The top issue in yesterday's Virginia election was reportedly "parents' rights." I had some thoughts about that but first wanted to see arguments in favor laid out in full. My friend Bill Scher watched the governor's race for Washington Monthly. I asked if he knew of an article capturing the position. He said, "An honest one?" I guess enough said about that.
Juan Williams got ahead of me. He's a news analyst for Fox. He's also a Black conservative, which is not a white conservative who happens to be Black. In his latest for The Hill, Williams said "parents' rights" in Virginia is code for white power. "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."
"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."
Put these together — it's a dishonest argument and it's designed to put Democrats on their heels. But that's where I think I might be able to help. Those "suburban white moms"? They're the respectable white people I spend so much time talking about. They care for their kids. They fear for their kids. No one should blame them. But they need to know there's something scarier: men talking about parents' rights. Williams is right. It's code for anti-Black. But as a conservative, a Black one, he seems rather blind to the other awful truth. It's anti-woman.
First, remember what I said Monday. There's always someone willing to make the goals of the authoritarian collective, which is what the GOP has become, seem respectable. In Virginia, that's gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. He's very good at respectability politics. Right now, he's riding an anti-Black backlash, but he's casting himself as a kind of warrior for "suburban white moms" and their kids.
He's not. What he's doing is rationalizing the thing "suburban white moms" need to fear, which is this: a long effort to restore America to its original, Godly and "constitutional" order by which white Christian men stand atop, ruling over everyone else, including their women. Indeed, the first goal of authoritarians is putting women back in their place in the natural orders of power, which means making them, once again, dependent on a man for their health, safety and good fortune.
What does this have to do with "suburban white moms"? Parents hold a special place in the natural order of things. There's God over Mankind, men over women and — right before you get to white people being over everyone else — there's parents over children. The "over" here is important to bear in mind, because whoever's "over" is the one in charge. Whoever's "under" is expected to obey. Otherwise, it's a perversion of the natural order of things, which must be punished.
In the world of the authoritarian collective, which is what the GOP has become, there's no democracy between and among the natural orders of power, because there is no such thing as political equality. None.
Efforts to reform the natural order of things, which is to say, for instance, efforts to enshrine greater rights and privileges for women on account of being created equally, are met with fierce opposition. Efforts can't be, according to the authoritarians, driven by morality, because morality isn't about doing unto others what you would have done unto you. Morality is about authority. It's about obedience. A woman asking for equality is a woman asking for punishment.
What does this have to do with public education? Public education is the greatest tool invented for flattening the natural order of things, creating space for demands for political equality, where there was no space before when morality was about obedience instead of morality. An educated girl is one who might question the authority of her father before questioning the authority of her husband. (Forget about LGBTQ rights, because in the authoritarian world, LGBTQ people do not exist.) Public education doesn't punish girls for asking for political equality, as it should. Instead, it validates, supports and drives their hunger for it.
So when Youngkin says the first thing he's going to do is use the power of the state to censor information and police thought ("I will ban critical race theory"), what he's saying is he's going to use the power of the state to restore the natural order of things — to bring Virginia back to its original, Godly and "constitutional" order by which white Christian men stood atop the hierarchy, ruling over everyone else, including their women. When he says he's gonna fight for parents' rights, the parent doesn't include moms. Just men, and their women.
This is what "suburban white moms" need to know. Whether they believe it or not is another question. No one appears to be saying what needs saying, which is that "parents' rights" isn't only code for white power. "Parents' rights" is about protecting the "rights" of men.