The Republican war on “woke” has been a major storyline of politics over the last three or four years, although it’s kind of hard to define what “woke” actually means.
It means the same thing “politically correct” used to mean, but it also means the same thing “liberal” and “leftist” used to mean. At the same time, it’s also generally associated with anything new or youth-oriented that’s left-coded.
And the word “woke” is just as likely to apply to a casting decision in a blockbuster movie, or a social media campaign by a beer company, as to viewpoints on politics and policy.
Leader of the War on Woke
Gov. Ron DeSantis has staked his presidential candidacy on his anti-woke postering and even used the word “woke” five times in 19 seconds during a recent appearance. And while Donald Trump has said that he dislikes the term, he has also used it pejoratively.
Biden Aspires to Woke
This has all coincided, however, with the presidency of Joseph Biden, who doesn’t exactly fit the woke stereotype. After all, he’s an older white man, who has been around since decades before the word “woke” was ever used and has been associated for most of his political career with a more centrist version of Democratic politics. In addition, Biden does not typically use the type of verbiage associated with the “wokeness” of young people of the center-left and left.
The New York Times, over the holiday weekend, looked at this strange dynamic.
“Despite his alliance with abortion-rights supporters and L.G.B.T.Q. advocates, the president has deftly avoided becoming enmeshed in battles over hotly contested social issues,” the Times said of the president.
Per the Times, Biden has sought to strike a balance between backing most of the social justice goals of his party’s base, while not being much of a culture warrior himself.
“White, male, 80 years old and not particularly up-to-date on the language of the left, Mr. Biden has largely avoided becoming enmeshed in contemporary battles over gender, abortion, and other hotly contested social issues — even as he does things like hosting what he called ‘the largest Pride Month celebration ever held at the White House,’” the Times analysis said.
The Times added that most of the culture war messaging is aimed at Republican primary voters, while the general election is more likely to concern issues like “economy, crime, and immigration.” After all, the Republicans went all-in on anti-wokeness in the 2022 midterms and underperformed across the board in those races for the House, Senate, and governorships.
“Everybody wants to talk about how old Joe Biden is, but the truth of the matter is it’s his age and his experience allow him to be who he is and allow him to say the things and to help people in a way that nobody else can,” Henry R. Muñoz III, a former DNC finance director, told the Times.
“It’s hard to paint an 80-year-old white man as a flaming woke warrior,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres told the Times.
The Times analysis doesn’t mention it, but that delicate balance seems to not be the case with Vice President Kamala Harris – which may be one reason why the GOP seems eager to make the 2024 election about her rather than about Biden.
“Biden has never presented as a left-wing culture warrior. A Catholic, he has long been wary about jumping headlong into fights over abortion rights,” the Times said of the president. “Even as his campaign and party are preparing to make his reelection bid a referendum on Republican efforts to further restrict abortion, Biden proclaimed to a crowd of donors in suburban Washington that he himself was not eager to do so.”
Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.