Betsy DeVos: What a Weak Nominee Looks Like – 2017

In a confirmation hearing, one might face tough questioning, and those tough questions might – understandably – trip up a nominee. What shouldn’t happen, to someone of normal ability and proper preparation, is to stumble over simple, straightforward questions.

That’s what happened to Trump nominee for secretary of education Betsy DeVos: she stumbled (indeed, almost threw herself to the ground) over direct questions that a capable nominee could have answered: (1) about her wealth, (2) about the difference between growth and proficiency, and (3) about guns in schools. A more capable nominee could have managed these questions easily; she’s not that nominee.

Sen. Sanders asks about DeVos how she became Trump’s nominee:

Sanders: “Okay. My question is, and I don’t mean to be rude. Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?”

DeVos: “Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility. I’ve worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years to be a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.”

How she should have answered: Avoid answering with ‘would be that possibility’; begin with a detailed list of accomplishments in the very first words of her reply, e.g., “There are x contributions that I’ve made to education in this country, and I can list and describe them all, in order, to you now…”

Sen. Franken asks DeVos about the difference between growth and proficiency (where proficiency is hitting a benchmark and growth is about progress from one level of ability to another):

DeVos: “I think, if I’m understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would also correlate it to competency and mastery, so that each student is measured according to the advancement they’re making in each subject area.”

Franken: “Well, that’s growth. That’s not proficiency.  I’m talking about the debate between proficiency and growth and what your thoughts are on that.”

How she should have answered: DeVos should have known – and made clear she knew – the difference between the two ways to measure progress; contending that she was just clarifying Franken’s question doesn’t mitigate the obvious truth that she didn’t see the distinction between the two. (Franken clearly does understand the difference, so she’s not clarifying his words, she’s making her own error). She either truly doesn’t know the difference, or lacks the intellectual ability or composure to comprehend a question in a formal setting.

Sen. Murphy asks about guns in schools:

Murphy: Do you think guns have any place in or around schools?

DeVos: That is best left to locales and states to decide. If the underlying question is—

Murphy: You can’t say definitively today that guns shouldn’t be in schools?

DeVos: I will refer back to [Wyoming] Sen. [Mike] Enzi and the school he was talking about in Wapiti, Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.

How she should have answered: Anything but this. Referring to a senator’s remark about wildlife doesn’t help here. Candidly, she would have been better off contending that guns were useful to defend against Martians: at least she might have been able to later say that she was joking.

Contending that guns in schools are needed to defend against wildlife is world-class buffoonery. A defense, if any, would have to talk about human threats and emphasize limitations to assure those possessing guns were well-trained. The problem here is that there are very few parents who will accept that well-trained means someone other than a police officer. She would have been better off to advocate for more police; even then, there are legitimate concerns about the quality of police training in communities that hire poorly and skimp on training costs.)

Her position is a hard political one to hold in any event, but talking about grizzlies is simply embarrassing.

Trump promised America that he would hire the “best people“; in DeVos he’s picked someone either too dim or too lazy to represent herself adequately, to a level that the vast majority of her fellow citizens easily meet each day.

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