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McAuliffe labels Youngkin flag of explicit book ‘racist dog whistle’

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With Virginia’s gubernatorial election only a week away, Democrat Terry McAuliffe once again is dismissing parent concerns — this time over an explicit historical fiction novel by acclaimed black author Toni Morrison.

McAuliffe called the concerns raised by Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin about the book’s use in high schools a “racist dog whistle” and “right-wing culture war.”

On Monday, Youngkin released a video ad attacking McAuliffe for saying parents should not have a say in what their children are taught in school.

“I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision,” McAuliffe said in a debate against Youngkin. “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

The Youngkin advertisement features a Fairfax County mother who in 2013 waged a legal battle against “Beloved” after her son shared excerpts of the novel with her when he was a senior in high school. Her son claimed the novel gave him nightmares.

“Beloved,” written by the late Toni Morrison in 1987, tells the story of a family of former slaves and features explicit scenes of bestiality, sex, violence and infanticide. It has been assigned to juniors and seniors in some advanced placement literature classes in high school. 

After reading the excerpts, Laura Murphy, the woman featured in the ad, took her concerns to the Republican-led General Assembly. In 2016, the assembly bipartisanly passed the “Beloved bill” to give parents the opportunity and right to let their children opt out of sexually explicit readings. Some schools already have that practice in place and the bill would have made it law. 

Youngkin's ad featured Laura Murphy, a Virginia mom who started a legal battle that stemmed from her son getting assigned Toni Morrison's "Beloved" in high school.
Youngkin’s ad featured Laura Murphy, a Virginia mom who started a legal battle that stemmed from her son getting assigned Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” in high school.
Photo by Daniel Boczarski/FilmMagic

McAuliffe, who was governor at the time, vetoed the bill and a similar one a year later. 

“When my son showed me his reading material, my heart sunk,” Murphy said in the ad, without detailing which excerpts she read. “It was some of the most explicit reading material you can imagine.” 

She slammed McAuliffe for vetoing the bipartisan bill, saying, “He doesn’t think parents should have a say. He said that. He shut us out.” 

Youngkin shared the ad on Twitter with an accompanying post that said, “What’s it like to have Terry McAuliffe block you from having a say in your child’s education? This mom knows — she lived through it. Watch her powerful story. #VAgov

Shortly after the ad was released, McAuliffe struck back, saying Youngkin’s campaign was looking to gather support from “the most extreme elements of his party.” 

“In the final week of this race, Glenn Youngkin has doubled down on the same divisive culture wars that have fueled his campaign from the very beginning,” he said in a written statement.

“Youngkin’s closing message of book banning and silencing esteemed Black authors is a racist dog whistle designed to gin up support from the most extreme elements of his party — mainly his top endorser and surrogate, Donald Trump.”

Youngkin has attacked McAuliffe for saying that parents shouldn't be  "telling schools what they should teach."
Youngkin has attacked McAuliffe for saying that parents shouldn’t be “telling schools what they should teach.”
Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images

In a Tuesday tweet, the former governor pressed on with his criticism, claiming Youngkin is looking to “BAN books from schools.”

“First, Glenn Youngkin proposed a plan to SLASH education budgets in VA. Now, he’s closing his campaign with a pledge to BAN books from schools. His right-wing, Trump agenda is wrong for Virginia.”

“Glenn Youngkin is ending this campaign by dragging our kids into the middle of his ugly, right-wing culture war,” he added in another tweet. “I’ll invest in our schools to deliver a world-class education for every Virginia child. Glenn Youngkin will ban books and cut budgets.”

The debate over “Beloved” follows the last gubernatorial debate, where Youngkin pushed for more parent involvement. 

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” McAuliffe said, defending his decision to veto the bipartisan bill. 

The former governor has since partially walked back his comments, saying “parents should have a voice.”

Throughout the race, Youngkin has quickly gained the support of parents, particularly ones against implementing critical race theory in curriculums. 

The Republican candidate has promised to “ban critical race theory as soon as he is elected,” but McAuliffe says there’s nothing to ban. 

“Let me be clear: Critical race theory is not taught in Virginia. Nor has it ever been taught,” he insisted during a TV interview this month, despite the controversial subject sparking many angry school board confrontations.

McAuliffe claimed his opponent has a "pledge to BAN books from schools."
McAuliffe claimed his opponent has a “pledge to BAN books from schools.”
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“I’ll be honest with you. I find it so offensive. It is a racist dog whistle and all he’s trying to do is divide parents and use children as political pawns,” he insisted.

Youngkin has also gained support among parents in the aftermath of an alleged sexual assault case that was reportedly covered up by school board members in Loudoun County.

While President Biden has voiced his support for McAuliffe, his administration’s lack of knowledge of the incident has not done the Democratic candidate any favors. 

During a congressional hearing last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland was unable to answer any questions about the case, saying it was a “state case” and he was unfamiliar. 

“Are you aware that … Loudoun County prosecutors confirm that the boy who assaulted this young girl in Broad Run High School is the same boy who wore a skirt and went into a girl’s bathroom, sodomized and raped a 14-year-old girl in a different Loudoun County High School on May 28? Are you aware of those facts?” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) asked Garland. 

“This sounds like a state case and I’m not familiar with it. I’m sorry,” Garland responded.

Roy pressed further, asking the attorney general, “Do you agree with Loudoun parents who said it is not okay to allow a child that has been charged with a rape to go back into a school in that public school system?”

“Again, I don’t know any of the facts of this case but, but the way you put it certainly sounds like I would agree with them,” Garland said. 

The Texas Republican continued to push Garland on the case, asking if he was aware that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill that allowed schools to “refrain from reporting instances of sexual battery.”

“I don’t know anything about the Virginia legislation,” Garland replied.

As McAuliffe and Youngkin remain extremely close in the polls going into next week, Biden’s approval rating continues to fall — causing some to speculate whether Democratic voters in Virginia will turn out for McAuliffe.


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