Coffee Talk with Democracy Corps

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Democratic gurus James Carville and Stanley Greenberg were the guests at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this morning, where they discussed the results of a Democracy Corps poll on the deficit. The results from the survey aren’t likely to inspire jaw drops: 93% of the 1,000-plus voters polled say they view the deficit as a major problem or crisis, their biggest professed concern with the deficit is the “burden for future generations,” and yet they prefer four-to-one for the government to fix the problem by cutting spending — which sounds an awful lot like only other people would have to make sacrifices — than by raising taxes.

But that’s not to say the meal didn’t provide some more novel discussion launch pads. Below are the Top Ten Largely Context-Free Nuggets from the hour-long event. (N.B. This will work best if readers imagine Linda Richman – as channeled by Mike Myers on Saturday Night Live – delivering these as she gets verklempt and tells all, in her gaudiest Yinglish and flashy fake nails, to “Discuss.”)

1. It took 39 minutes for the Voyeur nightclub to come up.

2. The pollsters created a word cloud to show the results of an open-ended question given to participants, in which people were asked to say whatever word came to mind when they heard the phrase “the federal budget deficit.” The third biggest word in the cloud (meaning it was the third most frequent response) was the word deficit. At least the connection is clear.

3. Greenberg said Sarah Palin is becoming the face of the GOP in large part because she allows them to keep the Tea Party movement from bursting, wildly and unpredictably, out of their tent. Carville followed this with a proposal for reporters to call five Democratic consultants and five Republicans consultants, leave them a message saying they’re doing a story on Sarah Palin and see who calls back faster.

4. One reporter said there was a disconnect between the White House and white voters and asked whether the pundits thought that was because the president is black. Carville dissented and said it was instead due to the fact that the Republican Party is generally not: “It’s no secret that the whiter the electorate, the better the Republicans do.”

5. In discussing the upcoming elections, Carville pointed out that the consistently volatile shift between Republican and Democratic wins during the last two cycles — and presumably this upcoming one — is atypical and that with those hugely vacillating responses, “there’s zero chance” the voters aren’t trying to tell Washington something. When asked what that message was, his best guess was “general unhappiness.”

6. Both pundits (and former Clinton advisors) thought that Democrats should take on immigration as soon as possible, despite the general wisdom that legalizing illegal-immigrant workers while so many are struggling to find jobs would be a less-than-ideal move. It divides the Republicans more than Democrats, they said, and anything that can show party solidarity is a “big winner for us.”

7. No one, unfortunately, asked James Carville what his position was on the role of government in supporting innovation in the field of biotechnology. (Equally disappointingly, Will Ferrell did not step in at any point to cut off his answer.)

8. In terms of messages to send to Democratic voters, the pundits endorsed a line of telling them, “You might not have loved the two steps we’ve taken forward, but it’s better than three steps back.” Reporters looked on skeptically, one noting that it’s pretty hard to run on a platform of “It Could Have Sucked Worse.”

9. Greenberg said that every politician he’s worked with has always been told to put on a happy face when the economy is bad because if they don’t, no one else will. He also said that position has always burned them because people don’t want to hear trumpeting about success and how things are on the up-and-up while their incomes still haven’t gotten a boost. “What you need is confidence in your plan, not what’s happening,” he said.

10. The final question of the breakfast circled back to Voyeur, when a reporter jokingly asked Greenberg whether he or any of his candidates had ever patronized that establishment. The only discernible response was laughter, except from Seth Benzell, a fresh-faced, nasal-voiced undergrad from Tulane who had accompanied “Professor Carville.” He denied attending but boldly added, “I can’t speak for James,” to much guffawing. Carville then put his arm around the lad. Big day, Seth. Big day.