The Atlantic Politics Daily: Classroom Warfare

In light of Harvard’s win in a high-profile affirmative-action case, we look at the education issues 2020 candidates and other lawmakers are battling over.

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Today in Politics

(The Atlantic)

Affirmative action has been somewhat of a political football since colleges first started adopting such policies half a century ago. Even after a district court judge ruled in favor of Harvard this week, affirmative action has been mostly absent on the 2020 campaign trail. So what do candidates for office and other lawmakers talk about when they talk about education?

Student debt and free (or “free”) college.

American families in total are dealing with some $1.6 trillion in student-loan debt, a financial constraint that is stymying Americans’ attempts to buy their first homes and leading breathless brands (including home of the Whopper, Burger King)  to turn to debt relief into a dystopian sweepstakes.

In the 2020 primary, plans for versions of “free college” are something like the norm. “It’s remarkable, really,” writes Adam Harris, “that in such a short time, Democrats have gone from proposing relatively modest tweaks to advocating a wholesale reimagining of higher education’s economics.”

On busing.

If there’s been any sort of viral moment in the three lengthy rounds of Democratic debates so far, it’s been Kamala Harris’s confronting Joe Biden about past resistance to busing policies to desegregate American schools. But does Harris actually support federally mandating busing herself? We tried to get the campaigns to share their positions on the issue.

The school-funding gap.

What do candidates intend to actually do about deep-set disparities in how some schools are funded versus others? Kamala Harris, for example, has suggested that she wants to totally overhaul the way that schools are financed through local property taxes, but the details on that approach are gossamer thin.

Higher ed is partisan now.

How is the right talking about education? One recent poll found that just 39 percent of Republicans reported a great deal of confidence in higher ed. And that sentiment is translating into policy: Some red states have implemented deep cuts to their own university budgets. That’s played out acutely in Alaska, where Governor Mike Dunleavy in July took a chainsaw to the University of Alaska’s budget, which would have cut it by 41 percent.

—Saahil Desai

What Else We’re Watching

(Scott Morgan / Reuters)

The heart procedure Bernie Sanders underwent is one of the most common operations in the U.S. James Hamblin gives a doctor’s read on the Democratic presidential candidate’s coronary stenting.

Twitter (threat) assessment: President Trump’s latest threats are part of a strategy to raise the cost of proceedings related to the official impeachment inquiry for Democrats, David Graham argues.

Featured Read

(Schwarz / AP)

Why do whistle-blowers choose to blow the whistle? Carl Elliott, author of a forthcoming book about whistle-blowers, takes notes from history:

For the past three weeks I’ve passed the Watergate complex on my bike ride to the Library of Congress, where I’m working on a book about medical whistle-blowers. To claim a sense of déjà vu would probably be an overstatement. Donald Trump is more Spiro Agnew than Richard Nixon, and the whistle-blower propelling the current scandal hasn’t even been identified yet. But it’s hard to avoid comparisons to Watergate when a paranoid, media-bashing president rants about leaks and hides evidence of wrongdoing. “It’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up that can get you in real trouble,” John Dean told Nixon, who paid no more attention than Trump would have. History doesn’t repeat itself; it doesn’t even rhyme; but occasionally it cracks a joke.

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About us: The Atlantic’s politics newsletter is a daily effort from our politics desk. It’s written by our associate politics editor, Saahil Desai, and our politics fellow, Christian Paz. It’s edited by Shan Wang.

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