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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Will Summit Help Pass HCR?

After watching a couple of hours of the health care reform summit today, I’d have to call it a big step towards enacting a credible bill. There were no major Democratic gaffes and the Republicans were unable to make a very persuasive case against the bill. Indeed, their incessant repetiton of the “my district hates this bill” put-down must have sounded a little scripted and unconvincing to viewers who were trying to make up their mind about the legislation, based on the best evidence presented by both parties.
President Obama looked large and in charge, calling everyone by their first names, while they all had to answer him as “Mr. President,” as he responded to most of the comments made by the Republicans and generally had the last word. This was a highly creative and effective use of the bully pulpit, which amplified the president’s image as a manager and a thoughtful leader who is sincerely trying to work some of the opposition’s ideas into the legislation. Again and again, he appealed to the Republicans to identify areas of agreement, which many Democrats noted, while few Republicans responded positively. President Obama’s performance will probably lend some cred to the public’s perception of the bill.
It was President Obama’s show. But other Dems acquitted themselves well enough. The Republicans did their best to appear as level-headed conservatives, not unduly influenced by tea party theatrics, and most pulled it off. Even the exchanges about resorting to budget reconciliation were impressively devoid of shrill demagoguery.
The civility of the exchanges is more a net plus for Dems because, as Chris Bowers notes in his OpenLeft post, “The largely positive impact of a boring health care summit,”

…makes charges of “communism” or “obstruction” seem a lot less credible. It looks like well informed people are discussing substantive legislation, rather than throwing bombs at each other…All in all, the summit is a huge net positive for the possibility of passing health reform this year. Democrats were losing the rhetorical battle on this bill, and a boring summit largely helps them.

A commenter called ‘workingclassdemocrat’ responds to Bowers, echoing,

I think summit deflated the fierceness of the GOP attacks. If nothing else, there haven’t been many “death panel” moments. That alone means the discussion is closer to reality. I think the time taken for this discussion and the buildup to it have allowed many on the left to reflect upon the benefit of choosing between this bill or nothing. Given the pressure of the media, the health industry, and the lack of pressure by the White House, something near to the Senate Bill is probably the reality.

The hysterical rhetoric about ‘socialism’ and Democratic reforms leading to economic disaster will probably sound a little less credible to open-minded voters, who the Republicans hope to win in November. No one can now say their views didn’t get a fair hearing, and the President addressed all of the critiques with calm, respectful authority. Hard to see any downside for the Dems.

Clue That White House is On Track with HCR

Democrats who are anxious about the white house summit on health care tomorrow should find comfort and encouragement in Michael Gerson’s WaPo op-ed. “Obama’s Health Reform Gamble Raises Questions of Judgment.” Gerson, who served as President Bush’s chief speechwriter and a senior GOP policy advisor, provides perhaps the best bellwether in newspaper journalism for Democratic policy-making, in that, whatever he advocates is designed to support Republican political interests, and therefore will likely screw everyone but the rich. Here’s Gerson’s critique of the budget reconciliation process:

…Enacting health reform through the quick, dirty shove of the reconciliation process — would add coercion to arrogance…the imposition of a House-Senate health-reform hybrid would confirm the worst modern image of the Democratic Party, that of intellectual arrogance. Parties hurt themselves most when they confirm a destructive public judgment. In this case, Americans would see Democrats pushing a high-handed statism…Obama’s decision on the use of reconciliation will define his presidency. If he trusts in his charmed political fortunes and lets the dice fly, it will raise the deepest questions about his judgment.

In Gerson-think a simple majority is tantamount to a “dirty shove,” “coercion,” “arrogance,” and “high-handed statism.” He suggests it’s “intellectual arrogance” to believe that a true majority requires less than 60 percent. His readers are supposed to buy the argument that passing legislation with anything less than 60 Senate votes is outrageous.
Gerson warns that budget reconciliation “would almost certainly maintain conservative and Republican intensity through the November elections” — as if there was any chance of that not happening. He says budget reconciliation “would both insult House and Senate Republicans and motivate them for future fights.” What, not like now? We certainly don’t want to hurt their tender feelings, since they have been so kind when they were in majority.
Gerson’s readers are supposed to believe that, if only the selfish Democrats would cave on the principles that elected them, Republicans would become more cooperative. He warns, “The minority would not only be defeated on health reform but its rights would be permanently diminished — a development that would certainly be turned against Democrats when they lose their majority” — which sounds an awful lot like majority rule.
Few Dems will be hustled by Gerson’s polemic. No one believes the Republicans would not use budget reconciliation to enact any part of their agenda, as they did to ram through Bush’s deficit-expanding tax cuts and in their failed attempt to open the Arctic National Wildlife refuge to oil drilling.
More importantly, majority rule — 50 percent plus one — is more than defensible. It’s a fundamental principle of great democracies. Arguing otherwise, that the party in minority should have a permanent stranglehold on the fate of all reform legislation– is the real elitist arrogance.

Does Ron Paul’s CPAC Staw Poll Win Show GOP Racism?

Ron Paulites are elated because their man won his first presidential straw poll of the Conservative Political Action Conference Saturday, with 31 percent of the vote. Paul decisively whipped Mitt Romney (22 percent) and Sarah Palin (7 percent), as well as Tim Pawlenty (6 percent) and Newt Gingrich (4 percent) and Mike Huckabee (4 percent).
No, it’s not a scientific poll, but it is an indicator of the preferences of the conservative activist base. What is most disturbing about the vote, however, is Paul’s long history of supporting racism, in his newsletter, and in his personal remarks.
Maybe the best thing written about Paul’s racial views comes from New Republic article “Angry White Man: The bigoted past of Ron Paul” by James Kirchick. As Kirchick explains:

The Freedom Report’s online archives only go back to 1999, but I was curious to see older editions of Paul’s newsletters, in part because of a controversy dating to 1996, when Charles “Lefty” Morris, a Democrat running against Paul for a House seat, released excerpts stating that “opinion polls consistently show only about 5% of blacks have sensible political opinions,” that “if you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be,” and that black representative Barbara Jordan is “the archetypical half-educated victimologist” whose “race and sex protect her from criticism.” At the time, Paul’s campaign said that Morris had quoted the newsletter out of context. Later, in 2001, Paul would claim that someone else had written the controversial passages. (Few of the newsletters contain actual bylines.) Caldwell, writing in the Times Magazine last year, said he found Paul’s explanation believable, “since the style diverges widely from his own.”
…the newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul’s name, and the articles (except for one special edition of a newsletter that contained the byline of another writer) seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him–and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays. In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing–but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics.

Dems Have Mockery Edge

Abreen Ali has a post at Congress.org, “‘Mocktivists’ Use Humor to Protest” reporting on recent political skits subjecting the Ku Klux Klan, a wingnut religious group and tea party protesters to measured amounts of ridicule. Here’s how the Klan protest went:

Last summer, activists dressed up as clowns to counter a Klan march in Knoxville, Tenn. For each cry of “white power” from the Klan rally, the clowns had a carefully prepared response.
“White flour?” the clowns shouted at first, throwing fistfuls of flour into the air….Later, they shouted “white flowers?” while waving flowers…Finally they yelled, “wife power” and began jumping around in wedding gowns.
The counter-protest proved popular in Knoxville and online, helping undercut the otherwise ugly imagery projected by the Klan rally.
Wearing black suits and the occasional top hat, members of Billionaires for Bush have held signs like “Wealth care, not health care” at legitimate rallies and Tea Party events…”We want to confuse people long enough that we can engage with them behind party lines,” said Marco Ceglie, a “Billionaire” based in New York.
Ceglie said the problem with traditional protests is that people stop listening once they know you are from the other side. His group, though many of their stances are liberal, aims to be nonpartisan…”We want to tap that populist anger and put it towards the real culprit,” he said.

