Michigan AG: "A drag queen for every school"

If you’re bothered listening to this, imagine how painful it must be for sane Democrats like Ruy Teixeira who grasp their party’s problems with the electorate even if the party establishment doesn’t.

Listening to the clip is more useful than reading the quote since it makes clear that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel was exaggerating for effect. The crowd laughs. She said it during a civil-rights conference in Lansing in the course of criticizing Republicans for turning LGBT issues in schools (e.g., “don’t say gay”) into “wedge issues.” Her point is that drag queens aren’t menacing predators, they’re just performers. Essentially comic performers at that.

But it’s a bad line. Maybe she got lulled into the same false sense of security in speaking to a friendly group as Mitt Romney did when he made his infamous remarks about “the 47 percent” at a fundraiser before the 2012 election. Romney was serious, however. Nessel is pro-drag but hopefully not sincerely pro-drag-in-school:

It was a joke, she explained yesterday:

I hope the joke was worth it, as that audio will follow her if she ends up running for governor of Michigan someday. That’s not a blue state like California where an ambitious Democratic pol can go all-in on one side of the culture war without fear of electoral consequences. Michigan was a Biden +3 battleground and would almost certainly vote Republican if the next election were held today.

Why the hell are politicians even talking about drag, Kyle Smith wonders?

When Nancy Pelosi appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars to opine that “Your freedom of expression, of yourselves in drag, is what America is all about. I say that all the time to my friends in drag,” she wasn’t entirely off-base. True, drag isn’t as American as, say, exercising one’s freedom to own guns, unless I missed a constitutional amendment on men wearing taffeta ball gowns, but America is certainly all about the freedom to be weird and was in fact founded by weirdos who were much farther out of the mainstream than drag queens are today.

What I would dispute, however, is why there seems to be this pressing urgency to bring drag into every corner of American life. I don’t particularly derive a lot of entertainment value from observing men shrieking and camping and pretending to be caricatures of women. Maybe Nancy Pelosi does, and that’s fine. There could be several cable channels devoted to drag, for all I know, and I don’t care. But, as my friend Charlie asks, why are children suddenly being forced to watch drag performances in schools, where they are a captive audience and where their formation is a matter of public interest? Why is drag everywhere, with public funds being spent on it?

One reason Democrats are talking about it is because Republicans are talking about it. Ron DeSantis recently threatened to sic CPS on parents who take their underaged child to a drag show. But more broadly, it’s probably a function of Nessel and her party believing that they need to outspokenly signal acceptance and inclusiveness even when it’s (a) not necessary and (b) involves behavior which many Americans find odd. Pelosi doesn’t need to do RuPaul’s show for gays to grasp that they’re welcome in the Democratic Party. But by insisting, she leaves working-class voters grumbling about “the party of drag queens.” Is that a net gain or a net loss in votes?

Underlying that pandering is the sense one gets from Dems that they believe they can win every election in America if they can turn out their base. Dems reliably poll higher than Republicans in questions about party affiliation; all they need to do is get their voters to the polls and they’re invincible. But that’s wildly incorrect, of course. Joe Biden has polled abysmally among independents over the past year, a key ingredient in the gathering red wave. And as we saw in south Texas on Tuesday night, the Democratic base ain’t what it used to be. Many working-class Hispanics who used to support the party have shifted right as the economic pain has mounted and Democrats have moved left culturally. “A drag queen for every school” isn’t going to win them back.

In a post this morning, Teixeira begged Democratic leaders to stop fantasizing about winning elections by turning out their base and start trying to persuade working-class voters. They could turn out every drag queen in America this November and they’re still going to get shellacked after hemorrhaging blue-collar supporters:

[T]he overwhelming majority of the Democrats’ improved performance [in 2018] came not from fresh turnout of left-of-center voters who typically skip midterms, but rather from people who cast votes in both elections — yet switched from Republican in 2016 to Democratic in 2018. The data firm Catalist, whose numbers on 2018 are the best available, estimates that around 90 percent of the Democrats’ improved performance came from persuasion — from vote-switchers — not turnout. In its analysis, Catalist notes, “If turnout was the only factor, then Democrats would not have seen nearly the gains that they ended up seeing … a big piece of Democratic victory was due to 2016 Trump voters turning around and voting for Democrats in 2018.”…

As I have noted previously, Democrats may be better off accepting they will take their lumps in 2022 (while attempting to minimize the damage) but use the election as a teachable moment. That teachable moment should be, above all, about re-acquainting the party with the actually-existing demographics and politics of the country they live in. Given patterns of educational and geographic polarization, they are now at a crippling disadvantage in what remains an overwhelmingly working class and non-urban country. There are simply too many districts and states in the country where polarization redounds to their disadvantage and makes them uncompetitive. That is not a problem that can be solved by “mobilizing the base”. It calls instead for expanding your coalition by persuading more working class and non-urban voters you share their values and priorities.

There aren’t enough Democratic base voters out there to beat motivated Republicans plus disaffected indies. They can keep doubling down on liberal cultural preferences, including low-salience ones like whether drag queens are a good or bad influence, or they can reposition. Quips like “a drag queen for every school” would gain less traction if they came from a party that clearly took more important working class priorities, like reducing crime and securing the border, to heart.

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