Or it's not the messaging, it's the actual policy. John Aravosis was recently invited to the White House along with some other 'progressive' bloggers who were called out on the carpet for not supporting the stimulus enough (funny, I didn't realize they were paid political operatives...). Aravosis writes:
The problem with the stimulus messaging is, well, the stimulus messaging itself. The problem is the White House messaging operation. It kind of sucks. And while Joe and I were living in Democratic exile over the past year for being the Cassandra's who saw all of this coming early on, nowadays it's pretty much accepted around town that the WH has been losing the messaging war with the GOP on a lot of issues. The stimulus isn't the problem, it's the symptom. We had the same issue come up with health care reform, a wildly popular idea that somehow the White House just couldn't sell.
...at times it feels as though the White House messaging folks - and I'm talking Axelrod's shop - don't think they even need try to sell what the President peddles. It's as if they think they're all so smart, and what they have to offer so obviously good for America, that the President's agenda will magically sell itself to both the Hill and the American people.
Aravosis has it wrong: the reason many rank-and-file Democrats, including those who happen to blog, are unhappy is because the policies the Obama Administration are pursuing are not very good. Consider what Matthew Yglesias defined as a "mainstream liberal policy agenda"* (italics mine):
It's worth reviewing the mainstream liberal policy agenda for the 111th Senate:
-- A $1.2 trillion stimulus.
-- The forcible breakup of large banks.
-- Universal health care with a public option linked to Medicare rates.
-- An economy-wide cap on carbon emissions, with the permits auctioned.
-- Repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.
-- A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
-- An exit strategy from Afghanistan.
-- An end to special exemption of military spending from fiscal discipline.
-- An independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
-- The Employee Free Choice Act.
None of these things have happened.
Believe it or not, I'm a grownup (occasionally). I realize that we won't get everything, or even a lot of things. But the rank-and-file of the Democratic party hasn't received a single fucking thing (and adding abortion funding restrictions to federalized Romneycare is moving in the wrong direction).
This is not a message problem. This is a policy problem. The Democrats in Congress and the Obama Administration are going to have to fight and bleed. To be successful, they will have to know wrath, including their own. Most importantly, they will have to realize that trying to position themselves on issues, as opposed to actually solving problems, is a bad move. People have to like this crap. They have to see their lives, their friends' lives, and the infrastructure they use improve (not just fail to deteriorate).
That's why we're not cheerleading: there's precious little to cheer about. And no, you don't get points for clearing a floor-level bar: you're expected to do that. More hopey, more changey. Now.
Throw a yellow dog a bone.
*To quibble about the list, I would also add a faster withdrawal from Iraq, not moving backwards on women's rights (Stupak-Mills), cramdown mortgage legislation, the slightly more progressive tax code that Obama promised during the campaign, and appoining someone to the helm of the Fed who thinks ten percent unemployment is a fucking disaster. Also, some of the things on Yglesias' list have majority support, and unless we are all liberals now, they should be defined as centrist, not liberal (e.g., healthcare).
I'd like to see a much more aggressively progressive agenda too, but you do have to admit that there is a message problem as well.
When the Republicans say that the American people don't want health care reform, that the stimulus isn't working, and (my personal favorite) worry about deficits nobody asks them what planet they are on. They persist is spouting nonsense about "government is the problem..." until news reporters accept these idiocies as fact.
Then Senators who might support a more progressive program are terrified that they won't be able to overcome the Republican lie machine at home, so they won't stand up to the brats who say they want to play, but only if they can be completely in charge.
"We'll cooperate on health care reform, but only if we can throw it all away and start over."