Ali also reports on a San Francisco group protesting church homophobia, which may not have had as much impact, given the ‘preaching to the choir’ aspect of the location of their protest.
I’ve been wondering for a while why we haven’t seen much counter-protesting at the tea party events. Turns out, however, that there have been some ‘mocktivist’ protests of note, according to Ali:

Billionaires for Bush is a group of demonstrators who pretend to be wealthy bankers and CEOs arguing that people should vote for Republicans…The ruse draws attention to the role money plays in politics, the activists say.

Moment of Truth Approaches for Dem Leaders

The public option for health care reform may be a dead issue for pundits and centrists, but CNN reports that group of Democratic Senators is calling for a vote on it under the budget reconciliation rule that requires 51 votes to pass the upper house. Sens. Michael Bennet (CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Sherrod Brown (OH), along with 119 House of Reps members, signed a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule a vote on the proposal under the rule. As the letter explains:

We respectfully ask that you bring for a vote before the full Senate a public health insurance option under budget reconciliation rules…There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach — its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option.

Seems like a reasonable request from four level-headed U.S. Senators, none of whom have ever been associated with political suicide missions, or even unrealistic expectations. And they are on solid political ground, according to polling data. In a Kaiser Family Foundation Kaiser Health Tracking Poll conducted 1/7-12, 2010, 53 percent of respondents said they “would be more likely to support” legislation that creates “a government-administered public health insurance option to compete with private health insurance plans,” with only 31 percent saying they would be less likely to support the public option proposal.
This may be a moment of truth for the beleaguered majority leader, who is starting to look like President Obama’s General McClellan, Lincoln’s union army commander who wouldn’t attack. The comparison may be unfair in this case. If Reid’s head count indicates the votes simply aren’t there, then he would be wrong to schedule the vote. But if the votes are there, Reid should take the initiative, and soon after the Feb 25th health care reform summit. Confidence in Democratic leadership is fast eroding as a result of the perception of excessive hand-wringing and inaction. Further delay could metastasize into unnecessary defeats for Democratic candidates in November. We need a significant win, and soon.
It appears that the political party in power gets about a year to produce reforms that have some credibility, before disapproval takes root. It’s unfair in the sense that this expectation doesn’t take the draconian filibuster threshold into account, but we’re stuck with it — unless we take action via budget reconciliation. Even if the measure is defeated, however, Dems could come back quickly with a modified “plan B” strategy, to give the impression that were are at least trying to pass reforms and moving forward. Otherwise the public perception of do-nothing stagnation will fester on and do deeper damage. What we must convey to voters is the perception that Democrats have the gonads to lead.

G.O.P. = Gridlock, Obstruction & Paralysis

Thanks to the recent Supremes Citizens United decision, Dems can expect record-level spending on attack ads targeting Democratic policy from GOP supporters. The worst response would be to crouch down in a defensive posture and not initiate an aggressive counter-offensive.
For a hint of how nasty GOP attacks on Dems are going to be, read the recent editorial, “The Politics of Fear” in The New York Times supporting the Obama Administration’s adherence to the principle of civilian trials for most accused terrorists. The editorial notes that “Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, suggested — without any evidence — that vital intelligence was lost by that approach.” The objective here is to ‘slime’ Democrats as soft on national security — and Collins is one of the least conservative Republicans. Of course Collins and other Republicans said not a peep when the Bush Administration prosecuted over 300 accused terrorists in federal courts. This is just a preview of slimes to come.
Dems should fight back more aggressively on all fronts, with an emphasis on soundbite-sized attack memes that call out Republican candidates where they are vulnerable, and their party as a whole when the critique fits.
The headline for this post is one example. It fits nicely on a bumper sticker, picket sign or in a 10-second TV ad, and it does accurately describe GOP’ “leadership,” particularly during the last year. It’s a good political argument-starter because it puts the adversary on the defensive immediately. The Republicans have no bite-size slogan that so accurately describes what some voters may believe to be the worst impulses of the Democrats. It is not an ad hominem attack in that it criticizes organizational policy, not personalities, so no demerits for being mean-spirited.
The “GOP = Gridlock, Obstruction and Paralysis” meme is just one of many possible hard-hitting attacks Dems could launch in the months ahead. The Republicans have formidable advantages in attack messaging, including discipline, FoxTV, right-wing radio and money. But they also have a serious vulnerability — weak policy. Thus far they have been able to steer media coverage away from policy.
Dems need a strategy to better educate undecided voters about policy differences. But it’s more important to take the offensive and stop allowing them to monopolize media coverage of policy debates with fear-mongering cliches about Democratic policy being ‘socialistic’ or leading America to economic armageddon. Through sheer repetition in the media, Republican cliche-memes have taken root, even with some voters who, when asked, say they support the Democratic policies being slimed.
Democrats have to attack and hit a lot harder in the months ahead to correct the imbalance. One excellent example of how it’s done in the media can be found in Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC report last night on the utterly shameless Republican hypocrites who trashed the Obama stimulus package and voted against it, but who now are so eager to pose for pictures with “big goofy fake stimulus checks,” as Maddow terms them — checks that are now being spent in their districts. If Democratic opponents of these Republicans don’t use these images and nail them with ‘windmill’ ads and the like, they will be guilty of political negligence. Maddow’s interview with The Nation‘s Washington editor Chris Hayes in the segment also features an interesting discussion of requirements for hard-hitting political attacks.
At TPM, Christina Bellantoni reports on another example of an effective hard-hitting Democratic attack strategy, in this instance the DSCC compelling four Republican Senate candidates to take a stand on Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Social Security and slash Medicare benefits to create a voucher system. The DSCC publicity cites the jobs and economic impact of the Ryan scheme in each of the four states. Another good example of fierce attack strategy. Force them to diss long-standing wingnut policy or alienate senior voters in their state. Dems need more of the same.

