Compensating for their smaller numbers with a mix of moxie and street smarts, the Republicans have handcuffed Barack Obama on health care reform while convincing independents and many "moderates" that the Democrats are a bunch of feckless spendthrifts with more fondness for the likes of Das Capital than for the tenets of free-market capitalism. It's remarkable, really. Even better than the wildest dreams of a professional word spinner like Frank Luntz.
Most remarkable of all has been the absence of a ballsy Democrat with the charisma and the brains to counter the brilliantly acerbic attacks launched by the Limbaughs, Roves and Becks of the world. You had to wonder whether these guys were on lithium. When it came to winning hearts and minds to support the president's agenda, the party could not find someone who could effectively make their case. Every time Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi would get in front of the cameras, I'm sure the White House must have cringed. Fairly or not, Obama's Congressional minions came across as tired pols without passion or principle.
In the end, the confusing cobbling together of healthcare reform legislation - topped off by scandalous last-minute payoffs to secure the support of wavering "Blue Dogs" - was a mess. Who wants to bet that the GOP forgets to remind voters about this public lesson in legislative sausage-making come November. They'd be crazy not to.
But there are latent signs that at least some Dems still have a pulse. Late Thursday I came across Politico's remarkable retelling of Al Franken's dressing down of the White House's senior adviser David Axelrod.
"Democratic senators are frustrated that the White House hasn't done more to win over the public on health care reform and other aspects of its ambitious agenda — and angry that, in the wake of Scott Brown's win in the Massachusetts Senate race, the White House hasn't done more to chart a course for getting a health care bill to the president's desk.
"In his public session with the senators Wednesday, Obama urged them to 'finish the job' on health care but did not lay out a path for doing so. That uncertainty appeared to trigger Franken's anger, and the sources in the room said he laid out his concerns much more directly than any senator did in the earlier public session."
This is probably the first time that anybody from his party has gotten in Axelrod's face. It's an overdue wake-up because the Dems don't seem to have any sense of urgency. And after a relatively quiet first few months getting used to the ways of the Senate, maybe the real Al Franken is about to come out of his shell. At the very least, that would spice up a white bread Senate with some real entertainment.
During his race against Norm Coleman, critics dismissed Franken as a show business type. (Unlike all those fascinating marketing and sales and legal types who clog up the chambers.) Politics is show biz and Franken is funny and smart and interesting. Not to mention that he has a lot of brass. As Politico notes, Franken called out both Tennessee Senator Bob Corker as well as South Dakota Sen. John Thune on separate occasions. Unfortunately for the Democrats, though, Franken stands out as the exception. That's why November's looking increasingly "fugly" - unless you're a Republican.