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A Defeatist Meme Threatens the Democratic Majority in Congress

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On the most recent episode ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour, the roundtable discussion turned to politics. Republican resurgence transfixed the participants, and Peter Beinart stated the conventional wisdom -- the Republicans will have a fabulous fall, "No Question!"

In their analysis of the 2010 Midterm elections, talking heads and pundits of all stripes are repeating a defeatist meme that gained immense strength over the last few months when it was codified by the White House, the Democratic National Committee and the President.

In July, White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, told David Gregory on Meet the Press, "I think there's no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There's no doubt about that."

In August, it was David Plouffe's turn to appear on Meet the Press, and he said, "We have big majorities. So, of course, we're going to give some of that back."

In responding to a question from George Stephanopoulos, President Obama said, "If the election is a referendum on -- are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is -- then we're not going to do well."

Throughout the mainstream media, the defeatist meme has now expanded beyond all proportion for an election that is still six weeks away.

Another meme is synthesizing with the defeatist meme and emerging to undermine Democratic political traction: the myth of progressive apathy.

Last year, in a White House briefing with a small group of progressive supporters of President Obama, someone proposed attacking Democratic Blue Dog candidates in primaries to either oust them or to bring them into line with the more progressive approach to change that inspired masses of Americans to vote in 2008. In that memorable meeting, Rahm Emanuel blurted out, "F***ing retards!" The frank Mr. Emanuel's explosive outburst lashed out against the proposed strategy of punishing the Blue Dogs, and in so doing he offended the entire grassroots movement that believes progressives elected Barack Obama to the presidency precisely to effect bold and brilliant levels of change, not compromises dictated by Republicanesque Blue Dogs.

This August, Robert Gibbs blasted what he called, "the professional left," during an interview with The Hill. When Gibbs called attention to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, he was actually confirming the simmering level of discontent with the accomplishments of the Obama White House. By criticizing the "left," Gibbs may not have intended it, but he was effectively writing them out of the script for the midterm election.

Last week, Joe Biden made statements on Rachel Maddow's show tantamount to pleading and threatening the progressive base to return to the fold. These remarks feed the ongoing defeatist meme. Biden should be telling the story about how much progress has been made and that the progressive base will definitely support the Party at the polls, not because they have no choice, nor that they fear the result of apathy, but because they know the President still has work to do to fulfill his campaign promises that motivated them to vote for change in 2008.

On Thursday night, President Obama made more comments feeding the same defeatist meme that the progressive base is ungrateful for what some deem the paltry legislative record of his first twenty months in office.

Against a background dominated by a droning defeatist meme that is now growing in strength, plus the syncopated lamentations about the dissatisfaction of the progressive base, the spectacular narrative of the Obama Administration is falling to earth at an increasingly high rate of knots.

While the Republicans are stoking the resurgent flames of neoconservatism, their party is under invasion by a mass of reactionaries of the ilk of Christine O'Donnell, Rand Paul and Sharron Angle -- radical extremists to their core. It can truthfully be said that the Republican Party has not been as divided since the era of Teddy Roosevelt and Robert Taft, but nobody notices because the internal bickering and defeatism of the presidential party are drowning out the schism in the Republican ranks.

With the opportunity to take advantage of the volcanic stresses surging and building up toward a critical mass inside the reactor core of the Republican Party, the Democrats are too busy accepting defeat and forming a circular firing squad -- six weeks before the election.

What is needed is a new strategy, a clear and focused message that sets the record straight once and for all with a new story about the course of American democracy. What the Democrats must do is perfectly clear. Clear out the channels of communication with a plan that instead stays on a new victory message that connects the present with the past via a cogent and compelling history of positive change in America.

In 1968, Hubert Humphrey faced an even more deeply divided and discordant Democratic Party that had just suffered a succession of massive traumas -- the Vietnam War; the assassinations of Dr. King and RFK; the Chicago Riots and the rise of a "Law & Order" right-wing movement in the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon. On Labor Day, Humphrey was at least thirteen points down to Nixon, and the trend looked dire.

At that moment, Humphrey's Campaign Director, Joe Napolitan, leapt into action. In 1964, Napolitan and Tony Schwartz devised the most famous television spot in world history, The Daisy Spot, that illuminated the recklessness of a Barry Goldwater who had just called for the nuking of Vietnam.

In 1968, Napolitan hired five media producers including: Tony Schwartz, Bob Squier, Jim Calloway and Alan Gardner. The Napolitan team developed a series of intelligent and sophisticated television spots for Humphrey. Napolitan collaborated with his fifth producer -- the late, great Shelby Storck to develop a thirty-minute infomercial titled, What Manner of Man?

Napolitan skillfully deployed his strategic resources, and Humphrey stopped bleeding points. When the thirty-minute Infomercial was broadcast, Humphrey came out for more aggressive peace negotiations with the Vietnamese, and he developed massive momentum and scored the most powerful comeback surge in presidential campaign history. On the day of the election, less than one point separated Humphrey and Nixon.

Some still believe that the Daley machine in Chicago unfairly tilted the 1968 election to Nixon, just as Nixon would later claim or dissemble about the rigging of the election of 1960, when he lost Daley's backing to the deeper pockets of JFK and his father Joe Kennedy.

The moral of this story is that it is never over until it's over, and the defeatist meme is nonsense even when it is muttered by the mighty.

The Democrats need a new thirty-minute Infomercial that will tell the story and connect the dots between Reaganomics -- trickle down did not work; it trickled up to create a tiny cluster of billionaires by siphoning wealth out of the middleclass -- and the Bush-Blowout of September 2008. And, they must add that in the first twenty months, President Obama and his administration have only just begun to repair the damage done by thirty years of Republican attempts to simultaneously destroy the American economy and America's standing in the world. It should be electrifying.