Washington Babylon — August 25, 2010, 8:25 am

About That “Year of the Insurgent” Narrative: And what new bogus storyline will the media find to replace it?

A few short months ago the media was filled with narratives about 2010 being the “Year of the Insurgent,” a storyline that was always overblown. That’s not because the public is happy with congress, but because a well-funded incumbent is awfully hard to knock off. Even in 2006, when Democrats made huge gains in the House, 94 percent of incumbents won reelection. That’s not to say incumbents aren’t going to lose a few races (and it looks like the Democrats will drop quite a few seats this fall), just that it generally takes extraordinary circumstances, given the corrupted rules of American politics, for challengers to win a significant number of races in any given year.

Furthermore, America is a big place. Winning or losing state and local races depends on different issues in different places; there may not be a One-Size-Fits-All explanation for results around the country.

So it’s been amusing to see the media backing away from the “Year of the Incumbent” narrative, without ever acknowledging that it created this bogus thread to begin with. A classic example came in a Washington Post story today by Dan Balz. Writing about John McCain’s crushing victory over J.D. Hayworth in Arizona, he wrote, “On a day of coast-to-coast primaries that tested the power of the establishment against the appeal of political outsiders, McCain demonstrated anew that some incumbents who receive advance warning may be able to fend off challenges.”

Point One: For the purposes of hewing to its original storyline, the media has been portraying Hayworth as an outsider who was challenging establishment candidate McCain. But Hayworth was no outsider; he is a former member of Congress who lost his seat in 2006 largely due to his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. (He’s also dumb as a rock, which didn’t help his cause.)

Point Two: Don’t all incumbents receive “advance warning” that they will have a challenger on the ballot? Of course this caveat from Balz was inserted in order to explain why incumbents keep winning races despite the fact that he and others in the media were so recently predicting a wave of victories by “insurgents.”

Balz’s story in the dead tree version of the Post was written before results started trickling in from Alaska, where Senator Lisa Murkowski and Sarah Palin-backed candidate Joe Miller are running neck and neck. Murkowski had been expected to win, as noted by Balz in his story. Had she triumphed, Balz would no doubt have seen it as evidence to support his bold theory that incumbents with “advance warning” can fend off challengers. Imagine, though, if the results from Alaska had come in before the results in Arizona. Balz no doubt would have written a story saying that Miller’s unexpected showing demonstrated that “The Year of the Insurgent is alive and well.”

But now what will be the new storyline, since the “establishment” won in Arizona and the “insurgent” won (or did far better than predicted anyway) in Alaska?

Coming soon, from Dan Balz: “The results tonight demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that insurgents may, possibly, run strong this fall, especially if they have the endorsement of Sarah Palin, and even more so if the race happens to be in Alaska. However, there is no question that establishment candidates may, under some circumstances, triumph this fall, especially if their challengers tell them they plan to run against them. This trend may be heightened if the establishment candidate was his party’s presidential nominee two years ago and if his opponent is a cretinous buffoon.”

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $34.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2014

50,000 Life Coaches Can’t Be Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quinoa Quarrel

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

You Had to Be There

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Study in Sherlock

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“1. Death, The Sound of Perseverance (Nuclear Blast, 1998)”
Photograph (detail) by Peter Beste
Article
You Had to Be There·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He explained how sober Doug structured the bits and worked out the material’s logic; drunk Doug found the funny.”
Illustration by Andrew Zbihlyj
[Letter from Bentonville]
Citizen Walmart·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

From the July 2012 issue

“He’s taking on a heap of debt to scale up for Walmart, a heap of debt.”
Photograph by Thomas Allen
Article
Dark Heights·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Discussed in this essay:

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert. Henry Holt. 352 pages. $28.

The extinction symbol is a spare graphic that began to appear on London walls and sidewalks a couple of years ago. It has since become popular enough as an emblem of protest that people display it at environmental rallies. Others tattoo it on their arms. The symbol consists of two triangles inscribed within a circle, like so:

“The triangles represent an hourglass; the circle represents Earth; the symbol as a whole represents, according to a popular Twitter feed devoted to its dissemination (@extinctsymbol, 19.2K followers), “the rapidly accelerating collapse of global biodiversity” — what scientists refer to alternately as the Holocene extinction, the Anthropocene extinction, and (with somewhat more circumspection) the sixth mass extinction.

Article
Consume, Screw, Kill·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Now may be the unlikeliest time for us to grow a conscience about how our rapacity is endangering other species, since we’re now aware of how frightfully our rapacity is endangering us.”
Collage (detail) by David McLimans

Ratio of husbands who say they fell in love with their spouse at first sight to wives who say this:

2:1

Mathematicians announced the discovery of the perfect method of cutting a cake.

Indian prime-ministerial contender Narendra Modi, who advertises his bachelorhood as a mark of his incorruptibility, confessed to having a wife.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST