Progressives often lament the right's ability to move its preferred stories from the fringe into the mainstream. Got something you want to get on the agenda? Just let Rush Limbaugh and the folks at Fox know, and they can generate a tornado of outrage that quickly draws the attention of more legitimate sources.
The passage of the 9/11 responders bill shows that now and again, the left can do it too. The left doesn't have the same system the right does, and its infrastructure isn't nearly as comprehensive or coordinated, but it can be effective. In this case, it was Jon Stewart who got the ball rolling by bringing some of those responders suffering health effects of their work at Ground Zero on to his show. Stewart's advocacy for the bill drew attention not just because it was plainly right, but because it was unusual for him to be so explicitly pushing for passage of a piece of legislation. After he drew attention to it, other media outlets (even Fox!) decided to cover it, which brought the pressure that made passage of the bill inevitable.
But what may be most important is that the bill itself was such a home run politically. It was one of those things that no member of Congress in his or her right mind is going to want to oppose, and once the light was shone on it, the Republicans who had been standing in the way pretty much scattered like roaches. There wasn't a debate Democrats had to win; the question was whether it would be noticed at all, and once it was, the debate was over.
When the deck is stacked so heavily in its favor, the left can get this kind of win. The right, on the other hand, often seems to have the ability to invent issues out of thin air. They can take a virtually meaningless incident and turn it into a national scandal (e.g. the New Black Panther Party), or invent a new boogeyman (as they're now doing with government employees).
So yes, the right is still better at this than the left is. But the left isn't powerless. It can move the media too, and actually get tangible political results. Sometimes.
-- Paul Waldman