years, the Democrats have followed the dictum of the late House
Speaker Thomas P. ONeill, All politics is local. From that,
it has followed that whats most important is local organizing, not
national media. Once again, on Nov. 5, the Democrats paid dearly for
While the Republicans and conservatives continue
to pour billions of dollars into building a national media
infrastructure from talk radio and Fox News to print publications
and sophisticated Internet operations the Democrats and liberals
continue to do next to nothing.
After Election 2000, some Democratic strategists
told us their hope for media was for the emergence of some
pro-Democratic Web sites and some e-mail lists to distribute articles.
They seemed to have no recognition of how inadequate this response
Indeed, some Web sites and e-mail lists have
emerged, as under-funded part-time endeavors run by grassroots
Democrats outraged by the pro-conservative media imbalance. But these
well-meaning operations have only a tiny fraction of the reach of the
well-funded professional organizations developed by conservatives in
strong support of George W. Bush and other Republicans.
Now, finally, the Republican sweep in Election
2002 should explode ONeills outdated slogan and the belief that
local organizing is the answer to almost all political ills.
The Republicans proved again that their media
infrastructure can let them nationalize even off-year congressional
elections. They did it in 1994 with a combination of
hate-Bill-and-Hillary messages and the Contract with America.
Now, they have done it with George W. Bushs calls for more allies
in the Congress and attacks on the patriotism of Senate Democrats,
whom Bush said aren't "interested
in the security of the American people."
The Republicans were aided, too, by Democratic
missteps, such as the political exhortations at the end of Paul
Wellstones memorial service. Few Americans watched the actual
service on C-SPAN, but Fox News, talk radio and other conservative
media outlets used the event to create a national political firestorm
over the supposed outrage of Wellstones friends and family
calling for an electoral victory as a fitting tribute to the liberal
senator who died along with his wife and daughter in a plane crash.
Whatever enthusiasm Wellstones grieving
friends and relatives stirred among their supporters was far
outweighed politically by the ability of the conservative media to use
the event to rev up the angry Republican base. Merits aside, the
conservatives again demonstrated that they can take personalized
events, exaggerate them through their media prism and turn them into
potent political messages.
The liberals simply have no comparable media
apparatus. Indeed, the mainstream media and its well-paid talking
heads will almost always side with the conservative message because
that positioning protects them from the career-threatening charge of
So now, a key question facing Democrats and
liberals is this: Will the debacle of 2002 finally convince them that
serious effort must be made to build a professional national media
infrastructure to address the interests of those 50 million Americans
who cast their votes for Al Gore in 2000 and for millions of
others who find the conservative media grotesque and the mainstream
Though much of the post-election criticism has
been centered on the Democrats supposed lack of a message or
effective messengers, a more important realization is that what the
Democrats most lack is a media infrastructure for getting out a
message and protecting their messengers from the ugly attacks that the
conservative media is able to generate.
Unless that recognition becomes a chief lesson
learned from Nov. 5, the Democrats and the liberals can expect a
continued erosion of their political influence in a United States that
is connected more than ever through national media.