Why So Many Reporters Are Missing the Political Story of the Decade

An awful lot of people are still stuck on the idea that the coming midterms are about a rehash of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary between the so-called “establishment” and “insurgents.” As I’ve pointed out previously, prior to the New York primaries about a month ago, conventional wisdom was that the establishment was winning that contest. Then along came a win by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has labeled herself a “Democratic Socialist,” and the script was completely flipped.

Alex Seitz-Wald buys into the latest script with an article titled, “Sanders’ wing of the party terrifies moderate Dems. Here’s how they plan to stop it.” In his telling, the “establishment” is now represented by the Third Way think tank and the insurgents are the “Sanders wing of the party,” obviously a view of things that is shared by Sanders himself.

Frankly, someone needs to tell this guy to sit down and shut up for a while. Reinforcing the notion that a party that was led by Barack Obama for eight years has merely been representing the one percent contributes to the divide and reinforces Republican lies.

This narrative of Sanders vs Third Way reminds me of something Rebecca Traister wrote recently.

White men are at the center, our normative citizen, despite being only around a third of the nation’s population…But it’s not just in the numbers; it’s also in the quotidian realities of living in this country. The suffocating power of our minority rule is evidenced by the fact that we’re always busy worrying about the humanity — the comfort and the dignity — of white men, at the same time discouraging disruptive challenge to their authority.

In other words, viewing what is happening in the Democratic Party through this lens is a perfect example of putting white men at the center.

When it comes to candidates, the 2018 midterms are all about the historic number of women (especially women of color) running, winning primaries, and doing it their own way. That last part is critical. As Jamil Smith pointed out in a piece about Stacey Abrams being the future of the Democratic Party, conventional wisdom for a Democrat running in a Southern state has been, “The only way the left has a chance in the South is to be white and go right.” Abrams rejected that and said this: “My being a black woman is not a deficit…It is a strength. Because I could not be where I am had I not overcome so many other barriers. Which means you know I’m relentless, you know I’m persistent, and you know I’m smart.” A recent poll shows Abrams within two points (i.e., within the margin of error) in match ups with either Republican competing in a run-off. Smith more generally refers to a “palpable boldness” among Democratic candidates. I would suggest that is the key, as many of them line up across the spectrum when it comes to specific issues.

On the ground, Theda Skocpol and Lara Putnam were very specific about what the resistance movement among suburban white women was not.

This is not a leftist Tea Party, because newly engaged suburban activists hail from across the broad ideological range from center to left. It’s not a Sanders versus Clinton redux, because that “last year’s news” divide is flatly irrelevant to the people working shoulder-to-shoulder in the present. It’s not an Occupy Wall Street-type questioning of liberal democracy, because these activists believe laws can make good government as strong and transparent as possible. It’s not the 1960s, with young people leading the way—although there are lots of helpful teenagers in the background saying, “Mom, it’s fine: go to your meeting; I’ll get dinner myself.”

It is important to point out that they wrote that before the Parkland shooting, which has mobilized a lot of young people to help lead the way.

By zeroing in on the oudated battles between old white men, too many reporters and pundits are missing one of the biggest political stories of the decade as it unfolds right in front of their faces. That is what white male privilege will do to you.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.