Skip to content
There’s a Blue Ocean of Possibility for a Reasonable GOP
Go to my account

There’s a Blue Ocean of Possibility for a Reasonable GOP

Democrats’ education stumbles expose the need for a reality-based Republicanism.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times—a nation needs a healthy political opposition. I’ll go further. A state needs a healthy opposition. A city needs a healthy opposition. And the most basic definition of a healthy opposition is a political party that 1) exists and 2) is fundamentally grounded in reason and evidence.

Sadly, in multiple states and jurisdictions, the GOP can’t functionally meet the first criterion, and during the Trump era an increasing number of national political figures have utterly abandoned the second. The Republican Party is essentially absent from our nation’s major urban centers. It’s been reduced to an ineffectual rump in our nation’s largest state. And let’s not mince words—these realities hurt our nation in concrete ways.

Let’s take, for example, public education. In the last few days, a quartet of stories have illustrated how there is a crying need for reasonable political opposition, and that one-party rule can functionally grant the worst and most radical voices disproportionate influence and power even in spite of majority opposition.

Here’s the first story, courtesy of my friend David Brooks at the New York Times. His point is simple: teachers’ unions are defying science and harming poor and marginalized kids by using their immense political power to keep schools closed. He’s not the only person—on the left or the right—to call for schools to re-open, but he states the case powerfully and well:

There’s a wave of anti-intellectualism sweeping America. There are people across the country who deny evidence, invent their own facts and live in their own fantasyland. We saw it in the Republicans who denied the reality of the Biden election victory and we see it now in the teachers unions that are shutting down schools and marring children’s lives.

At this point, almost a year into the pandemic, the evidence is overwhelming. Schools can in fact open safely, and the remote-schooling alternative is bad for kids. Even worse, the teachers’ unions are disproportionately impacting minority youth:

A study by Michael T. Hartney and Leslie Finger found that political partisanship and teacher union strength explain how school boards approached reopening. Another survey, conducted last year by Chalkbeat and The Associated Press, found that roughly half of white students had access to in-person learning, compared with a quarter of Black and Hispanic kids.

Is the Biden administration checking the power of the unions? The jury is still out, of course, but the early indications aren’t promising. According to an extended Politico report detailing the battle between parents and unions, “Biden and his team have held close to the union position.”

Here’s the second story, an extended lament from New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait lamenting the “bitter backlash” within the Democratic Party against charter schools. Charter schools, notes Chait, have “produced dramatic learning gains for low-income minority students.” And yet:

The political standing of the idea has moved in the opposite direction of the data, as two powerful forces — unions and progressive activists — have come to regard charter schools as a plutocratic assault on public education and an ideological betrayal.

Again, can we count on the Biden administration to defend a proven education reform? Not so fast. During the primaries he said, “I am not a charter-school fan because it takes away the options available and money for public schools.” (That’s not exactly correct. Charter schools are public schools, but they’re often non-union.)

And what of the curriculum itself? That brings me to the third story—this wild tale from the state of California. Emily Benedek at Tablet Magazine describes California’s new high school ethnic studies program, and it’s remarkably radical. Benedek highlights the efforts of Elina Kaplan, a former tech worker and affordable housing activist, to expose the program’s worst elements. The original drafts were astounding:

In one sample lesson, [Kaplan] saw that a list of historic U.S. social movements—ones like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Criminal Justice Reform—also included the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement for Palestine (BDS), described as a “global social movement that currently aims to establish freedom for Palestinians living under apartheid conditions.” … Kaplan also saw that the 1948 Israel War of Independence was only referred to as the “Nakba”—“catastrophe” in Arabic—and Arabic verses included in the sample lessons were insulting and provocative to Jews.

And it got worse:

Kaplan, 53, a Bay Area mother of two grown children who describes herself as a lifelong Democrat, was further surprised to discover that a list of 154 influential people of color did not include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, or Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, though it included many violent revolutionaries. There was even a flattering description of Pol Pot, the communist leader of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, who was responsible for the murder of a quarter of the Cambodian population during the 1970s.

As Benedek details, the Los Angeles Times editorial board called the first draft “an impenetrable melange of academic jargon and politically correct pronouncements.” “It’s hard,” the board wrote, “to wade through all the references to hxrstory and womxn and misogynoir and cisheteropatriarchy.”

