By Mary Kate Cary
I teach political speech writing. My students know that earlier this year I served on a committee that wrote the University of Virginia’s statement on free speech and free inquiry, which stated that “All views, beliefs, and perspectives deserve to be articulated and heard free from interference.”
I’m also a conservative who recently co-taught a 2020 elections class with a liberal colleague – and we both managed to survive. In my class, the mainly liberal students know they can speak freely about what’s important to them. Being open about your political views is important – but so too is listening generously to those of others.
They’ve written speeches about climate change, defunding the police, voting reforms, the Texas abortion law, misinformation on social media, electric cars, education policy, oil pipelines, critical race theory, China’s oppression of the Uyghurs, a universal basic income, and even the need for more napping during the day.
Across the board, they want to hear all sides of an argument and decide for themselves. They don’t want to be told what to believe. They’re taking speech writing because they want to learn how to make a good case in the face of a hostile audience.
And what I heard in the runup to the Nov. 2 elections was that students are increasingly worried about the job market and the economy they’ll be walking into upon graduation; they are concerned about rising crime rates in Charlottesville, where they attend college; and they wonder if they’ll be able to freely express their opinions – left or right – here at the university.
So it was no surprise to me that exit polls of Virginia voters this week showed that the economy and education were voters’ top concerns, just as they are for many of my 20-something students.
Old playbook, new circumstances
No matter what subject my students are writing speeches on – from critical race theory to electric cars – they want to take on all sides of an argument.
Similarly, many voters wanted to hear both candidates’ views on “kitchen table” issues – such as expanding job opportunities, ensuring public safety, and reforming education – in the closing weeks before the election. But that wasn’t always what voters got. Instead, they were often presented not with the issues, but with heavyweight political endorsements.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe brought in one Democratic star after another: President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, former President Barack Obama, voting rights activist Stacey Abrams and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all made appearances for the former governor.
On one hand, McAuliffe’s playbook has worked for others in the past. Research by Rob Mellen Jr. and Kathleen Searles into presidential campaign appearances during midterm elections between 1986 and 2006 showed that visits by the campaigner-in-chief can boost turnout and campaign donations for candidates – but only if the president is popular.
The problem in Virginia was that according to an NPR-PBS Newshour-Marist poll that came out the day before the election, a plurality of Democrats no longer want Joe Biden at the top of the ticket in 2024. Add to that Biden’s collapsing approval ratings, which sank lower every week in October, according to Reuters.
It seems McAuliffe didn’t realize the albatross effect Biden was having on his own candidacy. Or the disconnect right now between voters and those stars campaigning with him.
In contrast to McAuliffe, Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin talked early and often about his “day one game plan,” which focused on specific actions he’d take on the economy, public safety and education – the quality-of-life issues voters wanted to hear about. He hit the airwaves with TV ads comparing his policies with McAuliffe’s record and made his best case.
McAuliffe also faced an issue unique to Virginia that dampened his chances of success. Virginia is the only state in the nation that legally bars governors from a second successive term. Virginia law changed in 1851, after several governors – including Patrick Henry – had served two successive terms in office. So from 1851 onward, the state has had only one-term governors – with one exception, in 1974, when former Democratic governor Mills Godwin waited four years and came back as a Republican.
McAuliffe, who held the governor’s job from 2014 to 2018, was trying to be the second exception. There’s a reason former Virginia governors Chuck Robb, Mark Warner, George Allen and Tim Kaine all went on to become U.S. senators from the commonwealth instead of returning later as second-term governors. Virginians like a fresh face in the governor’s office, and this election was no exception.
The last time Virginia had a Republican governor was 2010-14, and nearly a decade of one-party control of the governor’s mansion has led to a rising sense of frustration among voters – including suburban independents who swung away from Democrats this week – concerned with the stagnation of Virginia’s economy, the perceived lack of support for police and changes to parts of the educational curriculum in Virginia’s K-12 schools.
Instead of making a strong case for addressing these issues, the McAuliffe campaign preferred to bring Trump into everything. In fact, at one McAuliffe rally in late October, Joe Biden mentioned Donald Trump 24 times in a single speech.
That strategy didn’t, by and large, connect with the concerns of working-class voters – from truck drivers dealing with hikes in the gas tax to urban residents worried about the 20-year high in the murder rate to parents upset about what’s been going on in Loudoun County schools, where USA Today reports that school board meetings “have spiraled into violence, accusations of student sexual assault are dominating headlines, and some parents have sued the school board over the district’s equity initiatives.”
The turning point came when McAuliffe stunned a debate audience with his statement, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach,” not realizing that there are likely far more voters who consider themselves parents first – and members of a political party second. When he failed to disavow a Department of Justice memo labeling parents at school board meetings as “criminals,” there was no going back. His silence spoke volumes to everyone watching.
These days, it takes guts to speak up for what you believe in.
My sense is that there’s a growing number of Americans willing to stand up and courageously challenge the age in which we live. From what I’m seeing and hearing in just one college classroom, I have no doubt more brave young people – on both sides of the aisle – will make their case for positive change in the years to come.
Isn’t that what elections are all about?
