Battle for the Suburbs

There is a lot of anger out there.

The above photo accompanies Dave Weigel’s excellent WaPo report “Not just Virginia: From county to county, an off-year battle for the suburbs.” Here’s the opener:

In the Philadelphia suburbs, a Democrat running for sheriff is promising to “fund the police.” In Long Island, Republican ads link a Democrat’s support for cash bail policy changes to a gruesome murder. And in rural Colorado, MyPillow founder Mike Lindell appeared via Zoom to oppose a mandatory masking policy — moments before a member of a school board supporting it resigned.

“There’s more science than you guys even know of!” Lindell said, joining a local conservative activist who’d campaigned against the new policy. He added, falsely: “The masks are related to suicide and addiction. They’re directly related.”

Next week’s elections in Virginia have grabbed the national spotlight, but the same issues roiling those races — crime, the coronavirus and school curriculums — are shaping local elections across the country. Democrats who made deep inroads into once-Republican suburbs and cities are trying to hold their seats. Republicans are trying to win back voters, and find new ones, with messaging that fits a race for school board just as easily as it can fit into a 2022 campaign for Congress.

“This new coalition of ‘school board moms and dads’ is leading a political awakening against Democrat policies and leftist overreach that has gone way too far,” said former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken, a candidate for U.S. Senate, explaining why she donated to dozens of Republican-backed school board candidates. “I believe the ‘red wave’ we’ll see in 2022 starts with a flood of freedom-minded school board candidates winning on Tuesday.”

In much of the country, Republicans are starting from behind. Democrats won a string of victories in Trump-era off-year elections, starting four years ago. They swept the GOP out of power in places like Chester County, Pa., outside of Philadelphia, and Westchester County, N.Y., a onetime Republican stronghold that produced politicians like Fox News host Jeanine Pirro. They captured city hall in Albuquerque, after eight years of Republican control, and broke a Republican grip on Manchester, N.H.

Those trends kept up through 2020, pointing to the narrow suburb-focused majorities that would give Democrats control of Congress and the White House. Conservatives kicked off the 2021 cycle with a focus on school board elections, which Republicans now universally see as a way of defeating left-wing ideas at the local level and keeping activists motivated to knock on doors and vote. The party has become fixated on those races, as shown by everything from Lindell calling into a hyperlocal meeting in Colorado to a Senate hearing this week at which Republicans asked whether the Department of Justice viewed parents as “domestic terrorists.”

The photo encapsulates the weirdness of it all. In a room where few are wearing masks, one woman is defiantly wearing hers wrong while holding up a FREEDOM OVER FEAR sign. Meanwhile, an old woman in a hideous shirt is holding up a PARENTS RIGHTS IN EDUCATION!! sign at what one presumes is a meeting of a democratically-elected school board while demonstrating that she lacks command of elementary punctuation.

Silliness aside, though, there does seem to be a pent-up rage against school boards, in particular. While some of it is the conservative outrage machine and its hyperventilating over Critical Race Theory, I think most of it is in response to the over-cautious response to COVID that robbed kids of nearly two years of schooling while forcing parents to find ways to accommodate new demands. And the same outrage machine has made mandatory vaccination of children against this one particular disease key terrain in the culture wars, despite widespread acceptance of the requirement to get a dozen or so other vaccinations to attend school. The requirement for fully-vaccinated kids to wear masks all day is a bit absurd but the sheer outrage over it is rather bizarre.

FILED UNDER: Policing, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. SC_Birdflyte says:

    And I’m willing to be that some of the signs shrieking about “Parents’ Rights” are held by folks who’ve never sat down with their kids’ teachers to discuss behavior or academic performance problems.

  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    The requirement for fully-vaccinated kids to wear masks all day is a bit absurd but the sheer outrage over it is rather bizarre.

