The results from 2021 bombshell election in Virginia show that there are no economic, national security, or kitchen table issues. In American politics today, there is only the culture war.
by Joe DeSantis
One of the most enduring tropes of beltway conventional groupthink is that there exists a distinct category of voter concerns called “cultural issues.”
Cultural issues are supposed to be distinct from economic or national security issues – or kitchen table issues such as education and health care. Cultural issues include abortion, LGBTQ rights, the “War on Christmas,” or basically, whatever Fox News is talking about that week.
This distinction may have had some validity at one time, but it is increasingly irrelevant. It is a narrative framework that members of the left use to excuse why, in their smug accounting, so many Americans “vote against their interests” (by which they mean, don’t support big government socialist candidates).
In fact, the results from this week’s bombshell election in Virginia show that there are no economic, national security, or kitchen table issues.
In American politics today, there is only the culture war. Or, to put in a less dramatic way, all issues are cultural issues.
This week’s results in Virginia are a case in point.
A poll taken late last week showed that nationally, Democrats have a 10-point advantage on the issue of education.
However, according to exit polls in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin was able to win among voters who listed education as their top issue by 55-44.
This is not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it shows just how much campaigns manner. Youngkin was able to take an issue that normally advantages Democrats and turn it against them. He did it by finding a cultural fault line that alienated moderate voters from former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and used that as the “foot in the door” to steal the issue away from Democrats.
That fault line was the influence of critical race theory and gender ideology on what children were being taught in schools – and the rights of parents to have a say in what their children are learning in the schools their taxes fund.
It was a fault line exposed by the closure of schools due to the pandemic and the deep resistance by the teachers’ unions, the education bureaucracy, and the government to reopening them. Parents watched as their kids’ test scores and academic achievement in core skills such as mathematics and reading dropped, while the education establishment seemed to be focused on indoctrination in race- and gender-obsessed ideology.
The influence of CRT and gender ideology has taken many forms in our schools, from forcing kids to identify themselves by race in rankings of “privilege” to allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports. These were potent rallying cries. But one aspect that has been overlooked in most of the coverage has been the lowering of standards in schools, under the guise of “equity.”
The simplistic and reductionist argument from the CRT ideologues is that because honors and other advanced placement programs have lower participation rates from blacks and Hispanics, they must be racist.
All Americans want every child to succeed, but not at the expense of their own child. CRT’s simplistic zero-sum view of the world as “privileged” and “oppressed” put their child in the crosshairs, and parents understood that.
This created the opening that Youngkin needed.
He leaned into the fight over CRT in schools, signed the 1776 Action network pledge to abolish it in schools, and insisted on parental rights to opt their children out of certain material. But Youngkin didn’t just run against CRT, he ran for excellence in schools. He pledged to raise teacher salaries with the largest education budget in state history and bring charter schools to Virginia.
This elegant weaving of resistance to left-wing ideology in schools with a broader commitment to improving education in the Commonwealth was critical for two reasons.
First, it prevented the left-wing attacks that his focus on CRT in schools was racist from sticking. To Virginia parents, this was a man who was concerned with the quality of their children’s education, not with “maintaining white supremacy.”
Second, it allowed him to take advantage of McAuliffe’s fatal mistake.
In their final debate, when discussing the education issue, McAuliffe said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
The most devastating gaffes in politics are usually ones in which the speaker says something he or she believes to be true.
In one sentence, McAuliffe validated parents’ concerns about ideologues using schools to indoctrinate their children. Because Youngkin had positioned himself as a defender of excellence in education, he was able to take advantage.
If you look at the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Youngkin began narrowing the gap from that moment in late September to take the lead in the final week of the campaign.
Youngkin’s success gives Republicans a model, not just to win on education, but other issues which Democrats have traditionally dominated: Make every issue a cultural issue, but don’t just be against what the left is pushing, weave it into a positive vision for the future.
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