November 4, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Can Biden and the Democrats beat white supremacy by spending trillions? The results from Virginia don’t inspire hope

Rethinking a presumed truth.

Image courtesy of the AP.
Image courtesy of the AP.

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The president was right in thinking there’s not much he or his party could have done to prevent losing Virginia in this week’s off-off-year election in which Terry McAuliffe got more votes than any Democrat in the state’s history. “I’m not sure that I would be able to have changed the number of very conservative folks who turned out in the red districts who were Trump voters,” he said. “But maybe. Maybe.” 

But I think Joe Biden was wrong, too. He said that once his party works out how to pass his legislative agenda, “factors grinding on Americans — the lingering pandemic, rising costs at the gas pump, uncertainty about the economy — as problems … would go away if he could just get his agenda passed,” according to the Associated Press. Biden said:

If I’m able to pass, sign into law my Build Back Better initiative, I’m in a position where you’re going to see a lot of those things ameliorated quickly and swiftly.

I say I think he was wrong, but I used to think he was right. I used to think voters would respond to, and reward, Democrats who were willing to take bold action — who delivered for everyone materially. I’d guess this has been presumed true by anyone having in mind the legacy of the New Deal. Take the side of “the common man” and win.

The “common man” may not want help economically. He may want instead to feel like he’s back on top. That feeling would require taking a side against the out-group, which is to say, against the base of the Democratic Party.

But after seeing what happened in Virginia, after seeing the GOP exploit the long history, deep roots and present social condition of white supremacy to break the coalition that delivered the state to the president by 10 points last year, I’m not sure material gains matter. The common man doesn’t want help economically. He wants to feel like he’s back on top. That feeling would require taking a side against the out-group, which is to say, against the base of the Democratic Party

Under this president’s watch, the country has seen a massive vaccine roll out, a historic rise in wages and a gigantic, nearly $2 trillion recovery package passed that included billions for advanced child-tax credit payments to working moms and dads. Yet in Virginia, that could not compete with the discomfort a majority of white people felt as a consequence of anti-racist gains made after George Floyd’s death. Here’s $3,000 per kid, Democrats said. Here’s “critical race theory,” Republicans said. The people of the commonwealth made their choice. One thing is real. The other is fiction. And the fiction won the day. 

As if to illustrate the point, CNN ran a story this morning about a family of 11 (two adults, nine children) struggling to make ends meet in face of rising food and gas prices. This is a legitimate and practical concern. Focusing on prices is focusing on half the truth, though. A family with nine children over 6 years of age should have gotten about $27,000 in advanced child tax credits this year. Mom and Dad might have decided against getting that ready money. They may have had their reasons. Either way, this information is missing from the report. 

Here’s the tip jar!

CNN’s story illustrates how respectable white people — that great globular middle of American politics — have the ability to complain about the state of the economy under a Democratic president without taking into account serious material gains made under a Democratic president. Indeed, they might swap those gains for the convenience of having “reasons” to vote against the Democrat while the real reasons — feeling the pain and discomfort of anti-racist demands — go unsaid. 

According to the same AP report, “three-quarters of voters in Virginia said drawn-out negotiations in Washington over Biden’s governing agenda were an important factor in their vote. Those voters were more likely to back [Glenn] Youngkin.” Yet “education” was the No. 1 concern, meaning the teaching of the long history, deep roots and present social condition of white supremacy to white kids. You’d think members of the Washington press corps, of all people, would be more skeptical. Luckily, the president doesn’t seem to buy said “reasons.”


He’s right to not buy them. But what about where he’s wrong — what about his apparent belief in the long-held belief among Democrats and liberals (including me) that taking the side of “the common man” will yield victory in time? Even if he and the Democrats pass $3.5 trillion in nation-rebuilding, Virginia suggests none of it may matter to voters who will thank the Democrats kindly before giving them the boot. 

We’ve been here before. Barack Obama led passage of the $800 billion stimulus in the wake of the housing crisis as well as the Affordable Care Act. Yet voters did not reward America’s first Black president. They punished him. They gave the House to the Republicans, arguably making Obama a lame duck with six years to go in his presidency.

At the time, it was said Barack Obama and the Democrats weren’t bold enough. They weren’t spending big enough. This is the stated rationale today for the Democrats to aim high. But supposing they get their $3.5 trillion in nation-rebuilding and it still doesn’t yield victory. What then? Are the Democrats going to spend even more next time they can? What if white people believe the advantages of white supremacy are just more important than trillions and trillions spent in their name?  

I wish I had a good answer.

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. John W Smart on November 4, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    You’re over thinking this. This is truly not difficult. I’m baffled why Dems don’t get this….the GOP has ONE play and it works most every time for them.. (it’s renamed but it is the same play…”family values”… swiftboat…willie horton…Crooked Hillary… “BLM” …next year it will be “parents rights” all the EXACT SAME PLAY)

    All the Dems need to do is the same play but use it against the GOP. One must just attack with the same ruthlessness that the GOP attacks. Label them early and often. And repeat it. Be personal. ALWAYS BE PERSONAL.

    Make conservatives the bad repeat the attack all the time … double down, then triple down… THIS IS NOT HARD….for unknown reasons Democrats would rather lose than do the obvious. …lordy in heaven with enough cash I could focus in and blow up the entire GOP project with 5 well placed TV ads repeated and repeated…


    It’s really fun. Most squeal and flip out when they are not driving the conversation.

    • Thornton Prayer on November 4, 2021 at 5:27 pm

      Absolutely correct. The Democrats keep thinking that voters are following the details of legislation and negotiations and how all of that stuff will reward their pocketbooks while the GOP just riles people up with emotional anti-whoever slogans that makes people scared and angry. Which method is more likely to get people’s attention?

      The Democrats are still operating like wonks, geeks, and nerds while the Repugs are bullies and thugs. It’s beyond time to bash back with visceral, gut punching language that attacks the Republicans on every level – moral, legal, and personal.

      • John W Smart on November 5, 2021 at 9:56 am


        And , quite frankly, vaporizing Trump conservatives is really fun…and actually quite easy. But one must get over they idea that they will listen to sense…and just go on the attack.

  2. John W Smart on November 5, 2021 at 9:52 am

    Want to point out that my take above is FINALLY seeping into the mainstream – saw on Morning Joe this AM a take that is exactly correct: Dems are run over by GOP lies and do nothing – what must be done is to ATTACK back in the same way… punch back then punch first then punch harder. American elections are almost never won or lost on policy. Dems fetishize policy waaaaay to much.

    There is no reason Mitch McConell is not seen as a monster by the entire country… he is a monster. There is no reason everyone doesn’t flinch with contempt when “trickle down” is mentioned…except for the fact that Democrats are too nice. The GOP does this all the time. ..”woke” went from good to awful in 6 months.

    Liberals MUST get over the perverse idea that American voters are smart or “good” – and start treating the bullies to some bullying…or American democracy will be DEAD next year. The stakes are THAT high.

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