Sadly, Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times is one of very few pundits to weigh in on a Michigan state legislator who blasted the racist, homophobic slurs in the far right’s latest assault on K-12 public education.

The lawmaker, state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, a Democrat of suburban Detroit (Royal Oak), replied In kind when a Republican senator picked up on a QAnon conspiracy theory and implicitly accused her — by name — of pedophilia. Her floor speech went viral nationwide and got a segment with John Yang on the PBS NewsHour (embedded above), as well as a mention by Brooks and Capehart (which I’ll blog separately HERE). Otherwise, it’s been pretty much … crickets.

But Boule mentioned it in Friday’s column. Not only that, but he brought some historical perspective:

Almost 60 years ago, the historian Richard Hofstadter described what he saw as the true goal of McCarthyism. “The real function of the Great Inquisition of the 1950s was not anything so simply rational as to turn up spies or prevent espionage,” he wrote, “or even to expose actual Communists, but to discharge resentments and frustrations, to punish, to satisfy enmities whose roots lay elsewhere than in the Communist issue itself.”

Likewise, in a much more recent book, “The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left,” the historian Landon R.Y. Storrs shows how conservatives used loyalty pledges to purge the federal bureaucracy of government officials “who hoped to advance economic and political democracy by empowering subordinated groups and setting limits on the pursuit of private profit.”

Verbatim excerpts follow:

The Red Scare [of the 1950s] is, in this view, less a sudden outburst of reactionary hysteria than a political project aimed directly at dismantling the New Deal order and ousting those who helped bring it into being, both inside and outside the federal government.

Without making a direct analogy between then and now, I think that this perspective is a useful one to have in mind as conservatives pursue yet another witch hunt against those they perceive as enemies of American society, using whatever state power they happen to have at their disposal. Both the crusade against “critical race theory” and the slanderous campaign against L.G.B.T.Q. educators and education 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 L.G.B.T.Q. 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.

***

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.

***

Cite: Jamelle Bouie “Democrats, You Can’t Ignore the Culture Wars Any Longer,” New York Times, April 22, 2022 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/22/opinion/red-scare-culture-wars.html.

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