Kids can’t read. Drag queens won’t help.

Nessel makes foolish comments while Michigan's school crisis deepens

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has raised the stakes in the debate on drag shows for children.

A week ago, when GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon promised to enact “severe criminal penalties for adults who involve children in drag shows,” that seemed like overreach, as well as a misuse of the legal system.

I wrote as much last week.

But Nessel’s remarks this week put Dixon’s in their proper context. Dixon’s plan was shown to be not an overreaction, but an equal and opposite reaction to an event in Dallas.

At a civil rights summit last week in Lansing, Nessel said there should be “a drag queen in every school.”

“Drag queens make everything better. Drag queens are fun,” Nessel said in remarks reported by The Detroit News.

“A drag queen for every school,” Nessel added.

Nessel was there to issue the summit’s call to action. And so “a drag queen in every school” was an odd call to make, given the quality of Michigan schools.

According to U.S. News rankings, Michigan is 46th out of 50 states in high school graduation rates. Michigan’s high schools were ranked 26th. Would anyone argue that drag queens are the path to the top?

No one in the education world would make such a claim, said Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. No one serious would, anyway.

“It’s a distraction from the fact that we’re spending vast sums of state and federal money on education, and whatever we’re doing is not working for a lot of kids,” DeGrow told Michigan Capitol Confidential. DeGrow said the National Assessment of Educational Progress is considered the gold standard for comparing students across state lines and school systems.

And by that gold standard, Michigan schools are middle of the pack in some categories, bottom-third in another, and not exceptional in any way.

Michigan schools simply aren’t doing well enough to invite drag queens in. Why they would want to is another question, one that parents should ask. If your Michigan school district or your public library hosts drag shows, let us know. We’ll ask why, and find out how much of your money they spent.

Time and again, Michigan’s leaders prefer the attention-getter over the serious conversation. We should tire of these distractions.

With 2,800 of our neighbors dead from opioid use last year, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services talks about stigma. That’s an easier conversation to have than explaining why a multibillion public health apparatus has overseen the explosion of the opioid crisis.

In 1999, only 99 people in Michigan died of opioid overdoses. If Michigan fell below 2,000 opioid deaths per year, as last happened in 2016, it would feel like a minor miracle. In Michigan’s opioid crisis, deaths are the problem – not the stigmatizing of drug abuse.

At the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference, knowing that Ford was days from announcing plans to invest $6 billion and create 11,000 electric vehicle jobs in Kentucky and Tennessee, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke of a bizarre plan to electrify the damn roads.

In her 2018 campaign, Whitmer promised to “fix the damn roads.” She has not delivered. Whitmer and her defenders in the press blame Republicans for failing to raise the damn gas tax. But politics is a team sport. It demands deal-making and compromise. Figure it out.

And with Michigan schools failing to graduate students at a rate competitive with other states, our attorney general thinks they should make time for drag queen story hour.

Nessel’s “drag queen in every school” comment went beyond responding to Dixon’s proposal. Dixon had been responding to a Dallas drag show for kids, which was held at a gay bar. “A drag queen in every gay bar” would have been a response in kind. Nessel’s suggestion, a drag queen in every school, was a clear escalation. It didn’t go unnoticed. Who said anything about schools?

Nessel sensed the blowback immediately. She went into damage control mode and called it a joke, one that told a Larger Truth about tolerance.

Even if you take Nessel at her word, these are not serious conversations. These are distractions. Nessel talks about drag queens because it’s easier than explaining why she’s delivered no convictions in the Flint Water Crisis.

Nessel has served almost the entirety of her term by now, and has suffered only setbacks in the biggest public health case in Michigan history. Under such conditions, it’s easier to talk about The Current Thing. Heck, it’s more fun.

Nessel was swept in on a blue wave. She was part of a package deal, along with Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. She could leave under similar circumstances.

Nessel’s remarks show that reasonableness is not a two-way street. Being reasonable with someone who thinks drag shows for children are (a) appropriate and (b) should be welcomed into troubled schools, only brings you halfway to losing. Best to get the votes and let your opponents joke among themselves.

Dixon was right to seek rollback, not a ceasefire, in this battle of the culture war.

When I wrote my column last week, a college acquaintance challenged me, saying I should “be better.” Drag shows for kids are a “made-up issue,” he said. Fake news.

In “The Wizard,” season 9 episode 15 of Seinfeld, George Costanza vows to take his widow Susan’s parents to his home on Long Island.

There is no home. George drives them for hours anyway, eventually reaching the end of the island.

Only then does George crack and admit he has no house on Long Island – it was all made up. We’re at the end of the island now. There are no lies big enough to cover for the truth. Nessel has eliminated any middle to meet in.

We make laws when reasonableness can no longer be trusted or assumed – but must be enforced. The only question left is not “Should there be a law?” but will there be?

James David Dickson writes a Sunday column on issues in Michigan government. Write him at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.