You’re reading that headline and thinking, “‘Go on offense’?! When have they ever not been on offense?”
Lately they haven’t. Right-wing criticism of woke excesses in schools, from Critical Race Theory to pro-LGBT classroom instruction, has put them back on their heels. Now Democrats are faced with a timeless strategic dilemma, whether to ignore harsh attacks made by an opponent or to hit back hard. Each strategy has its pros and cons. If you ignore the attacks, you deprive them of a certain amount of media oxygen. That means fewer voters will end up paying attention to them. But you also end up looking weak to your own base and convincing voters who are paying attention that you have no good response to the charges against you.
If you hit back, your base will thrill to the sight of you standing up for your beliefs. But then the public really will start paying attention to the substance of your opponent’s criticism. And some will reason that if you’re hitting back against the side that’s anti-CRT and anti-grooming, you must be pro-CRT and pro-grooming.
This clip has gone mega-viral on the left over the past few days, to the point where Democrats in Washington are reportedly chattering about it. By and large, Dems have chosen to ignore the GOP attacks on CRT and classroom instruction on sexual orientation. After watching this, they’re wondering if they should hit back instead.
Senator Lana Theis accused me by name of grooming and sexualizing children in an attempt to marginalize me for standing up against her marginalizing the LGBTQ community…in a fundraising email, for herself.
Hate wins when people like me stand by and let it happen. I won't. pic.twitter.com/jL5GU42bTv
— Mallory McMorrow (@MalloryMcMorrow) April 19, 2022
“Enormously effective piece of communication. There’s really no comeback to it,” said James Carville to WaPo, adding that he’d use it as an instructional video for other Democratic candidates. Politico’s also hearing that Dem leaders are discussing whether it should be used as a “model” for how to respond to Republican attacks on wokeness. “There’s a sense that the right has overreached on issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights, and that in doing so, they’ve provided Dems with an opening in an otherwise grim midterm cycle,” the paper said. “Even Democrats who have long argued that the party should avoid hotly partisan culture issues altogether — or focus its energy on pocketbook issues — are starting to see the outlines of a new approach using McMorrow’s playbook.”
There’s a lot of overthinking going on among liberals about why their side reacted so strongly to McMorrow’s speech. I don’t think it’s much more complicated than two words: “She fights.” Right-wingers aren’t the only activists who enjoy seeing their leaders get in the faces of the other side, after all. And McMorrow dared to get in the faces of the other side during a raging GOP-led moral panic over children, which gives her extra “she fights” points.
The AP asked her why she thought the speech had caught on so widely within her party. We’re tired of being muscled by demagogues, she said:
Asked why the speech resonated, McMorrow said: “There is a difference between politics and outright hate. I think people are frustrated that elected officials haven’t done enough to call that out, that maybe Democrats are afraid of talking about religion and faith openly and honestly and calling hate what it is. I think we have to.”
Accusations of grooming and pedophilia are “straight out of the QAnon playbook,” she said, referring to the conspiracy theory. She noted how the debunked “pizzagate” conspiracy theory ended with real-world consequences when a man fired his assault rifle inside a Washington, D.C., restaurant.
She said she has “felt incredibly frustrated that people have been weaponizing religion and Christianity and frankly white, suburban moms and claiming to speak on behalf of all of us. … They don’t.”
None of that is going to help Democrats with their big electoral vulnerability, working-class voters, I suspect. But Greg Sargent has a point in thinking McMorrow’s righteous-indignation approach may achieve two things. One: It expands the debate over CRT and LGBT rhetoric in schools from what Democrats are doing to what Republicans are also doing. The voter is forced to consider whether the left really does mean to indoctrinate kids into becoming gay/trans or whether the right is whipping up a baseless frenzy over “grooming” for electoral advantage. Two: By raising the potential cost to Republicans of hammering Democrats on woke issues, the McMorrow approach may lead the GOP to take a step back from attacks on wokeness, an issue where they’ve been winning the culture-war debate. Dems would rather have the midterms be about kitchen-table issues than whether Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill is necessary.
Although, uh, looking at the latest inflation numbers, I don’t think that debate would go great for them either.
They’re cooked this fall either way. So much so, in fact, that the strategic dilemma of “ignore” versus “hit back” seems like less of a dilemma. Since they’re going to get obliterated either way, they might as well try the McMorrow approach and brawl with righty culture warriors. What’s the worst that could happen? They lose 35 House seats instead of 30?
In lieu of an exit question, a fun fact from the AP: The Republican legislator who accused McMorrow of being “pro-grooming” is facing a primary this year from a challenger endorsed by Donald Trump. Her sin? She’s a member of a committee that investigated the 2020 election results in Michigan and found that no fraud occurred. Her rhetoric about “grooming” is presumably her way of trying to pander to MAGA voters as Trump tries to convince them to toss her out of office. In today’s GOP, even the most ardent anti-pedophile is disqualified if he or she isn’t also an election truther.