Friday Talking Points [132] -- The DMV? Really?

07/30/2010 08:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last week, this column took a week off, due to an extended trip into the desert for the Netroots Nation convention. But now, we turn our sights back on the Nation's Capitol region once again to examine what's been going on there in our absence.

Whoops! Looks like the first thing that's been going on is that the region now has a new nickname -- the "DMV" -- amongst the hipster set (note: I fully understand that that use of "hipster" automatically disqualifies me from judging what is cool and what is not among today's youth). This moniker comes from the hip-hop music scene, and it stands for "District (of Columbia), Maryland, and Virginia."

But is this wise, one wonders? The question that immediately springs to mind is how can anything called the "DMV" be considered remotely cool? For those of you in states with differently-labeled government offices (such as a Motor Vehicles Administration, for instance), allow me to explain. In many states, this acronym stands for the not-so-beloved Department of Motor Vehicles. You know -- the government office we all love to hate more than any other, with the possible exception of the Internal Revenue Service.

I once had a conversation with a Russian guy I worked with (in a previous career) who had lived there when it was the Soviet Union, and I asked him what reminded him most in America of the Soviet era. His answer was instantaneous: the D.M.V. was the closest thing to Soviet life in the United States. "The same endless lines, the same mind-numbing paperwork, and the same surly women at the counter -- just like home!"

In American culture, of course, the D.M.V. is represented by the twins Patty and Selma Bouvier, on The Simpsons. Stereotypically spinster and relentlessly (and sarcastically) negative towards their sister Marge, her choice of husband, and (most especially) the people waiting in line to see them at their workplace, Patty and Selma represent the cringe-inducing reaction most Americans have to the letters "DMV." So it's a wonder why anyone could think this is a great idea, when picking a roll-off-the-tongue nickname.

Now, I admit that Washington's official nickname isn't as snappy as, say, "The Big Apple," but "The Nation's Capital" does have a certain majesty to it. But, it is felt, this isn't as inclusive to the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

So I've got a better idea. Take your cue from Hawkeye Pierce's tent from M*A*S*H, and name the region "The Swamp." After all, everyone knows Washington was built on former swampland, and no matter how the engineers have tried over the past two centuries, they've never been fully able to "drain the swamp" in our seat of government (so to speak). So it works on two levels.

I encourage everyone to start using this term immediately.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

We're actually going to hand out two awards in both categories this week, to catch up on last week's absence.

Shirley Sherrod, whose name was all but unknown a few weeks ago, emerged as just about the only one in the scandal surrounding her firing who remained untarnished by the entire fiasco. This was because she refused to go gently into that good night, to borrow a phrase. Pretty much everyone else was left with varying amounts of egg on their faces, with the possible exception of the white farmer who defended Sherrod publicly.

After a right-wing site released a heavily-edited (one might say "propagandized") video of a speech Sherrod gave on racial relations and her own personal journey to stand up for what is right in life -- which was edited down to seem as though she was a white-hating black lady -- the Obama administration did the only thing they do with swift and decisive action, it seems: they fired her (or, strong-armed her into resigning, if you will). Obama can act quickly when he's giving people the boot, you've got to admit, whether it is Van Jones or the general running the Afghanistan situation for him. And, like Van Jones, the Obama administration leaps into action when the right wing demands someone's scalp.

This time, they got burnt by doing so. But it was the aftermath which was impressive. Sherrod, figuring (quite accurately) that she now had nothing more to lose, became a fixture on cable television for about a solid week. She told her story, the media (belatedly) dug up the full unedited video, and she's even held the Obama administration at arm's length when they relented and offered her a new job (assumably, if she'll start work immediately and please stop appearing every four minutes on various cable news shows).

But she was right to be incensed at how she had been treated, and she was right to be indignant about the entire experience. She could have taken the two normal routes for anyone disgraced in Washington -- disappear into obscurity; or rant and rave how you've been done wrong, with no proof to back up your story, until eventually nobody listens to you. Fortunately, the full tape of her speech existed. Fortunately, the white farmer she referenced is still alive. Fortunately, he was willing to support her publicly. In other words, she could prove she had been wronged, which made it a much more compelling story for the news media.

For impressively fighting to clear her name, and gaining a national podium on which to speak by doing so, and for impressively shaming the Obama administration into admitting its mistake, Shirley Sherrod was last week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week winner.