After a storm of criticism, the state reworked the curriculum twice more, but according to Benedek the most recent draft retained much of the “most offensive material, and even includes a resource that describes prewar Zionism like this: “the Jews have filled the air with their cries and lamentations in an effort to raise funds and American Jews, as is well known, are the richest in the world.”

Words fail.

The fourth story also comes from California. It’s the least consequential, but it’s telling nonetheless. The San Francisco school board hasn’t re-opened schools for in-person learning, but it did find time to vote to remove from schools the names of people “who engaged in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings; or who oppressed women, inhibiting societal progress; or whose actions led to genocide; or who otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those among us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

And who is that? Well, the list includes Abraham Lincoln and Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

On the list were schools named after George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Francis Scott Key, for their ownership of slaves; Abraham Lincoln, for the 1862 execution of 38 Dakota tribesmen; and Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior senator, because a stolen Confederate flag outside City Hall was replaced in 1984, when she was mayor of San Francisco.

Other names slated for deletion: President Herbert Hoover; John Muir, the naturalist and author; James Russell Lowell, an abolitionist poet and editor; Paul Revere, the Revolutionary War figure; and Robert Louis Stevenson, the author. The rationale for each decision was listed on a spreadsheet.

Make no mistake, there’s a backlash. San Francisco Mayor London Breed objected. So did parents. One parent told the New York Times that the wave of renamings “is a caricature of what people think liberals in San Francisco do.”

At this point, I don’t even have to spell out the opportunity for the GOP. Objecting to the developments above doesn’t even require ideological conservatism. It’s a layup to stand up and declare, “We’re the party of safe school re-openings, school choice, and sensible curriculum. Oh, and we still like Abraham Lincoln.”

Some readers might be waving their arms and yelling, “That’s the GOP now! Those are our positions now!” And you’d have a point. The GOP is pushing for school re-opening. It does embrace school choice. But ask yourself, what is the GOP package deal when you press that button or write in that name?

We all know the answer. The package deal still includes Donald Trump and all the grievance and vengeance and rage that entails. We’re not even a month removed from a horrifying attack on the Capitol carried out for Donald Trump, yet much of the energy of the GOP is consumed by efforts to censure and condemn the brave few Republicans who voted to impeach a president who incited a deadly assault on our very system of government.

The package deal includes joining with politicians and party leaders who advance outright lies, namely that Joe Biden stole a presidential election and/or that the January 6 attack was a false flag operation by the left. It means empowering a conservative media infotainment complex that recently aired the most obviously defamatory falsehoods I’ve ever seen in public life.

Does any of that give a moderate or center-left American any assurance that this is a party ready to take charge of your child’s education?

A healthy right doesn’t merely improve its electoral prospects, it helps foster a healthy left. Do the excesses above happen in the absence of one-party rule? Or does the necessity of competition inhibit extremism?

Among the most bizarre reactions of the GOP to Trump’s loss and his Herbert Hoovering of the party (i.e. the loss of the presidency, House, and Senate in a single term) is the conviction that the fact that he turned out 74 million voters means that you can’t win without him. But the electoral results (including the fact that Joe Biden turned out 81 million) provide greater evidence that you can’t win with him.

There is an opening for a responsible right. There is a necessity for a responsible right. When will the GOP finally possess the wisdom and courage to seize the opportunity that’s so plainly before it?

One more thing …

I’m realizing that not everyone who reads my newsletter listens to my awesome podcast with co-host Sarah Isgur (Sarah is the one who makes it great). So I’m going to start linking to my most recent Advisory Opinions episodes at the end of each newsletter. In the latest episode, we talk about the first legal attack on Biden’s executive orders, a fascinating new vote fraud case, and the best Tom Clancy novels. Good times:

One last thing …

After the great response to the Black Buck mini-documentary I posted a few days ago, I realize there’s a sizable French Press audience for short documentaries about crazy R.A.F. missions. So here’s another—about the dambusters raid. Enjoy!

David French is a columnist for the New York Times. He’s a former senior editor of The Dispatch. He’s the author most recently of Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation.