Send in the clowns!
No, that's not a statement on Congress returning to Washington next week. Although if you choose to read it that way, I certainly can't stop you, can I? Ahem.
But for anyone who thinks that American voters just elected a bunch of clowns to represent them in Washington, I humbly draw your attention to Brazil, where they just elected a real clown to their Congress.
Francisco Silva, better known as "Tiririca" (or "Grumpy the Clown"), not only won his recent election in Brazil, but he received almost twice as many votes as any other candidate. Voters sent their message loud and clear -- We want the clown! The Brazilian political establishment is apparently not amused, as they are reportedly forcing Silva to take a literacy test before they'll allow him to serve.
In other clowning around, the media were quick to pounce on President Obama's use of "Slurpee" in his rambling "car in a ditch" metaphor, when the press corps decided to call the upcoming meeting of Obama and the new congressional leaders a "Slurpee Summit." What is it with this president and beverage-themed summitry? Sigh. The 7-Eleven corporation, naturally, took this metaphor and ran with it, to make a few bucks. Hey, if they can mine the media's idiocy for profits, then "more power to them" is what I say.
Other comedic news -- cartoon cat Garfield's creator had a bit of an embarassing moment this week, when a cartoon he drew a long time ago was coincidentally run on Veterans' Day. Whoops! Bad kitty....
A member of the Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) had his own foray into the world of being a clown this week, as he denigrated the White House's ability to communicate their agenda by saying the Obama administration "couldn't sell cocaine to Charlie Sheen." Ouch.
But the clown-tastical moment of the week was undoubtedly seeing the video of someone attempting to egg Rahm Emanuel out on the campaign trail. The egger missed his target, and was promptly hired by the Cubs. Heh.
Now, to be a responsible media voice, I obviously have to condemn such actions in general. To do this, you're going to have to picture school counselor "Mr. Mackey" from South Park, because that's whose voice I am going to use to condemn doing this type of thing:
"Hucking eggs at people is bad... Mmm'kay?
It's wrong to huck eggs at politicians... Mmm'kay?"
Having said that, we look forward to next week, when Congress returns to perform The People's business. (Pause for laughter.) Or, as some might say, when we send our own clowns in for one last laugh before the end of the year (when the new clowns will take charge, of course).
We have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week. Our first goes to none other than Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who defied conventional D.C. wisdom and threw her hat in the ring to become Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the next House of Representatives.
Pretty much the entire chattering class in Washington had decided among themselves about a week before the election that Pelosi was toast. Pelosi, in this narrative, would lose a tidal wave of seats in the election, and not only step down from any Democratic leadership position in the House, but would likely just quit and return to San Francisco and, I don't know, take up gardening or something. One wonders if anyone propagating this rumor ever actually met Pelosi. Love her or hate her, Pelosi learned politicking at a tender age (at her powerful Baltimore politician father's knee, so to speak) and has shown over and over again that she can be tough as nails when she needs to be. Add to that the fact that she represents possibly the safest Democratic district in the entire country (the likelihood of San Franciscans sending a Republican to the House is slightly less than the chances of the entire city breaking off from the mainland in a giant earthquake early next week), and one does indeed wonder where the conventional wisdom of Pelosi tucking her tail between her legs and creeping home even began.
Pelosi refused to follow recent Republican tradition by doing so, but this shouldn't exactly be surprising. She's actually following a deeper Democratic historical tradition by sticking around. The new House will have fewer Blue Dog Democrats in it for Pelosi to worry about, and she never announces things that she hasn't already counted the votes for in advance, so at this point it seems a sure thing she'll win the Minority Leader post next week. Nobody has even openly challenged her for the seat.
For this impressive stick-to-it-ness, Nancy Pelosi is this week's first winner of the MIDOTW award. So far, Pelosi has been one of the most productive Speakers ever, and if Democrats take the House back in the next few years, she will likely continue this streak.
Our second Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Vermont's Bernie Sanders. When the deficit commission's report came out, Sanders was one of the first to denounce it from the Left. Here's his reaction to the commission's ideas on Social Security, for instance:
If we are serious about making Social Security strong and solvent for the next 75 years, President Obama has the right solution. On October 14, 2010, he restated a long-held position that the cap on income subject to Social Security payroll taxes, now at $106,800, should be raised. As the president has long stated, it is absurd that billionaires pay the same amount into the system as someone who earns $106,800.
And just today, Sanders announced he is going to fight back in an admirable way -- he's going to get his own group of progressive voices together and come up with a better way of solving the budget problems.
