Last week’s off-year election was one such straw in the wind. It drove the conversation — not necessarily because most people around the country care who serves as governor in New Jersey and Virginia, two states that collectively make up only about 5% of the US population. But it served as a signal of what may be to come: a defeat for Democrats who are trying to hold onto control of Congress in next November’s national vote.
“Straws in the wind, is it all ending?” so sang Australian rockers King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard in their 2020 single. Or, to quote Bob Dylan, “You don’t need a weatherman, to know which way the wind blows.”
In Virginia, it was a “wipeout” for Democrats, wrote Paul Begala. “If DC Dems can’t unite and make life better for working families, they will be swept away in the same flood that wiped them out in Virginia.” While Democratic leaders in Congress were trying — and repeatedly failing — to pass bills to rebuild roads, bridges and other infrastructure and to strengthen the social safety net, Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin “shamelessly exploited racial divisions with his virtually fact-free assertion that critical race theory (CRT) is poisoning the minds of the schoolchildren of Virginia,” Begala wrote.
CRT isn’t even taught in Virginia, and Begala called discussions of it a “dog whistle” to stir racial animosity. “But cynical, divisive racial appeals find more fertile soil when Democrats can’t deliver. The middle-class American dream is why God created the Democratic Party.”
Likely with that in mind, House Democrats passed the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill late Friday, sending a major legislative accomplishment to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature. “A big win helps change the narrative,” wrote David Axelrod, “and, coupled with news of a positive jobs report and a new antiviral Covid-19 pill, the end of the week was as upbeat as the beginning was dark for this White House.” He said it “was an essential benchmark for Biden and the Democrats, who need to show a solid body of work if they have any hope of cutting through the brutal midterm headwinds in 2022.”
There were dozens of takes on what went wrong for Youngkin’s Democratic rival Terry McAuliffe, but SE Cupp zeroed in on a key factor: “It was actually pretty darn simple: Don’t mess with moms … Suburban women got Youngkin over the finish line, big time.” McAuliffe made the mistake of saying, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” as Cupp pointed out.
“Imagine saying that in Virginia, a state that already has a healthy number of homes-choolers, and where, during the pandemic, families were forced to teach at home because of statewide school closures,” said Cupp. “To this group of people McAuliffe decided to essentially say, you shouldn’t be in charge of your kids’ education — I should.”
The story in Virginia, in Peniel E. Joseph‘s view, “is really one about how easy it is to weaponize White anger for political gain. We are witnessing a backlash against the racial justice protests that rocked the US and the world in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 … White parents’ fear and anxiety over some kind of conspiracy to destroy suburban schoolchildren through the teaching of CRT taps into a deeper well of racial resentment than is being openly discussed enough in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election.”
In the Atlantic, Yascha Mounk noted that “Youngkin capitalized on a widespread public perception that Democrats are out of tune with the country on cultural issues. In doing so, he demonstrated that Republicans who attack identity politics without embracing Trump’s extremist rhetoric can be highly competitive in purple and even solidly blue states (such as New Jersey, where another gubernatorial election that was meant to be an easy win for Democrats has turned out to be unexpectedly close).”
What should Biden do? Julian Zelizer pointed out that voters supported Biden in the 2020 election because they “yearned for competence and normality.” But that “didn’t just mean they wanted a President who avoided Twitter and refrained from firing White House staff in dramatic, made for television announcements. He understood Americans wanted a President who could actually tackle the nation’s biggest problems.“
“Competence means governance and problem-solving. It means getting things done, so voters can see tangible results. The New Deal was successful not because it offered voters some grand ideological vision of society, but because President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the problems Americans faced by providing public jobs, electrifying rural areas, building roads and bridges and creating unemployment insurance and Social Security.”
Getting ready for 2022
Two of the people in charge of running elections in swing states sounded the alarm about the 2022 vote. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and her Arizona counterpart, Katie Hobbs, wrote, “Those against democracy have spent this year showing us there may be no ‘bottom’ to how far they will go to lie, deceive, and interfere with the will of the voters. It’s time we believe them, and get to work spending every day of this next year working to make telling the truth and protecting democracy a paramount focus of our time.”
It’s safe to say the next 12 months will be a time of high political anxiety. In a piece adapted from her new book, “Saving Grace,” CNN senior political analyst Kirsten Powers shared some advice for handling it. “In 2018, barely two years into the Trump era, I hit a wall,” Powers wrote. “I was in a near-constant state of agitation, emotionally and physically exhausted and with contempt coursing through my veins for large swaths of people I had never even met. If this state had been helpful to anyone or any cause I cared about, perhaps it would have been worth it. But it wasn’t. America felt as divided and toxic as it had ever been in my lifetime. Little did I know, we were just getting warmed up.”
“As we head into the midterm election season with so much hanging in the balance, grace just might be what helps you, and even our country, survive.”
The Trump non-factor
Glenn Youngkin dressed for the campaign in dark red fleece vests, going tieless in contrast to Donald Trump’s bright red neckwear. And he kept the former President at arm’s length, wrote Scott Jennings. He “focused on his own brand and on issues that were top of mind for local voters, instead of on a Trump-centric or Trump-style campaign that relied on rotating grievances and personal pique.”
“Youngkin firmly rejected the January 6 Capitol riot and didn’t prejudge the integrity of the election, although Trump played footsie with that message in some of his personal statements in the weeks leading up to Election Day. And it didn’t drive any Republicans away from his campaign, apparently, contrary to what Trump argued a few weeks ago when he said Republicans wouldn’t vote unless the GOP made election security its top (and only?) issue.”
