Public opinion is everything. Ronald Reagan was successful because public opinion supported him: he wanted to cut taxes and raise defense spending and so did big chunks of the public. He was leading in a direction that they already wanted to go.Yes, the Republicans have a well-funded propaganda organ in Fox News.
But no matter how many times we try to kid ourselves with one poll result or another, liberals just don't have that advantage. The public is mostly in favor of raising taxes on the rich — though I suspect its support is pretty soft — but on the bigger issues they mostly aren't on our side. They think deficits are bad, they don't trust Keynesian economics, they don't want a higher IRS bill (who does, after all?), and they believe the federal government is spending too much on stuff they don't really understand. Conservatives have just flat out won this debate in recent decades, and until that changes we're not going to be able to make much progress.
Yes, their messages are simple and reality is more complex.
Yes, our politicians are much less than we might want in their qualities of statesmanship.
But there is a limit to what those in power can do that is contrary to public opinion. The Republican message of isolated individuals all acting each in their individual interest has penetrated much too far into liberal thinking. - I'm staying home from voting in 2010 because President Obama didn't make all the changes I could possibly have wanted in two years since his election. - So we allowed the Tea Partiers to win too many seats in Congress, and this is what we get. But each individual who didn't vote can feel perfectly justified in his or her personal purity.
Democracy is a corporate venture. Liberals have to get better at working together and getting out a clear message. Like the way the economy really works, for starters?