Bill Gates, Common Core, and the real problem with money in politics

Bill Gates, Common Core, and the real problem with money in politics
Khazir Khan (Image via Twitter)

The Common Core case serves as a tremendous illustration of the difference between the left and the right in America.

Notice I didn’t say “the difference between Democrats and Republicans.”  In terms of party policies over time, and the actions of politicians, there hasn’t been that big a difference between them in the last five decades on matters like the Bill Gates-Common Core nexus.  Republicans have largely slogged along in the same trench as the Democrats, who are supremely comfortable with money in politics on the Bill Gates-Common Core model.

But when it comes to the philosophies of the left versus the right, there is a significant divide.  The progressivist left thinks – or purports to think – that it’s terrible to have big money on the front end of politics, where it can change who gets elected.  This never applies to the billionaire dilettantes who donate to Democrats, of course (George Soros, the men of Silicon Valley), or to the unions, which give overwhelmingly, in huge tranches, to Democrats.  But it’s a favorite flogging horse used rhetorically against Republicans and their donors.

Leftists are perfectly fine, on the other hand, with big money on the shadowy back end of politics, where regulatory charters have increasingly taken things out of the voters’ hands anyway, and put them in the hands of executive agencies, boards, specialists, and advocacy groups.  That kind of big money, leftists are fascinated by.

On the conservative, limited-government right, by contrast, there is far less fear of big money in the electoral front end of politics.  There’s a segment of the right that makes it a top priority to decry “big banks” and “special interests,” but in philosophical terms, the right’s concern is to limit what government can be bought to do in the first place.  Limit government, and you limit the private money in politics.  Making it pointless to try to buy government is the right’s favored principle.

So the right is particularly disgusted by the kind of marriage between big money and the government regulatory apparatus that the left celebrates with awe and entrepreneurial interest.  The Obama administration has plowed plenty of exciting new ground in this area with its “green” cronyism, taking the environmental shakedown industry well beyond its old model of profiting from sue-and-settle lawsuits.  Peter Schweizer, in his 2013 book Extortion, outlines how politicians from both parties have been complicit in the back-scratching, profit-sharing dynamics at the nexus of big money and regulatory policy.

But that’s cronyism, special favors, and profiteering.  The Bill Gates-Common Core epic is something else.  It may be the most significant instance we have to date of big money and the apparatus of government regulation leveraging each other, not to reap monetary profit but to impose a far-reaching, mandatory intellectual regime on the people.

The Washington Post recounts this brief history:

On a summer day in 2008, Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist for the standards movement, spent hours in Bill Gates’s sleek headquarters near Seattle, trying to persuade him and his wife, Melinda, to turn their idea into reality.


After the meeting, weeks passed with no word. Then Wilhoit got a call: Gates was in.

What followed was one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.

Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision between states’ rights and national interests that had undercut every previous effort, dating from the Eisenhower administration.

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.


Gates money went to state and local groups, as well, to help influence policymakers and civic leaders. And the idea found a major booster in President Obama, whose new administration was populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates. The administration designed a special contest using economic stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards.

The result was astounding: Within just two years of the 2008 Seattle meeting, 45 states and the District of Columbia had fully adopted the Common Core State Standards.

This all happened before the great majority of you had ever even heard of Common Core.  This wasn’t a grassroots movement, or something popularized with the voters.  It was an idea conceived by specialists, bankrolled by the world’s wealthiest man, and adopted by the specialists’ government-embedded network in each of 45 states and the District of Columbia, all with very little awareness by the public.

Yet it spends your money, compels your school district’s obedience, and defines how your children will be taught – unless you’re in one of the states that didn’t adopt Common Core, or one of the few that have opted out of it in the last few weeks.

How did Bill Gates get to the point where he could spend money to achieve this kind of effect?  Only partly through starting Microsoft.

The other part was the one done by generations of Americans who suffered the encroachment of progressivist philosophy on our communities and governments.  Without the education establishment (academics, committees, professional associations, etc.), the national teachers’ unions, and the education bureaucracies at three levels of government (local, state, and federal) – all of which combine to move money around and get policies adopted, with or without legislative or community involvement – not even Bill Gates’s money could have made this happen.

The difference between left and right in America is that the left thinks it would have been a bad thing, if the unelected infrastructure hadn’t been there to make Bill Gates’s money so successful in transforming your children’s education out from under you.

Might be a good thing to remember, next time you see Harry Reid hulking out in full-frontal psycho mode over the evil dark money of the Koch brothers.

'Round the Antares maelstrom and 'round perdition's flames.
‘Round the Antares maelstrom and ’round perdition’s flames.
J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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