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10/18/2013 09:01 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Friday Talking Points [278] -- ...And the Law Won

I don't know about anyone else, but the image that popped into my head this week was Ted Cruz drunk in some dive of a karaoke bar, doing his version of "I Fought The Law, And The Law Won."

Heh. I mean, not to spike the football or anything....

Democrats just had a very good week. Best week they've had since last November, in fact, when Barack Obama was re-elected. The Tea Party grabbed the wheel of the Republican bus and -- just as pretty much everyone had predicted -- they then drove right off a cliff. We've all been picking over the wreckage in a "we'd like to think this is a high-minded N.T.S.B. investigation of a horrific accident so it never happens again, but we're really just rubbernecking to see the fresh corpses" sort of way, if truth be told. I certainly engaged in this sort of thing myself, immediately after the deal was struck (when I named a few winners and losers), so I can't say I'm any more high-minded than anyone else.

This week will be seen as a turning point in the future. Ted Cruz and his band of merry Tea Partiers fought the Obamacare law, with every ounce of energy they could muster. And the law won. From this point on, Obamacare will never be repealed. It will be a fact of American life. It will not be delayed by legislative means. It will not be defunded. Public opinion about the law is changing, and the more people see of the realities of the law (as opposed to the caricatures of doom Republicans have been scaremongering on for years) the more they like it. Look for this trend -- much to the Tea Partiers' surprise, no doubt -- to continue.

This could also be a very healthy turning point for the law itself. Because from now on, perhaps Republicans will actually start acting constructively towards the law. From this point forward, I could certainly see Republicans start to zero in on the parts of the law which are not working well or cumbersome or otherwise in need of adjustment and start proposing positive changes to the law. Democrats will certainly work with Republicans to fix parts of Obamacare, once the fever of "let's kill Obamacare" truly breaks. This could be a positive thing all around, in fact. It's hard to find a Democrat willing to state that Obamacare is perfect, so constructive changes are certainly possible. The talk from now on may be over how to improve Obamacare, and not over whether to kill it or not. We'll see. Then again, Republicans could just keep lying about it, which will require diligent fact-checking all around.

Let's see, what else? It was kind of a one-issue week in the political world, of course. But we've already spiked that football once, so let's take care of some minor fallout. Was there a "Kentucky Kickback" which convinced Mitch McConnell to support the final deal? My take on this is: Who cares? If a small earmark can accomplish such a large legislative feat, then let's bring back some more of these earmarks.

No, I'm not being satirical. When Congress acted to ban all earmarks, it is true that the process had gotten completely out of control. Where once there used to be a few hundred earmarks, the numbers climbed yearly into the thousands and then into the tens of thousands. So I understand why they were banned. But imagine what Boehner might have been able to achieve if he had a few dozen earmarks to toss around during the negotiations. Well, maybe nothing. But maybe it could have broken the logjam a little earlier, who knows? If legislative pork is necessary to grease the wheels of Congress, then maybe it's not such a high price to pay, that's all I'm suggesting.

The best "looking forward" article I read all week was from David Leopold at the Huffington Post. In it, he examines why the Republican Party could undo a lot of their self-inflicted damage by immediately getting behind immigration reform. Plus, it's got an absolutely brilliant title ("Immigration Reform: A Pathway To Citizenship For The GOP?"). Check it out, it's an excellent read.

And to end on a pedantic note, because of the ongoing factional civil war in the Republican Party, editorially we have decided that both sides now deserve the status of proper nouns. We were early adopters of the fully-capitalized "Tea Party," and now we feel that their Republican opponents also deserve this mark of respect as well. So, from now on in our pages, we shall speak of the "Establishment Republicans," because we feel they've earned the same status as the other faction with which they are currently at war. If you disagree, let us know about it in the comments, as always.

 

Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

Because Chris Christie was too chicken to appear on a ballot with him, Cory Booker won an election a few weeks before the normal election day in New Jersey. But the outcome wasn't really in all that much doubt, so Booker will have to be satisfied with just an Honorable Mention. One thing worth noting is that his opponent was a pretty hardcore Tea Partier, but even Sarah Palin helping him out didn't do the trick. Look for some to read into this race larger implications, as they will also next month in the Virginia governor's race.

President Obama is also worthy of an Honorable Mention for not caving in one tiny little inch this week, at the end of the crisis (when the pressure to do so is highest). Obama said "non-negotiable" and that is precisely what he meant. To the shocked surprise of both Tea Partiers and a goodly amount of the more progressive of Obama's supporters. You don't hear a whole lot of "lame duck" talk these days, do you? For holding firm, Obama won two out of the last four Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards, but he'll have to settle for an Honorable Mention this week.

Because the obvious winner of the coveted MIDOTW award -- the "Golden Backbone," as some call it -- was none other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid was masterful in the negotiations, showing a boldness not seen in a long while from congressional Democrats. Here is a rough timeline of Reid's negotiating position:

"We'll pass a budget without the sequester cuts, because Democrats want to end the sequester."

"OK, since it's the last minute and the government could shut down, we'll agree to the full sequester cuts in a gigantic concession to Senate Republicans, if they'll strip out all their demands and pass a clean continuing resolution."

