The Democrats’ No Good, Very Bad Day Changes the Landscape

Gail Collins: Gee Bret, the Democrats lose a gubernatorial election in Virginia and the next thing you know, the nation has a brand-new $1 trillion public works program. Who says democracy isn’t efficient?

Bret Stephens: Defeat has a wonderful way of concentrating the political mind.

Gail: You’ve always been a fan of the infrastructure bill, right? Any reservations on that front now that it’s going to be signed into law?

Bret: As someone who occasionally drives the Pulaski Skyway in New Jersey — gripping the wheel with both hands while idly wondering if a bridge that was built in the Hoover administration will hold for another five minutes or collapse into the Hackensack River — I remain a committed fan of the infrastructure bill.

Gail: Bridges of America, rejoice!

You wrote a terrific column about the elections last week, Bret. Can’t say I agreed with all your conclusions but it was, as always, very smart. If you were on the phone with Nancy Pelosi today, what would you advise her to do next?

Bret: First, madam speaker, please don’t hang up on me.

Second, put the social spending bill in the basement ice box and don’t take it out until Democrats have the kind of majorities that can pass it.

Third, look for a bipartisan win on immigration reform, starting with a trade on citizenship for Dreamers in exchange for more border security and a firm “Remain in Mexico” policy for migrants.

And finally, find ways to separate the Democratic Party brand from Toxic Wokeness.

Gail: I’m with President Biden that the next stop is his social spending program. Admittedly it’ll be carved down, but it has to include support for workers who temporarily need to stay home to take care of newborns or aging family members. And of course that universal preschool education.

Bret: Maybe you’re right and over time those programs will prove wildly popular and successful. But I’m struggling to see how anything the Democrats are doing these days directly addresses the sorts of issues that average voters worry about day to day. Inflation is at a 30-year high, while personal incomes are down. Gas prices (at least where I live in the far suburbs) are close to $4 a gallon. Illegal crossings at the southern border are the highest they’ve been since at least 1960.

Gail: As a person who very seldom attempts to justify her positions by pointing to the stock market I will refrain from noting that the Dow Jones rose on better-than-expected job numbers.

Bret: Hehe. We should all enjoy this tulip mania while it lasts.

Gail: And I’m with you on some of your immigration points — certainly citizenship for Dreamers. As far as the message of the election goes, I think the biggest lesson for the Democrats after Virginia is not to run against Donald Trump unless Donald Trump is running. And to remember that when voters decide if they like their governor, they don’t necessarily think much about national issues.

Bret: Also: Don’t infuriate that itty-bitty voting bloc known as “parents of school-age children.”

But I also think Democrats need to take a step back and see the broader message of the election, which is that the party has shifted waaaaaaay too far to the left. How else did the Republican Ann Davison get elected city attorney in Seattle? Or the Republican Jack Ciattarelli nearly win the governor’s race in deep-blue New Jersey?

Gail: For me, New Jersey was mainly about people yearning for a fresh face now and then. And in Seattle I guess you have a point — if your message is that the voters shouldn’t have picked a candidate for city attorney who had once praised whoever had apparently set off explosives inside a police precinct. Duh.

And local elections are … local. Some of our Seattle readers were quick to point out that their mayor-elect was far from a traditional law-and-order candidate. That’s the guy who promised to “put Seattle on fire with our love.”

Bret: True, though he was the least-leftist candidate in the race.

Gail: Pretty clear that the future, for local government, lies in candidates who promise to reform the police while also giving them strong budgetary support. Our own incoming mayor Eric Adams comes to mind.

Bret: Hope Adams can save the city. He’s got a big job ahead of him. The city hasn’t seemed so dirty in decades. There’s an infestation of giant rats. The other day I watched a drug deal go down on Eighth Avenue in sight of two cops who stood around pretending nothing was going on. (For the record, I was not part of the deal.) Addicts are shooting up near our office in broad daylight. All of this brought to you by the Worst-Mayor-Ever-From-The-Rosy-Fingered-Dawn-Till- The-Bitter-End-Of-Time-Bill-expletive deleted-de Blasio.

Gail: Hehehehe. That would make a great nickname if de Blasio ever tried, God help us, to run for president again.

Bret: Or governor! Also, many Americans don’t take well to being lectured on, say, MSNBC about how Glenn Youngkin’s win in Virginia is a sign of a racist white backlash when Virginians also elected a Republican, Winsome Sears, to become the first Black woman to serve as lieutenant governor.

Gail: Well, the results from Virginia’s governor’s race were pretty normal given the state’s history of voting against the party of a new president. Looking at that, I didn’t make the racist backlash argument.

However, I would say that given the Republicans’ crazed howling about teaching the history of racism in America, voters were being misled in the way they were being urged to think there was something wrong with the schools.

Bret: We agree on teaching the history of racism. I’m less keen on using teachers to propagate the ideological legerdemain that goes by the name of “antiracism.”

But leaving aside the policy issues themselves, all of these Democratic fixations are gifts to the populist right. Someone needs to start a “Sanity Democrats” caucus to save the party from the progressive “Justice Democrats.”

Gail: Certainly important for prominent Democrats not to sound didactic or obsessive when it comes to race and racism, but I sure as heck don’t want to discourage them from taking it into context when they’re passing legislation.

Bret: In the meantime, Gail, have I ever mentioned how relieved I am never to have used Facebook?

Gail: This doesn’t count the fact that your column goes up there, right? I’m all for using Facebook to pass along written pieces you like. But I haven’t had time to engage in any conversations there for years.

Bret: Does my column really post on Facebook? Didn’t know that.

This probably sounds horribly misanthropic, but when Facebook came around I feared it would be a handy way of connecting with people … to whom I didn’t particularly want to be connected. So-and-so from graduate school? Maybe we fell out of touch for a reason. Second cousin, twice removed in Melbourne? Hope they’re having a nice life. It’s hard enough to be a good friend to people in our real lives to waste time on virtual friendships in digital spaces.

Now I’ve been reading a multipart investigation in The Wall Street Journal on the perils of the platform, which include less sleep, worse parenting, the abandonment of creative hobbies and so on. Facebook’s own researchers estimate that 1 in 8 people on the platform suffer from some of these symptoms, which amounts to 360 million people worldwide. As someone pointed out, the word “user” applies to people on social media just as much as it does to people on meth.

I guess the question is whether the government should regulate it, and, if so, how?

Gail: Thistakes me back to early America, when most people lived in small towns or on farms and had very little input from the outside world.

They were very tight-knit, protective, familial — and very inclined to stick to their clan and isolate, discriminate, persecute and yes, enslave, the folks who weren’t part of the group. You had a lot of good qualities of togetherness and helping the team, but a lot of clannishness and injustice to nonmembers.

Bret: Almost sounds like an academic department at a placid New England college. Sorry, go on …

Gail: The Postal Service brought newspapers and letters and changed all that. And of course there were also unfortunate effects — a lot of mobilizing to fight against the newly discovered outside world.

I think the digital revolution is maybe as important — people are making new friends around the globe, discovering tons and tons of new information, but also ganging up on folks they don’t like. Discriminating not only against minority groups but also the less popular members of their own.

Bret: The moral of the story is that there’s no substitute for in-person relationships, whether it’s between colleagues, acquaintances, friends, family members or even two columnists who agree about 40 percent of the time. Which reminds me that there’s this Cabernet that we still need to share, so that we can mourn — or celebrate — last week’s news.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Related Articles

Back to top button