This week, it was pretty easy to pick the MIDOTW, as all it took was watching the video of Representative Anthony Weiner speaking out against Republican obstructionism for a bill to provide medical care for 9/11 responders. That anyone would vote against such a thing is an outrage, and Weiner got outraged. This clip should be seen by every Democratic officeholder or candidate to see what fighting for what you believe in looks like. Democrats used to do this "righteous indignation" thing quite well, but somewhere over the last three decades it has bled away. Republicans still know how to do this sort of thing (they do it at the drop of a hat, truth be told). But Democrats increasingly don't. Which is why Weiner's rant is so refreshing to hear.

The key here for Democrats is that you can't just sit back and assume every voter knows that the Republican Party has nothing left but obstructionism. You've got to point it out to them. And you've got to do so on votes like these -- where Democrats are so obviously on the side of the angels. The only way to end this mindless obstructionism is to relentlessly -- and forcefully -- point it out when it happens.

Because Weiner showed everyone else how to do this, he wins this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, hands down.

[Shirley Sherrod is (as of this writing) not in a public office. Congratulate Representative Anthony Weiner (his official House web contact page only allows constituents to contact him) at (202) 225-6616, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

Again, we have two weeks to cover here, so let's get right to it.

Last week, the person who should have been fired was either Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, or whatever political-operative numbskull in the White House made the call on firing Sherrod. Now, this wasn't big enough for, say, President Obama to resign in disgrace, but someone should have taken the fall for this, and it should not have been Sherrod herself.

The whole thing was handled terribly. Either Vilsack or the White House overreacted, failed to do due diligence, and indeed failed even to make any sort of attempt at trying to ascertain if there even was another side to the story -- for instance, by asking Sherrod herself. All they cared about was not giving Fox News a single news cycle of embarrassment for the president. Instead, they gave Fox News (and everyone else) a whole week of embarrassment for the president.

Obama struggled to regain control of the controversy, which he could have easily done by "reluctantly accepting Tom Vilsack's resignation" -- which would have put an end it. Instead, Obama dithered. Vilsack and Obama eventually made apologies, but by then the story was off and running with a life of its own. By the end of it, the blogger looked bad, the media looked worse, but the ones coming off smelling the worst in the entire mess were Obama and Vilsack. So we're awarding both of them last week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. I guess the Obama administration's motto will henceforth be: "The buck stops at Shirley Sherrod."


Picking this week's MDDOTW was pretty easy, as Representative Charlie Rangel's disappointment was aired for all to see by the House Ethics Committee. Charlie's already won three previous MDDOTW awards (out of his total of four) for his financial hanky-panky, and he'll go right on winning them until this mess is over. For reference's sake, here are the previous times Rangel has won the ignoble MDDOTW for exactly the same thing (he has, I admit, possibly set the record for winning the award more times for the same issue than anyone else): FTP [47], FTP [97], and FTP [113].

No further explanation is really necessary why Rangel is also this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Contact President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (no official Department of Agriculture web contact info, sorry) at (202) 720-2791, and Representative Charlie Rangel (official House contact web page only works for constituents) at (202) 225-4365, to let them know what you think of their actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 132 (7/30/10)

One of the speakers (I believe it was Ed Schultz, but couldn't swear to it) at Netroots Nation made a good point on the firing of Sherrod -- the White House reacts to a complaint on a right-wing blog instantaneously, however they never even acknowledge the lefty media at all. Obama gives no one-on-one interviews to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, but finds time to sit down with Fox News. The White House certainly never reacts to outrage from the left about who works for them (otherwise Rahm Emanuel would be a distant memory, for example), but they immediately cringe at any criticism from some blogger on the right.

That's not really a great intro to the talking points section here, I realize, but I just had to say I have to agree with the sentiment. Obama could do himself a world of good with his own base if he'd occasionally toss them a bone, even just by sitting down and talking to the media which plays to that base. It's a real wonder why this has yet to happen, especially when you consider the voter "enthusiasm gap" going into the midterm elections.

