Making Sense of the New American Right

Keeping track of the Jacksonians, Reformicons, Paleos, and Post-liberals.

I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s

  • gun rights,
  • pro-life,
  • taxpayer,
  • right to work

— and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.

Episode 453: What Causes What?

What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly, and using a very basic method. This is how we survive. What made that noise? A bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt.

But sometimes, we use these simple tools to solve complex problems. And so we get things wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win.

On today’s show we dive deep into correlation and causation with Charles Wheelan, author of the book, Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data.

The most important metric in analyzing a schools is value added. Many private and charter schools start with more affluent and motivated students.

Why it was so easy for ‘60 Minutes’ to rebut Betsy DeVos’s charter-school arguments

“In places where there is a lot of choice that’s been introduced,” DeVos told CBS’s Lesley Stahl, “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.”

This is DeVos’s core case. Introducing charter schools forces public schools into the sort of competition you see in the free market, forcing the public institutions to improve. It’s a market-based proposal for solving the endemic problem of low-performing schools. Florida, DeVos argues, is an example of where it works.

But Stahl was prepared for this.

“Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?” Stahl asked. Michigan is a key litmus test because it’s the place where DeVos’s pre-government advocacy was centered. DeVos stumbled over a response.

“Your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better is not working in Michigan,” Stahl said. “Where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.” She later added, “The public schools here are doing worse than they did.”

DeVos didn’t have much of a response except to point to “pockets” where schools had improved (without identifying any).

.. A 2009 study from the Rand Corp. found “little evidence that the presence of charter schools affects the achievement scores of students in nearby traditional public schools either positively or negatively.”

The Supreme Court jumps into a playground fight over a phony war on religion

It was a manufactured controversy, cooked up by conservative interest groups that are hoping to chip away at constitutional provisions in 39 states restricting taxpayer money from going to churches.

.. The complaint became irrelevant last week when the state’s new governor, Eric Greitens, reversed Missouri’s position and said he would allow religious organizations to compete for such grants.

.. Sonia Sotomayor asked Layton: If representatives of the state “are not willing to fight this case, are they manufacturing adversity by appointing you?”

.. It was about interest groups whose business model depends on perpetuating the culture wars trying to frighten people into thinking Christianity is under siege. It was a springtime version of the annual “war on Christmas.”

.. Michael Farris, CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Trinity in the case, was fairly straightforward about his motives, telling reporters in the plaza that “there’s a broad concern among religious people in this country that we’re becoming second-class citizens.”

.. Layton told the justices that Missouri in 1820 adopted language based on Thomas Jefferson’s 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which said that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”

.. What has changed now? Nothing — except the rise of interest groups (on both sides) that justify their existence and boost their fundraising with such controversies.

.. The goal this time: to roll back restrictions on public money going to churches. An article in the conservative National Review argued that “a victory for Trinity Lutheran would fundamentally alter the landscape of school choice.”

.. Eventually, though, he admitted that “why we’re here in the first place is the Missouri state constitutional provision” — the one saying no public money may be used “in aid of any church.”

.. So that’s what it’s about: Invalidating dozens of state constitutional provisions keeping public money out of churches. “There are 39 states with constitutional amendments like the one Missouri has.