Campaigning in Virginia for Terry McAuliffe this weekend, Barack Obama said this to supporters:
We don’t have time to be wasted on these phony trumped-up culture wars, this fake outrage, the right-wing media’s pedals to juice their ratings. And the fact that [Glenn Youngkin is] willing to go along with it instead of talking about serious problems that actually affect serious people? That’s a shame.
That’s not what this election’s about. That’s not what you need, Virginia. Instead of forcing our communities to cut back at a time when we’re just starting to recover, we should be doing more to support people who are educating our kids, and keeping our communities safe.
What does Obama mean when he says “we don’t have time to be wasted on these phony trumped-up culture wars”? Obviously, he’s saying he doesn’t take the culture war issues — boys using girls’ bathrooms, teachers inculcating Critical Race Theory, etc. — seriously. But when he talks about not wasting time on them, is he telling Democrats to ignore them, in other words not to respond to Republicans who raise them in the campaign?
That would be bad advice. Youngkin’s poll numbers have improved markedly as he has leveled “culture war” attacks on McAuliffe. The Dems can’t let these attacks go unanswered. They have to say something, and that “something” should be more than calling the issues phony, which is really just a way of saying nothing.
I don’t take Obama to be advising Virginia Dems to ignore culture war attacks. I think he’s just criticizing Youngkin for raising the issues Obama believes, or pretends to believe, are “phony.” I’m not sure what he accomplishes by this, but it’s probably what he’s doing.
There is, though, an important sense in which an admonition to Democrats not to waste time on culture war issues would be valuable. Democrats would be well served if they didn’t push the envelope so aggressively on such issues — if they didn’t insist, for example, on the “right” of boys to use girls’ bathrooms and didn’t advocate teaching children that they are inherently racist simply because of their skin color.
As I discussed in this post, polling shows these issues to be clear losers for Democrats. Furthermore, an admonition against wasting their time fighting these kinds of culture wars issues would be consistent with (1) traditional Democratic liberalism, (2) traditional socialism, and (3) Obama’s own presidency, to some degree.
Until recently, liberal Democrats didn’t waste time on cutting-edge cultural issues. They focused on lunch-bucket matters — issues related to wages, jobs, and entitlements.
They also talked about abortion — “a woman’s right to choose.” But that made sense because their position on it is about as popular as it is unpopular.
Otherwise, the Dems steered largely clear of controversial social issues. They generally followed Bill Clinton’s admonition to “focus like a lazer” on the economy.
Traditional socialists are, if anything, even less interested in novel social/culture issues. For them, as for Karl Marx, it’s all about the economy. This was the unrelenting focus of Bernie Sanders’ two presidential campaigns, for example.
Even Obama tried to steer of highly-charged culture war issues during his first term as president. His focus was almost entirely on expanding health insurance coverage and spending money to stimulate the economy. Even on immigration — a mixed economic-cultural issue — Obama did not take extreme positions during the first term.
That was then. Now, the Democrats are wholly committed to a woke agenda, and I don’t read Obama’s comment in Virginia this weekend as advocating that Dems reverse that course. It’s not going to happen, and Obama knows it.
I do wonder, though, whether a part of Obama — two parts actually, the old socialist and the pragmatist — regrets his party’s strong commitment to wokeism, and whether there is whiff of that regret in what he told Virginians at the rally this weekend.