Rand Paul vs The Department of Education

Rand Paul’s stated rationale for wanting to abolish the Department of Education is revealing of his ignorance of the relevant issues:

PAUL: I would rather the local schools decide things. I don’t like the idea of somebody in Washington deciding that Susie has two mommies is an appropriate family situation and should be taught to my kindergardener at school. That’s what happens when we let things get to a federal level. I think I would rather have local school boards, teachers, parents, people in Paduka deciding about your schools and not have it in Washington.

Igor Volsky points out that “[c]urrently, there is a legislative prohibition on the federal government getting involved with local curriculum, even though several states have led a movement to establish common standards and President Obama and Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan have expressed support for the effort.” If you abolished all of the Department of Education’s programs (as opposed to simply abolishing the department and assigning the programs to a different one) you’d have basically no impact on this sort of issue, but you would make college much less affordable for middle class families and reduce funding for schools for poor kids.

I think Paul’s answer is also notable, though, for what it says about coalition politics. What he’s offering here is a classic example of the “fusionism” that animated the New Right rebellion against Eisenhower-style Republicanism and lay at the heart of Ronald Reagan’s coalition. This is libertarianism as a means to social conservatism, with gays here playing the role that African-Americans played in Barry Goldwater’s version of the argument. To libertarians uncomfortable with gay-bashing, Paul can say “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with lesbian parents, I’m just saying it’s not the federal government’s role.” And to social conservatives, Paul can say “this isn’t about taking benefits away from normal decent middle class people, it’s about keeping the homos in their place.”