12/14/2010 12:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Dems Struck Dumb (Or, "Messaging for Milquetoasts?")

OK, help me out here: Aren't the Democrats the ones who are tight with Hollywood? With most of the big players in the movie and TV industries?

And trial lawyers -- aren't the Democrats tight with the trial lawyers, too?

And they still can't figure out how to tell a good story, or write effective dialogue, or frame an argument?!



Plenty of liberals are plenty upset with President Obama for that tax-cut deal he made with the Republicans. He got some good things in the deal, too, more than many people thought he could get. But the price he had to pay to get that good stuff? Way too much, the liberals say. Maybe so. But it's not as if he had a whole lot of leverage.

The Republicans were playing hardball. And they could afford to, because they'd already won the argument. Months ago. Maybe years ago.

The argument about taxes:

"Taxes are bad." "Lower taxes are good." "No taxes are even better." End of story.

After all this time, the Democrats still haven't come up with an effective response. A response that actually shifts the dynamics of the debate.

The president says the public is on his side about tax cuts; they don't want tax cuts extended for the wealthiest folks, he says. And he's right, according to the polls.

But not according to the politics.

Which is why Obama still had to give ground. When push came to shove, the Republicans pushed, and the Democrats got shoved.

So what else is new?

According to the politics, Republicans hardly ever pay a price for taking "unpopular" positions. After all this time, the Democrats still haven't been able to state their case in a way that makes Republicans pay a price. Call it "Messaging for Milquetoasts."

So Republicans can say, "No tax cuts for anybody -- not even the people who could really use them -- unless the wealthiest people get tax cuts, too." And they get away with it.

They can say, "Unless we get the tax-cut deal we want, we won't even discuss any other legislation." And they get away with it.

They can say, "You've got 57 votes to end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and we've got 43 to keep it -- we win!" And they get away with it.

These shouldn't be hard arguments for the Democrats to win -- that's the point.

Over here you've got the soup kitchens -- and over here you've got the super-rich. Who needs the help more?

Over here, the unemployed -- and over here, the unashamed. Are these guys really going to hold those guys hostage until these guys get an even bigger share of the pie than they already have?

Over here you've got 57 senators -- and over here you've got 43. Whatever happened to "We deserve an up-or-down vote! No procedural gimmicks -- an up-or-down vote!" That's what Republicans used to scream whenever the Democrats tried to slow things down -- and they'd make the Democrats squirm. But now? When it's the other way around? Not even close.

The Democrats just can't find the words.

Hey, Dems? Distressed, depressed Dems? Call a scriptwriter. A show doctor. A lawyer. Something!

Get your message out, or get used to holding the short end of the stick.

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Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at