alien & sedition.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
  Fuss Magnets at Last

The New York Times gives us this report of one scene among many in today's Democratic takeover:
There were comparisons to “Alice in Wonderland,” “Star Trek,” “The Twilight Zone,” and all manner of clichés to convey the strangeness engulfing Washington this week as the Democrats prepared to assume control of Congress after 12 years in the minority wilderness. But nothing distilled the new aura of things like this conceit: Steny Hoyer, Rock Star.

“Here he comes, here he comes,” a member of the press throng effervesced when Mr. Hoyer of Maryland, the incoming House majority leader, strode into the room as if he owned the place. Which, in effect, he does — at least the larger, plusher office he is inheriting, which used to belong to Tom DeLay, Mr. Hoyer was compelled to point out. (Not that anyone’s keeping track.)

Mr. Hoyer surveyed the conference room and held his arms slightly apart, as if to frame the unusual site before him: a crush of 60 or so reporters, camera operators, TV types and assorted security people, staff members and hangers-on to befit the status of an emerging fuss magnet.
It's both funny and, inasmuch as it reminds us of the breadth of political egos, sort of irritating. But it's also really important.

For six years we have been told, again and again, that the Democrats had no agenda, no plan, no ideas. While there was some truth to the Democratic identity crisis, the major blame for this perception lay in the fact that the American media simply do not cover minority parties. If you don't have the power to make something happen, you're simply not interesting. In a great piece at the Washington Monthly last May, Amy Sullivan discussed this phenomenon:
When reporters do write about Democratic victories, they often omit the protagonists from the story completely, leaving readers to wonder why Republicans would change course out of the blue. A Washington Post article about the Ethics Committee rule change simply noted that "House Republicans overwhelmingly agreed to rescind rule changes," in the face, apparently, of phantom opposition. Or journalists give credit to maverick Republicans rather than acknowledge the success of a unified Democratic effort: The Associated Press covered Bush's reversal on Davis-Bacon by writing, "The White House promised to restore the 74-year-old Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protection on Nov. 8, following a meeting between chief of staff Andrew Card and a caucus of pro-labor Republicans." Or Bush is blamed for his own defeats, without any mention of an opposition effort, as with Social Security privatization.

Nor are reporters paying attention to Democratic policy proposals, as the party tries to develop a national agenda to run on. Congressional press secretaries say that reporters won't write about their efforts unless or until Democratic legislation comes up for serious consideration. "A lot of reporters tell me, 'Yeah, I'll write about that when it's on the floor,'" complained the Democratic communications director for a Senate committee. "So then some columnist writes that Democrats have no ideas and everybody in America says, 'You're right--I haven't read about any.'"

As a result, it's easy for talking heads to paint Democrats as a bunch of complainers who attack Republicans while putting forward no ideas of their own.
This is a vicious circle in American politics, the trap that parties fall into when, lacking power, they fail to set the agenda - and, by failing to set the agenda, are unable to gain power. If none of your policy proposals stand any chance of becoming law, why would America's lazy and star-struck journalists report about them?
It seems the only way this particular narrative is going to change is with a Democratic victory in November. "They'll have to pay attention to us if we win," [Rep. Louise] Slaughter told me.
That's why "Steny Hoyer, Rock Star" is such a big deal.

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