    1. The expert consensus is that it’s not absurd. What basis do you have for making this claim?
    2. Most of the kids AREN’T fully vaccinated. Half of them aren’t even eligible currently and a big chunk of the ones who are have parents refusing to get them vaccinated.
    3. Since there’s no way to distinguish the vaccinated ones from the unvaccinated ones, the end result is that everyone has to pay the penalty of the anti-social parts of society.
    4. But instead of blaming the obstinate people creating the problem, you blame the people responsible for trying to keep kids safe despite deliberate sabotage by a theocratic insurgency.

    And in rural Colorado, MyPillow founder Mike Lindell appeared via Zoom to oppose a mandatory masking policy — moments before a member of a school board supporting it resigned.

    Alternate: terrorist leader Mike Lindell showed up to gloat after one of his cells succeeded in driving an elected official into hiding with a campaign of political violence

  3. @SC_Birdflyte: We have gotten to the point at which if a teacher talks about the role slavery played in the Civil War, or the modern Civil Rights Movement, parents will just start screaming about Critical Race Theory.

  4. KM says:

    Wearing a mask is not hard – it’s a mild inconvenience at best. We’ve become a society of whiny brats who cannot be bothered to be inconvenienced in the slightest to stop a major disaster. If we’d had compliance from day one, we’d be nearly done by now as it was “why should I?!” that lead this to spread and become the years long slog it is. They did this to us and are now mad it won’t magically go away. They still have to wear masks because you’re not vaxxed and spreading disease like rats, parents!

    The sheer anger at this and other right-wing BS shows that the brainwashing and indoctrination is dangerously deep. Parents like this think they own their child and need to protect their property from outside taint. They don’t care if the kids get sick or are traumatized when one of their friends dies from a preventable disease. They don’t care about kids’ education, just that they might hear ideas they’ve deemed Unacceptable and are throwing a fit. It’s like parents who scream about X in public and how their kids shouldn’t be exposed to anything they don’t like. It’s all about “I don’t want them to know that” or “I don’t want to have to explain my problematic views on this issue to a kid who likely will ask a ton of questions”. They are angry at a mild inconvenience that society expects them to tolerate but it’s unbearable to them. We are not allowed to ask anything of them – they demand we do things for them!

  5. gVOR08 says:

    Why do we keep pretending this stuff arises organically from these simple farmers, the common clay of the New West? This started September last year when FOX decided to flog CRT. The lady in the Youngkin ad who wanted to ban a book eight years ago is a GOP activist and her snowflake kid is now a lawyer for the RNC. Some of the parents are ringers. The Billionaire Boys Club are pouring money into this. RW activist/entrepreneurs are all in on this. The right in this country has evolved effective machinery for finding and exploiting any hint of grievance they can find or invent. Tearing the country apart with this culture war nonsense is a small price to pay for staving off a carbon tax.

    FOX delendus est.

  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Indeed! Since the start of going back to school in about March of last year, the attendance rosters of almost every class have shown up to 4 Covid-19 related absences per class. This in districts where the voters have supported extra local funding to cap classrooms at 25 students per class. So far, the problem has not gone away.

    But masking rules are bizarre. Pfui! Flummery, James! Absolute flummery!

  7. Modulo Myself says:

    This is class anger exploited by the GOP. It’s bleak suburbs, lousy exurbs, debt-ridden lives and kids bouncing out of mediocre colleges and drifting through life. For the Long Island DA race, the killer wasn’t a menacing Willie Horton. It was her boyfriend and they were arguing and he shot her. By accident, he claims. He also had a four-year old daughter from a different relationship.

    This is what angry suburbanite Republicans used to turn their noses at–you could be racist and selfish but your kids have to end up with stable, peaceful lives. It was okay when guns went off in the lives of trashy people. You don’t want to get killed, don’t shack up with a guy with a kid and a couple handguns. But now they’re kinda the trashy people.

  8. Tony W says:

    There is indeed a lot of anger, but it’s confined to a small number of people.

  9. Modulo Myself says:

    @Tony W:

    Let’s see what happens in Virginia.

  10. Kathy says:

    Absent Delta, it’s likely vaccinated people could forego masks.

    Delta changes things.