MSM’s Free Ride for Tea Party Unhinged

Since I read Jonathan Kay’s Newsweek web-exclusive article, “Black Helicopters Over Nashville,” I can’t help but chuckle a bit when I see the ubiquitous ads for Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (teaser-trailer here, Superbowl ad here).
Subtitled “Never mind Sarah Palin and the tricornered hats. The tea-party movement is dominated by conspiracist kooks,” Kay’s article is one of the gutsier MSM reports on the tea party gathering. Kay writes,

I consider myself a conservative and arrived at this conference as a paid-up, rank-and-file attendee, not one of the bemused New York Times types with a media pass. But I also happen to be writing a book for HarperCollins that focuses on 9/11 conspiracy theories, so I have a pretty good idea where the various screws and nuts can be found in the great toolbox of American political life.
Within a few hours in Nashville, I could tell that what I was hearing wasn’t just random rhetorical mortar fire being launched at Obama and his political allies: the salvos followed the established script of New World Order conspiracy theories, which have suffused the dubious right-wing fringes of American politics since the days of the John Birch Society.

Kay then presents a gallery of tea party characters, including:

This world view’s modern-day prophets include Texas radio host Alex Jones, whose documentary, The Obama Deception, claims Obama’s candidacy was a plot by the leaders of the New World Order to “con the Amercan people into accepting global slavery”; Christian evangelist Pat Robertson; and the rightward strain of the aforementioned “9/11 Truth” movement. According to this dark vision, America’s 21st-century traumas signal the coming of a great political cataclysm, in which a false prophet such as Barack Obama will upend American sovereignty and render the country into a godless, one-world socialist dictatorship run by the United Nations from its offices in Manhattan.
Sure enough, in Nashville, Judge Roy Moore warned, among other things, of “a U.N. guard stationed in every house.” On the conference floor, it was taken for granted that Obama was seeking to destroy America’s place in the world and sell Israel out to the Arabs for some undefined nefarious purpose…
A software engineer from Clearwater, Fla., told me that Washington, D.C., liberals had engineered the financial crash so they could destroy the value of the U.S. dollar, pay off America’s debts with worthless paper, and then create a new currency called the Amero that would be used in a newly created “North American Currency Union” with Canada and Mexico. I rolled my eyes at this one-off kook. But then, hours later, the conference organizers showed a movie to the meeting hall, Generation Zero, whose thesis was only slightly less bizarre: that the financial meltdown was the handiwork of superannuated flower children seeking to destroy capitalism.
And then, of course, there is the double-whopper of all anti-Obama conspiracy theories, the “birther” claim that America’s president might actually be an illegal alien who’s constitutionally ineligible to occupy the White House. This point was made by birther extraordinaire and Christian warrior Joseph Farah, who told the crowd the circumstances of Obama’s birth were more mysterious than those of Jesus Christ…

