Who Benefits From the Myth About Democrats in Disarray?

If you’re as tired as I am of the myth about how Democrats are in disarray, you’ll want to check out the latest from veteran political reporter Walter Shapiro. Given the history he’s witnessed, this is my favorite line: “Yet by the historical standards of Democratic internecine warfare, today’s disputes are like 6-year-olds battling with foam swords.” Here’s the crux of Shapiro’s argument:

For a party supposedly riven by unbridgeable chasms, the Democrats survived the primaries without major stumbles. This year, there are no Democratic challengers in winnable seats who have been forced to go on television to explain, “I am not a witch.” And in California’s top-two “jungle primary,” the Democrats avoided squandering any potential House pickups by making sure they got a candidate onto the ballot in all contested districts…

No party is ever completely unified, not even the Republicans who are fearfully pledging their fealty to Trump. But the Democrats — for all their differences over economics and temperament — recognize the anti-Trump stakes in 2018. And so, for once in their turbulent history, they are more arrayed rather than disarrayed.

However, the persistence of this myth means that it might be helpful to step back and take a look at who is benefiting from it. I’d suggest that there are three groups, with varying amounts of influence. The first, and perhaps least significant, is Bernie Sanders and his supporters. They have staked their claim on being the “insurgents” who have risen up in opposition to a Democratic Party they view as beholden to corporate influence. A united Democratic Party (even one that embraces many of their policy positions) indicates that they have lost their leverage.

Much more importantly, media outlets benefit from promoting the myth. For example, Shapiro points to an article in the New York Times last weekend titled, “There is a Revolution on the Left. Democrats Are Bracing.” That is what spurred his comment about “6-year-olds battling with foam swords.” What the media gets out of this is that ever-present need for “balance” as Republicans and their leader plunge the country into chaos. False equivalence won’t allow a narrative that accurately reports on a sane and united party gearing up to take on the utter depravity of the Republicans these days.

In the end, though, it is Republicans who have the most to gain by projecting their embrace of extremism onto the opposition. Take a look at how Valerie Jarrett shot down Meghan McCain’s attempt to do just that.

Ed Kilgore brings this all together.

But a deeper motive, particularly in conservative media, is the need to distract attention from the ideological revolution going on in the GOP by suggesting that something equally if not more alarming is going on across the partisan barricades. The idea is very simple: If you can’t expand your support beyond the ranks of the party “base” by “moving to the center,” then a good fallback position is to deny your opponent “the center” by alleging it’s being taken over by extremists. Aside from blurring the natural public and media focus on the strange people running the country and almost daily destroying old GOP positions on issues ranging from trade and deficits to the environment and NATO, the “here come the socialists!” cry appeals viscerally to the false-equivalence needs of MSM reporters and pundits who are constantly seeking protection against claims of liberal bias.

None of this is to suggest that Democrats (including candidates, voters, and pundits) don’t embrace a wide range of policy ideas. As I’ve said often, for a party that values diversity, that is a feature, not a bug. But the narrative coming out of the midterms primaries that Democrats are in disarray is nothing but a myth designed by groups that have something to gain by promoting it.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.