But not to be totally gloomy here, because some Democrats, and particularly their leadership, have woken up and realized that election season is nigh, and they'd better start sounding like Democrats out on the campaign trail. Also, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid showed up and answered (mostly softball, moderated) questions at Netroots Nation, so maybe that's why I feeling particularly mellow towards them this week. I do like to (from time to time) highlight what I see as Democrats framing and messaging things right, so this week the first six of our talking points will be out of the mouths (or press offices, or campaigns) of either Reid or Pelosi. But then I just had to let it rip on the final talking point, just because. Without further ado....



   Forward, not back

I've been banging this drum for awhile, and it appears Democrats have picked up on it. Language experts will tell you, people like forward-looking language (like "forward," for instance) to terms that look backward (like, you guessed it, "backward"). Here's how Speaker Pelosi put it at a recent press conference:

Further evidence that we have moved America forward and that we cannot go back. Republicans are trying to take us back. As they have said, they would have the "exact agenda" of the Bush Administration, which they think people will look on with more fondness. We are not going back. Instead, we're going forward, protecting the middle class, making progress, never going back.



   Make it in America

Which leads into what seems to be the theme Democrats have chosen for this election: "Make it in America." Not bad, as slogans go. Conjures up all sorts of images, mostly good ones about how we used to actually make stuff in this country, and one of the main things wrong is that we don't anymore. Here, again, is Pelosi:

And our centerpiece: "Make it in America." Legislation to ensure that jobs, good-paying jobs, are created here in America. And we begin by repealing the provision in the law that gives a tax break to business for sending jobs overseas. A series of legislation that we have seen, investments in research and energy legislation and the rest, and a "Make It in America" manufacturing strategy. A strategy to support American small businesses. And we hope that the Senate will pass the small business bill today. We're creating millions of clean energy jobs, rebuilding roads, bridges, ports and rails and training workers for the 21st century. These other initiatives have been passed on the floor, many with very strong bipartisan support and we are very pleased with that. Again, all the times we create jobs and reduce the deficit as we take the country forward. We cannot afford to go back.



   The Bush years

A recent Washington Post article points out that running against Bush is still likely a smart thing for Democrats to do. If Republicans had been smarter, and offered up any new ideas (complete with some details instead of just bland sweeping statements like "we're against Big Government"), then this political route for Democrats would have been cut off. Since the Republicans haven't done so, the case can easily be made that Republicans want to return us to the Bush era (since they can't seem to come up with anything they'd do differently if they held Congress next year as the last time they did so, under Bush). So hammer this one home, every chance you get. From a Pelosi press release:

Congressional Republicans support Wall Street banks, credit card companies, Big Oil, and insurance companies -- the special interests that benefited from George Bush's policies and created the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. A decade of Republican rule nearly doubled our national debt. We are not going back.

Democrats in Congress are fighting to help small businesses create jobs here at home. Democrats are taking America in a New Direction -- creating good American jobs, providing the lowest taxes in 60 years for the middle class and small businesses, and closing tax loopholes that send jobs overseas.

Congressional Republicans support Wall Street banks, credit card companies, Big Oil, and insurance companies -- the special interests that benefited from George Bush's policies and created the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. A decade of Republican rule nearly doubled our national debt. Why would we go back?



   Attack Tea Party ideas directly

The same article points out that attacking the Tea Parties directly (and tying them to the Republicans) might not be such a good idea, because they are still relatively new in the public's mind, and have yet to really gel. So instead of attacking them directly, do so in a different way -- attack their ideas directly. At the top of this list should be Social Security. Again, from Pelosi's presser:

I don't think that the Fiscal Commission was established to undermine Social Security, and so that our support for Social Security undermines their work. This isn't political. This is who we are. For 75 years or longer, in preparation for the passage of Social Security, this has been a value system for us, for our country, and certainly a priority for the Democratic Party.

We stood proudly together on the steps of the Capitol yesterday to declare that, as we observe the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Social Security, that we are here to preserve Social Security and make the clear differentiation.

Republicans in their budget have the privatization of Social Security. Democrats want to preserve Social Security; Republicans want to privatize it. We are for ensuring Social Security. They will enable "social insecurity." So that's where we are.



   "Too extreme..."