Having watched some of the tea party doings on C-SPAN and elsewhere, I commend Kay for his candor. But I think he only scratched the surface of the lunacy represented at the confab. However, Kay’s conclusion hits the bulls-eye:

Perhaps the most distressing part of all is that few media observers bothered to catalog these bizarre, conspiracist outbursts, and instead fixated on Sarah Palin’s Saturday night keynote address. It is as if, in the current overheated political atmosphere, we all simply have come to expect that radicalized conservatives will behave like unhinged paranoiacs when they collect in the same room…That doesn’t say much for the state of the right in America. The tea partiers’ tricornered hat is supposed to be a symbol of patriotism and constitutional first principles. But when you take a closer look, all you find is a helmet made of tin foil.

The teasers for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ suggest Tim Burton may have inadvertantly provided an excellent cinematic analog for the tea party movement, sort of like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and McCarthyism during an earlier era. As the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) says in the ‘Wonderland’ teaser trailer “Some say to survive it you need to be as mad as a hatter, which luckily…I am.”

Chess Game Behind Health Care Summit

In his article, “GOP Wary of Pitfalls in Obama’s Health Care Summit,” AP’s Charles Babbington provides insights into the strategic implications of President Obama’s bipartisan health care summit on Feb. 25th. From the lede:

Even as Republicans publicly welcome President Barack Obama’s call for a bipartisan confab on health care, some privately worry that he might be laying a trap to portray their ideas as flimsy. If so, a shaky showing by GOP leaders could possibly embolden congressional Democrats to make a final, aggressive push to overhaul the nation’s health care system, with or without any Republican votes.

“This is a clever tactic by the president to try to put the Republicans on the defensive,” explains John Feehery, a GOP consultant and former congressional aide, who also cites “a vast ideological gulf” between Dems and the GOP on health care.
Babbington reports that GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio and GOP Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia have asked the President to rule out using budget reconciliation to enact any of the Democratic plan’s health care provisions. The white house has responded that the President will not rule it out, but is sincere about hearing Republican ideas for improving the health care bill. Further, the white house is “adamant about passing comprehensive reform similar to the bills passed by the House and the Senate.”
The President adds:

What I want to do is to look at the Republican ideas that are out there. And I want to be very specific. How do you guys want to lower costs? How do you guys intend to reform the insurance markets so people with preexisting conditions, for example, can get health care? How do you want to make sure that the 30 million people who don’t have health insurance can get it?”

Republicans are understandably nervous about the proposed health care summit, partly because of “nonpartisan estimates that the House Republican bill would cover 3 million uninsured people while the Democratic version would cover 36 million.” Republican proposals are very thin on substance and they fear, with good reason, that their policy proposals are a tough sell.
They also fear the summit format, and more particularly the President’s media skills and command of the issues, which were on widely-televised display at the House GOPs’ retreat in Baltimore last week.
Their overal strategy is to deflect public scrutiny of the substance of their policy, and try to keep the media focused on message du jour cliches about “socialism,” “government take-overs” and higher taxes. a message which will be parroted ad nauseum by Fox and other GOP media lapdogs, and one they hope to spread to the more gullible segments of the MSM. They are very good at media manipulation and, if the debate drags on, expect a flood of corporate-funded, anti-reform TV ads in the months ahead.
Stalling is also a key part of the GOP strategy. The public wants the health care reform legislation resolved so congress can move on to jobs. The longer the GOP can prevent Democrats from passing a good reform bill, the better for their prospects to make Democrats look weak in November. As Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) puts it in Babbington’s article, “I think the greatest risk for Democrats is passing nothing.” Others worry that the second-greatest risk is passing something too late to do much political good in 2010.
Some progressive Democrats are skeptical about the Summit idea. As McJoan explains at Daily Kos,