This deserves praise. The best way to fight a bad idea is to present a good idea in its place. Fighting a bad idea by just screaming "that's a bad idea" without offering anything in response is nothing more than playing politics. If you've got a better idea -- let people know! The devil, of course, is in the details. But I would be willing to bet that whatever Sanders comes up with will be a lot better than what the Republicans come up with next year, so it's good that Sanders will (by that time, assumably) already have a plan of action in hand.
Democrats would do well to support Senator Sanders' effort. This is how you fight a battle of ideas -- by putting your own ideas on the table. Which is why Sanders gets a MIDOTW award, even at the beginning of the process.
Before we get to the main award this week, we have to at least give Robert Zimmerman a (Dis-)Honorable Mention here. Zimmerman's the D.N.C. member who wanted to get his name in the news earlier this week. While he did achieve this, anyone on the national committee of any political party should realize it's not a good idea to link together a president from your own party with the words "cocaine" and "Charlie Sheen" in a sentence. It's just bad form, really, even if it was a funny line. There is a guy out there whose real name is also Robert Zimmerman, and he has made quite a living for himself waxing poetic and lyrical and even bitingly caustic at times -- but you, sir, are no Bob Dylan. Next time, do think twice, OK?
President Obama also was fairly disappointing this week, as a White House spokesman seemed to suggest that the Republicans had already won the battle over the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy -- which had to be walked back quickly. I mean, guys, you've got to at least pretend to fight before you give up, OK? On top of this, Obama failed to achieve a goal that the White House had been hyping -- a free trade deal with South Korea. Perhaps the treaty will be ready in a few weeks, but the visuals would have been a lot better if Obama had signed it in Seoul this week, during his visit.
But even the president rates no more than a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week. Because there was one Democrat who proved to be just as massively disappointing as his critics have been warning the rest of us all year long. Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chair of the president's blue-ribbon deficit commission, is this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week by far.
Bowles wins this lowly prize not for what was in the commissioners' plan, either, but for the fact that he released it at all. You see, the plan itself is so laughably outside of what Congress is going to agree to that it become almost completely irrelevant the moment it appeared. Not only is the plan as a whole simply not going to pass Congress (neither the lame duckers nor the incoming bunch), it's hard to see how even any of the individual pieces of the plan would ever pass a vote in the Senate.
Normally, blue-ribbon commissions of this sort don't publish their preliminary findings ahead of time. They hold back until the public report is agreed upon, and then they make it available to everyone. By putting out a list of "suggestions" (or "starting points") from the two chairmen, it becomes obvious that -- with less than a month to go before their deadline -- the commission is simply not going to be able to agree on much of anything as a whole. In other words, the suggestion list the chairmen released this week likely isn't even going to make it out of the commission, much less be voted upon by Congress.
Erskine Bowles has always been a disappointing choice to head this commission on the Democratic side. But the fact that this preliminary report was even released is pretty obviously a statement that the commission is largely going to fail, and going to ultimately be seen as a gigantic waste of time by just about everyone -- left, right and center.
For achieving this feat, before he even reached the commission's deadline, Erskine Bowles is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[I could not find public contact information for Erskine Bowles, so I guess you'll have to send your comments to the White House, to let them know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 146 (11/12/10)
Some historically-minded folks pointed out after the recent election that it was the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's election. Look for many more "50 years since..." vignettes all next year, in other words.
But don't try to draw too many historical parallels. Because it was also the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's election, meaning we're in for years of "150 years since the Civil War..." stories as well.
Dueling metaphors at twenty paces!
Which, of course, brings us to the Friday Talking Points part of the column. So, without further ado....
Repeal it if you dare
Democrats have to learn a whole new game when it comes to talking points. They -- especially House Democrats -- are going to have to start playing defense. Or underdog, perhaps. The way to effectively do this is to wield the weapon of the wedge issue, in an attempt to split the divisions in the Republican Party wide open. This means exploiting issues where Tea Party politicians disagree with Republicans, where Tea Party rank-and-file voters are about to be disappointed by the politicians they just elected, and any other points of leverage Republicans provide as they squabble among themselves about what to do next.
The first of these issues is going to be the Republican campaign slogan: "Repeal Obamacare!" Democrats need to use this as a taunt against Republicans, who are soon going to realize that outright repeal is just not that popular beyond their base -- specifically, not that popular among the independent voters who are the key to American politics at the moment.
