Here is the most embarrassing thing I can think of. You are a high school senior. You read Beloved, Toni Morrison’s searing novel about slavery and family, as part of an A.P. English class. Then you have a nightmare about the book. For some reason, despite being 17 or perhaps even 18 years old, you tell your mother about this. At which point she, for some reason, tries to get the book banned from being taught in your entire county. You complete your humiliation and go along with it, telling The Washington Post that the book “was disgusting and gross” and gave you “night terrors.” Now it is eight years later. You are a lawyer for the National Republican Congressional Committee. You should have forgotten all about this mortifying incident. But for some reason, your mother starts talking about that time a book made you have bad dreams again, and somehow this becomes the biggest issue in the most important gubernatorial election in the country.
All of this is really happening. Since securing the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Virginia earlier this year, the private equity baron Glenn Youngkin has waged a relentless and disingenuous campaign based around what is being taught in the commonwealth’s public schools, mainly in an effort to catch a ride on the GOP’s current fascination with fearmongering about “critical race theory” and the idea that Democrats are indoctrinating students with social justice ideas. This more or less tracks with Youngkin’s effort to walk a fine line between keeping the MAGA faithful raged up and ready to go (to the polls) while simultaneously working to win back some of the affluent suburban parents who might be a little bit Trump-queasy. With the election a week away, polls have tightened and Youngkin is pushing this as his closing message: Elect me so we can ban critical race theory and retake our schools from the demon hordes who want to teach our children about American history.
To do so, he has enlisted the help of one of the protagonists of the night-terrors story, Fairfax County resident Laura Murphy, who, The Washington Post reports, “waged a battle against Beloved in schools beginning in 2013 after her son—a high school senior at the time—said it gave him nightmares while reading it for an advanced placement literature class.” That son, Blake Murphy, is now conveniently employed as an associate general counsel for the NRCC, a fact that I’m sure renders him a neutral participant in this latter-day campaign caper. Mother Murphy, meanwhile, once pushed a bill that would allow parents to intervene to have their children opt out of “sexually explicit reading assignments.” Terry McAuliffe, Youngkin’s current opponent, who served as Virginia’s governor between 2014 and 2018, vetoed that measure, as well as another, similar one.