Narratives Don't Matter?

Nate Silver argues "the Democrats need to figure out what their November messages are now and begin planting seeds for them now." Jonathan Bernstein isn't sold:

Stuff such as narratives and messages and all that matter at the margins, as independent influences.  Mostly, they are effects, not causes: Bush's narrative in 2002 was different than Bush's narrative in 2006 because the world changed, not because Karl Rove's abilities changed.  The press (collectively -- there are exceptions!) pay far too much attention to that kind of thing, and far too little to policy.

The core narrative of Obama's promise and candidacy remains what it always was, in my view. He's struggling against ideology to enact pragmatic reform. This reform will be more liberal than conservative - but that's surely because the conservatism of the past two decades has run aground.

You're not going to tackle the debt if you refuse to cut entitlements and defense and want to keep cutting taxes. You are not going to end the cruelties of our current healthcare system by tax credits that don't begin to cover the cost of soaring premiums. You're not going to give people with pre-existing conditions access to health insurance unless you have some kind of mandate or subsidies big enough to get more people into the system. You're not going to tackle climate change by denying it is even happening. You're not going to defang al Qaeda by giving it recruitment tools like Gitmo and Bagram.

I wish there were a reformist conservatism out there that began to grapple with its past failures. But the response to defeat has been to ratchet up the abstract ideological construct even more. If your choices are defined as freedom or tyranny, you'll sell some books but you sure won't be able to govern a country. Or deserve to.