The epicenter of Tuesday’s political earthquake took place not in Loudoun County, Virginia, but 150 miles to northeast in Gloucester County, New Jersey. Here, Republican Edward Durr, a truck driver who according to some media reports spent $153 on his campaign, ousted Steve Sweeney, president of the New Jersey Senate long described as the state’s most powerful politician and a past participant in a state legislative race dubbed the most expensive in U.S. history.
It put an exclamation point on the Election Day smackdown. But the sentences that follow the inevitable what-how-why question marks offer answers soothing rather than constructive. The corpses conducting the autopsy, while disagreeing on the causes of death, come together in blaming somebody, anybody else.
Progressives say they heard Republicans blowing racist “dog whistles.” Does this not acknowledge something more awful about themselves than Republicans?
CNN’s Brianna Keilar, who looks human and not canine, nevertheless heard “dog-whistle racism” from Glenn Youngkin’s campaign, an assessment which, despite lifting the words from Youngkin’s opponent Terry McAuliffe, who accused the Republican of employing a “racist dog whistle,” oddly, or perhaps not-so oddly, found popularity among Keilar’s colleagues in the press as an explanation for Tuesday’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. To believe racism such a popular concept in America as to function as a sort of political sonic screwdriver that miraculously fixes Republican double-digit deficits, as reeling Democrats touting a “dog whistle” defense clearly feign to do, seems like an awfully stupid talking point for politicos trying to curry favor with voters, at least American ones.
And it ignores that the same voters allegedly seduced by racism at the top of the ticket also cast ballots for African American Republican Winsome Sears in the lieutenant governor’s race and the Hispanic Republican Jason Miyares in the attorney general contest. Racism similarly seems an untenable excuse for Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, a black guy, winning reelection resoundingly by a write-in campaign against the socialist, defund-the-police nominee of the Democratic Party. Far-left ideologues cannot come to say that voters reject far-left ideas.
MSNBC’s Ari Melber blamed an act of God, or perhaps a more powerful entity in China, in theorizing that “voters punish the party in power” because of Covid. You see, the Democrats fell victim to circumstances. An MSNBC chyron actually read, “Breaking News: 2021 Elections Show Covid Hurts the Incumbent Party.” Breaking News: No MSNBC Chyron Said ‘Elections Show Covid Hurts the Incumbent Party’ Last Year.
The Nation’s John Nichols posits that recalcitrant Democrats impeding the legislative wish-list of progressives doomed Democrats. He asked, “Will Democrats recognize that they have to start nominating dynamic and inspiring candidates rather than ‘safe’ prospects who don’t turn out to be safe at all? Will they recognize that they must constantly be on the offense on behalf of a transformational agenda that they outline and then deliver upon?”
Resting on the presumption of the stupidity of Virginia voters and the enlightenment of CNN to tell them what they think they know just isn’t so, Jake Tapper maintained that Youngkin’s victory stemmed from the lie that Virginia schools teach critical race theory. The network’s Eva McKend offered similar analysis: “I do think that it’s worth noting, though, that in the last several weeks, this issue of critical race theory, even though it is not being taught in Virginia public schools, it became so core in this race.”
The people most enthusiastic about indoctrinating nine-year-olds with critical race theory deny its existence. Everyone ignore that the current executive officer of the Virginia Department of Education instructed schools to teach “Foundations of Critical Race Theory” and that the phrase also appears repeatedly on the Virginia Department of Education website.
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. But listen closely for dog whistles imperceptible to the human ear.
Blaming defeat on a majority of voters for embracing lies and exhibiting an attraction rather than a revulsion to racist appeals looks like convenient ego-stroking untethered to reality. But on one level such self-flattering analysis really does explain why Democrats lost. Any party that regards the electorate as racist dupes cannot help but alienate that electorate because the electorate, which does not regard itself as gullible bigots, senses that politicians of that party look down upon them. Who suggested to Democrats that attacking voters constituted a winning gameplan? Probably some clever Republican.
Post-election handwringing so often involves worrying how to deflect blame rather than worrying about how to avoid defeat next time. When Bill Clinton advanced a “New Democrat” vision in 1992, and then later pivoted after the disastrous 1994 midterm election to cruise to reelection in 1996, he showed a capacity to learn from past mistakes and meet the voters where they stood in a way alien to Democrats today. Whether the increasingly popular impulse for the beaten to say “no fair” rather than “congratulations,” or self-serving reasoning for failure that always seems to blame a political enemy, sore-loser partisans compound defeats by burying their gift.
Every loss contains the directions to a future victory circle if one listens closely enough. It’s tough to do that over the din of dog whistles.