The Washington Post
With the courts done, the GOP should eye all of government
Do Republicans even need a coherent policy agenda? I’ve heard that question more than once, and unfortunately, it remains a better question than I want it to be. The party is currently enjoying a fair amount of success offering little except symbolic opposition to the “woke” ideology that has leached out of academia and into virtually every American institution that employs a lot of educated people.
I won’t dispute that some of the stuff happening in school districts and other parts of government is really disturbing, and that progressive dominance of academia has handed the imprimatur of expertise to some highly dubious ideas. Nor that progressives have been quite effective at shutting down anyone who questions those ideas by accusing the questioner of bigotry.
I won’t even try to argue Republicans out of using their political power to attack that hegemony. I’ll just point out that their current methods won’t work.
Your sweeping bill banning critical race theory or your eight-point plan to make Twitter moderators play fair will inevitably be sharply curtailed by the courts. Even if that weren’t true, any aggressive attempt to level the playing field through government fiat would require a competent, friendly bureaucracy to enforce the rules. Unfortunately, conservatives long ago ceded the civil service to the left because they were so focused on shrinking government that they forgot to make the necessary parts work better.
If Republicans actually want to combat creeping wokeness, they need to stop making showy attacks on the most egregious progressive excesses. Instead, they need to break up the left’s monopoly on expertise. This is not only good strategy but actually good policy that will eventually make the lives of their constituents better.
I say “eventually” because it won’t happen quickly. On the one hand, Republicans need to build up their own institutional capacity to govern. And on the other, they need to attack the credentialing regime that provides progressive-dominated academic institutions with a captive customer base.
To do that, start by taking a lesson from what almost every conservative agrees was President Donald Trump’s one great success: engineering a rightward shift of the courts. Notice that Republicans did not win this victory by passing laws forbidding judges to be liberal. Instead, they spent decades building out conservative theories of jurisprudence and networks of scholars trained in those methods who could be appointed or elected to the bench. They should be replicating that model in every discipline that produces a lot of government workers or political appointees — the equivalent of a Federalist Society chapter at every school of education, social work, public health or public policy in the country.
At the same time, they should be working against the credentialism and occupational licensing regimes that have turned colleges into gatekeepers to most of the good jobs. If you’re worried that teachers trained in progressive ideology are bringing that ideology into their classrooms, the solution isn’t to try to control what they say — a herculean task that would be tied up in court for decades. Instead, offer school vouchers for parents who don’t like what their schools are teaching — and de-emphasize education-school credentials for teachers in favor of subjectmatter exams.
More broadly, conservatives should be looking to eliminate many degree and licensing requirements. These requirements are gifts to universities, but they are also barriers to mobility for people who don’t want, or aren’t able, to spend years sitting in a classroom. And as educational polarization has increased, those workers increasingly vote Republican.
Unless your professional mistakes could cause severe injury or financial ruin, you shouldn’t need a license to work, and unless your government job is a highly technical specialty, it shouldn’t require a college diploma or advanced degree. Larry Hogan, Maryland’s Republican governor, has already overseen an initiative to strip the degree requirements from hundreds of state government jobs. Trump signed an executive order to similar effect. But strategic-minded Republicans would turn these initiatives into the legislative centerpiece of a broader opportunity agenda, aimed at reducing the growing gaps between those with a college diploma and those without. And they would think hard about everything they need to make that agenda a reality.
Given the multiple institutional failures of the pandemic, there has never been a better time to run on deep reform of the education-industrial complex. Between the devastating impact of unnecessary school closures and the obvious politicization of many ostensibly neutral academic fields, including public health, Republicans have a lot to work with.
But they must prepare to deliver. It will not be enough to sign easily reversed executive orders, or even laws that de-emphasize college degrees in favor of skills or experience. Unless these policies are implemented by competent civil servants who agree with your agenda, managers will likely still default to hiring the candidate with the college degree. Which is why, for all their quarrels with academia, conservatives can’t afford to turn their back on it; they need the personnel in the trenches to make their vision a reality.