Ed Kilgore makes an incredibly important point, drawing on Ruy Teixera"s analysis that shows the Democrats have an advantage on virtually every issue except for "credibility in fighting terror and the clarity of our overall message."
Ed points out that the "clarity of message" of the recent GOP, while perhaps key to its success, has also been its downfall:
You could make a good case that the current GOP meltdown is partly the result of an "our team" mentality that until recently has thwarted any real intra-party Republican debate, or any honest Republican discussion with the rest of the country. I"m perfectly happy to sacrifice a few points in polls on "message clarity" in order to keep my party from following this authoritarian pattern.
You could make a good case, indeed! This is absolutely true. As the Republican juggernaut of corruption falls apart, here"s my biggest worry: That through all the years of Republican dominance, many liberals/Democrats have taken away the conclusion that the key to political success is lock-step adherence to a single coherent ideological message. That may lead to success -- but becoming a parliamentary party is also, in the U.S., the path to catastrophic failure.
It doesn"t matter so much that voters know what Democrats stand for, writ large, as that they know what their own Democrats -- their congressional candidate, their governor, their Senator -- stands for. People like Tim Kaine win because voters in Virginia see Tim Kaine and like what they see. Bernie Sanders wins because people in Vermont see Bernie Sanders, who he is and the fact that he speaks for himself, and they like that. You could go on. As I pointed out in my recent article on why the Republican success in 1994 election is a bad model for 2006, when progressive Democrats have succeeded, as in 1974, it is because they have been exceptionally skilled individuals, brilliant at understanding their own constituents and not just following a national line. The result may be a congressional majority with some ideological differences, but that"s democracy. Whatever the result, the ideological differences will be far narrower than they were back when the Democratic majority included powerful Southern arch-conservatives. I"d rather have a party of brilliant constituent politicians who work for their states and districts than a bunch of talking-point robots echoing a national message for the sake of a misguided worship of the right-wing"s "message clarity."