Newspapers don't usually publish obituaries of people who are still alive. But The New York Times just published an article attempting to write the Democrats' political obituary for November 2006.
Instead of reporting on policy issues or competitive races, Adam Nagourney and Sheryl Gay Stolberg string together damning quotes from "senior Democrats" worrying about "missed opportunities" -- in races that have not even begun!
Now we can't blame the media for the sorry Democratic quotes in this piece - like announcing the party is "losing its voice" - but the reporters also regurgitate Republican propaganda without checking the facts. This is another example of journalists blindly repeating GOP narratives, as HuffPo's Peter Daou has explained.
The article alleges unnamed "establishment Democrats" are concerned that party leaders like Dean, Gore and Pelosi are unpopular "flawed messengers" and vulnerable to attacks they are "out of the mainstream." This is a common canard from the RNC, but the Times describes it as an idea from Democrats. Yet Americans do not view Democratic Congressional leaders as less likable or mainstream than Republican Congressional leaders - just the opposite.
If the reporters relied on data instead of spin, they would see Americans generally prefer the Democratic Party and view most of its leaders more favorably than Republicans. That fact is really embarrassing in this case, because the Times reporters could have used their own newspaper's poll, which found last month that a majority of Americans view the Democratic Party favorably (and the Republican Party unfavorably). An NBC poll from the same month also found more Americans want the Democrats to win back Congress in 2006 (47% to 38% for Republicans).
And what about those famous "Democratic leaders" the article fingered? Some, like Al Gore, are more popular than prominent Republicans; some break roughly even, like Howard Dean; and others are mostly unknown, like Nancy Pelosi. But there are no leading Democrats with worse favorability ratings than Bush, Cheney or Tom DeLay. (Voters don't usually hold favorable views of radicals out of the "mainstream." The ratings are available at pollingreport.com.)
Of course, neither party can bank on current polls to predict faraway elections, but public opinion does matter in a democracy. It is significant that most Americans prefer the Democratic Party and its leaders today, and it is important to correct people when they get it wrong.
Like much 2006 horserace coverage, the article also minimizes the Democrats' recent electoral mandate. The scorecard from the last three elections is more of a draw than a loss, even if you wouldn't know it by looking at Washington. (One and one in popular presidential votes, 2.4 million vote edge in the Senate over three elections, and a 3 million vote deficit in the House in 2004.) Now the Democrats' public opinion mandate is growing, even if many reporters don't get it. Obviously, the improving political climate does not mean Democrats can wait for victory to fall into their laps. (Like many people, I've been advocating the party make an aggressive, early push for a specific, progressive platform for candidates to run on.)
But Democrats should also tout their growing support across the country. After all, a majority of Americans prefer the Democratic Party - some of them have gotta be "mainstream."
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