James Carville is the kind of guy you either love or hate. A Democratic election strategist for decades, Carville helped elect Bill Clinton and has been a commentator on all things political for decades.
Sometimes, however, even those with a lifetime of experience can get it wrong.
That seems to be the case with his latest theory on why Democrats lost in Tuesday’s general election, including the Governor’s race in Virginia, where Trump-backed Glenn Youngkin edged out former Governor Terry McAuliffe.
Now, McAuliffe is of the same school of thought as Carville. He has been around just as long and been a part of the same circles as Jim. But both reflect a backward-thinking attitude toward progressive politics. America has only gotten more progressive over the years. Much of the pushback, for example, against Obamacare among Democrats was because people didn’t think it went far enough.
Unfortunately, old school Democrats like Carville have succumbed to using the vocabulary of the GOP. If I could recommend a book to someone like Carville, it would be George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant. It details how Republicans use language to “frame the debate” on the terms that they want. They use phrases like “tax relief” to describe cuts that mostly benefit the rich, as though taxes are something you need “relief” from, rather than simply the price of civilized society.
That’s what thinkers like Carville are stuck in: When he uses the word “woke” in the same tone of voice as a disgusted Republican might, he surrenders the debate to Republican terms.
Speaking on PBS Wednesday evening, Carville offered a theory on the losses by Democrats on Tuesday:
What went wrong is just stupid wokeness. Don’t just look at Virginia and New Jersey. Look at Long Island, look at Buffalo, look at Minneapolis, even look at Seattle, Washington.
I mean, this ‘defund the police’ lunacy, this take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools. I mean that — people see that. It’s just really — has a suppressive effect all across the country on Democrats. Some of these people need to go to a ‘woke’ detox center or something.
They’re expressing a language that people just don’t use, and there’s backlash and a frustration at that.
But James Carville is wrong. There is some pragmatic sense to tempering your language if you’re trying to win a red state as a Democratic candidate. But the fact is, “wokeness” is a reality, it’s just a language he doesn’t use. It is the future of liberalism and the compassion that people need to see going forward. When someone like Carville criticizes “wokeness,” it sounds like he’s mad that I respect my non-binary kid’s pronouns. It sounds like he thinks protests against police brutality are meaningless. It sounds like he’s a Republican.
We don’t need Democrats using Republican ideas to try and win elections. We need them to listen to what people are asking for: Universal health care, expanded parental leave, higher wages, combating climate change. These are all ideas that enjoy the support of a massive majority on the left, and even some on the right.
Dismissing them as “woke” sounds like giving Republicans exactly what they want.
Watch the PBS roundtable here: