During the 1992 presidential campaign, Democratic operative James Carville hung a sign in Bill Clinton campaign headquarters that read, “It’s the economy, stupid.” It was meant to remind everyone in the campaign to stay on message and focus on the number one issue of concern for voters.
In 2022, Republicans across the country will attempt to make public education a primary issue in every race from the governor on down and will be used as a wedge issue by Republicans to lever Democrats out of the House and Senate.
Their mantra may very well become “It’s the Schools, Stupid.”
It’s the kind of political phenomenon in a purple state like Virginia that should be cause for examination and perhaps even self-reflection among Democrats, educators, and left-leaning journalists. Virginia, after all, had the seventh most closed K-12 system during the coronavirus-marred 2020–21 school year, clustered on the restrictive end of the spectrum with blue states like California, Oregon, and Maryland, while the open-school states were predominantly Republican.
Instead, far too many have followed McAuliffe’s lead in pinning Youngkin’s unprojected rise on a latent right-wing racism that had been so unsuccessful this century until now. School closures, distance learning, masking policies, quarantine guidelines, learning loss, the shuttering of Gifted and Talented programs—all get frequently collapsed into the reductionist notion that opposition to “critical race theory” overrides all, and that there’s some kind of sleeper-cell potency in agitating against Toni Morrison.
Democrats have been caught in their own racist trap. They need to maximize black and minority turnout to compensate for the GOP candidate’s lead among whites. To do that, they cater to the most base instincts of black people — fear of the white mob. That fear may galvanize black voters but it massively turns off white moderate independent voters who flocked to Glenn Youngkin’s banner in Virginia and gave him a solid victory.
The question is, will Democrats ever learn?
“The operative word is not critical, it’s not theory, it’s race,” argued political science professor and go-to conventional wisdom–purveyor Larry Sabato Monday on MSNBC. “That is what matters, and that’s why it sticks. There’s a lot of—we can call it ‘white backlash,’ ‘white resistance’; whatever you want to call it, it has to do with race….This is a post-factual era. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t taught in Virginia schools. It’s this generalized attitude that whites are being put upon, and we’ve got to do something about it. ‘We,’ being white voters.”
What else do you call it when thousands of white children across the country come home in tears because the teacher called them “racist oppressors”? What are the options of black parents when the school system tries to teach black kids that they are all victims and can’t do anything about it?
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“Put upon” in this case is not imaginary. There is an organized, carefully crafted curriculum that elevates the real and imagined sins of white people and makes that a prism through which teachers, children, and parents of all races are forced to view the world.
It may not be called “critical race theory.” Radicals believe that they are putting one over on the stupid rubes in flyover country by calling it something else — just so they can say (laughing behind their hand), “We don’t teach critical race theory in the schools.”
But Republican candidates will have to navigate this sort of Democratic obfuscation in their campaigns. The radicals will have a willing press who will attempt to tie every GOP candidate for office to Donald Trump and the events of Jan. 6. But it may be in 2022 that Trump’s toxicity in many quarters will have faded — replaced by the toxicity of Democratic education policies and continued distrust and loathing of the teacher’s unions.
Democrats used to “own” education as an issue. But the Republicans in Virginia have shown that, in many areas of the country, Republicans can seize on that issue and bury the Democrats and their nauseating theories on race for good.