The memo: Democrats go to war for ‘awakening’

Internal democratic tensions over cultural change, fairness and “awakening” are boiling after the party’s dismal performance in this week’s elections.

Progressives and centrists are in a pitched battle over how best to deal with the great debates that have been rocking the nation in recent years. Those debates touch on some of the crudest issues in American life: race, gender, and sexuality, as well as police, criminal justice, and education.

For the centrists, progressives are pushing the party out of mainstream American opinion, risking further electoral calamity. The left, they argue, is too simplistic and too prone to confusing the moralistic talk of social media with the more nuanced realities of public opinion.

On the left, the centrists are cowardly abandoning the central supporters of the party and its central purpose. If the Democratic Party is not committed to making America fairer, they ask, what is it for? Many progressives also see the centrist approach as a strategic mistake, arguing that caution and shyness depress enthusiasm among key voting groups.

The argument of the Democratic family has been sharpened by the victory of the Republican candidate Glenn youngkinGlenn Youngkin To counter racial politics, Congress must protect federal voting rights for all Politics 101: Lessons from Virginia, NJ, before the 2022 midterm elections Don Lemon disagrees with Carville on the ‘wake up’ says de-funding the police is a ‘stupid slogan’ MORE upon Terry McAuliffeTerry McAuliffeTrucker unseats former New Jersey Senate Speaker by spending next to nothing: Here’s how Politics 101: Lessons from Virginia, NJ Ahead of the 2022 Midterm Election Don Lemon disagrees with Carville on the ‘awakening ‘says taking funds from the police is a’ stupid slogan ‘MORE in the race for governor of Virginia.

Youngkin’s success was partly due to his criticism of racial theory and the influence of parents on major problems in schooling.

Formal critical theory of race, an advanced academic discourse, is not taught in Virginia public schools. But Youngkin made the subject a stand-in for broader curriculum concerns that highlight racial differences and focus on the most ignoble elements of American history.

Elsewhere, the incumbent governor of New Jersey. Phil MurphyPhil MurphyPolitics 101: Lessons From Virginia, NJ Ahead Of 2022 Midterm Election Don Lemon Disagree With Carville On ‘Waking Up’, Calls Police ‘Stupid Slogan’ House Sets Friday Voting for Biden’s agenda MORE (D) was uncomfortably close to Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, who made cultural issues, from COVID-19 mandates to LGBTQ rights, part of his campaign.

And progressives suffered great disappointment in Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd was assassinated by a police officer in May 2020. There, a ballot measure to replace the city’s police department with a public safety agency was defeated by a margin of 12 points.

That was enough for Democratic veterans like Clinton-era strategist James Carville to get into the fray against awakening.

“What went wrong was a stupid awakening,” Carville told “PBS NewsHour” host Judy Woodruff on Wednesday. “I mean, this madness of ‘taking funds from the police’, this of ‘taking Abraham Lincoln’s name out of the schools.’ … People see that. “

Carville added that some progressive activists “need to go to an ‘awake’ detox center or something like that. They are expressing language that people just don’t use and there is backlash and frustration over that. “

Others in the party make similar arguments, though not with Carville’s characteristic fierceness.

A Democratic strategist who requested anonymity lamented in this column that “we have come a long way to define these debates in the worst possible way for us.”

Rep. Hank johnsonHenry (Hank) C. Johnson Draft Georgia Congressional Lines Point to McBath, Underpin Bourdeaux Overnight Defense & National Security – Iron Dome Funding Passes House Overnight Defense & National Security – Presented by AM General – Defense Bill takes center stage MORE (D-Ga.) He played a similar note. He told The Associated Press that “most people have no problem teaching history in a balanced way.” But, he added, it is also true that “when you say critical theory of race, and you say that it is attacking us and making our children feel bad about themselves, that is an attractiveness that is attractive.”

Those views are received in full force by progressives.

