unions detest and public education advocates deride as a campaign to destroy Wisconsin’s public schools.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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