Ground zero in the school board culture wars is a minefield for once and would-be future governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe. Can he survive?

ABSS Board Meeting. 2021 Jun 28. (photo: Anthony Crider)

It was the gaffe heard ‘round Louden County, Virginia.

Anything you say during a televised debate that your opponent can weaponize against you is a verbal miscue. Anything you say during a debate that your opponent can instantly parlay into a million dollar campaign ad blitz in the run-up to the election is a major misstep by any standard.

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” might be a popular opinion at cocktail parties- when it is clear which specific subset of parents to whom the speaker is referring.

When former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, currently running for another term against Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin, made that statement during a recent debate, however, parents watching might have felt a bit taken aback.

If parents aren’t to have a say in their children’s public education- which local parents fund with tax dollars- who is?

The obvious answer- school boards, teacher’s unions, and the U.S. Department of Education- doesn’t scare all parents equally. Many progressive parents who happen to agree- at this time- with the current mandates and educational priorities of those three organizational bodies don’t mind it overmuch.

But even progressive parents must look at such at attitude with a bit of trepidation. What if a wave of conservative candidates dominates school board elections this fall? What if the next Department of Education is run by a Republican?

What if it’s a Republican appointed by a second, non-consecutive term serving President Donald Trump?

Will progressives still love the idea of leaving parents out of the public education decision-making process?

After decades of begging parents to get involved, and indeed blaming parents for poor educational outcomes, Terry McAuliffe now seems to have a very different message for parents: Just stay out of it.

McAuliffe probably should have said something along the lines of, “Parents and educators each have important roles to play in the education of our children, and it is important to respect those mutual roles,” or stuck with a meaningless platitude like, “it’s takes a village.”

But alas, tricking your opponent into saying something unskillful like this is the name of the debate game, and McAuliffe has no one but himself to blame, though he has been known to blame Joe Biden’s poor polling numbers.

Gaffes are, according to some authorities, hardly noteworthy anymore in any case, even in debates like this one. In the post-Trump age, we are told, nothing Democrats could ever say or do could possibly be a problem.

McAuliffe’s verbal stumble might have been ok, as Politico insists, had it not been for a troubling new development in Loudon County Virginia this week.

Loudon County has long been considered ground zero in the disagreement between parents and school administrators about mask mandates, critical race theory based curriculum, school bathroom policies, and other hot-button topics.

As school board meetings across the country have drawn more attendees- and plenty of angry outbursts- the Biden Administration has mobilized the FBI to investigate a situation board administrators say is growing out of control.

Far from welcoming the move- as some have- many parents are even angrier at what they see as an attempt to stifle their constitutionally-protected right to protest policies at their local public school.

Local police departments, they insist, are more than sufficient to handle any threats disgruntled parents might pose.

With the news this week that the father arrested at a Loudon County school board meeting in July- an example often cited by those pushing for supervision of school board meetings by federal law enforcement agencies- was upset that his freshman daughter’s sexual assault in a school bathroom was being covered up by board members at the meeting in question, the entire thing is looking more like a liability for Democrats- in Virginia and beyond- than anything else.

If the allegations are true- and indeed, not only is there a public record of the case, but a second case against the same individual, who identifies as gender-fluid, also appears to be pending- it isn’t good for McAuliffe and his comment about parents staying out of public school policies.

It is unlikely the public will ever know the full details as juvenile records are in any case, sealed. The suspect is expected to plead to a lesser charge at an upcoming hearing and is currently under house arrest.

But the damage may already be done to the campaign of Terry McAuliffe in a a race that was already very close.

The gaffe, if indeed that is what it was, hasn’t done him any favors in the polls, which are probably also still under-sampling Republican voters. McAuliffe has been in a dead-heat with Youngkin for over a month and anything could push one candidate ahead of the other.

Worse, it was a gaffe only in the sense that McAuliffe said the quiet part out loud- that today’s progressives are convinced a more state-centric model of community child-rearing is preferable to leaving children to the mercy of the nuclear family.

As many problems as progressives can point to in the nuclear family, the state is every bit as fallible, and often more so because that fallibility is magnified.

A dysfunctional human family can mess up a handful of children; a dysfunctional state system can abuse generations with infanticide, as in the Chinese Communist Party’s one-child rule. A dysfunctional state can brainwash millions of innocent children living under Hamas to hate Jewish people- sacrificing their STEM educations, future prospects in the global marketplace, even their very lives to the cause of wiping a neighboring country from the map.

After his unfortunate gaffe, it isn’t surprising Terry McAuliffe is in such trouble the Democratic Party is sending in former-President Barack Obama to campaign for him; nor that Sen. Bernie Sanders is writing impassioned op-eds for Virginia newspapers.

It isn’t even surprising that White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki broke rank, and the Hatch Act, to publicly endorse McAuliffe from her official position behind the White House podium.

“We support Terry McAuliffe, his platform goals and we are going to do everything we can to help him win,” as astute observers might notice, is hardly ambiguous, but as clear an endorsement as anyone could make.

Psaki, who is neither unaware of the Hatch Act nor careless, had to have a very good reason for her own “gaffe,” which could hardly have been an accident.

“Words matter,” she responded when questioned about it.

As indeed they do. To what degree will Terry McAuliffe’s ill-chosen words come back to haunt him- and the entire Democratic Party?

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)