Good Sunday morning and welcome back to Central Standard Time. Denny Burke’s Sunday jazz selection is Why Don’t You Do Right? by Peggy Lee. May the Packers win today behind an amazing performance by Jordan Love, a man who is both vaccinated and not under the impression that he is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This morning we’re shining the YSDA spotlight on one of our favorite writers, Jonah Goldberg. He’s a Never Trump Republican and editor of The Dispatch, which is an online publication that is well worth your time.
Below is a shortened version of a piece that appeared on Friday. I’ve highlighted parts that I thought deserved it.
I know lots of intellectuals who think their ideas haven’t caught on or their books didn’t sell well because the general public couldn’t handle or comprehend their brilliance. There are chefs who make unpalatable dishes, architects who make hideous buildings, and directors who release terrible movies who, in response to the market saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” assume the fault lies with the public rather than themselves.
This is a natural human reaction, but it’s a particular problem for political parties. Which, of course, brings me to the elections this week.
Led by Glenn Youngkin, the Republicans delivered a fairly humiliating defeat to the Democrats in Virginia. And the response from many liberals has been to blame it all on racism. I watched MSNBC on Election Night and that was the consensus view. This supercut from Tom Elliot gives you a good flavor of it.
Now, I’m open to the idea there was a racial component to the Virginia election. I’m even open to the idea that “critical race theory” served as a kind of dog whistle for some Republican voters. More about that in a moment.
But even if you believe that, there is no way to look at the returns or the exit polls and reasonably conclude it was a major factor, never mind the sole reason for McAuliffe’s loss. Biden won Virginia by 10 points last year. On Tuesday, Republicans won it by two points. That 12-point swing means a lot of Biden voters must have voted for Youngkin. Indeed, Youngkin improved upon Trump’s performance with pretty much every group and county in the state. Did they all become racist over the course of a year? Big if true. Even bigger if true: Virginia elected Winsome Sears, the first African American woman to hold statewide office in Virginia history. As the guy said when the KKK gave a big donation to the NAACP legal defense fund, “That’s a weird thing for racists to do.” (The KKK, in fact, did not do that.)
Meanwhile, the New Jersey Republican candidate for governor, Jack Ciattarelli, almost beat the incumbent Democrat. Assuming he eventually concedes, it still means that he erased a D+16 advantage almost entirely. He ran pretty much exclusively on tax issues. Was that racist?
I don’t want to dwell on this stuff too much, because it’s all very familiar to everyone with even a marginal interest in the topic. But if I were to explain these facts to the folks crediting racism for Youngkin’s victory, a sizable number of them would roll their eyes and say something like, “You just don’t understand how complex racism is.” If you doubt such fertile minds exist, I point you to Michael Eric Dyson’s claim that Winsome Sears was a puppet for white supremacy. “The problem is, here, they want white supremacy by ventriloquist effect,” he said. “There is a black mouth moving but a white idea running on the runway of the tongue of a figure who justifies and legitimates the white supremacist practices.”
Now, I could easily rant about how assuming that everyone who votes contrary to your desires is racist is immoral and grotesque because it’s so obviously true. But I’d rather talk about how it’s terrible politics. If you blame racism every time you lose, it might make you feel good about yourself—in fact I think that goes a long way toward explaining why people do it—but it won’t make many of those voters feel better about you.
Because so much of what passes for political analysis on cable news is really just an ongoing effort to make viewers feel better about themselves, these kinds of ideas get a lot more play than the facts warrant. The ideological fan service industry is lucrative these days. Feel terrible that Trump lost? Don’t worry, the election was stolen. Bummed that McAuliffe lost? Don’t worry, it’s not because your ideas are bad or unpopular, it’s because villainous people did racist stuff to make people racist.
Which brings me to critical race theory. I agree entirely with defenders of critical race theory that most people have, at best, a vague understanding of it. Where I part company is on the question of how relevant that is. What a lot of the people object to is the general approach to talking about race today. If you want to call it anti-racism, or woke-ism, or some other label, it has no bearing on the thing people object to, because words aren’t things. And the things people object to can’t be fixed by changing the labels we use for them. The progressive response to anti-CRT rhetoric is one of the great examples of motte-and-bailey argumentation in public life in my lifetime. In front of friendly audiences, it’s all systemic racism, white supremacy, and the like. When people push back, it’s because “they don’t want to talk about slavery and Jim Crow!”
I’m getting tired of saying this, but schools have been teaching about slavery a lot for the last 60 years at least. If progressives were just saying, “Schools need to teach about slavery and Jim Crow,” it would be no different than saying, “Schools need to teach math!” because that’s already happening. But most normal people understand that there is something new going on, and that’s the thing they’re objecting to.
I’m sure that racists perceived anti-critical race theory rhetoric as a racist dog whistle. I don’t think it was intended that way, but why wouldn’t racists see it that way? They’re racists, after all. But telling non-racists that they’re indistinguishable from those people is just stupid if you want to get their votes later. And that’s what democracy—at least our democracy—is supposed to be about.
In a healthy political environment, intellectuals, journalists, and politicians would respond to feedback from the voters with at least a little understanding and generosity. I mean, it’s one thing to criticize the voters in Alabama who voted to uphold Jim Crow 60 years ago. But this isn’t that. Many of these voters cast ballots for Joe Biden in 2020 and voted for Democrats generally for years. Why leap to demonizing them as bigots or fools because they disagreed with you this time?
In fairness to elected Democrats, they did this sort of thing far less than the ideological cadres that shape the Democratic or progressive message more broadly.
The enemies of most politicians these days are the journalists, activists, and intellectuals who tell them—and their voters—what politics can and should deliver. I’ve written more than enough about the perils of populism to be immune from the charge that politicians should just cater to the masses on every issue. But there’s nothing wrong with taking into account what voters say in various elections and adjusting to political realities.
Welcome to the 263rd day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!