So, perhaps, now we can answer Rosalind’s question to Orlando in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “Why then, can one desire too much of good thing?”
Answer: When the pursuit of the desire defeats the very thing desired. Or, put another way, when you freak out the electorate with overreach and start losing elections.
Terry McAuliffe’s loss in Virginia and Phil Murphy’s near loss in New Jersey was a shot over the bow for Democrats. So was the resounding rejection of high-profile Defund the Police movements around the country in this week’s just-concluded elections. The far-left, progressive wing of the Democratic Party is on the verge of torpedoing Democratic election aspirations in 2022 and 2024, and, perhaps, for years to come. That’s a shame because the Republican Party will become the home for those whose cause is not republicanism, but rather illiberal authoritarianism. A Democratic party perceived as radically left is making the Republican Party an attractive harbor for illiberal politicians, and liberal democracy will be the loser.
Now, to be sure, candidates generally have an uphill battle anyway in an off-year election when their party is in power. For instance, the party controlling the White House has lost 11 out of the last 12 off-year elections in Virginia. Nonetheless, that hard reality was really compounded when exit polls in the Old Dominion State showed that education was the second most important issue. How come?
Well, the Republicans made it an over-wrought political issue, and McAuliffe’s statement during a debate with Republican Glen Youngkin, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” was, well, inopportune. The widespread perception that Critical Race Theory is being foisted upon American public-school students is anathema to most families, even though that perception is, overwhelmingly, a myth. Republicans have so successfully conflated any discussion of racism in American history courses with so-called Critical Race Theory that school board members in some cities are facing irate crowds protesting something that, generally, really isn’t happening.
Wokeness and the cancel culture that is its handmaiden represent a bridge too far for most American voters. Progressive zealots do not seem to know the difference between a headwind and a tailwind. They don’t merely put their progressive agenda at risk, but also the candidacy of moderate consensus builders, who are, today, the only real hope of the Democratic Party. It took thirteen Republicans voting with the Democrats to send the infrastructure bill to President Biden’s desk this week. The cancel crowd within the President’s own party would have stopped the much-needed infrastructure bill dead in its tracks.
The Woke crowd learned or should have learned a hard lesson this week. The country has had enough Defund the Police and other cancel culture nonsense. The country knows better than to embrace cancel culture as a solution to our most pressing issues. Voters in liberal Minneapolis rejected by double digits the nonsensical proposal to convert the Police Department into a non-descript Department of Public Safety overseen by the city council.
Fast forward to liberal Seattle, where a liberal candidate for Mayor, Maria Lorena Gonzalez, was defeated handily by Moderate Democrat Bruce Harrell after Gonzalez supported cutting (canceling) police funding by fifty percent. Harrell seized on Gonzalez’s “defund” position and walked away with the election. Equally dramatic and telling was Seattle’s race for City Attorney, where Republican Ann Davison won in one of the bluest of blue cities in the nation. Her opponent, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy ran on a platform to abolish the police, and while at it to do away with the city’s jails as well. This cancel nonsense is devastating to democratic aspirations, and to serious candidates for public office, especially given that the party’s standard-bearer, President Biden, isn’t winning any popularity contests.
When Democratic politicians even allude to sympathy for wokeness or cancel culture they hand their Republican opponents a road map to victory. Republican campaign strategists do not have to prove or demonstrate that a Democratic opponent advocates extreme curricula in public education (think critical race theory), or is sympathetic to reducing or doing away with community policing. They just have to emphasize that Republicans are opposed to such extremism in public education and community law enforcement. Ergo, the Democrats must be for it.
Far-left cancel culture has been all the rage in some high-profile circles, and a strong and warranted backlash to it is emerging throughout the country. Zealots, sooner or later, ruin almost any cause, and the cause they are in danger of ruining today is liberal democracy and anti-authoritarianism.
Democrats must recognize that being woke is not widely perceived as simply being well informed or up to date. While that might be how the Oxford Dictionary has defined the word since formally recognizing it in 2017, it carries a very different political connotation today. Today, it is largely synonymous with far-left-leaning political correctness, if not far-left radical orthodoxy.
The sooner the Democrats wake up to that reality, the better.