One More Time, With Feeling

Matt's response to me in his latest Prospect column bears a read, and a reply. He's right that we should be lauding the congressional leadership for their recent triumphs and successes. And indeed, this whiny liberal has done so, making more than a few jokes about my personal altar to Harry Reid. But he's wrong to offer a broadside against criticism and shaky in his read of the Pew Poll. His central argument is that Democrats are doing only marginally worse among the general public than Republicans and a lot worse among their own partisans. This leaves room for growth and optimism because it should be easy to convert Democrats to our side. That's correct, so far as it goes. Any time your public opinion polls are at 37%, there's room for growth. But the important thing, as any good pollster will tell you, are trend lines. In the last year, the Democratic leadership has dropped 7% among Democrats, while the Republican leadership has dropped 2% among Republicans. The general public decline hasn't been so bad, but that's because we started 2004 at 38%. Merely dropping to 37% hardly merits celebration.

The point of my original post was that, contra Matt, all is not sunshine and smiles in the land of congressional Democrats. Though we're doing a nice job of beating back privatization, we aren't doing enough to link that fight to our public image, and thus our numbers are still moving in the wrong direction. My conclusion was that Reid and Pelosi have been excellent legislative tacticians, but not nearly as good at building the brand. Therefore we need more public representatives, like Dean, who can spend their time translating our congressional successes into a story the public understands, wherein Democrats are the ethical defenders of good government and popular programs who're valiantly battling a Republican majority dedicated to neither. Matt's response to this seems to be "don't complain". That's admirably stoic of him, but this isn't a booster shot, it's an ongoing process of improvement and we need to praise our successes but still identify where we're not good enough. Our public relations are still not good enough. That needs to be spoken, needs to be understood, and needs to be fixed.