It used to be that the talking heads were supposed to help their party. We all assume Glenn Beck helps Republicans get votes. We all assume that Maddow and Olbermann help Democrats get elected. However, liberal pundits have apparently stirred some unintended backlash for Democrats. In an article from yesterday, Jonathan Chait is perplexed (befuddled, flabbergasted, take your pick) that 3/5ths of Democrats (citing a Pew and National Journal poll) think this Congress was unproductive compared other recent Congresses. By nearly every objective standard this Congress was a productive one. So why do Democrats think it was so unproductive? Jonathan Bernstein has an interesting take. He believes, and I think correctly, that opinion leaders are the ones to blame for this. However, it isn’t like they are outing congressional Democrats as bad legislators. Rather, Bernstein believes liberal pundits’ focus on the opposition has caused Democrats to think this Congress has been unproductive. In other words, liberal pundits framing Republicans as the party of “no” may have triggered an unintended consequence. After listening to pundits lament Republican opposition, Democrats actually believe this Congress was unproductive.
In a previous post discussed opposition politics in relation to elections. Simply stalling the process won’t win you votes in November (note: this is different than credit claiming for successful legislation). That being said, I hardly saw this coming. Opposition politics may not win you votes in November, but getting liberal pundits to slam you for it, which then convinces voters their party isn’t legislating…all I can say is, Republicans may have stumbled onto something here. In spite of a pretty impressive resume – health care, stimulus, credit card reform, financial reform, etc – Democrats believe Republicans are winning the legislative battle. This strategy was hardly planned (if it was, it’s beyond brilliant), but will undoubtedly hurt Democrats. If their base cannot get motivated and mobilized by November (i.e. remind Democrats of a few victories), their electoral losses could pile up quickly. Democrats need to change their sound bites if they want a fighting chance.
In short, Democrats are shooting themselves in the foot. It’s pretty clear they believe drawing attention to Republican opposition will help win elections. It continues to happen every year despite the fact there is no evidence for this kind of effect. This is one more piece of evidence against the supposed “benefits” of publicizing congressional politics for electoral purposes. It’s a messy process. Most people would rather not hear about it, particularly if one harps on their inability to legislate.