I've been poking through some of the diaries at Daily Kos, and followed a link to this one, about how Ann Coulter, by being her batshit self, functions in the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (VRWC) as an outlier to help make the rest of the Republicans look moderate.
That post linked to another (by thereisnospoon of There Is No Blog), a post which introduced me to the concept of the Overton Window, which is explained, out in plain sight, by a member of the VRWC. To save you googling, here are the top two google links when you search for "Overton Window": first and second.
Basically, the Overton window idea says that if you lay out all the possible political policies regarding a particular issue, and order them along some continuum, you'll find that only some set of them is politically possible, and that these cluster in the Overton Windw. If you get a bunch of people to talk about and make noise about some ideas to one side of the existing window, you can shift the window, or at least widen it out. Especially if you have them make noise about ideas that are farther out than the "next step" outside the window, then you legitimize the ideas in between by sounding radical and making them look moderate. (This requires those making noise on the far-out ideas to take some heat and stand their ground.) It's what the Republicans do and the Democrats don't (remember the whole health care "debacle" in 1993-1994?).
In other words: the Democrats are pussies.
But it's not just that. The Democrats seem to think that the way to win an argument is to be reasonable. It reminds me of engineers talking to salespeople. Why do salescritters and marketroids make more money than techies, even in tech companys? Because techies always act reasonable, even though it is they who create the real value in tech companies.
A strange thought just occurred to me: when was the last time liberals/progressives/whoever actually engaged in Overton-window frame dragging? I'd argue that it was in making the overt expression of racism and sexism vulgar and beyond the pale. That was actually working (it didn't "cure" racism and sexism and other isms; it just pushed things underground, but it did shift the discourse; anyone who thinks that nothing's changed in the last 30 years or so hasn't been paying attention, especially to attitudinal shifts toward homosexuality) -- but then the right wing hit upon "Political Correctness" as a pushback mechanism. They don't like it when their tools are used against them!