The Republican platform for '22 and beyond: Attack public education via 'Critical Race Theory'
How will Democrats respond?
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans plan to forcefully oppose race and diversity curricula — tapping into a surge of parental frustration about public schools — as a core piece of their strategy in the 2022 midterm elections, a coordinated effort to supercharge a message that mobilized right-leaning voters in Virginia this week and which Democrats dismiss as race-baiting.
Remember back during the presidential campaign when Joe Biden, standing next to his educator wife, Dr. Jill Biden, promised to implement a heavily pro-teacher ed agenda, with heavy investments in public schools, ensuring that “no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.”
At the time, education, unfortunately, wasn’t nearly the political hot-button issue that it is now. It rarely even came up in the presidential debates.
While it might have been expected that the pandemic and Republican sabotage would put a damper on some of Biden’s promised initiatives, we still were hopeful that investing in and transforming public education would stay near the top of the Biden policy agenda.
We also hoped that the future reopening of schools would generate a nationwide conversation about re-imagining post-pandemic education. So far that conversation hasn’t happened.
Instead, it’s the Republicans who have raised public education to the top of the list of campaign issues leading into 2020 by stoking fears about Critical Race Theory and trying to wear the mantle of defender of parents’ rights.
The term "critical race theory" refers to the academic concept that racism has been systematically ingrained in American society following centuries of slavery. But conservatives have more recently attempted to recast the phrase, claiming it teaches children to think that the United States is racist.
We need to recognize the campaign against Critical Race Theory for what it is: A racist dog-whistle aimed at the heart of public education. It’s a central piece of the white backlash that was launched against last year’s Black Lives Matter revolt following the murder of George Floyd.
Democrats’ reluctance to take it head-on has gone along with abdicating on voting rights and other issues impacting people of color most directly. It’s not just timidity holding them back. It’s also because the party is trapped within the Biden/Pelosi center/right alliance strategy they hope will forge bipartisan support for their larger policy agenda. The bipartisanship that will never come.
Republicans have no intention of working with Democrats. As they showed on January 6th, this isn’t just about passing infrastructure bills and the like. It’s about seizing and holding state power in the long term. With few party defectors so far, they are totally committed to blocking any Biden initiative and holding firm until they can take back power over both houses in ‘22 and the White House in ‘24. If the Virginia election is any indication, they believe their game plan is working.
Now, after picking up seats last year, Republicans only need to win a net of five seats to take back the House.
Democrats continue to wrestle with each other over how to counter the right-wing attack on CRT and other white supremacist wedge issues. Some dismiss it, saying it won’t have much appeal beyond the GOP’s most conservative base. Others argued the party ignores the power of cultural and racially divisive debates at its peril.
Republicans including Trump-lite VA Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin have tried to force Democrats to either defend critical race theory, a non-issue in political races until former President Donald Trump declared it a villain last year, or face a backlash from party progressives.
Here in Illinois, African-American Congresswoman Lauren Underwood is at the center of the debate among Democrats about whether or how to respond to the attacks. A split has emerged between two of the party's frontline Democrats: Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, who is White, and Underwood who is Black.
Underwood wanted to forcefully counter the GOP's misinformation head-on, while Bourdeaux was leery about elevating the issue, according to sources familiar with the matter. Rep. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, another Black woman, sided with Underwood during the meeting.
“We have a rising American electorate that are Black and brown people," Underwood told CNN when asked about the episode. "We should be able to speak to their issues, their experiences as Americans in this country, without feeling like it's a liability for other audiences."
I’m going with Rep. Underwood on this one. Yes, respond strongly and reasonably to the attacks on CRT. But even more importantly, Dems have to make good on their promised investments to public education and muscle through both Build Back Better and BIF bills if they have any hope of hanging on to power next year.
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