Not As Lame As You Think

NOT AS LAME AS YOU THINK….For the past two weeks Harry Reid has been insisting that Bill Frist allow an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor for the relatively liberal immigration bill reported out of the Judiciary Committee back in March. Frist and his fellow Republicans, outraged over Reid’s parliamentary tactics, have spent that entire time pounding on the table and labeling Reid as ? yes, you guessed it ? an obstructionist.

Today Reid lost his bid to force a floor vote on the Judiciary proposal. But guess what? Minority parties rarely win procedural votes, and by hanging tough Reid did force Frist to accept a compromise proposal. It might not be the greatest compromise in the world, but as recently as a year ago most observers wouldn’t have credited the Democrats with the moxie to win even this much.

But as Amy Sullivan points out in “Not As Lame As You Think,” our cover story this month, Democrats have actually been surprisingly united and effective over the past year despite their minority status and the media’s insistence on pushing their favored storyline of Dems as hopelessly divided and timid. The reality is that the sell-by date on that storyline expired long ago.

Consider. Democrats successfully killed a Social Security privatization plan that nearly everyone thought was a lock for passage. Harry Reid forced the Intelligence Committee to investigate prewar intelligence by shutting down the Senate. Nancy Pelosi worked shrewdly with Jack Murtha to give him the maximum possible attention for his pro-withdrawal message. (Yes, really.) George Miller single-handedly forced George Bush to rescind his suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act following Hurricane Katrina. And Chuck Schumer was the driving force behind criticism of the Dubai port deal.

So why don’t Democrats get more credit? Louise Slaughter, a feisty Democrat who led the opposition to Ethics Committee rule changes last year, blames it on journalists who simply refuse to abandon their favored narratives:

When reporters do write about Democratic victories, they often omit the protagonists from the story completely, leaving readers to wonder why Republicans would change course out of the blue. A Washington Post article about the Ethics Committee rule change simply noted that ?House Republicans overwhelmingly agreed to rescind rule changes,? in the face, apparently, of phantom opposition. Or journalists give credit to maverick Republicans rather than acknowledge the success of a unified Democratic effort: The Associated Press covered Bush’s reversal on Davis-Bacon by writing, ?The White House promised to restore the 74-year-old Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protection on Nov. 8, following a meeting between chief of staff Andrew Card and a caucus of pro-labor Republicans.? Or Bush is blamed for his own defeats, without any mention of an opposition effort, as with Social Security privatization.

I have my doubts that the 2006 Democrats are really the equivalent of the 1994 Republicans, as Amy implies. More like the 1946 Republicans, I’d guess. But I do think she may be right about the imminent collapse of the media narrative of Dem fecklessness and disarray. There seems to be a tipping point to these kinds of storylines, where they hold firm seemingly forever until suddenly everyone discovers all at once that they haven’t been true for quite a while. Given the changes on the ground, this particular storyline shouldn’t have much longer to live.