The Audacity Gap Continues.

There are some political problems that can be solved with a shift in strategy or rhetoric -- for instance, after Scott Brown's surprise victory in the Massachusetts special election, Democrats realized they were being damaged by the perception that they were a bunch of ineffectual cowards, so they stopped acting cowardly and actually passed health-care reform. It didn't turn everything to roses, but it gave them a chance to minimize their political losses this fall.

But there are some problems that have no simple solution. One of these is what I call the audacity gap in American politics, the fact that there are certain things Republicans are quite happy to do that Democrats won't. A lot of it has to do with how brazenly disingenuous they're willing to be. For instance, Republicans don't like the idea of tougher regulations on banks, so they huddle with their patrons in the banking industry, then emerge and announce that they oppose this reform because ... it's a bailout for those evil banks! That's a kind of black-is-white reasoning that Democrats, for all their weaknesses, just don't do. It would be like them announcing that we need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, labor's No. 1 priority, so we can crack down on corrupt union bosses.

The problem is that if you're willing to be that dishonest, there's only so much the other side can do. Ridicule may be the best way to handle it, because a carefully reasoned rebuttal doesn't seem to do much. I guess the news media could provide a sanction. If they said, "In a stunningly dishonest attempt to distort the way they are carrying water for big banks, Republicans today..." then it would actually make Mitch McConnell feel like there's a cost to this kind of move. But of course they won't do that, because that wouldn't be "balanced."

If there's any saving grace, it's that in this case Republicans are trying to make people turn their ordinary beliefs about the GOP upside down. The default presumption, born over a century of experience, is that Republicans are on the side of the wealthy and powerful. It takes a lot to convince people that Republicans are standing up against the wealthy and powerful, and shouting "Bailouts!" probably isn't enough. But that doesn't mean they won't keep trying.

-- Paul Waldman

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