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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Quick Zeitgeist Shift

In the course of about 48 hours, the conventional wisdom about the likely fate of the economic stimulus packagage has undergone a remarkable change from guarded optimism to quasi-panic. In a semi-ironic reference to the rapidly shifting winds, Mike Madden did a post at Salon yesterday entitled: “Stimulus Bill Not Dead Yet.”
The genesis of this sudden shift in perceptions is variable: the Daschle “scandal” has supposedly hurt or distracted Obama; conservatives have been all over the media with a relentless barrage of attacks on the supposed “pork” in the stimulus bill; there’s been public handwriting by Senate Democrats about their failure to nail down 60 votes; two self-styled “centrist” groups of senators from each party are kicking around major modifications to the bill that seem to get larger every minute.
Most of all, Republicans are excitedly high-fiving each other over the trends lines in Rasmussen polling on the stimulus package (see Nate Silver’s warning about the methodology!), showing things moving their way.
Perhaps it’s inevitable because of the quasi-mythical status of Team Obama as it took office, which created high expectations of instant political mastery, but still, I’ve never quite seen so much of a mood-shift based on, well, a mood-shift. Obama’s not perceived as doing well because people are saying that Obama’s not perceived as doing well. This is the sort of self-proliferating cycle of negative perceptions that can develop a ferocious energy, but can also dissipate rapidly in the fact of real-life events.
And that explains the president’s real challenge over the next few days: bringing the stimulus debate back to earth, instead of letting it be determined by who is perceived as doing a better job of spinning it.

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