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DVR Democracy Comes of Age: Or, How Jon Stewart May Have Saved Financial Reform & the Senate Dems

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Mark yesterday, April 22, 2010, in the history book.

It was the day American Democracy discovered the DVR.

It happened at a Capitol press conference. There, the Senate Democratic leadership found the cajones, via a video montage, to use the L Word and say to the Republicans: "You Lie!"

The DVR figured very prominently in the Dems' j'accuse moment. To explode the Senate Republicans' protests of good faith in attempting to reform Wall Street, they essentially took a page from The Daily Show & Media Matters, rolling video clip after video clip of the Republicans denouncing the pending financial reform bill as a "Wall Street Bailout Bill".

The Dems' video montage contrasted with the Republicans' message of the day - that they were hard at work on bipartisan financial reform - with absurdest dissonance, like a Jon Stewart montage showing Dick Cheney saying Saddam had reconstituted his WMD program - right after a clip of Cheney saying the exact opposite.

Here's how the New York Times covered the press conference:

...[I]t was the unusual use of video clips that was most striking about the Democrats' aggressive posture. First they showed Mr. McConnell repeatedly denouncing the legislation, saying it would encourage, rather than prevent, future taxpayer-financed bailouts of big banks. Then, the Democrats showed clips of the No. 2 Republican, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, saying the legislation would interfere with auto dealers, dentists or optometrists who allow their customers to pay off bills over time. [Said Sen. Chuck Schumer], "on the health care bill we allowed too many lies to get out there without rebuttal because we thought they were so obviously untrue.... Well, we have learned our lesson and the minute these things come out of the mouths of some of our Republican colleagues, we rebut them."

After a recent and especially hilarious and forceful video smackdown of Republican and FOX News hypocrisy, Jon Stewart asked "Don't they know we have DVRs to record this stuff?" At the time, I'm not sure the congressional Democrats DID know about DVRs. To be sure, their excellent staff - the new media shops in the House and Senate leadership offices and Democratic Policy Committees, and especially the likes of Jesse Lee, Karina Newton, Murshed Zaheed, and Ari Rabin-Havt - have been championing these new media tools for years now. But yesterday seemed the day the light bulb went on for the Senators themselves.

Seeing is believing. The new smoking gun is the smoking DVR.

And politics will never be the same.

The Republicans and their leader, Mitch McConnell, may not have learned the lesson yet. They may think their bipolar, Lucy-hides-the-football-tricks-Charlie-Brown-AGAIN, Good Cop/Bad Cop, today-we're-bipartisan-after-months-of-kamikaze-grade-obstructionism, can still win hearts and minds in the 21st century.

But I doubt it.

McConnell and the Republicans on again/off again tactics, when viewed against the video record, looks like nothing so much as the most famous video-of-the-absurd episode in recent history:

McConnell looks like the infamous Bagdad Bob at his last press conference of the Iraq War, declaring that the U.S. military was nowhere near the Iraqi capital, even as M1 Tanks cruised in the background. McConnell, like Bob, seems oblivious to the DVR effect - a curious blindspot for the Kentuckian who pioneered bare knuckles TV politics to win U.S. Senate seats not only for himself but for his now estranged elderly protege, Jim Bunning. McConnell is probably simply doubling down on his aggressive strategy of betting on Democratic disunity. Meanwhile, he's cynically using the Frank Luntz playbook (another man who should fear history and DVRs) even as he holds secret strategy meetings with Wall Street bankers he hopes will wind up doing their own doubling down - with the NRSC this fall.

Whatever the backstory, the DVR effect makes McConnell and his unctuous lieutenants Richard Shelby, Jon Kyl and uber-ünctous Bob Corker look either extremely stupid or extremely cynical. Either way, they look extremely bad.

The Congressional Record could never show that truth - not a thousand volumes of it.

But the DVR, as the Democrats have now learned, can.

The pol that masters the Next Medium - be it FDR and radio, JFK and TV, Richard Viguerie and direct mail, Obama and the Internet - position themselves to dominate politics for a measure of time.

The Democrats have been curiously slow to discover the DVR. In fact, the White House has likewise seemed slow to settle on key communications techniques, including low tech political communications techniques such as "The Powerful Poster Child/Killer Anecdote" (Natoma Canfield belatedly became health reform's poster child, and never did become its Ryan White - much less Rosa Parks).

And the Democrats STILL seem decades behind Wall Street when it comes to the importance not just of video but of data visualization. For every thousand Bloomberg charts visualizing the Crash of 08 and illustrating the absurdity of derivatives, the White House has produced only one chart of any visual resonance. The Good News here: The White House has tapped the Guru of data visualization, Edward Tufte, to serve on the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel and, in that role, "to foster transparency on Recovery spending by providing the public with accurate, user-friendly information." One hopes the White House Communications shop and Blue State Digital gurus - Hell, even Axelrod and Plouffe - take him to the White House Mess to learn a few more lessons from The Jedi Master. (The Dems 21t century Dream Team Consulting Firm: Axelrod, Plouffe, Tufte, Lakoff, Westen & Rospars/Phillips/Hughes. Now THEY would be worth any retainer...)

And, in fact, there are signs that the Obama braintrust is getting some Tuftian religion.

So perhaps the Dems need to learn some lessons yet.

But yesterday's DVR Democracy breakthrough felt as momentous as 2006's Macaca Moment and the birth of YouTube politics.