It's not big news that the White House and the Democrats have a bit of a messaging problem. The biggest problem they have with their message is the fact that they don't have one. Apparently, throughout the entire party, there isn't a single person who's media savvy in any way. There is no standard answer to any question, giving the appearance of a party with no guiding principles and no accomplishments under their belt. As a result, we get stories like this one, from Huffington Post's Sam Stein:
Only 12 percent of the public say that the Obama administration has lowered their taxes since coming to office, despite the fact that the White House's stimulus package cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans, a new opinion survey found.
The rather remarkable number was part of a CBS/New York Times poll released on Friday and provides a somewhat dispiriting window into how the recession has altered political preceptions throughout the country. A tax cut of historic nature, passed by Congress last winter, has yielded few political benefits (and, some economists would argue, few economic ones as well).
In addition, the CBS/NYT poll found that 24 percent of respondents said that their taxes had actually increased under the Obama administration -- which is, again, not true. Fifty-three percent said their taxes stayed the same.
How could so many people be so wrong? Because no one ever tells them otherwise. In a similar situation in the Bush White House, the answer to almost every question would've begun, "As you know, we cut taxes for 95% of Americans..." It wouldn't make any difference what the question was. The administration that began every other sentence with "On 9/11..." would never have allowed 88% of Americans to believe they didn't get a tax cut.
Yet Democrats and this White House, with a stimulus that economists credit with turning around the economy and this broad tax cut on their resume, have managed to allow the American public to believe they've gotten nothing done. As they did during the only economic downturn that compares with today's -- the Great Depression -- Democrats saved capitalism and have been rewarded with accusations of Marxism.
That same CBS/NYT poll shows some support for Democrats in reforming Senate rules to address the Republican abuse of the filibuster.
As you may know, the Senate operates under procedures that effectively require 60 votes, out of 100, for most legislation to pass, allowing a minority of as few as 41 senators to block a majority. Do you think this procedure should remain in place, or do you think it should be changed so that legislation is passed with a simple majority?
Should remain 44
Should be changed 50
[Don't Know] 6
50% is close enough to a majority to call a majority. And that number would be even higher if Democrats ever talked about GOP obstructionism.
But they don't. Watch a talking head show and, if a Democrat is asked about a hitch in passing legislation, they'll answer, "Well, as you know, it takes 60 votes to pass something in the Senate..." Over at talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall had an extremely short post that summed the whole problem up nicely:
Have you heard anyone say "The Republicans won't allow an up or down vote on a jobs bill."
Good question. And the answer is no, I can't say I ever have. This is especially frustrating considering that this exact same message was used against Democrats -- pretty effectively. When Bush was having trouble getting a few of his more squirrelly judicial nominees through, this was the Republican message. Every single one of them used it any and every time they got the chance. Sure, the GOP eventually lost that fight, but that's because Republicans didn't actually have any good arguments. Still, the "up or down vote" swung a lot of public opinion their way -- despite the fact that their arguments otherwise made no sense.
I'm not saying that Democrats should try their hand at propagandizing and demagoguery. What I'm saying is that when party members all have different answers to the same question, those answers seem incoherent when compared to each other. The Democratic Party should be an honest to goodness party and should speak in one voice on most issues. If that leaves someone like Ben Nelson or Blanche Lincoln outside of the talking point and in a bad position, so what? They're the minority within their party, so this shouldn't come as a big surprise to them.
Democrats all need to get on the same page in messaging. If they don't, they'll lose all their debates to ignorance, as they've lost the public on tax cuts.
Get updates via Twitter