Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Dana Milbank in today's Washington Post:

Tasting Victory, Liberals Instead Have a Food Fight

The new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds congressional Democrats in the best position they've held in 14 years, besting President Bush and Republican lawmakers on Iraq, the economy, health care, immigration, ethics and more.

All of which can mean only one thing: It is time for the Democrats to eat their own....

Milbank goes on to find this cannibal meal taking place at a D.C. bookshop where Ramsey Clark and Cindy Sheehan are appearing. Clark and Sheehan call for Bush's impeachment and an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq. We're led to believe that this is not merely the zealots prodding the cautious insiders, but a sign that the Democrats' wheels are coming off, the result of massive damage being done by a bunch of unwashed radicals.

Hmmm. I seem to recall a food fight on the other side a few months back -- a fight in which one of the tossed cafeteria trays actually did permanent harm to a certain Harriet Miers, who was quietly eating a salad at the president's table.

So I searched this Milbank column about the Miers melee, and this one, and this one, and while Milbank occasionally pokes gentle fun, there's no suggestion that the Republican Party was headed off a cliff, or that the opponents of Miers had anything but the finest of breeding.

I think this is why I didn't bother to post about the "to filibuster or not to filibuster?" question. Here's the problem: Conventional wisdom always portrays Democrats as hapless, awkward, ungainly comic figures, while Republicans, even when they're screwing up or (as in the Miers affair) fighting one another, are always said to be smooth and, at worst, suffering a temporary setback. Some of this is Republicans' greater mastery of the appearance of dignity -- the phony sanctimoniousness I talked about in a post last night -- but some of it is just the fact that Democrats and Republicans are perceived through the lens of opposite stereotypes. If this were Shakespeare, Democrats would be the lower-class bumpkins speaking in prose, while Republicans would be the nobles uttering iambic pentameter.

If the Democrats had mounted a filibuster and made it stick, they would have been portrayed as boorish radicals. If they'd done nothing, they'd have been portrayed as miserable wimps. Mounting a doomed filibuster, Kerry and Kennedy were portrayed as ineffectual radical-wannabes. Dems just can't win.

Americans are probably inclined to believe that all politicians are bumptious, venal clowns. Right now, though, one party escapes that sort of skepticism. That will continue to be the case as long as the mainstream press continues to portray the GOP exactly the way the GOP portrays itself, and the Democrats exactly the way the GOP does.

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