The megaphone gap

THE MEGAPHONE GAP…. We talked earlier about a frustrating dynamic — Republicans use obstructionist tactics to prevent the Democratic majority from governing, and the Dem majority doesn’t raise much of a fuss. Kevin Drum followed up on this by raising an important point.

But take a step back: how are Democrats supposed to effectively raise a fuss? Republicans can do it easily: they just start bleating, and within a few hours their complaints are splashed across Drudge, repeated on a 24/7 loop on Fox News, the topic of email barrages from conservative interest groups, and the subject du jour of every talk radio show in the country. At that point the rest of the media picks up on the story because “people are talking about it.” It’s making waves. Which is true: it really is making waves because this kind of attention gets the conservative base genuinely outraged. And if something is getting lots of attention, then that by itself makes it a legitimate story regardless of its intrinsic merit.

But what megaphone do Democrats have? Virtually none. If they start complaining, some blogs will pick it up. Maybe Maddow and Olberman will talk about it. And that’s it. There’s no noise machine. And so there’s nothing to force the rest of the media to bother with it unless they decide the underlying story itself is important.

That’s entirely right. It may seem absurd, but Democrats can control the White House, House, and Senate, but it’s Republicans who have the edge on the megaphone gap.

My first instinct was to note that the president has the most powerful megaphone of all — the White House bully pulpit is still unrivaled — but there’s a qualitative difference. The president isn’t a talk-show host and the White House isn’t a cable network. Obama can try to help put an issue on the national radar, but there is no liberal noise machine to keep it there or make it persuasive to the electorate.

Indeed, there’s even a qualitative difference in the kind of voice progressives provide. When Republicans want to push a talking point, they can rely on allies who are, for lack of a better word, hacks. Fox News isn’t just conservative, it’s Republican. Limbaugh, Drudge, et al care about helping their party, not just their ideology.

In contrast, President Obama and Democratic lawmakers may find a sympathetic ear among progressive bloggers and MSNBC’s prime-time hosts, but notice the distinction — Olbermann, Maddow, and bloggers are just as likely to criticize Dems as they are to praise them.

I’m not sure what to do about this, but the larger point occurred to me after a recent conversation with a Senate staffer. I raised the point that Republicans would simply not tolerate Democratic obstructionism on this scale, and asked why his boss isn’t screaming bloody murder. He responded by sending me several instances in which his senator had complained about filibusters in remarks on the Senate floor.

Those speeches, however, no matter how persuasive, were easily ignored. In fact, every Democratic senator could give similar speeches, raising similar complaints, every day for the rest of the year, and they’d all be easily ignored.

But without a comparable noise machine, Dems seem to have limited options when it comes to expressing their outrage.