Terry McAuliffe didn’t “think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Virginia parents didn’t think Terry McAuliffe should be governor. On Tuesday night, they elected Glenn Youngkin.
The Republican establishment appears to have missed the message. “Americans don’t want Socialism. PASS IT ON,” declared House Republican leadership in response to Youngkin’s victory. But “socialism” had nothing to do with it. The Youngkin campaign did not portray McAuliffe—a run-of-the-mill corporate Democrat—as the second coming of Che Guevara. It focused on education: mask mandates in schools, radical ideologies such as Critical Race Theory in the classroom, and the Loudon County School District’s coverup of a rape in a transgender bathroom. Suburban mothers did not flock to the polls to stop the workers from seizing the means of production; they did it to protect their kids.
The Youngkin campaign capitalized on this grassroots movement, which evoked memories of the last successful issue-driven campaign on the Right, the Tea Party. That movement, which began more than a decade ago, focused on economic issues: taxes, spending, and debt. It embraced the backronym “Taxed Enough Already.” It sent dozens of lawmakers to Washington and many more to statehouses around the country on a campaign pledge to reduce the size and scope of government.
Despite its electoral wins, the Tea Party failed to change much of anything at all. Establishment Republican leadership in Washington weakened the movement’s message, sidelined its leaders, and coopted its brand. The Supreme Court refused to strike down Obamacare. The federal government continued to spend and grow. Within five or six years, the movement fizzled.
In form, this latest issue-driven movement resembles the last one; in substance, the Tea Party and the “CR-Tea Party” are opposites. Where the Tea Party spoke in dollars and cents, the CR-Tea Party talks in terms of culture. Where the Tea Party embraced a libertarian aversion to government, the CR-Tea Party seeks to wield political power for the good—banning books, firing teachers, and imposing limits in the classroom. Where the Tea Party extolled individual rights above all others, adopting the Gadsden Flag as its standard, the CR-Tea Party defends the political right of a community to set standards, in particular regarding what can and cannot be taught in public schools.
Education involves more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. It forms citizens by training people to make sense of their freedom—hence the terms “liberal education” and “the liberal arts.” By learning to discern truth from falsehood and right from wrong, by subordinating our appetites and base passions to our rational will, we elevate ourselves above the other animals and become free. This exalted freedom, as President Reagan observed, is not passed in the bloodstream, and therefore it is never more than one generation away from extinction. If radicals succeed in miseducating the next generation to suppress its best instincts, cultivate its lowest desires, and prefer lies to the truth, they will render the country unrecognizable. Tax hikes will be the least of our woes.
The CR-Tea Party’s willingness to move beyond the lame defense of procedural norms toward an articulation of substantive goods has already put the grassroots movement on sturdier political footing than its predecessor. Establishment Republicans should take notes.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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