Thursday, January 06, 2011


Is Chuck Schumer extreme3ly clever, or are other Democrats just really, really dim?

Senate Democrats embrace Chuck Schumer's media tactics

Democrats in the Senate have long been envious about Sen. Chuck Schumer's ability to grab media attention on even the most innocuous local issues.

That's about to change.

Under a plan conceived by the aggressive New Yorker and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democratic leaders are building a new messaging machine for the entire 53-member Democratic Caucus that replicates Schumer's tactics in driving national and regional news. The idea is to identify hot-button issues early, frame them in a favorable light for the party and allow Democratic senators to relentlessly drive home the point through press briefings, conference calls, newspaper op-eds and local interviews....

Schumer has long had a flair for finding issues that buzz on Associated Press wires and generate positive nightly news coverage.... He's also famous for calling Sunday news conferences in New York, knowing that he'll get major coverage on what is usually a slow news day....

Schumer's been doing this for years, even when he was in the House, and it's clear why it works. It's not just because local media outlets like having stories handed to them, it's because the stories have narratives. They have heroes and villains. Schumer standing at a gas station on a Sunday and complaining about price-gouging at the pump isn't just feeding his own ego, he's identifying good guys and bad guys.

And -- however cynical it may be -- Schumer at least gets that this is what liberalism is supposed to be about. This is why liberalism went mainstream in the FDR and postwar eras -- not because it had wonkishly correct solutions to societal problems, but because it stood up for the little guy, and directed public wrath at the bloated and the greedy.

I know a lot of you don't have very good opinions of Schumer, because of his embrace of center-right Senate candidates, his early support of the Iraq War, and his coziness with high finance (though the fat cats have grumbled about him recently because he didn't fight finacial reform). And a number of Schumer's public campaigns aren't liberal -- the quoted article, from Politico, mentions complaints about TSA body scanners and Four Loko.

But that stuff, if mixed with some genuine liberalism, reinforces the notion that liberalism isn't at odds with all the traditional middle-class bourgeois blah blah blah that David Brooks is always talking about. It's Clintonesque, but it's also Capraesque. You want a simple, decent, traditional life? Liberalism is compatible with that.

Because (as the Politico article also notes) when Schumer draws attention to the health care law, he doesn't do so in order to talk about bending cost curves or CBO scoring or any of that wonktastic stuff -- he says Don't repeal the law, because then Grandma falls right back into the donut hole. That works for me:

One day after the letter was sent, Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Sherrod Brown of Ohio held separate conference calls with regional reporters, attacking the GOP and laying out statistics on how the repeal would hurt seniors in their respective states. And Nelson told press from his home state Tuesday that 260,000 senior citizens would be affected by the repeal. Schumer also held a conference call with New York reporters, breaking down, county by county, how much money seniors would lose if the provision were repealed.

Framing political issues in human terms is what Republicans do all the time. So is plucking issues from obscurity and making a big deal of them, in order to reinforce larger narratives. Schumer gets that:

Schumer and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida sent a letter Wednesday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, urging him to issue a new rule requiring troops who work within range of toxic open-air burn pits to wear respirator masks. The issue comes in the wake of the death of a veteran from Long Island, N.Y., who relocated to Florida.

I'm very much in favor of the approach. It's crazy that Schumer has until now been the only Democrat in America, apparently, who gets it.

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