Opponents of the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education can take one benefit from Tuesday's vote: It taught us what really counts in the U.S. Senate.
It is not the opinion or desires of constituents exercising their right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances." Nor is it the outrage of so many American voters who are astounded that a woman with no experience in public schools — as a student, parent, employee, administrator, elected school board official or any other direct contact with public schools — would be nominated to lead public education in America. Switchboards on Capitol Hill were overloaded with phone calls from upset constituents telling their elected representatives not to confirm DeVos. Voice mail systems in congressional offices, both in Washington and in district offices, were overloaded with pleas from voters opposed to DeVos. Complaints about DeVos' nomination jammed email systems in congressional offices. Constituents who could get to their representatives' offices expressed in person their opposition to someone who denigrates public education and seems intent on destroying public schools by whatever means necessary.
No, none of that counts. All that matters in this information age, when it is so relatively easy to send a message or make a phone call to an elected representative, is not the voters' petitioning of elected officials; it is the money that the ultra-rich can bestow on political candidates. DeVos' one great qualification for her office is the millions of dollars she and her family have donated to (mostly Republican) candidates and elected officials. In North Carolina, where grassroots voters stormed the phones, email systems and mailboxes of their senators, DeVos had already made up the minds of Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Thom Tillis with more than $100,000 in recent campaign contributions. A siege of the senators' offices, which is nearly what happened, would have made no difference. DeVos had those two votes paid for and locked down.
The First Amendment guarantees the right "to petition the government," but when the government is bought and paid for by wealthy donors, petitions are not worth the paper or the email application or the recorded voice mail they're written on.