Sen. Mitch McConnell’s decision to cut short Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s statement against Jeff Sessions’ nomination for attorney general triggered widespread outrage from the Left. They have created memes about the encounter, framing the incident as a brave display of will in the face of paternalism. Across the Internet, McConnell’s repurposed words have been used as a rallying cry for progressives and women who idolize Warren: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
While admirable in their sentiments, these words expose a painful contradiction in the Left’s philosophy and recent behavior. Even as they shower praise on Sen. Warren, Democrats and progressives of all stripes continue to wage a brutal battle against Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s narrowly confirmed choice to head the U.S. Department of Education. The message this contradictory behavior sends is a concerning one: Women are to be empowered—unless they disagree with progressive positions.
The vitriol hurled at DeVos has been extraordinary. Although she has worked for decades on education reform issues, Democrats have maintained that she lacks the requisite skills and knowledge to run the education department. They have discredited and dismissed her thoughts and opinions on education reform—thoughts a great many in the country share. They have crucified her for her wealth and her family’s success in business. And they have promised to make her life at the department hell.
She was warned. She was given an explanation.
The Left has long held itself out as a platform and a voice for women who aspire to greater things, who wish to build successful, independent lives on their own merit. Democrats have widely and admirably embraced political ambition on the part of women. The notion of women rising to power in male-dominated politics was a central theme of the 2016 Democratic presidential campaign, to the point that Hillary Clintonplanned to celebrate her presidential victory under a literal glass ceiling.
The Left has celebrated and embraced wealthy celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce. They said nothing or cheered as fabulously wealthy women—philanthropist Cheryl Saban, Pritzker Group billionaire Mary Kathryn Pritzker, philanthropist Laure Woods, medical device mogul Patricia Stryker, Walmart heiress Alice Walton, the list goes on—and their families poured millions into Democratic coffers. They stood mostly silent as their presidential frontrunner raked in hundreds of millions in speech fees, many of which came from organizations actively involved in influencing government behavior.
Democrats appeared similarly unconcerned about the intersection of wealth and power during previous confirmations for President Obama. They mounted no serious opposition when billionaire businesswoman Penny Pritzker, a Hyatt heiress who gave extensively to Democrats, served as the Obama campaign’s finance chairwoman, and once hosted a $28,500-per-plate dinner to raise money for Obama, was nominated to head the U.S. Department of Commerce. The voices now singing in unison against DeVos did not lob accusations that Pritzker had purchased her position. Instead, Pritzker was confirmed in 2013 with only one Democrat, Sen. Bernie Sanders, voting against her.
DeVos is also a successful businesswoman who passionately and ambitiously works with both her money and her time toward the causes in which she believes. Yet her success and activism, most of which has been focused on providing better educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, have been met with vicious criticism rather than praise and admiration.
While the Left lionized Warren following her rebuke by McConnell and accused those who opposed Clinton of seeking to hold women down, they could muster exceedingly little outrage over the fact that DeVos was physically blocked, screamed at, and intimidated by a male protestor when she tried to enter a D.C. school. Though the American Federation of Teachers mildly condemned the protestors, video of the event was posted by the National Education Association as red meat for its followers.
Those on the Left will undoubtedly argue that their opposition to DeVos is not about gender, that they would have mounted the same opposition to a male. Perhaps that’s true. However, the likelihood that a male senator would have been shut down by McConnell in the same way as Warren did not stop Democrats from making the incident into a statement about gender dynamics. With respect, the Left does not get to cynically play to identity politics when it benefits them to do so and run away from those positions when they highlight unpleasant philosophical inconsistencies.
Free-thinking, ambitious, successful women are to be respected and empowered, even if their opinions diverge from those of a specific ideology. We should applaud DeVos’s tenacity in the face of attempts to silence and marginalize her.
The attacks will no doubt continue. Nevertheless, DeVos should persist.
Ross Izard is the senior education policy analyst at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank headquartered in Denver, Colorado.
This article originally appeared in The Hill on February 21, 2017