Sunday, July 17, 2005

Democrats Discover the Power of Fair Play

Matt Bai's article, "The Framing Wars" in this morning's edition of The New York Times Magazine suggests that Democrats have belatedly discovered that the public responds to issues that appeal to their sense of fair play.
It posits the recent battle over the filibuster as one in which Democrats were successful at painting Senate Republicans as "arrogant," bent on destroying 200 years of tradition, changing the rules in the middle of the game and, most importantly, not playing fair.
Why has it taken this long?
I would have thought anyone who paid any attention to Bill Clinton's successes in his eight years as president would have understood that -- to a great degree -- he won his battles by doing just this: Making Americans aware that what he was trying to do is give everyone a fair shake.
Democrats should have seen this in the Republican strategies of the past generation as well. Although their logic didn't hold up to scrutiny, they were able to convince large numbers of people that unions, affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment, the estate tax, environmental protection, etc., were offenses against fair play. They weren't, of course, but that argument took hold and won elections.
I'm glad that Democrats may have finally caught on to the notion that what defines the body politic in the United States may be a strong sense of what is and isn't fair. People really believe that we are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They believe it with regard to civil rights, they believe it with regard to religious freedom (and freedom from religion, despite the rhetoric of the right), and I think once the issue is framed properly, they will even believe it with regard to gay rights.
So while Bai's article is interesting, it is also depressing in a sense: How could it have taken this long for Democrats to figure this out?