THE REFORM PARTY….The latest disapproval numbers for Bush and Congress, taken from yesterday’s Wall St. Journal poll, have only cemented my belief that the smartest thing Democrats could do over the next two years is run as the party of reform. People are unhappy with Congress, their dissatisfaction is growing, and they’re ripe for the same kinds of messages that fueled the ’94 Revolution.

This only works, however, if voters know who to blame. As I’ve mentioned before, at least 40% of American adults don’t know which party controls Congress. (I say “at least” because you only have two choices and it’s a question many people may guess at instead of looking stupid, so some of those “Republican” answers are lucky guesses…) That’s appalling and very bad news for Democrats. The only thing worse than having absolutely no control or say in Congress is having no control or say in Congress and still getting blamed for everything.

Take a gander at this quote from conservative Karlyn Bowman about the poll results: “People are not very impressed by what Bush is doing or by what Congress is doing, Democrats or Republicans.” If what Bowman means is that both Democrats and Republicans are pretty unhappy with Congress, that’s accurate. But I suspect she’s trying to tie Democratic shoelaces to the wobbly Republican-led Congress. And it’ll work unless Democrats stand up and yell, “We’re not in charge! They’re the ones to blame!” I know the arguments that Democrats are defenders of government and don’t want to destroy it, blah, blah. There’s an important difference, however, in going after government and crusading to fix government run amok.

Which is why I think the dispute among congressional Democrats about whether to focus specifically on the filibuster threat or to tie it into a larger message about reform should be a no-brainer. This isn’t just about one rule change. It’s about throwing the rules out the window.

Just make sure Americans know who owns and controls that window.

UPDATE: Here’s one 2003 poll on knowledge of Congress, for the skeptics out there. It’s a pretty standard poll question, but I haven’t had the time to look up more recent numbers. Send them my way if you have some.

Amy Sullivan

Amy Sullivan is a Chicago-based journalist who has written about religion, politics, and culture as a senior editor for Time, National Journal, and Yahoo. She was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2004 to 2006.