The most astonishing thing about the Republicans’ 2014 midterm election victory is not how many seats or governorships the party won. Nor is it how wrong the polls were, or how tone-deaf President Barack Obama remains. No–the truly amazing thing is that Democrats are likely to retain those leaders most responsible for the losses: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi or Democrat National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Pelosi may have led the Democrats back to the majority in 2006, when she became the country’s first female Speaker of the House. But she led her party to catastrophic losses in 2010, and again in 2014. She should have resigned graciously the first time. Instead, she clung to power, beating a challenge from moderate Heath Shuler. She intends to stay on again, at age 74, promising that Democrats will take the House back in 2016.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz is also, apparently, holding onto her position at the DNC despite failing to deliver the gains she promised in two successive elections. Worse, in the closing weeks of the 2014 race, she guaranteed that Democrats would hold the Senate, which made the Republican victory more dramatic. She is without wit or charm, a talking-points machine ridiculed even by Democrat-friendly media. Yet she will stay.
Thus far, the only Democrat to pay any kind of price for the loss is the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Steve Israel (who is not so much resigning as leaving to run for another leadership post). His predecessor, Chris van Hollen, also quit after the 2010 losses. Somehow, the men in the Democratic Party have been willing to accept some measure of responsibility. Not so the party’s female leadership cohort.
Democrats have a problem with women. Not women voters in general, who continue to favor the party (at least among single women). No–the problem is with these particular women, who ascended in favorable political circumstances but whose skills are unsuited to the new political challenge the Democratic Party faces, and who use the “war on women” meme as much to defend their own internal power as to fight Republicans.
Hillary Clinton is not the answer. Almost everywhere she and her husband campaigned this year, Democrats lost–including their home turf of Arkansas. Hillary, who styled herself as a friend of small business in the bitter fight against Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential primary, is now reduced to reciting left-wing clichés about the evils of capitalism, not leading her party to revival but following the path that led to its defeat.
The party’s only alternative to Clinton is Elizabeth Warren, who shares most of Clinton’s flaws but none of her experience. Warren has the added burden of being a classic northeastern liberal–one who, moreover, seems to have fudged her way to the top by fraudulently exploiting the identity politics of the academic world. She harps on the struggles of the working class, but enriched herself using the same schemes she now decries.
The new conventional wisdom is that the Democrats’ so-called “War on Women” theme is over, having failed to bring enough women to the polls to break the Republican wave. But that theme will likely remain, because it addresses a core pro-choice constituency. What the party really needs is fresh leadership that does not depend on the totemic politics of gender to block competent rivals, both male and female, from emerging.
There are plenty of capable liberal women who are being shut out of power and prominence by those clinging to their prerogatives. Consider Michèle Flournoy, who ought to have been Secretary of Defense, but was passed over by the frat-house that persists in the Obama administration in spite of party rhetoric. And where is Obama’s answer to Bush’s Dana Perino–why a succession of male flacks, from Gibbs to Carney to Earnest?
The most interesting women in U.S. politics today are on the Republican side, partly because they have not relied on gender to advance. Their sheer diversity is staggering–Sarah Palin, Mia Love, Elise Stefanik, Susana Martínez, and so on. They have been given a chance because the GOP–thanks, in large part, to the Tea Party–has discarded many of its old leaders and gatekeepers.
Democrats are long overdue for a purge.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak