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Remember how Tom Sawyer managed to get out of the onerous job of painting Aunt Polly’s fence? He just employed a little misleading rhetoric and persuaded his friends that it was the best fun ever, and if they would only pay him for the privilege, he would surrender the paint brush and let them paint to their hearts content.

Isn’t this exactly what the GOP and their media supporters have managed to do in reverse? That is, take a long lineup list of Democratic legislative achievements that will make our lives better, persuade a big swath of not so savy Americans that the list is a criminal indictment, and if they’ll only fork over their votes, they’ll get in on the fun and get to lob some figurative stones at the responsible malefactors.

Let us be clear – Republicans have done nothing for two years but try to stamp their sclerotic old feet on the brakes. It was Democrats who stabilized the economy and staved off another Great Depression. Democrats gave us health care reform that will provide millions of previously uninsured people with protection, rationalize medical spending and ultimately contribute to lowering the deficit. In spite of massive lobbying efforts to stop them, Democrats took on the broken regulatory system and passed a major financial oversight bill. There are dozens of smaller achievements.

But just today we read in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Robin Carnahan hid from the Vice President when he visited here on Friday.  The report details the ways she tries to brush off any association with the successes of the past two years. If you read Michael Bersin’s recent Claire McCaskill Q&A posts, you’ll note that she’s definitely on the defensive also. Which leads one to ask: Why aren’t our Missouri Democrats on the attack instead of on the run? Don’t they know that if you run, you’re gonna get chased down and the end isn’t usually pretty?

I don’t mean to be too hard on our Missouri Democrats – who would probably love to do the right thing. They are no different from the rest of the party. As a group, they’ve been outclassed by the Tom Sawyers of the GOP, who have joined up with the media arm of their right-wing noise machine to blast heavy-duty flim-flam from coast to coast – and Americans sure do like them some flim-flam.

In part, this is an issue of what George Lakoff calls framing although I prefer to talk about hijacking. Republicans use simple, frequently dishonest, often manufactured refrains, repeated incessantly and aimed at the gut in order to hijack perceptions. They’re cynical enough, crazy enough, or stupid enough to do this without qualms. And how should Democrats respond to being hijacked by crazed morons? Certainly not by pretending to be just as cynical, crazy or stupid.

Remember the Maersk Alabama hijacking? The ship’s crew didn’t jump overboard – they threw the hijackers off. Before Democrats can successfully reframe their agenda, they have to stand up to Republicans. If they jump off the boat, it’s lost.

Instead of hemming and hawing about her previous  support for health care, why doesn’t Carnahan demand to know how Blunt could vote against the welfare of the millions of Americans? Why aren’t Carnahan, McCaskill and other Missouri Democrats demanding that the Republican zealots stand up and face a few unpleasant facts? Why are they all so dammed nice and quiet, only speaking up when they think they might be able to claim a Republican brownie point? Instead of running in the direction that the polls point, why aren’t they out there planting the direction signs? Where are our leaders?

* Third from last paragraph edited for clarity. The phrase “frequently dishonest, often manufactured” was added to the second sentence .