The DCCC’s ‘blacklist’ protects a white male political status quo

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Last week, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus announced they would pay their dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). The DCCC has been rightly criticized by black and Latinx lawmakers over the lack of diversity at its senior levels, and staff departures have embroiled the Democrats’ campaign arm.While this may seem at first glance like trivial party infighting, the dispute has broad implications for who will be reflected in the halls of power. 

This policy adds yet another barrier to entry for people of color and women who are interested in running for office, distancing us from the goal of achieving a reflective democracy — leaders who reflect the people they serve. Our population is 51 percent women and 40 percent people of color, yet our elected representatives are overwhelmingly white and male. At 30 percent of the population, white men hold 62 percent of elected offices.

Since so many incumbents are white males, the demographics of the Democratic Party can only change if primary voters get the chance to pick fresh faces such as Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), each of whom ousted a white male incumbent. The DCCC’s refusal to work with companies and consultants who support candidates running against the status quo will further stall the party’s growth. 

It’s not all about demographics. Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) — both white males — ousted incumbents by offering voters a more progressive vision. And among party insiders, the Congressional Black Caucus supports the DCCC’s anti-challenger policy. 

But the data are clear, and so are the facts. Though we like to imagine elections as a level playing field, the odds are stacked against change. Incumbents hold undeniable advantages — name recognition and access to donors among them — and beating them is tough to begin with. The party gatekeepers who choose candidates tend to buy the myth that white men are more electable, and the media give more positive coverage to male candidates than to women. All in all, women of all races and men of color face an uphill battle, and often must challenge an incumbent white man in a primary fight. 

The good news is that change is on the horizon. At the Reflective Democracy Campaign, we found that in the 2018 election, women of all races and men of color made major gains in Congress, state legislatures and local governments. Contrary to all the talk about “electability,” our findings show that once women and people of color make it onto the ballot, voters choose them as often as they choose white men. And every time we survey voters, a bipartisan majority tells us they’re tired of this “old boys club” running the country. So if voters are repeatedly choosing fresh faces over white men, why is the DCCC blocking their will? 

You could argue that by protecting the Democrats in office, the DCCC is just doing its job. After all, the GOP protects its incumbents too — any sensible party wants to win elections, stay in power and avoid the risk of challenging familiar faces. But sheltering incumbents means upholding a status quo that is unrepresentative of today’s America. If we want more eligible voters to register, and more voters to come out on Election Day, the whole political system has  to change or the mounting loss of faith in our political system will only fester and grow. 

A political system aimed at stopping change and excluding challengers promotes an unrepresentative democracy that voters are rejecting, in word and in deed. Now that the electability myth is busted, and the demographics of political power are starting to shift, gatekeepers must heed the voters rather than hide behind rules that protect an unsustainable status quo.

Brenda Choresi Carter is director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, a project of the Women Donors Network. Follow her on Twitter @WhoLeadsUs.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez American women in politics Ayanna Pressley Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Factions in the Democratic Party incumbents racial disparity Ro Khanna Seth Moulton

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