Mary Kate Cary is Adjunct Professor at the Department of Politics and Senior Fellow, UVA’s Miller Center, at the University of Virginia.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
Great article. Just have been very hard for you not to be biased to the democratic candidate.
Fernando Melendez says
as in local politics stick to the local issues that matter. Lesson learned by both Democrats and Republicans. Inflation, gas prices, and your local economy, quality of life seems also to be on top of the list.
No one claiming elections fraud here in VA now. They always cry fraud and commit sedition when their GOP candidate looses! Some political extreme right BS.
Ever her of Stacy Abrams?
@Glad you asked
Yes. I have:
Learn more about a great American
And the truth about a floriduh sleaze who screws the gullible, a.k.a., a Republican
“Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.”
― George Carlin
But wait, where are the republicans with voter fraud claims? Oh yeah, that’s right, their guy won. I think the reason he won, Democrats didn’t show up, but the major reason is because Youngkin rejected the con man trump. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of the trump political life.
Dennis C Rathsam says
Thank God for Virginia….The democratic powers that be, Obama,Biden & Harris tryed their hardest to rellect a sitting governor. They got plummeted. America finally has WOKE up!!!! The rejection has stunned DC, and the democrats are in quick sand. The next ellection will finally kick Pelosi out, and the republicans will start to rebuild this great country….Once again we will lead the world in oil production, infaltion will be a thing of the past. Our southern border will work once again, keeping us all safe. And all the illegal people that crossed our border will be sent back to where they came from. If they want to come back…do it the right way,we have laws in America(even though Biden refuses to inforce them) This mad man in the white house, has lost control of everything, and the middle class suffers the most!
@Mary Kate Cary
Thanks. For the 5o gallon drum of irony:
“…In contrast to McAuliffe, Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin talked early and often about his “day one game plan,” which focused on specific actions he’d take on the economy, public safety and education – the quality-of-life issues voters wanted to hear about. He hit the airwaves with TV ads comparing his policies with McAuliffe’s record and made his best case…”
Youngkin’s happy talk is based on what? HIS experience?:
After graduating from Rice in 1990, Youngkin joined the investment bank First Boston, where he handled mergers and acquisitions and capital market financing. The company was bought out by Credit Suisse and became Credit Suisse First Boston; Youngkin left in 1992 to pursue an MBA.
In 1994, after receiving his MBA, he joined the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
The Carlyle Group
In August 1995, Youngkin joined the private-equity firm The Carlyle Group, based in Washington, D.C., initially as a member of the US buyout team. In 1999, he was named a partner and managing director of Carlyle. He managed the firm’s United Kingdom buyout team (2000–2005) and global industrial sector investment team (2005–2008), dividing his time between London and Washington.
In April 2008, Carlyle’s founders asked Youngkin to step back from deal-making to focus on the firm’s broader strategy. In 2009 the founders created a seven-person operating committee, chaired by Youngkin, which oversaw the non-deal, day-to-day operations of Carlyle. In 2009 Youngkin also joined, along with Daniel Akerson, the firm’s executive committee, which had previously consisted solely of the three founders.
When Carlyle’s chief financial officer Peter Nachtwey left suddenly in late 2010, Youngkin became interim CFO until Adena Friedman was hired as CFO late March 2011. In 2010, Youngkin joined the firm’s management committee. Youngkin was chief operating officer of the Carlyle Group from March 2011 until June 2014.
Youngkin played a major role in taking Carlyle public, supervising the initial public offering.
In June 2014, he became co-president and co-chief operating officer with Michael J. Cavanagh, who joined the Carlyle Group from JPMorgan Chase. Together they helped develop and implement the firm’s growth initiatives and managed the firm’s operations on a day-to-day basis. Cavanagh left the firm in May 2015 to become CFO of Comcast, leaving Youngkin as president and COO of Carlyle.
In October 2017, the Carlyle Group announced that its founders would remain executive chairmen on the board of directors but step down as the day-to-day leaders of the firm; they named Youngkin and Kewsong Lee to succeed them, as co-CEOs, effective January 1, 2018. As co-CEOs, Youngkin oversaw Carlyle’s real estate, energy, infrastructure businesses, and investment solutions businesses; Lee oversaw the firm’s corporate private equity and global credit businesses. Youngkin and Lee also joined the firm’s board of directors when they became co-CEOs.
During Youngkin and Lee’s tenure as co-CEOs, they oversaw the firm’s transition from a publicly traded partnership into a corporation.
Bloomberg News described the co-CEO relationship as “awkward … and increasingly acrimonious” and Youngkin announced his retirement after 2 1⁄2 years. In July 2020, Youngkin announced that he would retire from the Carlyle Group at the end of September 2020, stating his intention to focus on community and public service efforts. In 2020, Youngkin and his wife founded a nonprofit, Virginia Ready Initiative, focusing on connecting unemployed people in the state with job-training programs and potential employers.…”
I’d sure love to see the grainy B&W video, complete with whispered ominous voice over, that is a Republican soap salesman’s specialty, about Youngkin.
And so it goes.
Instead of making America better This could be the start of making America great again.
Just a sign of things to come in a few years. Wake up and vote.