"Republicans promised all over this country in the last election that one of their top priorities was to repeal what they call 'Obamacare.' Well, we'll see whether they actually deliver on that promise once they get to Washington. My guess is that they're going to disappoint their base by not even bothering to try repealing the healthcare reform bill Democrats passed. And if they do go ahead and attempt repeal, they're going to be on the wrong side of the public. A new poll just out shows almost six in ten Americans want to keep what we passed intact or even make it stronger, while less than four in ten wanted to see it repealed. Republicans keep bragging that they're 'listening to the voice of the American people,' but in the end I bet ideology will triumph over actually doing what the public wants."
So I guess you were lying about getting rid of earmarks?
This is the current struggle within the Republican Party, and it deserves a few taunts lobbed into the fray from Democrats.
"I notice that one of the signature issues of the Tea Party folks is apparently being tossed overboard by Republicans immediately. So, when Republicans made sweeping promises about how they would end earmarks in Congress, I guess they were just lying to the voters, eh? I mean, it took Rand Paul about twelve minutes after he got elected to say that he was just fine with earmarks, and would be fighting for a bunch of them to go to his home state. The hypocrisy of these guys just astounds me. I wonder if all those Tea Party voters are taking note?"
You're awfully quiet over there
While Democrats have come out fairly strongly against the leaked deficit commission ideas, Republicans have mostly been silent on the matter. This should be pointed out.
"You know, I find it interesting that most Republicans haven't had a thing to say about the ideas which came from the deficit commission's chairmen recently. Democrats certainly stood up and made their positions known right away, but it seems Republicans are too timid to say what they think about the ideas put forth. So, let me ask you, which proposals from the commission do you agree with, and which do you disagree?"
Defending Social Security
There's a reason why they used to call this the "third rail" of American politics -- because if you touch it, you die. While the deficit commission's ideas on raising the retirement age and means-testing benefits are actually pretty mild (as these things go), it gives Democrats familiar ground on which to fight. Republicans have -- quite laughably -- tried to set themselves up as the "defenders of Social Security," but this is really where the rubber meets the road. Meaning Democrats shouldn't hesitate to bring it up.
"Do you agree with the deficit commission that America should raise the retirement age and cut benefits to seniors? How does the Republican Party feel about these proposed changes? Republicans started trying to convince America that they were the defenders of Social Security, so I'd really like to know how you feel about these proposals. Do you agree with Democrats that Social Security does not need to raise retirement ages and cut benefits, or are you on the side of those who would make these cuts on seniors' income?"
Pass the anti-nuke treaty
This one is one of those background issues, but it needs to be pushed for the lame duck session of the Senate. The bar is high -- Obama will need a whopping 67 votes to pass this treaty. But polls show that precisely the same ratio -- two-thirds -- of the public is behind Obama. Point this out.
"The Senate really needs to find the time before the end of the year to pass the nuclear arms reduction treaty Obama signed with the Russians. This issue has the overwhelming support of the American people, and there is simply no reason why the lame duck Senate shouldn't be able to pass it. Republican politicians have been making political hay over how they are now responding to the voice of the American public, so this one is an easy decision. The public supports the treaty, and the Senate Republicans should also support it and ratify the treaty before the end of the year."
OK, that's as close as I could get to a "Bachman Turner Overdrive" joke, and I have to admit it was a pretty poor effort. But, again, taunting is called for in this instance.
"I notice that for all the gains the Tea Party made, the Republican leadership in Washington is absolutely freezing them out of leadership positions. Michele Bachmann, for instance, is a figure the Tea Partiers have loved for a while. She announced she was running for a House leadership position in the Republican Party, but her campaign was quickly squashed by all the establishment Republicans. I think the Republican Party regulars are terrified of the new Tea Party folks, and are doing everything they can to marginalize them so much that their voices remain unheard in any important decision-making process. Again, I wonder if the Tea Party voters are taking note."
Two inventive young folks decided that they had had enough of the constant barrage of criticism our president has faced for the past two years -- so they did something about it. They created a web page whose address is: www.whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com. If the White House were smart, they'd hire these two in a heartbeat. It also allows Democrats to easily direct the public to a handy reference for what the president has accomplished, although it's going to be a bit tricky to say the name on the airwaves.
"You know, when I hear such sweeping criticism of President Obama, I would encourage your viewers to check out a web page whose name I unfortunately cannot say in full on the air. But, if you'll fill in one word in the web address, I would direct folks to the 'what the "F" has Obama done so far' website to see the list of his accomplishments, for some needed contrast."
Chris Weigant blogs at:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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