No Ideas (That We'll Tell You About)

Brownstein's got a nice piece today walking readers through the traps and pitfalls of a Republican dominated government. He does not -- thank God -- fall on the old and idiotic claim that Democrats lack ideas, instead claiming, correctly, that our ideas are remaining bottled:

The Democrats' biggest problem is that they don't have a viable means to spotlight or forge a party consensus behind these ideas. Unless they can recruit Republican defectors, Democrats can't force the serious legislative debate on their initiatives that would attract news coverage and public attention.

Democrats simply have failed to woo enough Republicans to create such opportunities. That's meant congressional Democrats have been able to express their beliefs almost solely by blocking Bush proposals. As a party, they have had few opportunities to explain what they are for, only what they are against.

Which is all entirely true, as is his next point, that our inability to grab press for our ideas has left the American people thinking we lack them. But here Brownstein falters a bit -- rather than throwing up his hands and attributing the left's tribulations to Republican dominance, he should be honest -- they're his fault.

Well, not his precisely, Brownstein's pretty good. But the media's. The reason single-party control can squeeze off anything positive or substantive from the minority party is that the media allows it to be so. Maybe not for the first day of the issue, during those 24 golden hours that open any battle, reporters are kind and solicitous, asking for background issue on the subject and letting anyone in sight rattle off their favored solutions. But from then on, it's process, process, process. There's no discussion over ends, only an endless, deadening conversation over means. And with the process being run by the majority, and with the majority unwilling to honestly open their bill up for compromise, there's no place for the Democrats to enter the news cycle in a constructive way.

One of my favorite statistics of all time is that, during the 1994 Health Care Battle, voter understanding of Clinton's plan actually declined. That means the wall-to-wall coverage of the issue actually left voters less informed, or at least more misinformed, than they were at the outset. And I'd hazard a guess that a similar study would find the same thing now. The media, at some point, has to sit down and decide what exactly it is that viewers need to know about stories. If the answer is how today or tomorrow's political machination or misstep affect the battle, so be it, at least the coverage is conforming to some sort of plan. But my guess is no newsroom exec would frame it like that -- viewers needs to learn enough about the competing policy options to make an educated, informed choice on what to do.

Today's policy battles are being waged on turf almost entirely within the Democratic galaxy. Bankruptcy, Social Security, Medicare -- there's no shortage of Democratic ideas here, there's just been no effort by the media to find them. But that's their fault, it's not an unavoidable consequence of one-party rule. And if Ron Brownstein and his colleagues are watching the misinformation spread, if they're watching a party with constructive ideas get marginalized as a party without a thought in their head, it's their responsibility to do something about it.

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