Election Day (surely a misnomer with early voting) is this Tuesday and all eyes are on Virginia’s gubernatorial race. As they should be. The contest, between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, may help to clarify two important political questions and one structural question.
First, can the Republican Party move beyond its embrace of Donald J. Trump and thrive as a modern organizing vehicle for conservative fusionism? Second, can the Democratic Party abandon progressivism and return to pragmatic liberalism? Third, and most important, will policymaking continue to be dominated by bureaucratic rule-making, or will it allow for increased freedom of choice?
First, the political questions. When the race began, McAuliffe was considered to be a shoo-in. Over the last 10 years or so Virginia migrated from being reliably red to purple with a decided blue tinge. Since 2002 Virginia, which does not permit its governors to serve consecutive terms, has had 5 Chief Executives, 4 of whom were Democrats. The current Governor, who survived a black-face scandal, is a liberal Democrat. The two legislative bodies flipped from Republican to Democratic in 2019 for the first time since 1994. President Biden won the state by 10 points in 2020.
Needless to say, candidate McAuliffe is running hard against—Donald Trump—who in Virginia is only slightly more popular than the Unabomber. Not a day goes by where McAuliffe doesn’t rail against Trump and then argue that Republican Youngkin is simply a Trump acolyte.
For his part, Youngkin has carefully tried to thread the needle. He needs Trump voters, but he also needs to create space between himself and Trump in order to win back upscale suburban voters who abandoned Republicans in droves in 2018 and 2020. Consequently he has focused on state and local issues with occasional rhetorical shots at the lunatic fringe that increasingly dominates the national Democratic Party.
In this he has been greatly helped by none other than the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe. In answering a question about local schools—a topic that has generated considerable heat in Virginia (and elsewhere)—McAuliffe voiced an opinion that stunned a lot of political observers. He said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
This remark added fuel to the fire that had already been raging for months over the public schools in Northern Virginia. There have been contentious school board hearings, petitions and recalls in the counties surrounding Washington DC over school curricula, admission standards for magnet schools, Critical Race Theory, masking of school children and school closings due to COVID-19.
Bear in mind a couple of relevant facts. The first thing to note is that the four Virginia counties surrounding the District are among the wealthiest, best educated and bluest in the country. They are prime territory for Democratic vote seekers. And those counties appear to be in revolt. The second is that parents began to realize what has been going on in the public schools when they looked at their children’s Zoom screens and saw how their children were being proselytized. And the parents didn’t like it one bit.
A third factor that needs to be taken into account is that McAuliffe is just plain wrong when it comes to parental rights with respect to the education of their children. The Code of Virginia is quite clear about this. The Code §1—240.1 entitled Rights of Parents reads as follows:
“A parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education and care of the parent’s child.”
All of which points to the central element of the race. Candidate Glenn Youngkin says “I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.” Candidate McAuliffe says that he thinks parents should keep out of it and let the professionals—i.e., the teachers unions—run the show. This despite the fact that the law of the Commonwealth, quoted above, is quite clear that the decision-making authority over a child’s education fundamentally resides with the parents. And, not to put too fine a point on it, progressives have made hash out of pretty much everything they have run.
Government by experts rather than the protection of rights has been the battle cry of progressives from the time of Woodrow Wilson until the present day. This inevitably makes government an interested rather than a neutral party in the application of the law. Which in turn ultimately brings about the destruction of Liberalism, the rule of law, and liberty, only to be replaced by the soft (and later not-so-soft) authoritarianism of bureaucratic command-and-control.
The choice in Virginia’s gubernatorial race is clear. On the one hand there is Youngkin, who represents the messy business of democratic governance designed to protect rights and expand the range of citizen choice. On the other hand there is McAuliffe, the iron fist in the velvet glove, who represents the bureaucratic interests of government at the expense of citizen choice.
When the votes are counted on election day, mine will be among those for Glenn Youngkin.