On Long Island, where I grew up, there are Republicans pushing unending culture wars... attacking school boards and targeting LGBTQ youth with their hatred and hypocrisy. Early this morning, Melanie D'Arrigo, the only candidate for fundamental change in the new North Shore congressional district, told me that "Republicans are offering-- nothing to the American people beyond a divisive culture war meant to distract us from how little they seek to achieve. When we don’t forcefully call out the lies, bigotry and bad faith attacks from them we expose our most marginalized to more and increasingly brazen attacks, while allowing them to control the narrative. When Republicans attack trans kids, we must remind Americans that they are harming children and trying to deny them equal rights. When they talk about 'CRT,' we remind them that they are trying to destroy public education in order to push propaganda to our children and make education for-profit and unaffordable. When they decry 'cancel culture,' we remind them that they are the party that tried to overturn a fair election and that actions have consequences. We cannot back away from the tough fights if we want to prove to every American that we can not only govern, but govern in a way that shows we always have all of their backs."
Please consider contributing what you can to D'Arrigo's campaign here. I want to tell you about a NY Times column, by Jamelle Bouie yesterday that warned Democrats that they can't keep ignoring the culture war the GOP is using the undermine them. The photo above, of vicious homophobe Madison Cawthorn in drag, would be all over GOP propaganda if Cawthorn was a Democrat. But, as far as I can tell the national Democratic committees are completely ignoring it. Cawthorn has already admitted they are real photographs, but claimed they were taken before it was in Congress. This one, on the other hand, is photoshopped, created by the DWT art director almost a month ago, understanding full well where the Madison "coke and orgies" Cawthorn narrative was headed.
Turning the tables on conservatives who are systematically pursuing "yet another witch hunt against those they perceive as enemies of American society, using whatever state power they happen to have at their disposal" sounds like a great project to me-- but not one I can imagine the Democratic establishment-- let alone the woke community-- ever taking seriously. "Both the crusade against 'critical race theory' and the slanderous campaign against LGBTQ educators and education," wrote Bouie, "are as much about undermining key public goods (and stigmatizing the people who support them) as they are about generating enthusiasm for the upcoming midterm elections."
To be clear, this isn’t some secret. Christopher Rufo, a right-wing provocateur who helped instigate both the panics against “critical race theory” and against LGBTQ educators in schools, has openly said that he hopes to destroy public education in the United States. “We are right now preparing a strategy of laying siege to the institutions,” he said last November in an interview with my colleague Michelle Goldberg. In a recent speech, delivered to an audience at the conservative Hillsdale College, Rufo declared that “to get universal school choice you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust.”
It’s not subtle.
Republican lawmakers are similarly open about why they ginned up this panic: to dismantle public education for political and ideological reasons. Last year, Republicans in Michigan backed a bill that would slash school funding if educators taught “critical race theory,” “anti-American” ideas about race in the United States or material from the New York Times’ 1619 Project.
Earlier this month, Ohio Republicans introduced a bill prohibiting any public, community or private school (that accepts vouchers) in the state from teaching, using or providing “any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade. In practice, schools would likely have to remove any books or materials that deal with LGBTQ issues. Teachers and school officials who violate the law, which mirrors a controversial Florida law its opponents call “Don’t Say Gay,” would be sanctioned with either an official admonishment, “licensure suspension, or licensure revocation” depending on the “severity of the offense.” School districts themselves could lose funding.
And speaking of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill this week to make it more difficult, in some cases, for professors at public universities to attain or retain tenure, following other bills meant to curtail the teaching of “critical race theory” and, as mentioned, to keep any acknowledgment of LGBTQ gender identity out of classrooms. “We need to make sure the faculty are held accountable and make sure they don’t just have tenure forever without having any type of ways to hold them accountable or evaluate what they’re doing,” DeSantis said at a news conference. Chris Sprowls, the speaker of the House in Florida, framed the legislation as a way to prevent “indoctrination” of students.
With few exceptions (most notably a Michigan state lawmaker who loudly criticized and condemned one of her Republican colleagues for accusing her of attempting to “groom” and “sexualize” kindergartners), the Democratic Party has been conspicuously quiet as these panics metastasized, even as one of them-- the attack on teaching the history of race in the United States-- helped deliver the Virginia governor’s mansion to Republicans.
The theory seems to be that Democrats can only lose if they engage this culture war, and that they’ll be on safer ground if they can deliver in Washington and run on their policy achievements without getting into the muck with Republicans.
Democrats have notably not delivered on many of their promises. The bulk of President Biden’s agenda is stalled in Congress, and the White House has been reluctant to the point of timidity when it comes to the use of executive orders to achieve its goals. But even if that were not the case, this posture toward the culture war would be a mistake. These are not just attacks on individual teachers and schools; they don’t stigmatize just vulnerable children and their communities; they are the foundation for an assault on the very idea of public education, part of the long war against public goods and collective responsibility fought by conservatives on behalf of hierarchy and capital.
These are not distractions to ignore; they are battles to be won. The culture war is here, whether Democrats like it or not. The only alternative to fighting it is losing it.