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Reviews | Republicans formed Democrats in Virginia
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After Terry McAuliffe stumbles into defeat in a state Joe Biden won by 10 points exactly one year ago tonight, a slight suggestion seems in order: Democrats probably need a new way of speaking. progressive ideology and education.
In the race in Virginia, the script for both candidates was simple and consistent: Glenn Youngkin attacked critical race theory, combining it with a larger attack on how the education bureaucracy handled the pandemic of Covid, while McAuliffe denied that something like CRT was taught in Virginia schools and also insisted the whole controversy was racist dog whistle.
The problem with McAuliffe’s strategy is that it has fallen back on technical details – like, yes, fourth-graders in the Commonwealth of Virginia are unlikely to be credited with Derrick Bell’s academic work – while avoiding the context that has made this issue part of a polarizing national debate.
This context, evident to any sensitive person who has lived in recent years, is an ideological revolution in the elitist spaces of American culture, in which concepts hitherto associated with academic progressivism have permeated the language of many important institutions, from professional guilds and major foundations to elite private schools and corporate HR departments.
Critical Race Theory is an imperfect term for this movement, too narrow and specialized to grasp all of its complexity. But a new form of racing is clearly at the heart of the new progressivism, with the somewhat different and somewhat overlapping ideas of figures like Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo enjoying particular influence. And that influence extends to schools and public education bureaucracies, where Kendi and DiAngelo and their epigons often appear on recommended resources for educators – like the Racial Equity Reading List sent out in 2019 by a superintendent of state education, for example, which recommended both DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” and an academic treatise on “Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education”.
This superintendent was responsible for public schools in Virginia.
From now on, progressives will respond that the backlash that may have helped lead Youngkin to victory (and certainly is only one factor among many) is not just about these texts and ideologies, but more unease. wide with all tell the truth about America’s racist past, whether in the form of novels by Toni Morrison or paintings by Norman Rockwell. And they’re right that the anti-CRT movement has combined a moderate and even liberal set of objections to the new progressivism – objections that appear in super-liberal New York as well as in suburban Loudoun County, Virginia. – with an older style of objections to speaking of slavery and segregation.
But progressives cannot isolate and attack the second type of objection unless they find a way to tackle the first type as well, especially when it comes to voters (including voters minority) who may have supported Hillary Clinton or Biden but feel troubled by the ideas that have filtered into their children’s classrooms over the past few years. And McAuliffe’s approach isn’t going to be enough: You can tell people that CRT is a right-wing fantasy whatever you want, but this debate was actually sparked not by right-wing parents but by an ideological transformation. to the left.
So Democratic politicians may have to decide what they really think about the ideas that have swept through elite cultural institutions in recent years. Perhaps these ideas are worth defending. Maybe Kendi and DiAngelo are worth celebrating. Maybe principals who recommend their work should be praised for doing so.
If so, Democrats should say so and fight boldly on that line. But if not, then Democratic politicians in contested states, facing Republican attacks on education policy and looking at the unfortunate example of Virginia, should seriously consider acknowledging what I suspect many of them (and many experts liberals) truly believe: that the immediate future of the Democratic Party depends on its leaders separating, to some extent, from academic jargon and progressive zeal.
As for what Republicans might learn from their Virginian triumph, the short version is this: The combination of a struggling Democratic administration and outsized cultural progressivism created immense political opportunity, and under current conditions, you you don’t really need a Trump-like at the top of the list to mobilize the hard core of Donald Trump voters. Instead, with the right candidate and the right circumstances, you can keep your Trumpist base and win back the commuters as well.
The problem is, the core Trumpian constituency still wants Trump to lead the party, for purely Liberal motives, at least. But maybe, just maybe, the solution is for the party’s less Trumpy constituencies to rally to an alternative whose electoral possession of lib has just put Trump’s performance in 2020 to shame.
Yes, it’s probably a fantasy, but at the very least, some type of Republican donor and consultant will wake up this morning from a very pleasant dream – Glenn Youngkin’s campaign in 2021, run like a presidential race in 2024.
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