U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke at a dinner held in her honor by the free-market urbanist think tank the Manhattan Institute on Wednesday. She included pointed words about Detroit’s major automakers in her traditional pitch for the expansion of America’s charter school system.
The West Michigan billionaire compared Detroit’s big three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler — to other one-time “change agents” in the education field, who, in her view, were once dynamic and innovative but have since grown dangerously complacent.
“The big three stuck their fingers in their ears as the deafening roar of foreign competition raced toward them,” DeVos told the audience gathered to honor her and Manhattan Institute President Lawrence Mone, recipients of the group’s Alexander Hamilton Award given to “the individuals who help to foster the revitalization of our nation’s cities.”
“Instead of going head-to-head with their competitors, Detroit’s automakers ran to Washington’s lawmakers to fix their problem,” she said, apparently referring to the 2008 federal auto bailout of GM and Chrysler. “Look where that got them, and us. Similarly, a cabal has rooted itself between students and their education to protect ‘what is’ at the expense of what could be.”
Speaking to an audience of dedicated free-market adherents, DeVos continued to leverage the comparison between education and her home state’s dominant industry, urging them to “Look what happened when Americans exercised their freedom to buy foreign cars. It forced American automakers to a reckoning.”
Her remarks came just a week after Vice President Mike Pence appeared in Taylor to stump for a new North American trade agreement proposed by President Donald Trump that would have massive repercussions for the automotive industry.
Pence argued the merits of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in front of a crowd of Big Three executives and business associates, many of whom expressed concern about Trump’s decidedly non-free-market-oriented tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
The vice president told reporters after his speech that the tariffs “protect vital industries in this country” and that the president would address automakers’ concerns “once we address the inequities that have existed under NAFTA.”