Democrats May Lose, but Their Narrative Is Never to Blame

November 6, 2021 Updated: November 7, 2021


Election post-mortems used to be pretty simple affairs. The winners would claim a “mandate” to govern, and the losers would mutter to themselves something approximating to the late Dick Tuck’s public pronouncement when he lost a race for the California Senate in 1966: “The people have spoken, the bastards.”

But sooner or later they’d have to go back to the drawing board to try to figure out what they were doing wrong and what they could do differently to win back the voters who had chosen the other party.

Sometimes it took a while for the message from “the people” to sink in. The Democrats lost three presidential elections in a row between 1980 and 1988 before Bill Clinton, with the help of the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council, finally came up with a new and winning formula in 1992.

Two years later, when Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, then-President Clinton got the message in time to trim his political sails to the prevailing winds, even announcing during the State of the Union message in 1996 that “the era of big government is over.” He was decisively re-elected that year.

You can still come across such savvy political thinking here and there. Ex-Clinton associate James Carville told Judy Woodruff of the PBS “NewsHour” that “stupid wokeness” was responsible for the Democrat defeats (or near-defeats) in this week’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey and said that they needed to open a “woke detox center” if they wanted to start winning again.

But throughout most of today’s advocacy media, partisan reaction to election results usually takes a quite different form.

Both winners and losers, that is, try to absorb the result into their pre-conceived “narratives.”

This is obviously much easier for the winners, who simply have to claim vindication for every detail of their narratives, no matter how small the margin of victory.

The losers have a harder task, though one far from being beyond human ingenuity, in trying to make out how a failure of “messaging” or, more likely, nefarious interference by some dishonest dealer (remember “Russian collusion”?) prevented their narrative from being heard or understood by voters.

The point is that the narrative itself can now never be wrong or need to be changed, save in minor detail. Instead, it must be “re-framed” on the assumption, presumably, that the people who voted against it will eventually come to see their mistake.

The Virginia result on Nov. 2, in which Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated another ex-Clinton associate, the former governor Terry McAuliffe, appears to show how this kind of doubling down on a losing narrative has become almost obsessive with Democrats, especially where race is involved.

Youngkin, or so goes the revised narrative, only won because of a “white backlash,” especially in largely white suburbs where parents were concerned about (among other things) the teaching of something called “Critical Race Theory” in public schools.

McAuliffe responded to this concern by denying over and over again that Critical Race Theory was being taught in Virginia’s schools.

Maybe parents who knew better were upset about his denial too. In any case, the indefatigable Christopher Rufo quickly came up with the documentary evidence that CRT was being taught—and by name—as authorized by none other than Terry McAuliffe himself when he was governor in 2015.

Yet in and out of the mainstream media, commentator after Democratic commentator chose to ignore this evidence and repeated the former governor’s falsehood as a way of proving that their side had lost only because of the ignorance and hysteria (and, of course, racism) of white voters.

Ja’han Jones at MSNBC wrote that: “Critical race theory is a college-level field of study that’s not taught in Virginia K-12 schools, but it’s become a catchall phrase for intellectually lazy people—many of them white—who want to stigmatize any discussion about American racism.”

Lisa Lerer of The New York Times wrote that “By promising at nearly every campaign stop to ban critical race theory, an advanced academic concept not taught in Virginia schools, Mr. Youngkin resurrected Republican race- baiting tactics in a state that once served as the capital of the Confederacy.”

Once respected analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, speaking on MSNBC, said that a Youngkin victory could be explained by the fact that: “There’s a lot of, we can call it white backlash, white resistance, whatever you want to call it, it has to do with race …. We live in a post-factual era …. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t taught in Virginia Schools. It’s this generalized attitude that whites are being put upon, and we’ve got to do something about it. ‘We’ being white voters.”

Also on MSNBC, Nicolle Wallace said that “Critical Race Theory, which isn’t real, turned the suburbs 15 points to the Trump insurrection endorsed Republican.”

David Smith in The Guardian wrote that “Enough of [the voters] did not seem to know or care that Youngkin’s arguments on schools were based on a lie. He stoked fears about critical race theory being taught in schools–it isn’t–with a caricature of Black children learning to think they are victims and white children learning to self-hate.”

In every one of these cases, McAuliffe’s falsehood is repeated uncritically as a way of blaming white racism for their own party’s loss. It’s almost as if we were back to “the people have spoken, the bastards.”

Except that now it’s really not possible for “the people” to speak anymore, at least not in any close election. It can only be the deluded people or the stupid people, the ignorant people or, as here, the racist people. Or perhaps just people who have been tricked by scheming racists—like the scheming Russians supposed to have cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election.

I suspect that to most people, however, all such excuses cut no ice. They’re just another way for the smug left to assure us that they don’t ever need to rethink their political program to make it more appealing. Because they think they can never be wrong.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

James Bowman
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for The New Criterion.