Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo tries to figure out why Democrats can't seem to gain political advantage from the kinds of things that seem to work to Republicans' advantage when the parties are reversed. For instance, Republicans voted against war funding in a procedural vote last year. A vote like that, of course, helped sink John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign ("I voted for the $87 million ..."). Why don't Democrats gain a political advantage from a similar Republican vote?

Beutler thinks it's because Democrats are too high-minded:

"The Democrats have not done what they could do if they were willing and able to play political hardball to turn those issues into an electoral asset," says Congressional expert Norm Ornstein.

... Whereas Republicans don't really have a constructive agenda and "have much more of a focus on how you frame issues politically, Dems just aren't as good at that. They tend to think first about their governing agenda."

Beutler and Ornstein also think it's because Democrats lack a well-oiled propaganda machine, and because they don't lie as shamelessly.

But I think it's more than that.

I'm not going to say anything here I haven't said a hundred times before: There's a persistent cloud of suspicion that hangs over Democrats -- and Democrats don't do anything to dispel it. They don't insist that they're right (and Republicans are wrong) because, on some level, they believe that they aren't right -- or at least that the country never believes they're right. They seem to think the country is probably right about that.

That's certainly the Blue Dog message, and the message of the president when he's in "post-partisan" mode: No, I'm not a Republican, but I'm not an -- ick! -- Democrat! Not really! Heaven forbid! What could be more disgusting?

The reason is not just that Republicans have a well-oiled message machine but that they use it every day to spread a grand unified theory of Democratic evil. They don't just attack specific Democrats and specific proposals. They attack Democrats in general -- every day.

Democrats won't challenge the narrative. Democrats won't even try to construct a counternarrative of Republican perfidy. And because they won't -- while Republicans continue to tell us that the GOP is the party of patriotism, of ordinary Americans, of fiscal prudence, of strong defense -- Democrats can't get started with any attack on Republicans. By now they don't even try very hard.

So, no, they won't be able to make hay out of that Republican vote against war funding. And no, they don't dare to object, for instance when Scott Brown pitches a hissyfit and demands to be seated a week before the date he himself agreed on -- never mind how long it took Al Franken to be sworn in. Because it's OK when harm comes to Democrats -- Democrats are bad. And Republicans are good, so they must be deferred to. If you don't believe that, ask an office-holding Democrat.

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