Jan 1 2008

How to Lose Friends and Influence No One

A Wall Street Journal news analysis on November 13 had a familiar refrain: The Democrats are in trouble because Congress is unpopular, and the solution is to be nicer to the Republicans. After quoting Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) saying, “if you try to be too political there’s a backlash,” reporter David Rogers wrote, “That backlash is evident: Congress’s approval rating has fallen from 31 percent in March to 19 percent this month in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.”

Rogers went on to offer advice on how the Democrats can “soften the tone” and “overcome . . . the often-crippling partisan bitterness.” The centerpiece of Rogers’ plan: “allow more Republican amendments,” of the sort that had the Democrat-controlled Congress endorsing abstinence-only education and the concept of “post-abortion depression” (Women’s eNews, 11/27/07).

It’s true that Congress is quite unpopular, but before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accepts the Journal’s advice, she might want to take a look at why that’s so. Consider the Iraq War, identified by the Journal as a key issue that “makes . . . cooperation harder.” According to an ABC/Washington Post poll (9/27-30/07), 35 percent of the public feels that Congress has gone too far in opposing the war in Iraq—while 55 percent thinks it hasn’t gone far enough. (Only 5 percent say it’s been just right, which starts to explain why Congress’s approval ratings are so low.)

By following the Journal’s conciliatory strategy, the Democrats would be trying to appeal to the 35 percent, who are no doubt mostly Republicans. Taking a harder line, on the other hand, would be more likely to win over the 55 percent, who are overwhelmingly Democrats and independents. Funny how media advice-givers never suggest that Democrats give that a try.