The "Do You Feel Progress?" Gap

10/13/2010 12:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With all the chatter over a so-called enthusiasm gap "enthusiasm gap," most pundits have overlooked a far simpler reason why the Democratic vote seems lethargic to the point of needing a nap as we head into the Midterm election home stretch: After two years of Democrats in power, nobody feels the progress.

Most Democrats have only one wish for their government: that their elected officials should stop wasting time and start doing things that bring about real progress for all. And when that happens, they will feel it and respond with support.

Do you feel it? Not so much. Hardly at all.

Now, by "feel" the progress, I do not mean did you "notice" the $34.77 addition to your last few paychecks (if you're still lucky enough to get one) that resulted from tax credits passed months ago -- or have you "seen" the stimulus money construction on the roads--or did you "read" that teachers were not let go or that state -- or did you "hear" that state employees received fewer furlough days than had first been predicted. I mean "feel" -- does anybody feel the progress?

I sure as heck have not. And there's the rub.

Despite all the admirable effort and brainpower the Obama administration has marshaled into solving problems that are economically, socially, and politically complex -- they have invested virtually nothing in projects that translate into feeling amongst the Democratic Party faithful that progress is underfoot. And as a result of not feeling the progress, Democratic Party supporters have not been swept up in that most crucial of election victory elements: the victory narrative.

The victory narrative is the story that every person has in their heads who gives of themselves freely to make sure their candidate or their party or their cause wins the election. It is the answer to the question: Why did I show up? Why am I making phone calls? Why did I leave the comfort of my couch to stand with strangers and cheer for the candidate on the stump.

The victory narrative has a plot, it has an enemy and a hero, and -- most importantly -- it connects people to the cause via their heart and their gut.

If you are like me, when I listen to the Democrats read the lists of all the things they have done over the past 2 years, what you feel in reaction is not a rush of excitement, but a sinking feeling in your stomach -- that feeling I get when I arrive at the airport only to realize I have forgotten my airplane ticket. It's not nausea, exactly. It's more like: ugh -- let me lie down and go to sleep right here.

If there is an accomplishment from the Democrats that has changed the way Democrats think and feel -- that has put Democratic voters in a vibrant new plot about progress in America -- the details of that accomplishment have eluded a sizable chunk of the Party faithful who delivered the 2006 and 2008 victories.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have created a virtual, parallel reality of the last two years via the 24/7 FOX News chatter. In doing so, they have managed to whipped themselves into a "War of the Worlds" style frenzy.

Without actual earth-shattering achievements to rally their base against, the Republican Party settled instead for a hyper-realistic fiction.

In this newest version of the Republican victory narrative, the Democrats have achieved so much that all you need to do is open your eyes to feel that the world as we know it has been demolished and replaced with a fascist nightmare hybrid of Hitler, Stalin, Bin Laden, covert agents Kenya, dishonest Hawaiian bureaucrats, Josef Mengele's test tube babies, and various Marxist warlords. As far as video game plots go, it's great stuff.

And here's the key: while the GOP virtual reality of radical change may be a FOX News cable TV mirage, the feeling that Republicans get from it is visceral and 100 percent real.

Talk to any Republican who has been jacked into FOX News for the past two years and you will have no doubt that what they "feel" the radical progress that exists on their TVs, but not in the actual lived world. What triggers those feelings may be projected on smoke on mirrors, but the feelings themselves: mercy me, stand clear.

Democratic Party voters have none of that feeling steeling their resolve. In a landscape devoid of actual progress, only the Republican Party voters feel panic over radical change they see on their flat screen earth. And in a media driven political system, this "Do You Feel Progress?"gap has meant more boots on the ground for the Right, as compared to more butts on the couch for the Left.

Is it any wonder that Dems are now turning to mirages of their own? Last minute tales of "foreign" money behind Republican election campaigns has less to do with Democrats building an actual case based on facts than an effort to trigger feeling in the Democratic base -- feeling that will get them off the couch.

It will work a little. Given enough time, a certain percentage of Democratic Party supporters, too, will be motivated by mirages. But it won't stem the hemorrhaging.

To do that, Democrats need to get over their fear to put down real achievements that trigger real feeling, thereby motivating their base to win.

For example:

Imagine if health care reform had resulted in thousands of new clinics being built--clinics that were up and running as Americans were feeling the effects of the flu and cold season.

Imagine if high-speed internet reform had brought access to tens of millions of people who previously had none -- and who were now feeling the power of choosing their own information sources rather than being dependent on one cable network.

Imagine if millions of people were feeling the pride of getting their first paychecks from the new wind farm, solar field, and high-tech battery projects set in motion by a Renewable Energy bill.

Imagine if tens of thousands of American kids had been trained to retrofit old windows and bring old buildings up to new efficiency standards -- and that millions of people were now feeling the effects of living through their first summer and, soon, their first winter in an energy efficient building.

Imagine the feeling of tens of hundreds of thousands of soldiers returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq to invest their new skills in a new economy.

Imagine the feeling of relief millions of Americans who cannot afford to pay their mortgages anymore would have when comprehensive housing reform helped them through their difficult financial straights and gave them piece of mind to keep a roof over their families' heads.

Image the feeling of accomplishment if real immigration reform had found solution that would help us embrace the millions of immigrant workers who contribute so much to America each and every day.

And then -- after all that -- imagine what it would feel like when the leader of the Democratic Party stood up and talked about the progress that has been made.

Good gravy. It would feel great.

Stop wasting time, start doing things that bring about real progress for all. The key to generating a new victory narrative has been right in front of the Democrats all along.

But until the Democrats in DC figure that out: mind the gap.