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Friday, January 29, 2010

 
Stubbornly Clinging To Our Myths

by digby

This doesn't surprise me, but it's still a little bit deflating:

In the latest installment of the Pew Research Center's News IQ Quiz, just 32% know that the Senate passed its version of the legislation without a single Republican vote. And, in what proved to be the most difficult question on the quiz, only about a quarter (26%) knows that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster1 in the Senate and force a vote on a bill.

This is the problem with political obsessives --- we vastly over estimate the engagement of the busy American people and convince ourselves that we are representative of the average Joe. And then when a hunky centerfold who drives a truck wins a race, we over-interpret his victory.

Most people do not know the details of politics. All they see is that the country is screwed up, they are more insecure than ever and the people they entrust to fix things aren't doing it. When they demand bipartisanship it's because they assume that politicians are not acting in good faith and if they would only stop all the posturing they could get something done. To the extent they believe in ideology, it's mostly conservative, because it has been drilled into the body politic by non-stop repetition for the last quarter century: the solution to all problems is to cut taxes, deregulate everything, support the military.

I've told the story before about a young woman I knew at work a few years back, a Democrat, a liberal, more engaged in politics than most. She came running into my office one morning to excitedly tell me that she had heard someone on the previous nights PBS News hour who finally made sense to her on economics. It was Milton Friedman. She wasn't a stupid person or unusually uninformed. She just felt comfortable with everything Milton Friedman had said because it was what she had been hearing her whole life and it just "sounded right."

Our problem as activists and engaged political junkies is that we tend to think that everyone, especially the base, sees politics the same way that we do. In fact, we are not even the base. We are, at best, the vanguard of the base. And sometimes we are so far out ahead that we miss what's happening before our eyes.

And the Democratic Party is actually behind the curve. They fail to grasp that because the media are married to the he said/she said storyline, which always requires that both sides be seen as equally culpable, the people don't know about Republican obstructionism. And now they are inexplicably assuming that bipartisanship is of vast importance and they must make the case that the Republicans are preventing them from passing their program. But I don't think it's very likely that anyone wants to hear about how they can't get anything done because they only have an 18 vote majority in the Senate. And talking about why you can't do something is rarely a winning political message in any case.

They need to recognize that nobody really cares about bipartisanship per se. Voters just think that the reason that nothing gets done is because bipartisanship is required. If the Democrats can get something done without it there is absolutely no reason for them not to do it. Results are what matters, not process.

Unfortunately, I suspect the only reason the Democrats are so insistent on perpetuating the bipartisanship trope is because they lack the courage of their convictions and want to be able to share the blame if their plan doesn't work. And I would guess that weakness is something that average people just sense in their bones.


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