While Obama is stressing that he won’t start over from scratch, he’s leaving room for “scaling back the scope of the legislation in hopes of drawing more support for a health care plan.” A vain hope, if indeed he’s really thinking there’s Republican support out there to be had…The experience of the past year should be enough to convince anyone other than David Broder that Republicans would actually play a part in passing any kind of reform.
Perhaps this nothing more than an elaborate set-up to expose the depth of Republican obstructionism and, as Greg Sargent speculates lay the groundwork for passing the bill through reconciliation by providing them cover. But a more straightforward, and quicker, path would certainly be providing the leadership the Senate seems to be craving and help push the reconciliation fix through.

McJoan notes in a subsequent post,

Republican leadership has spoken. Eric Cantor has now joined Boehner and McConnell to say that they’re not budging. And yet, in an interview with HuffPo’s Sam Stein, HHS Secretary Sebelius says that “President Obama is willing to ‘add various elements’ to health care legislation suggested by Republican lawmakers during an upcoming bipartisan meeting on the topic.” Various Republican elements have already been added to the bill, in the committee processes. Those concessions even included a ridiculous abstinence-only sex ed provision from Hatch. Did Hatch then vote for the Senate bill? No. Making further concessions to the Republicans, now that GOP leadership has issued the marching order, is not going to garner any more GOP votes…That expectation, and any possible concessions to Republicans resulting from that expectation, needs to be taken right off the table.

Still, the Summit may be helpful for setting the stage for deployment of the budget reconciliation strategy for key provisions of the legislation. Feb 25 seems a little late, and McJoan’s points about the dim prospects for any form of bipartisanship make sense. But, read as a stage-setting bipartisan gesture, rather than a project designed to win any Republican votes in congress, the short (half-day) Summit has merit.
Dems are rightly focused on the November elections, which will likely be critical for the Democratic agenda. In terms of longer-range strategy, however, Connolly adds “There are a lot of things the public may not support in a given moment, but later on, when things have quieted down, they may think of highly” — always a consideration for the party of reform.

Defanging America’s Hard Right

Sara Robinson’s post, “State of the Union: A Status Report on the Far Right ” at the Blog for Our Future helps to put the big Tea Party confab in interesting perspective. After collecting and crunching all of the data, Robinson called up Chip Berlet, one of the leading authorities on America’s hard right, and asked the money question, “…How many far-right wingers are there in the United States?” Berlet responded:

Ten percent of the population….It’s been the same number for most of our history, and it doesn’t change much.

Robinson adds, “How many really hardcore conservatives are we dealing with here?” It’s thirty million people, give or take.”
Many progressives might find the ten percent figure encouragingly low, although it’s scant comfort that thirty million paranoid, sometimes violence-prone reactionaries are out there. Robinson paraphrases Berlet, however, in cautioning that there is another group on the far right, “who are conservative by temperament, but don’t live full-time in that same overwrought, hyper-vigilant, paranoid space that the ultra-right wing authoritarian 10 percent do.” This group is capable of a hard right turn in times of economic and /or social stress, like, well now.
This group is a key base element of the Tea Party movement, according to Robinson and Berlet, and is is “actively decoupling itself from the center-right position of the GOP’s mainstream, and forming stronger alliances with the ultra-right 10-percenters—creating a super-right-wing faction that includes upwards of 25-30 percent of the country.”
It’s a scary prospect, almost a third of the electorate hardening their political views in a rightward direction, including flirtations with racism and anti-semitism, according to Robinson. She continues:

And it’s the combination of the two that’s worrisome. On their own, the far-right wingnuts can’t elect a dogcatcher (and even trying to do that much would no doubt cause a schism that would wind out for years in court. It’s just how they are.) But controlling 25 to 30 percent of the American electorate — while not enough to take over the country in straight numeric terms — is enough for the combined group to win limited but serious victories here and there. And, of course, their power is further magnified by the vagaries of the electoral college and the way we choose senators. In real terms, the system is set up so that this 30 percent can wield the political clout of 50 percent. That’s where we are now — and it’s one reason we’re running into so much gridlock in trying to govern the country.