Alice Stewart wrote that “McAuliffe and the Democrats wasted valuable time and resources on campaigning against Donald Trump and falsely linking Youngkin to the former President. This strategy was a costly miscalculation. Virginia voters realized Trump was not on the ballot.“
It’s true, observed Frida Ghitis, that “Democrats have much soul-searching to do. But Republicans, whether they admit it or not, have a huge problem on their hands.” They can win independent voters but “only if they keep the defeated former President Donald Trump at arm’s length. But how long can they do that? The fact is, Republicans would have a good chance of winning the White House in 2024 — if they get someone other than Trump to win the nomination.” Trump is, so far, the clear front-runner for that nod.
Complicating the picture for Republicans is the role of conservative media, especially voices like Tucker Carlson of Fox News. His three-part series on Fox Nation depicted the January 6 rioters as “righteous patriots, drawn to the nation’s capital by a mix of concern about the validity of the election results and FBI entrapment,” wrote Nicole Hemmer.
“Carlson’s aim with this false narrative is to forge a brand of populist conservatism with former President Donald Trump at its head, built for and around aggrieved, besieged ‘legacy Americans’ — Carlson’s nativist term for White people whose families have lived in the United States for generations.” Hemmer’s key takeaway: “Whatever direction Trumpism goes next, it will still have at its heart violent conspiracies and a deep suspicion of democracy. There’s nothing truly conservative — or American — about any of it.”
Eric Adams on US cities
The newly elected mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, was among many Democrats urging swift action on the bills that would enact Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda. Writing for CNN Opinion, Adams argued that helping America’s cities is vital “if our country is going to recover from Covid-19 and reach new heights, because the truth is that our cities power our country … Our representatives must do the smart thing — and the right thing — and pass Biden’s plans to bring America back.”
The infrastructure bill languished in the House for months as progressives pushed for certainty that all of the Senate Democrats would vote for the social spending bill, which has been cut from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion as a result of objections from Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
“We are told daily that since Biden has only 50 Democratic votes in the Senate, Manchin and Sinema hold all the cards, and that in effect the lobbyists have triumphed,” wrote economist Jeffrey D. Sachs. “Yet that is a disastrously defeatist perspective. It means surrendering on crucial measures without a fight, which is what Biden and the other Democratic leaders seem to be doing. Yet would Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson have folded their hands because a couple of Democratic senators were siding with lobbyists?”
A title for Atlanta
Few MLB teams have done as poorly as the Atlanta Braves did before reaching — and winning — the World Series last week. As Terence Moore wrote, they were still below .500 in early August.
Jorge Soler was hitting an anemic .192 when he was acquired by the Braves mid-season. He hit three homers in the series and won the MVP award.
Atlanta celebrated its first Series title in 26 years, but there were mixed feelings. “Even though the Braves are a nightmare for anybody into social justice, they’re also a dream for those of us hugging miracles,” Moore wrote.
“Most strikingly, Braves officials refused to get rid of the chopping and the chanting. They encouraged it during games with a digital image — on all of the ballpark’s video boards — of a tomahawk going up and down. Even miracle workers have a lot to improve on before next season.“
Texas abortion law in court
The novel approach Texas conservatives took to try to undo Roe. v. Wade ran into trouble this week in the US Supreme Court, where even two justices on the right expressed doubts about the new law. It essentially deputizes private citizens to enforce a ban on most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy by allowing them to file lawsuits against clinics, doctors and anyone who helps a woman get the medical procedure. But Mary Ziegler said abortion-rights activists shouldn’t take much comfort.
“While the law has been in effect, people in Texas have been forced to travel out of state for abortions, causing serious overcrowding in neighboring states. Pregnant women have to risk their lives to travel out of state to manage ectopic pregnancies; the law’s narrow medical emergency exception scares physicians away from providing necessary care. Blocking SB8, or striking it down, would save Texas women from this nightmare,” Ziegler wrote. “But in the long term, siding against Texas more likely means that the court has tired of the proxy war on Roe and is ready for a more direct attack. If the court’s conservative majority wanted to dismantle Roe, there were always multiple ways of doing so.”
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The Shakespeare of comic books
Marvel Studios’ newest film, “Eternals,” stars Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Kumail Nanjiani and is based on a 1976 comic book by Jack Kirby. As Roy Schwartz wrote, “Kirby, who died in 1994, was foundational to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it currently exists … no other comic book artist has had a bigger impact on the field.”
Kirby, born Jacob Kurtzberg, the son of Jewish immigrants from Austria, dropped out of Pratt Institute at 14 but went on to have a remarkable career, Schwartz noted. “His legacy far exceeds comics and superheroes. His signature style — a fusion of pivotal artistic movements such as cubism, expressionism, surrealism, avant-garde, op art, Indigenous South American, midcentury commercial and futurism, blended into a visual language all his own — and its innovation in composition, dynamism and design, can be found today in virtually all forms of visual media and art, from film to advertising to photography …”
“Kirby’s significance to comics is like Shakespeare’s to literature; the great master of the form, the virtuoso who coined much of its idioms and tropes, forever its highest standard. He may not be a household name but his influence, direct and indirect, can be seen practically everywhere. He is a founding father of modern popular culture. Like his latest creation to reach the big screen, the King’s influence is eternal.”