Kevin Drum, however, points out that some of the traditional methods may now be dated. He reads this Karen Tumulty post, in which the reporter -- and I do think she's an excellent reporter -- was shocked at how many voters in Massachusetts knew all about about the deal that Ben Nelson struck on behalf of Nebraska. But as Drum points out,
Did people bring up Ben Nelson's deal unbidden? Sure. Because Fox News and talk radio have been screaming about it nonstop. Ditto for the union deal. The people who brought it up were almost certainly primarily conservatives who listen to conservative media and have been getting an earful of these outrages on an hourly basis for weeks. Again: this isn't a sign of a huge new tsunami of resentment against healthcare reform. These are mostly the same people who have been opposed to it from the start.Tumulty says that "[t]he deal now known as the "Cornhusker Kickback" may have been one of the biggest blunders in modern political history." What that misses is that if it wasn't Nelson's deal that the talk radio yakkers were gabbing about, it would have been the deal with Louisiana, or if not that then perhaps it would be death panels, or something else.
Here's the point: Politics, in one respect, has really changed over the last two decades. Both parties, but especially the Republicans, now have highly efficient ways to get their talking points out to the rank-and-file, without confusing things by also informing them of the larger context. That's really different than things were in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Back then, politically attentive people would watch the network news and the local news and look at the occasional newspaper, and maybe Time or Newsweek, and on top of that they would also be exposed to party talking points. Now, to a great extent, people's only exposure to the news may consist of the party's talking points (again, especially on the Republican side). So the old job of finding out how well those talking points are resonating by hearing whether ordinary folks use them to talk about politics is no longer a useful task. Increasingly, the only language to which people -- once again, especially Republicans -- are exposed is those talking points. For a Rush/Beck listener, there isn't another language available to discuss the health care bill.
In other words, the old rules don't apply, and the kind of preparation that reporters would have learned up through the 1980s (and even beyond; a lot of this is just 10-15 years old) might no longer work.