    Vaccinated people with a breakthrough Delta infection transmit the virus at about the same rate as an unvaccinated person. The reason the vaccines still reduce transmission is that 1) those vaccinated are less likely to be infected in the first place (even with Delta), and 2) the virus gets cleared earlier, thus giving a shorter window of infection.

    The other reason to wear masks even if vaccinated, in good health, and without comorbidities, is long COVID. It doesn’t affect everyone who gets infected, but enough so that it’s a major concern and a damned good reason to tray to avoid infection even if you’re vaccinated.

  11. becca says:

    Jay Gould, robber baron and spirit guide to today’s GOP, once said “I can hire half the people to kill the other half” if he and his ilk don’t get their desired outcomes. He was talking about farmers killing one another, but the words still apply.

    The CRT and mask “debates” are almost pure agitprop , right out of the Jay Gould School of Dirty Politics. Especially the CRT bullcrap.

    Bonus point: Grifting opportunities abound from the top down. Lots and lots of do-re-mi to pocket.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: The thing I can’t get around is that it costs next to nothing, money or convenience, to wear a mask. What’s the point to not wearing one?

  13. CSK says:

    It’s become a political symbol. Not wearing a mask means that you’re a True American Patriot who refused to bow to the will of the Deep State Globalists.

  14. Kathy says:


    Because what @KM said and what @CSK said.

    I would add privilege, in some contexts. Right when masks were made mandatory at the office, the department’s boss arrived wearing one. he then took it off in his office, and didn’t put it back on until quitting time. So the rest of the department’s management team did the same. In the rest of the office, typically upper management types and above don’t wear masks (they are still mandatory), with some exceptions in common areas (just some).

    Who’s gonna call them on that? So they display their power within the company by foregoing masks.

    On the flip side, at our department half of these maskholes have gotten COVID, including one trip to the ICU. he still won’t wear a mask, though at least he got both AZ doses.

  15. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Pent-up rage at schoolboards? Probably not

    Astro-turfed performance by hard rightwingers funded by billionaires? Much more likely.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: Saw an article years ago about a guy who sold doughnuts in DC office buildings. He built it into quite a business. His employees would drop boxes of doughnuts in break rooms and conference rooms along with a coin box. Honors system, take a doughnut, put a buck or whatever in the box. He kept records and was able to say with certainty that most people are honest, but he got stiffed a lot in executive suites.

  17. gVOR08 says:

    The New Yorker just showed up in the mail. Great cover. George Washington crossing the Delaware in a boat full of school board attendees. They’re pulling in different directions, hitting each other with oars, everybody screaming and hollering and waving fists, with Washington scowling down at them.

  18. Kathy says:


    I do my boss’ expense reports. I’m not the least bit surprised.

  19. Gustopher says:

    Meanwhile, an old woman in a hideous shirt is holding

    I kind of like the shirt. It’s a bit bold, but I like it.

    Silliness aside, though, there does seem to be a pent-up rage against school boards, in particular.

    This isn’t pent-up rage at all. It’s generated and constantly fueled by the right wing media. A lot of the protesters don’t even have kids in the schools they are protesting.

    It’s performative assholery often mixed with death threats.

    The requirement for fully-vaccinated kids to wear masks all day is a bit absurd

    Are the little monsters vaccinated? A lot of the younger ones can’t be, and vaccination rates among the others is low.

    As a member of the community, I want those little disease vectors masked at all times. Gagged too, if practical. Probably best just to laminate them.

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: I think you’re asking the wrong person. Dr. Joyner is the one who described the masking rules as “bizarre,” not Kathy.—

  21. Kathy says:

    The FDA has approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines for children 5 to 11

    If hostility to mask mandates in schools was bad, just wait until there is a COVID vaccine mandate in schools.

  22. Jax says:

    @Kathy: Yeah, we’re definitely not done yet.

    My youngest, fully vaxxed and barely back to school from the last breakthrough Covid quarantine, has another stuffy nose.

    Should we get tested? What are the odds she’d be a double-breakthrough? We thought it was “just a cold” last time and it was Covid.

    It’s fucking ROUGH being a parent right now.