Stop Calling Glenn Youngkin 'Centrist,' 'Moderate,' Anything Other Than 'Radical Right-Wing Asshat'
Last week, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced that he was overturning his Democratic predecessor's policy that had automatically restored voting rights to people convicted of felonies. Three years ago, Gov. Ralph Northam returned the franchise to 69,000 people who'd served their time and were now lawful, functioning members of society, but Youngkin wants to keep them permanent second-class citizens.
This puts Virginia in a distinctly repulsive category: It's the onlystate where someone convicted of any felony is effectively barred from voting for life. Iowa and Kentucky have equally harsh rule on the books, but their sitting governors eachissued executive orders in 2019 and 2020 automatically restoring at least some people’s voting rights when they completed their sentences.
Virginia felons, however, can now only have their constitutional rights restored through some byzantine process that is at the governor's arbitrary discretion, so you know, totally fair. Youngkin argued in his letter to state lawmakers that all crimes and criminals are different, but that's just BS. As state Senator Scott Surovell noted, "We are back to 1902-era policy in VA."
\u201cModern bipartisan evidence-based restorative policy that reduced recidivism is dead & ex-felons can now only have voting rights restored using a secret process with secret criteria in the complete absolute discretion of the Governor of VA - we are back to 1902-era policy in VA\u201d— Senator Scott Surovell (@Senator Scott Surovell) 1679525557
Surovell referenced the 1902 state constitutional convention that explicitly set out to disenfranchise Black residents. White conservatives at the time were hardly subtle: “The safety and perpetuity of our free institutions depend upon the purity and inviolability of the ballot,” said John Goode, president of the 1902 convention and a former colonel in the Confederate Army.
There is obvious irony that a former traitor to the United States was behind legislation that would deny full enfranchisement to former felons, though his original goal was to simply keep Black people from voting in general. That was unconstitutional on its face, but the Supreme Court later upheld that felon disenfranchisement was fine because it was at least written in a facially race neutral manner. White conservatives used that loophole to suppress Black political power and continue to do so today. (Thanks, John Roberts!) Black Virginians are 20 percent of the state's population, and as recently as 2016, 22 percent of them were barred from voting.
This is the very history Youngkin wants to keep Virginia students from learning. He is no "moderate" and the Joe Biden voters who helped put him in office are suckers, fooled by his phony Sunday school teacher/church deacon demeanor. But they aren't alone! While all this is happening, John Harris at Politico wrote today, "Why Glenn Youngkin Would Be Crazy Not to Run for President." (I don't like Youngkin very much, but I'd hardly question his mental stability for choosing not to get creamed in a Republican primary where he's literally polling behind "Someone Else.")
\u201c.@MorningConsult 2024 GOP Primary Poll:\n\nDonald Trump 52%\nRon DeSantis 26%\nMike Pence 7%\nNikki Haley 5%\nLiz Cheney 3%\nTim Scott 2%\nGreg Abbott 1%\nKristi Noem 1% \nMike Pompeo 1%\nGlenn Youngkin 1%\nVivek Ramaswamy 1%\nSomeone else 2%\n\nMarch 24-26, 2023\nhttps://t.co/sQHWaU5BoQ\u201d— Aron Goldman (@Aron Goldman) 1680001976
Harris does acknowledge Youngkin's many flaws, but he seems to think he can overcome them with his "cheerful ebullience."
Unlike DeSantis, however, [Youngkin] also pivots at other moments to sound like a Republican version of Bill Clinton’s 1990s centrism. He says the GOP must avoid exclusionary rhetoric and ideological litmus tests. “What I’d seen in Virginia, and I think I see across this nation, is we in fact have to bring people into the Republican Party, we have to be additive, not [rely on] subtraction.”
Youngkin is right now, at this very minute, subtracting potential voters he probably assumes would support Democrats. He's also nothing like Bill Clinton at his worst. He's more rightly compared to George H.W. Bush — a polite, Fred Rogers-seeming Republican who had no problem stoking racism to get elected. Harris, however, likens Youngkin to a different Bush.
The reality is that Youngkin is less an updated version of Mitt Romney than he is of someone who actually became president, George W. Bush. Apparently by chance rather than design, what Youngkin articulates is something very much like “compassionate conservatism,” the credo that got Bush elected in 2000 and then went into retreat as he became a war president after 9/11 and the Iraq War. That is reflected in Youngkin’s prominent advocacy of improved state mental health services — “Nobody has been spared this crisis” — and a state partnership with the impoverished and predominantly Black city of Petersburg, just south of the capital.
Youngkin is an empty sweater vest and hardly "a compelling centrist challenge to [Joe] Biden," as Harris suggests. Youngkin has governed as a right-wing extremist who's attacked Black history, voting rights, and queer people. Anyone who considers Youngkin a "non-hostile alternative to [Donald] Trump," needs to ask themselves, "Non-hostile to whom?"
[Bolts Mag / The Atlantic / Politico]
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."