It wasn’t easy opening my computer on Wednesday to read about the defeat of Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race.
And it was even less fun reading two New York Times opinion columns blasting McAuliffe and Democrats generally for their poor showing in this contest and likely in future ones next year.
While it is true that both Bret Stephens and Russ Douthat are slightly right-of-center columnists at the Times, their analysis of Democratic mistakes in this election deserve our attention.
Stephens cites the “lousy campaign” by McAuliffe, who he says spent too much time attacking Trump while Youngkin focused on hot button “bread and butter” (groceries and education) issues that voters cared about. He also attacked Biden’s mistake of running as a moderate and then adopting more progressive policies once elected, and then not being able to get them through Congress.
There is some truth in this; it does help explain Virginia voter behavior on November 2.
Douthat takes a more theoretical approach in seeing the backlash against Democrats in Virginia as the result of the progressive wing that has moved the Democratic Party too far left to appeal to suburbanites who don’t want to be called racist. He ignores the role of inflation and supply chain disruptions.
Both writers blame Democrats like McAuliffe for dismissing Critical Race Theory as a “right-wing fantasy,” in Douthat’s words, when it really is, in Stephens words, “a politically committed movement” (and white racism isn’t?)
Douthat does admit that those who oppose CRT “combine a set of moderate and even liberal objections to the new progressivism” with “an older style of objections to talking about slavery and segregation at all.”
These comments are interesting, contain some validity, and deserve a response by Democrats if we want to avoid further defeats. Here is my attempt at such a response.
Democrats have failed to relentlessly attack right-wing racism which has existed for centuries in America. We have allowed the Right to claim that telling the truth about racism in our history is itself racism. It is not.
We have too often allowed conservative commentators to pretend that since slavery and legal segregation are no longer in place, discrimination against blacks and minority groups no longer exists.
This is not a matter of progressives versus moderates in the Democratic Party, but an issue of truth versus lies. We are allowing the press to refer to Joe Manchin as a “moderate” without complaining when he immoderately undermines the real moderates in the Democratic Party, and — for obvious reasons related to coal mining money — avoids the clear dangers of climate changes as well as the damage he does to his party by not voting for the Build Back Better bill.
I do, of course, understand the dilemma created by the razor-thin Democratic majority in Congress, and I also acknowledge the mistake of Joe Biden in ignoring intelligence reports before deciding to leave our war in Afghanistan, as well as mistakes by Terry McAuliffe’s campaign in Virginia.
Several years before his death, the late Senator Paul Simon wrote a book called Our Culture of Pandering. Are we gratifying the prejudices of the American people by refusing to tell them the truth about our history? Are Democrats doomed to lose elections by telling voters things that make them uncomfortable?
Maybe Joe Biden’s mistake during the election of 2020 was not criticizing Trump and telling voters clearly that we do need some major changes in this country such as helping those oppressed by poverty and racial discrimination. Maybe he should have been a bit less moderate.
The progressive caucus in the House of Representatives is now willing to vote for both the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act.
It is time for Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to do the same in the Senate.
I want to believe “it is darkest before the dawn.”
But if I am wrong, and we are facing not a new dawn but the twilight of our Republic, I will not blame just Manchin and Sinema, but also those Republicans in the Senate who have made these two Democrats into shadow presidents who put power before wisdom and the interest of Americans.
Written by Ken Wolf
Forward Kentucky Newsletter
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