On Friday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez Laws who opposed their parties on the infrastructure bill T Trucker unseats the former president of the New Jersey Senate by spending next to nothing – here’s how Rep. Boebert makes her version of the Ocasio-Cortez Met dress: ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ MORE (DN.Y.) tweeted a rebuttal to Carville, complaining that “experts like Carville use terms like ‘woke up’ to insult voters under 45” was “degrading.”

The New York congresswoman added: “Don’t wonder why youth participation declines when Democrats talk about them this way. We need everyone. “

Johnetta Elzie, a prominent racial justice activist, told this column that the optimism that characterized the huge Black Lives Matter protests in mid-2020 has waned.

“Everybody was very excited about the multicultural protests last summer, but all these things that national, state and local politicians published, all of that has been rejected,” he said, citing police reforms and broader issues like protection. of voting rights.

“People are seeing that the things they were fighting for last summer just fade away and are not important to the party.”

Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and former chair of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, said the Democratic Party had been “moving like dinosaurs when it comes to advancing issues of racial justice,” a slow pace that, she said, it had left people “frustrated.”

Tré Easton, senior adviser to the progressive Battle Born Collective, struck back at those who say the excessive “awakening” hurt Democrats in the most recent election.

“I just think that’s not tied to reality,” Easton said. “Progressives are not making the decisions in terms of where the Democratic Party is going. Progressives did not win the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. I don’t think Terry McAuliffe describes himself as progressive or even particularly “awake.” The people who make these accusations never have to “show their homework.” There is no evidence or data to support it. “

However, that claim is itself debatable.

For example, exit polls in Virginia indicated that a big driver of Youngkin’s victory was a shift among independent voters.

On Tuesday, Youngkin beat voters who called themselves neither Democrats nor Republicans by 9 points, a surprising change from the 2020 presidential election, when President BidenJoe BidenHouse Passes 1 Trillion Infrastructure Bills, Advances Social Spending Plan Virginia Democrats Concede Loss of State House Liberals, Moderate Strike Deal on Biden’s Agenda, Clearing the Way for MORE votes led the independents by 19 points over the former President TrumpDonald TrumpNASCAR seeks to distance itself from Republican rallying cry ‘Come on, Brandon’ Jan. 6 panel weighs contempt after brief statement to former Trump Justice Department official Clark Broken promises: Veterans health care is being replaced by the private sector MORE.

That seems to suggest that the problem is related to Democrats being viewed as too radical rather than not radical enough, especially when self-identifying Democratic voters cast 36 percent of all votes in both elections.

Republicans, meanwhile, say Democrats will play the game if they accelerate a march to the left.

“Cultural debates played a huge role in Virginia’s career,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant. “I don’t think Youngkin gave a speech throughout the campaign that didn’t mention critical race theory. But more importantly, the election was won in part because voters think Democrats have gone too far to the left and are culturally out of touch. “

Conant argued that this pattern “was not limited to a single election. You see it in Virginia, but you also see it in the collapse of support for Democrats among blue-collar voters in southern New Jersey. Unionized workers used to be the core of the Democratic Party. Now they are the core of the Republican Party. “

On one level, that process has lasted a lifetime.

President Lyndon Johnson grimly but accurately predicted that he had “lost the South for a generation” for his party by backing the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

Voters who moved to the Republican Party in the 1980s, largely on the basis of their more conservative cultural beliefs, became known as “Reagan Democrats.” President George HW Bush was aided to victory in 1988 in part by a racist ad, run by an outside group, featuring Willie Horton, a convicted murderer and rapist who is black.

But the particularly sharp changes that have been felt in recent years around so many cultural issues are clearly having a major impact on the political landscape.

The Democratic strategist who spoke in this column was still hopeful that the party could find an electoral sweet spot.

“You can advocate for racial progress in education and meaningful and substantial police reform, and still do it very well” at the polls, the strategist said. “But you can’t say, ‘I want to defund the police and get parents out of education’ and do it very well.”

Right now, Democrats are struggling to thread the needle.

The Memo is a column reported by Niall Stanage.

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