McAuliffe ups attacks on Youngkin as Virginia culture war escalates
Former Virginia Gov Terry McAuliffe leaned into the culture war that has dominated the final days of the state’s gubernatorial election on Sunday as he hammered his GOP opponent for an ad in support of a conservative woman’s attempt to have a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s story about a family of former slaves pulled from school shelves.
Speaking with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press, Mr McAuliffe escalated the line of criticism he has aimed at Glenn Youngkin throughout his campaign tying the GOP candidate to the far right’s white nationalist and nativist views.
“He wants to ban Toni Morrison’s book Beloved,” Mr McAuliffe said, adding: “He’s going after one of the most preeminent African-American female writers in American history”.
“Now, of all the hundreds of books you could look at, why did you take the one Black female author?” Mr McAuliffe went on. “He’s ending his campaign on a racist dog whistle.”
Despite months of analysis from Washington pundits assuming that the ongoing efforts to pass President Joe Biden’s infrastructure agenda would be a major factor in the Virginia gubernatorial race, which was thought by many to be a referendum on Mr Biden’s leadership, the race has instead centered around the issues of education, law enforcement, and the state tax code.
Mr McAuliffe and Mr Youngkin have taken opposite sides on the issue of “educational freedom”, a code phrase for the shocking scenes of furious tirades by parents and community members at school board meetings around the country. Conservatives have shown up en masse to many gatherings of school district officials to protest policies surrounding masks and vaccines, as well as the teaching of “critical race theory”, which has come to mean most critical looks at the US’s historic treatment of racial minorities.
Democrats including Mr Biden during a rally last week have hammered Mr Youngkin over his tacit embrace of the protests in calls for power to be shifted to parents to determine state school curriculums, especially following his campaign’s ad highlighting the mother of a Republican operative who described in the ad how she had sought to ban Ms Morrison’s widely-acclaimed novel Beloved from school bookshelves over the book’s graphic depictions of slavery, racism, and sexual topics including bestiality.
“He’s gone from banning a woman’s right to choose to banning books written by a Pulitzer Prize- and Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison,” said the president at his rally on Tuesday.
Mr Youngkin’s campaign has responded to the criticism by noting that some Black lawmakers in the state supported the book being pulled from schools; in an emailed statement last week, the campaign asked NBC News: “Are these Democrats racist?”
The Independent has reached out to the campaign for comment on Mr McAuliffe’s latest remarks.
The book has been banned in a small handful of US schools in conservative areas, but won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988 and is considered one of the great works in American literary history by many experts. While graphic, its plot was inspired by true events.
Education has dominated efforts by both parties to turn out voters in the final days of the campaign, which concludes on Tuesday. Vice President Mike Pence was in northern Virginia on Thursday, where he delivered a speech solely focused on the topic, and Republican National Committee officials sent out an email blast over the weekend listing it at the top of a list of the race’s most important issues.