After white supremacists spilled blood in defense of keeping up Confederate statues in 2017, the GOP candidate for governor of Virginia, Ed Gillespie, said the monuments should stay up as a matter of heritage and history.
His TV advertising featured threatening images of Latino gangs, labeled illegal immigrants, involved in murder and rape.
The racially loaded "Culture Wars" campaign, straight from then-President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE’s playbook, gave Gillespie a push, but he ultimately lost the race to Democrat Ralph Northam.
Now Virginia Republicans are back with a new and improved "Culture Wars" campaign for 2021. The closing argument is once again full of racial division — but this time it is dressed up as a defense of little children.
The rallying cry is "Parents’ Rights."
It is a campaign to stop classroom discussion of Black Lives Matter protests or slavery because it could upset some children, especially white children who might feel guilt.
And this time, the Trump-imitating Republicans think they have struck political gold.
Unlike their earlier defense of Confederate monuments, the "Parents’ Rights" campaign message at first glance looks to have zero to do with race.
That puts Democrats on the defensive. They are in the uncomfortable position of calling the attention of suburban white moms to divisive racial politics being used by Republican Glenn Youngkin’s campaign.
Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, calls the Republican message a “racist dog whistle.”
“Youngkin’s closing message of book banning and silencing esteemed Black authors is a racist dog whistle designed to gin up support from the most extreme elements of his party — mainly his top endorser and surrogate, Donald Trump,” McAuliffe said in a statement.
Recall, it was Trump who famously said there were “very fine people” on both sides of the violence sparked by “Unite the Right,” the 2017 rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va.
Youngkin says he will back Trump if the former president is the GOP nominee for the White House in 2024.
Some of the Charlottesville white extremists are now on trial in a civil case for their violent attacks.
President BidenJoe BidenBiden to provide update Monday on US response to omicron variant Restless progressives eye 2024 Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE recently said the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was also “about white supremacy.”
There is a long history behind the latest racist political appeals.
It is not long ago that racist Southern politicians rallied against integration with an argument for “states’ rights,” a call to be free of federal laws seeking to end segregation.
Now the message is that white parents are being ignored when they complain that their children are uncomfortable learning about racism.
Republican advertising now fails to mention the movement in Virginia was born from opposition to advanced placement high school students reading a prize-winning novel about the horrors of slavery — “Beloved” by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.
One commercial features a white Virginia mother complaining that McAuliffe opposed a law to allow parents to have their children opt out from studying unnamed books.
The mom, Laura Murphy, does not mention that she is talking about “Beloved.” Nor does she mention that she is a conservative activist whose son went on to intern in the Trump White House.
She only offers the anodyne comment that McAuliffe “doesn’t think parents should have a say. ... He shut us out.”
Toni Morrison is in the great American tradition of authors exploring racial dilemmas — from Richard Wright’s “Native Son” to Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”
I knew Morrison, and she was no racist. I interviewed her at the Hartford Forum and on television. We talked over the years before her death. The attack on “Beloved” is a direct attack on all great writing about race in America — especially from the Black point of view.
It is disgraceful. It should disqualify Youngkin and every other GOP smear merchant trafficking in it.
The obscene attack on great writing is gaining strength by being paired with another GOP racial tactic aimed at scaring parents — that Virginia school children might be exposed to arguments about ongoing, systemic racism from the teaching of “critical race theory."
Critical race theory — broadly, a focus on racial disparities as a fact of American life — is not explicitly taught in Virginia’s public schools or anywhere in American public schools. But Republicans nationwide have made it a boogeyman to excite racial divisions and get their base to the polls.
The conservative Heritage Foundation and other big right-wing donors have fueled the fire with what they call the “Great Parent Revolt of 2021.” They see this as a conservative response to what Heritage dubs “the radical tide of educators, nonprofits and federal education bureaucrats who are working to rewrite American history.”
In Florida, right-wing parents recently complained that fourth graders had to learn how to spell “isolation” and “quarantine.” The parents said those are “scary words."
Things have gotten so bad that the National School Boards Association pleaded with the Biden administration in a September letter to use federal law enforcement to protect school board members from threats of violence and other forms of bullying.
Polls show the big money coming from the right has resulted in the "Parents’ Rights" movement gaining traction among white voters.
But this movement is not about parents. It is about exciting the far-right base by stirring up racial division.
If it works, Republicans will have reason to continue down this dark path to winning elections.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.