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Part 1: The Republican Myth Machine
For me, it started on election night. I was watching CNN and listened to one Republican talking-head after another talk about the "conservative Democrats" and "Republicans in sheep's clothing" being responsible for the historic Democratic victory. By the end of the evening you could see that this incessant droning had accomplished its goal: The supposedly impartial news anchors were now repeating the same propaganda. Through the sheer act of repetition, the Republican talking-heads had defined the way the story was going to be presented. Within a couple of days, the Republican spin machine was pushing the story that these "conservative Democrats" were going to be rebellious against the liberal Democratic leadership and make it difficult for them to accomplish anything.
But this isn't the only spin being pushed by the Republicans in an effort to blunt the perception of the overwhelming Democratic victory. Within the week, for example, Ann Coulter was claiming that the Democrats' gains in the sixth year of a Presidential term were under-performing historical averages during the past century. Not only was sheblatantly lying, she had also apparently forgotten that the Republicans had actually lost seats in the sixth year of Clinton's term.
The third tent-pole of the Republican spin machine is to attack the Democrats' goals. There are two facets to this attack: First, they claim that the Democrats don't stand for anything. Second, they claim that the Democratic leadership is super-liberal and their agenda out of touch with mainstream America. That's right: Not only don't the Democrats have any ideas, they're all bad ideas, too. (Don't try to follow the logic, you'll just hurt yourself.)
The pitch is simple: The Democrats may have won, but they didn't win as many seats as they should have. And they didn't really win, the Republicans just lost. Actually, the Republicans didn't even lose, conservatives won. And it's not like the Democrats ever had any ideas. Besides, they're all bad, un-American ideas. And they won't be able to do anything because the conservatives won, after all.
We Didn't Really Lose!
Let's tear this spin-machine rhetoric apart, point by point, starting with Coulter's schtick. Coulter is only an example of the behavior, but she's a good one. By early October, the Republicans had concluded they were definitely going to lose control of the House. The only questions remaining were: How bad were the going to lose? And how were they going to spin it?
In early October, Coulter started spitting out her talking points: On October 3rd, she claimed that, since the average mid-term election post-World War II resulted in the opposing party gaining 40 seats, the Democrats would need to gain 60-70 seats in order to have REALLY won the election. Anything less and it would practically be a loss! In fact, according to Coulter, if the Democrats couldn't win at least 60 to 70 seats in the House, "then they may as well, you know, go away as a party".
Surprisingly, according to Coulter, the Republicans should have simply "gone away as a party" after the Republican Revolution in 1994: After all, they only managed to pick up 54 seats in that mid-term election.
Unsurprisingly, Coulter was even lying about the "facts" she was basing her dubious conclusion on: The actual average pick-up during a mid-term election post-World War II is actually 25 seats. You'll note that the Democrats' actual gain in seats is, in fact, well above that average.
They're Not Really Democrats!
When I first heard that the elections had resulted in a whole bunch of "conservative Democrats" being elected and that these "conservative Democrats" were going to make it impossible for the Democratic party leadership to keep control of their own party, I was immediately skeptical. I remembered reading, way back at the beginning of this election cycle, that Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer, Howard Dean, Rahm Emanuel, and the Democratic strategists were rigorously interviewing and carefully hand-picking every candidate they would endorse. It seemed ridiculous to me that they would go through all that work and then select candidates who, if they were elected, would cause them nothing but headaches.
And, of course, the reality is that they didn't. As MediaMatters reports, these supposedly "conservative Democrats" have all campaigned on liberal platforms.
Does this mean that the Democrats should start pushing through legislation that's desired only by the most extreme wings of their party (in a fashion similar to what the Republicans have been doing)? Of course not. In a democracy, you govern from the ground you share in common. What the Republicans are having problems understanding is that America's common ground is a fairly liberal place: It's a place where people want free speech and civil rights and a healthy middle class.