Robinson notes that Fox News feeds this toxic mix at a time when independent daily newspapers are shrinking and disappearing. She has some harsh words for Democratic leadership:

Another driver is the Democrats’ continued fecklessness in clearly communicating the coherent moral values at the heart of the progressive worldview; and their extreme reluctance to support any kind of progressive populist agenda. Everybody knows now that there’s a rising populist tide in America. Average Americans, left and right, are uniting behind an implacable fury at the big banks — and at Congress and Obama, who seem determined to enable criminal behavior rather than make any serious attempt to control it.
You don’t need me to tell you that the tide is rising. We’re seeing the signs of political climate change all around us. But most of the Village still regards any kind of populism as a dangerous (and avoidable) impulse. “Responsible” consultants are cautioning Democrats not to get out front of that wave and ride it. In 20 years, historians will record this as a mistake on the same magnitude as the one they made in 1972 when they started backing away from the unions…

Robinson sees a remedy, but one that requires new focus and commitment from progressive Democrats:

Any progressive strategy to weaken the right should begin by finding a way to peel the second slice back off from the ultra-right, and bring it back toward the center. That alliance is the keystone on which the entire strength of the conservative movement is resting right now; pull that stone, and the rest of it crumbles. Reviving a vital progressive populism is the best wedge and sledge we’ve got right now…

I’m sure Robinson is right that such a wedge strategy could be efffective. Theresa Poulos has a post, “Five Ways It Could Fail” at the National Journal Online, which could help flesh out the specifics of an effective wedge strategy. Poulos’s post is less an article than a collection of five interesting video clips highlighting weaknesses in the Tea Party movement. The videos address: political infighting in the Tea Party Movement; exploiting the political inexperience of Tea Party participants; the difficulty of GOP attempts to absorb the movement, which includes a Independents; social issue schisms; and the possibility of an improving economy.
The Republicans hope to mimimize the internal disagreements within the Tea Party Movement and portray it as a monolithic anti-Obama/Democrat juggernaut. If we fail to challenge this meme, the blame will be ours.

Left Losing Internet Edge

Not to pile on with the bad news, but Robert Parry has a must-read bummer at Alternet, “The Right-Wing Media Machine Has Arrived on the Internet.” The title will come as no surprise to political internet junkies, who have noticed over the last year or so a distinct increase in conservative and wingnut web pages that don’t look quite so cheesy as before.
This doesn’t mean that the right has websites as widely-read as HuffPo or Daily Kos. They don’t. And there is still a noticable gap in writing quality favoring the left, at least among the middle-brow political websites. But amplifying Jerry Markon’s WaPo post on the topic, Parry does a good job of explaining why the pro-Republican right’s superior message discipline is providing the GOP blogosphere with a growing edge:

…The Right’s Web attacks on Democrats, progressives and mainstream journalists had much greater resonance because those hostile stories got picked up and amplified by the Right’s talk-radio programs, by Fox News and by print outlets, such as Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times…the Right is now fully “wired” to disseminate a potent political message via the Internet, as demonstrated by the Tea Party assaults on President Barack Obama in his first year and by the Internet-savvy upset win by Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race.

Worse, conservatives have not been shy in tapping corporate resources to nurture and support their blogosphere, in painful contrast to the woefully underfunded left, in which most bloggers work other jobs to support their postings. Parry adds,

Some right-wing bloggers have found their endeavors richly rewarded as right-wing institutes create “fellowships” for bloggers; other bloggers have become influential TV personalities, the likes of Michelle Malkin; and still others, like RedState’s Erick Erickson, wield outsized political influence because their commentaries resonate through the Right’s echo chamber.

It was a hollow conceit to assume that the progressive blogosphere would have a perpetual edge over the right. It was always a question of ‘when,’ not ‘if’ coporate resources would empower the right to level the field. But as the integration of streaming internet audio-visual content with television, telephones and even radio in cars becomes more seamless, perhaps there will be a more permanent democratization of media access. It won’t happen automatically, and it will certainly require an energetic effort from progressives to put in place. The alternative would be even more disturbing than Parry’s post.