Greenfield: Voters’ Rejection of Progressivism = Culture War

As we continue to digest the outcomes of elections across the country last Tuesday, it’s important to understand the lessons the Left is taking home – or not.  Now, immediately following the election, there were plenty of tweets from leftists to the effect that – what else?- Virginia voters are racists and, most memorably, from MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, Critical Race Theory “isn’t real.”  But that was just spur-of-the-moment petulance from those who were disappointed at the voters’ root-and-branch rejection of their pet narratives.  It’s nothing to take too seriously.  But now we’re starting to get longer pieces like this one from Jeff Greenfield.

It’s a mixed bag at best.  Less charitably, if Greenfield’s represents the Left’s firmest grasp on last Tuesday’s lessons, Democrats are in deep trouble.  Still, some of the piece shows at least a glimmering of awareness.

For example,

For Democrats, one lesson of Virginia may well be that their candidates in 2022 and 2024 — most definitely including Biden — will need to find ways to position themselves loudly and clearly against these views…

By “these views,” Greenfield referred to CRT and Defund the Police, so his statement is nothing but the obvious.  Those issues don’t play in Peoria or much of anywhere else outside of academia and the progressive Left.  They’re certainly nothing on which to base a winning electoral campaign.

A six-point program to make schools better and college more affordable will mean very little if voters believe their neighborhoods are unsafe; and while demagogues will eagerly feed such fears, they will motivate voters only if there is an underlying reality to them. 

Well, try to ignore Greenfield’s notion that only “demagogues” feed fears of violent crime.  Over the 12 months from 2019 to 2020, the U.S. murder rate spiked 30%, the largest such increase since 1905 and maybe ever.  Memo to Greenfield: many people genuinely care about such things and doing so doesn’t make them demagogues.  They care at least in part because a disproportionately large share of violent crime targets black people and the poor, two constituencies progressives and Democrats pretend to care about.  Bill Clinton understood how Democrats need to address the issue of violent crime.  Leftists today might want to pay attention.

That said, Greenfield’s right that trying to drum up concern about any issue is hard to do if there’s not an underlying reality to it.  People are much less worried about violent crime when its rate is low.  If voters are concerned about the cost of housing (and they are), it’s likely because housing costs are high.  These are not difficult concepts.

So Greenfield gets some things right and gives Democrats some sound, if painfully obvious, advice.

Beyond that though, his piece is pretty much a mess.  If it fairly represents the level of analysis on offer by liberal Democrats, their electoral prospects for the near future are bleak.  Consider:

And that suggests the real lesson for Republicans on Tuesday. One of their most powerful political assets is alive and well: the power of cultural issues over policies.

If anything can be called the overarching theme of his article, that’s it, the problem being that it just makes no sense. 

First, there is no separation between “cultural issues” and “policies.”  Policies are meant to address issues, many of which we might call “cultural” as opposed to, say, “foreign affairs.”  Whatever the name, public policy and cultural issues are irrevocably connected.  Policies to defund the police go a long way toward accounting for the recent spike in violent crime.  Civil rights laws in the 1960s handed southern electoral votes to Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, an outcome President Johnson predicted to Dean Rusk when he signed the bills.  No-fault divorce laws resulted in skyrocketing divorce rates.  Sharply reduced prison sentences in the 60s and 70s resulted in sharply increased rates of criminal offending.  The idea that there’s some opposition or disconnect between “cultural issues” and “policies” is just silly.

But that opposition dreamed up by Greenfield is worse than just false.  By attempting to draw a line between the two, Greenfield muddies his analysis of Tuesday’s results and what Democrats need to do to improve their electoral chances.  Most amazingly, he believes that it’s Republicans who instigate “culture wars” while Democrats just sit around fiddling with “policy.”  Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn gives the lie to that absurdity here:

Funny thing about culture wars: No one ever seems to think the left launches them. Take the “1619 Project,” an effort by the New York Times to recast America’s true founding from 1776 to 1619, when a privateer ship brought 20 kidnapped African slaves to Virginia. The project has also been adapted for American classrooms.

“Yet when parents object to it, as they did in Virginia, the Times accuses the GOP of stoking a culture war,” columnist Michael Goodwin noted in Sunday’s New York Post. Never mind that the “1619 Project” is itself a culture war salvo.

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that American culture is under siege and not from Republicans or conservatives.  They’re not the one pulling down statues of Thomas Jefferson and removing Abraham Lincoln’s name from schools.  They’re not the ones proclaiming that a range of positive attributes (hard work, honesty, integrity, punctuality, etc.) are “white,” oppressive and inimical to people of color.  They’re not the ones driving highly respected college professors off campus or into hiding based solely on their opposition to woke ideas.

Greenfield’s not only seriously confused, but his confusion leads inevitably to his inability to figure out what went wrong for the party of the donkey last week.  If you truly believe that only conservatives launch culture wars, you’re bound to be blind to those launched by the Left.  And if you can’t see them, how are you going to correct the errors produced by your culture war?

As I said, Greenfield’s article is a mess and a mess isn’t exactly what Democrats need to guide them to the electoral promised land next year and beyond.

More on that next time. 

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