Why are the Republicans having a difficult time understanding this? Because, increasingly, the Republicans seem to have actually started BELIEVING their own spin. You can see this in Rove's relentless optimism that, contrary to what the facts are, his dream of a permanent Republican majority is a reality. It is merely another expression of their disdain for reality.
There is a sizable faction of Republicans who literally believe that spin creates reality: If they say it, then it's truth.
This interacts badly with the fact that "America is a conservative nation" is a common myth perpetuated by 25 years of concerted Republican propaganda: When people are asked if they are "liberal" or "conservative", however, they identify with conservatives. But when they're polled on the actual issues, they consistently reveal a preference for liberal solutions.
The reason for this is that the Democrats have historically lost the battle of perception. Classic case in point: Who's the party of big government and irresponsible spending?
You might say the Republicans now, because the Democrats have finally begun to make people realize the truth. But Bush's huge deficits are hardly a new phenomenon: His father and Reagan before him ran up record-setting deficits. And they did so by routinely pushing for budgets larger than those which their Democratic congresses forced them to compromise on. (As described here.)
If you want a fiscally responsible government, the Democrats have consistently been the party to choose for the past quarter century. In fact, the debt today is entirely due to World War II, Reagan, Bush, and Bush. Every other President for the past 60 years has paid the debt down. (See this report.)
The Republican myth-machine has been remarkably effective in shaping not only public opinion, but public debate. And you can see this in another of their propaganda myths: The Democrats don't have any ideas.
They Don't Have Any Ideas!
This is an important myth for the Republicans to sell: After all, if the Democrats actually had a platform of policy ideas, then it's remotely conceivable that the American public might have put the Democrats into power because they would like to see those ideas made reality. If the Democrats don't have any ideas, then the election was really just about the massive corruption and sexual scandal of the Republican party.
(You can see the desperation of the Republicans when their messages boils down to, "This election wasn't about the Democrats. It was about us being a bunch of incompetent crooks and perverts.")
I've been saying for months that the Democrats needed to get in front of this one. They need something directly akin to the Contract with America that the Republicans put forward in 1994: A clear, concise statement of specific goals they would work to achieve upon being elected. A true party platform.
I was disappointd when the Democrats apparently failed to put forth such a platform before the election. I was delighted, however, when I heard Pelosi's celebratory speechs following the election lay out a six point plan:
She even said they'd be accomplishing these things in the first 100 hours of the new Congress.
I was impressed. This was exactly the kind of platform that I thought they needed to put forward before the election. It may have been a little late for my tastes, but it was definitely setting the right post-election tone: You've elected us, now let's get to work.
But when I took a closer look at the Six for '06 I was even more amazed to discovered that it had, in fact, been announced MONTHS before the election: It was first rolled out in June. Why hadn't I heard about it? Well, part of the problem was that the Democrats didn't do a very good job of putting the platform directly in front of the American people. And the national media, influenced by the Republican spin-machine, simply didn't talk about the Six for '06. And, when they did, they generally spent more time talking about how the Republicans were characterizing the platform than what the platform actually said.
For example, take a look at CNN's coverage of the announcement.
Notice that the only thing they hit are the bullet points, not the actual policies being proposed. And they spend more time talking about the Republican criticisms than they do the acutal proposal being criticized.
What Really Happened
Did the countless and overwhelming Republican scandals have an impact on the election results? Of course. Did President Bush's incompetent bungling of foreign and domestic policy result in a backlash from voters? Of course.
But there's another side to this election, and it's one the Republicans would prefer that we don't notice: The Democrats ran on a platform of providing fair, honest, effective government for the people and by the people; not for the rich and by the corrupt.
And the American people want it.
The American people are tired of being bankrupted by skyrocketing healthcare costs. The American people want renewable, responsible energy. The American people want to be paid a fair wage. The American people want affordable education for their children. The American people want fiscal responsibility.
The people have spoken, and they want the Democratic vision of what America can be; what America should be; and what America will be.