A left more orthodox than the religious right ever was

A donkey.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

The woke left may be the new religious right: preachy, censorious, humorless, judgmental, constantly policing popular culture for impure thoughts. In fact, the new left compares unfavorably: Christian conservatives at least believed in redemption, even if it did not always manifest itself in their political witness. They also helped Republicans win elections from the White House to the local school board. The wokesters hurt even Democrats who run away from them and lose in places like San Francisco.

In the 1990s, Democrats managed to use the religious right as foils, making inroads in the suburbs and with the once-Republican Asian-American voting bloc to hold the book-burners at bay. But at that time, Democrats generally didn't get too far to the left of the public, expressing respect for religion and only embracing same-sex marriage after public opinion had conclusively turned.

Yes, there were left-wingers saying offensive things on cultural topics and Democrats were moving gradually leftward. But Bill Clinton had the left hemmed in, and he won national elections. A big exception was abortion, where social conservatives (with an assist from the Supreme Court) shifted from a full frontal assault on Roe v. Wade to more popular incremental abortion restrictions. Democrats found themselves defending partial-birth abortion, though even on that issue there were outliers — Joe Biden voted to ban it, for instance.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Now on critical race theory, cancel culture, immigration, crime, and a host of social issues, Democrats find themselves in partial-birth abortion territory: associated with — and in some cases defending — positions to the left of most of their own voters. And maybe that will make it a self-resolving problem: because rank-and-file Democrats often reject this leftward trajectory, the police defunders and school board wokesters.

But in the meantime, Republicans are winning on the culture war and parents rights, threatening to define the Democratic Party even when it nominates candidates like Biden, who at 79 probably isn't up on the latest progressive fads. Democrats are aware of the problem, but can they solve it by November? Bill Clinton isn't walking through that door.

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us