July 23, 2018 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rumors of Democratic Disarray Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Call it socialist. Call it whatever. The point is opposition to Donald Trump.

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The Editorial Board came into being believing politics is simpler and more complex than most realize, because elite journalists paid vast sums to explain politics to the citizenry aren’t doing their jobs. Instead, they are telling, and selling, stories. 

There’s nothing wrong with storytelling per se, but there is something wrong when storytelling distorts reality, making politics less coherent to average Americans and preventing them from understanding the true complexity of their politics.

Chris Matthews is one of these. The MSNBC host blasted Democrats for not doing more to stop President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. He said that if the Democrats don’t avenge Judge Merrick Garland, there will be hell to pay.

Matthews is wrong (and still wrong). It takes a majority to win judicial confirmation. Senate Republicans have the majority. The Democrats can raise holy hell, and there is something to be said about that. But ultimately, the numbers are not in their favor. As I said earlier, hard ball isn’t a Hail Mary Pass that might or might not work. Hard ball is doing what you’d rather not do, things like legalizing abortion by statute. 

But such complexity doesn’t serve Matthews’ ends. He’s selling a story, one about the base of the Democratic Party that’s just as extreme as the base of the Republican Party. Fact is, the base of each party is different because the parties are different. They are not two sides of the same coin. But in equating things that don’t exist, Chris Matthews gets to seem tough. In equating non-existent things that can’t be equated, Chris Matthews gets to seem fair. Meanwhile, his viewers are badly misinformed. 

The New York Times is another offender, at least as far as Sunday’s thumbsucker is concerned, the one about socialists storming the Democratic Party and making “centrists” panic. Entitled “There Is a Revolution on the Left. Democrats Are Bracing,” it had such impact former FBI Director James Comey took to Twitter to say: 

Comey need not freak.

The Democrats are not becoming Stalinists, or whatever. Anyway, what does “socialism” mean in this context? It means idealistic candidates saying workers should be paid fair wages, health care shouldn’t be denied to sick people, women ought to get equal pay for equal work, etc. Broad majorities agree with those positions. If they’re “socialist,” that means the mainstream is too—and that’s just an insane thing to say.

In any case, there isn’t much “revolution” in the Times front pager. By the seventh paragraph, it’s clear Alex Burns has a story to sell but the facts frustrate his storytelling. He wrote: “The impact of these activists in the 2018 election has been limited but revealing: Only about a sixth of Democratic congressional nominees so far have a formal affiliation with one of several important insurgent groups. Fifty-three of the 305 candidates have been endorsed by the Justice Democrats, the Working Families Party, the Progressive Change Campaign and Our Revolution, organizations that have helped propel challenges to Democratic incumbents.”

So 53 of more than 300 candidates have some tie to “insurgent groups.” That’s not a revolution. Of those, one has a long history of endorsing establishment Democrats (the Working Families Party) and one was around long before anyone ever heard of Bernie Sanders (Progressive Change Campaign Committee). Nope. Not a revolution.

Sanders, of course, is what this is all about.

To this day, reporters refer to Sanders as a change agent, someone who moved the party left, and continues moving it left. Wrong. The party had been moving left since at least 2006 when Senator Joe Lieberman, a centrist’s centrist, lost a Democratic primary on account of his support for the Iraq War, or since 2008 when a guy named Barack Obama won the presidency promising to put an end to that war. 

It’s true that these new socialists often cite Sanders as inspiration, but that has more to do with his visibility, which is to say the political media’s storytelling, than it does actual progressive policies. Remember that Democrat Hillary Clinton adopted nearly all of Sanders policy views, but no sane person would call her a socialist. 

It’s also true that progressive energy is animating a wave of candidates, but that’s not because the party is moving left, or rather that’s not only because the party is moving left. This is a midterm election, after all, and what are midterms about?

Call it progressive. Call it socialist. Call it whatever.

The point is opposition to Donald Trump. 

Important news

As you know, the Editorial Board believes that politics is simpler and more complex than most people realize. That’s why the newsletter is published every day, right on top of the news cycle, to bring you up to speed and (I hope) much-needed clarity. This is a lot of work, work that has some value. Please take a moment to think about this:

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Thanks, JS 

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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