Pew Research has a new poll of general news knowledge, and the results are predictably depressing. Relevant fact: only 26% of Americans know that it takes 60 Senators to break a filibuster. Perhaps that's why President Obama went out of his way to point it out in last night's speech.
Relatedly Kevin Drum notes the institutional advantages that catapult Republican talking points into the general population and Democrats megaphone deficit. Drum laments,
But what megaphone do Democrats have? Virtually none. If they start complaining, some blogs will pick it up. Maybe Maddow and Olberman will talk about it. And that's it. There's no noise machine. And so there's nothing to force the rest of the media to bother with it unless they decide the underlying story itself is important.
The situation is not as dire as Kevin describes. While Democrats don't have Limbaugh, Beck and Drudge they do have The White House, and enormous Congressional majorities and the Chairmanship of every Senate and House committee. Democrats hold the reins of power, that elevates their "complaining" to newsworthy if they choose to engage on these issues. If the President starts making an issue of the filibuster then at some point even David Gregory is going to make it a topic of conversation.
There seems to be this self-loathing attitude amongst liberals that because we don't have a precisely equivalent megaphone that we're just never going to win these battles of public opinion. It leads Democrats to essentially not even try and push back against the GOP or to offer up alternative talking points and outrages. It's preemptive capitulation and it needs to stop. We're in power, let's start acting like it and begin taking the rhetorical fight to Republicans.
Besides the power of the office Democrats have substantive ideas about how to address the myriad of issues the country is presently facing. What solutions do Republican's have? We have better ideas, we have solutions. We need to do a better job of communicating them and that starts with The White House. The President has ceded entirely too much control of the debate. The president's ability to wrangle individual Senators is hard to measure and at times it may be near zero but that doesn't mean that it is always zero. The president's ability to garner the attention of the news media and to engage with the public on the issues of the day is far more concrete. Obama needs to start laying the foundation upon which his legislative agenda can be built. Public events, campaign-style oration and more forceful advocacy through the media can and will turn public opinion, as that begins to happy even the hapless Harry Reid will find the Senate a bit more pliable.
Democrats talk of the vacuous and nihilistic GOP and they see that monolithic behavior as something to be in awe of instead of the electoral handicap that it truly is. Moving to the offense against an opposition utterly devoid of ideas and solutions should be a pretty straight-forward strategy, one which can be executed with a few simple and repeatable tactics. The President started down this road in the State of the Union (and continued it today in Baltimore), if Democrats choose so they can continue in this vein and begin to move the needle on public opinion.
Or they can just give up, feel sorry for themselves and lose the House and half-a-dozen Senate seats in November. It's up to them at this point.