Monday, November 08, 2010


I know I'm supposed to feel that The New York Times is throwing Nancy Pelosi under the bus, but I think the Times editorial calling for a new House Democratic leader derives from a more or less correct assessment of the depraved way politics works in America:

Nancy Pelosi has been an extremely effective speaker of the House for four years, shepherding hundreds of important bills toward passage and withstanding solid Republican opposition....

Ms. Pelosi announced on Friday that she would seek the post of House minority leader. That job is not a good match for her abilities in maneuvering legislation and trading votes, since Democrats will no longer be passing bills in the House. What they need is what Ms. Pelosi has been unable to provide: a clear and convincing voice to help Americans understand that Democratic policies are not bankrupting the country, advancing socialism or destroying freedom.

If Ms. Pelosi had been a more persuasive communicator, she could have batted away the ludicrous caricature of her painted by Republicans across the country as some kind of fur-hatted commissar jamming her diktats down the public’s throat....

Needless to say, this isn't completely fair. It would take more than one "persuasive communicator" in this key role to withstand the puke-tsunami generated by the right-wing noise machine. And it might help if more of the rest of the media, including the Times, did more to combat the lies -- though I'm less and less convinced that that matters, given the sheer zone-flooding volume of deceit generated by the right, and given the number of righties and former centrists the right has persuaded to withdraw from the mainstream political culture embodied by papers like the Times.

Nevertheless, this is a question of messaging, not ideas or legislative skill. It's all freak-show theater; you win on the basis of what you seem to be and what the other side seems to be, not on the basis of objective reality. That's what the writer of this Times editorial understands.


Related to this is an argument Steve Benen makes. He's offended that there are calls for Democrats to move rightward whenever they suffer electoral losses, even though Republicans never change their approach in similar circumstances, which doesn't seem to prevent them from regaining power in a few election cycles.

My answer: Republicans may not have actually changed their approach in 2010, but they sure as hell sound as if they did -- at least if you're a low-information voter who's not sitting down and comparing current policy positions to old ones. That's why the Obama "we can't afford to go back" message was a failure -- Republicans succeeded in fooling swing voters into thinking they'd changed. (To some extent it's true -- a lot of them have even crazier right-wing ideas.)

My question is, Why can't Democrats do that in defeat? Why can't they successfully rebrand themselves in a completely superficial way? Republicans did it in 2000 and again this year, so it's obviously doable. If Democrats were as good at this as Republicans, they could double down on their ideology and use that to persuade voters that they're a whole new party. Why does it only work for one side?

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