This is a two-word talking point, which continues the previous concept. Harry Reid has been doing wonders with his advertising in Nevada (being in Las Vegas all week, I saw quite a few of these ads), because he drew a Tea Party candidate who Reid has successfully painted as looney. This was due to her winning the primary over the "chickens for checkups" lady, it should be noted (both of which were Tea Party darlings). Reid has improved noticeably in the polls of late (other Democrats, take note) because he has relentlessly been using Sharron Angle's own words against her to portray her as far out of the mainstream of Nevada politics. The tagline to these ads is always a variation on a single theme, which should be used against all the other Tea Party candidates out there this year:

Too extreme...

[Reid's ads usually end with "Too extreme for Nevada," for instance.]



   Republicans hate small businesses

Harry Reid has recently been pushing a measure in the Senate to give some help to small businesses. The Republicans have been filibustering it, just like they filibuster everything these days, no matter what. So make it an issue! Point the harsh spotlight of public attention on it! Republicans hate small businesses!

This one comes from Harry Reid himself:

We are here to solve problems, and Nevadans have grown weary of unreasonable Republican delay tactics that prioritize their petty political calculations over our progress as a nation. Republican obstruction is poisoning the environment in Washington and blocking critical support for families and businesses across the country. Every time Democrats take steps to assist our recovery, Republicans throw up a wall of obstruction that ends up hurting middle-class families and small businesses.

This evening, after Democrats agreed to a series of amendments Republicans asked for, Republicans reversed course and blocked us from moving forward with small business legislation -- the centerpiece of which includes a bipartisan amendment offered by the Republican Senator from Florida. At the same time they also blocked us from providing assistance to states to help them provide health care for the elderly and low-income families, stopped funding to prevent teacher layoffs and stood in the way of long overdue justice for minority farmers.

Democrats will keep fighting to protect our middle class, and we will not allow Republican obstruction to derail our economic recovery.



   So now "deficits don't matter," is that what you're saying?

OK, I had to write at least one of these from scratch this week. This should be a major theme of this year's elections, because it so blisteringly points out the basic hypocrisy behind Republican worries about the deficit or the national debt. Sure, Republicans just love to go on television and cry crocodile tears over the nasty, nasty deficits -- but when the rubber meets the road, they really don't give two hoots about deficits when it comes to their economic legislative priorities. This needs to be brought up again and again and again on the campaign trail, because Republicans really do not have an answer for this, other than to say things were peachy-keen under Bush's economy (see: this week's Talking Points, numbers one and three...). Hit them with this, and hit them hard:

"So, let's see if I've got this straight. Republicans are for reducing the deficit when it comes to a few tens of billions of dollars for unemployment benefits, they're for reducing the deficit when it comes to a similar amount of tax breaks for small businesses, and -- astonishingly -- they're for reducing the deficit when it comes to spending a little federal money to take care of the health of the first responders to the 9/11 tragedy. But when the subject turns to tax cuts for the Paris Hiltons of this world, then they go back to Dick Cheney's notorious quote: 'deficits don't matter.'

"Extending these tax cuts on the ultra-wealthy -- and let me be straight, we're not talking about extending middle-class tax cuts like the elimination of the 'marriage penalty' here (which Democrats are in favor of doing) -- we are talking here about raising the taxes of people making over $250,000 per year, which is going to cost the federal government almost eight hundred billion dollars in deficit spending, over the next ten years. That number is just the sum of the tax cuts on the rich. The Republicans had years and years when they controlled both the White House under George Bush and both houses of Congress, and they never made these tax cuts permanent -- because at the time, they were scared of the explosion it would cause to our federal deficit. Now, they have embraced this fiscal irresponsibility to the tune of close to a trillion dollars of new deficit spending.

"So, I'd like to ask all the Republicans in favor of giving millionaires and billionaires a four or five percent tax cut -- how are you going to pay for any of it? What are you going to cut from the federal budget that costs $800 billion? You'll notice that they never have an answer for this, because they are playing a shell game with the Tea Party supporters. Republicans sure talk a good line on the deficit when it comes to a small amount of emergency spending, but when it comes to structural tax matters, they are all in favor of passing on the bill for hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars to our children and grandchildren. The choice for the voters is obvious. Because Republicans simply do not have an answer to how they're going to pay for any of this 'wealthfare' giveaway to the ultra-rich. They never do, because when it comes to tax cuts, as Cheney said, deficits quite obviously do not matter to Republicans. Someone should mention this to the Tea Partiers, don't you think?"


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