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:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

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

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2019

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Secrets and Lies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

Post
Seeking Asylum·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Out of sight on Leros, the island of the damned

Post
Poem for Harm·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Reflections on harm in language and the trouble with Whitman

Article
Good Bad Bad Good·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Article
Life after Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.
—Chaucer

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A solid-gold toilet named “America” was stolen from Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, in Oxfordshire, England.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today