"What? The House shut down the government? Well, they can go pound sand because they've got our bipartisan clean bill just sitting there waiting for a vote, and everyone knows if it got an up-or-down vote it would easily pass."

"That's cute -- all those little bills to fund kittens and puppies. Sorry, though, no deal. Bring our overwhelmingly bipartisan clean C.R. up for a vote, Speaker Boehner. Do it now. That's the only deal you're going to get."

"Hey, have you seen the polls? Guess what, Republicans? Now that the Tea Party is heading for an exponentially larger economic catastrophe, we're going to have to rethink our negotiating position. That deal we were offering has now expired, sorry. The window is closed."

"OK, since the looney birds in the House are demanding all sorts of things, then here's what we're putting on the table, starting with adding back in all those sequester cuts. Let's toss something in for the Unions, as well, why don't we?"

"What? You don't want to play this game? OK, then here's the final deal, take it or leave it: sequester cuts can stay so you can get it through the House, but absolutely none of your large demands will make it into the final bill. Period. Obamacare will emerge without a scratch. Oh, and the next debt ceiling vote will be automatic -- the debt ceiling will rise in February unless Congress can muster a veto-proof majority against it, so we don't have to do this all over again in four months. Admit it, Mitch -- you lost, and it's time for you to face the fact."

Well done, Harry. Well done, indeed. When arguing from a position of strength, you get to make the other guy back down. This is what rank-and-file Democrats have been saying all along.

For his astounding display of backbone in the negotiations, for not just letting Joe Biden handle it as he's done in the past, for making Mitch McConnell and the entire Republican Party knuckle under and face the reality of their self-induced disaster, Harry Reid is unquestionably the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. More power to you, Harry, and please may we see some more of this cast-iron resolve in the future? Because from where we sit, it looks pretty good.

[Congratulate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

We have an unknown award to hand out, and then a group award, and then an award for someone we thought was already gone from the scene.

Some witty vandal(s) in New Hampshire thought it would be a good idea to taunt the opposition, likely in a late-night outburst of schadenfreude (quite possibly with the involvement of significant amounts of alcohol, one assumes). They hit the headquarters of the Republican Party with some graffiti. Now, we'll admit that what they wrote was amusing ("WWJD HEALTHCARE FOR EVERYONE"), because it cleverly points out a beam in the eye of the way Republicans like to see themselves (to put it Biblically). But vandalism is simply a step too far. For the price of a few cans of spray paint, a banner of some sort could have been created and taped across where the paint was applied. Then criminal charges wouldn't be in play, to put it mildly. Think it through, folks, before rashly acting. Is this what you'd want the opposition to do to you? Ask yourself that before you begin. To whomever defaced the Republican HQ with paint, a (Dis-)Honorable Mention is in order.

This next one's even more dangerous. Someone over at MoveOn.org decided it'd be funny to start a petition to have the leadership of the Republican Party arrested and tried for sedition, because of their actions in the past few weeks. From the Huffington Post report:

The petition argues that "the House GOP leadership's use of the Hastert Rule and H. Res 368 to shut down the government and threaten the US economy with default is an attempt to extort the United States government into altering or abolishing the Affordable Care Act, and thus, is self-evidently a seditious conspiracy." (The U.S. Code defines "seditious conspiracy" in part as any conspiracy "to oppose by force the authority [of the U.S. government], or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.")

Sigh. OK, I get it. You want to let off some steam after winning a tough fight. I do understand that, I really do. But this is simply not the way to do it.

This is poking a very large and dangerous fire-breathing dragon who is asleep in his lair with a sharp pointy stick, just to see what would happen. Want to know what comes next? The dragon wakes up in a very cranky mood, and toasts your ass to crispy critterdom. That's what happens next.

Coming out in favor of sedition arrests for politicians is dangerous for the Left. Very, very dangerous. Because, historically, these laws have been used most often against the Left. And if you push the issue, a lot of people are going to remember that history, and act accordingly.

Think about it: Bradley Manning was arrested and tried under sedition laws passed during World War I. And even back then, the entire purpose of the law was to shut up people protesting America's involvement in the war. Read up on Schenck v. United States for just the most prominent example (this case is where the phrases "falsely shouting 'fire' in a theater" and "clear and present danger" came from).

Using "sedition" as a political tool almost always ends badly for the Left. Very badly. Remember all those people shouting "traitor" at people like Dennis Kucinich a decade ago? If your fantasy comes true and you now arrest John Boehner for sedition, the next time America contemplates a war all the folks following in Kucinich's footsteps will be arrested. Count on it.

I understand the desire to spike the football. I really do. But this isn't doing that. This is lying in wait for the other team's quarterback, after the game, in a dark parking lot, and then beating him senseless with tire irons. It should not be supported, even as a joke. Because these things have a very ugly way of boomeranging. Read the American history of "sedition" if you don't believe this. So, to everyone who signs the petition and for whatever joker dreamed it up, (Dis-)Honorable Mentions all around. Let this dragon sleep, folks -- please.

But this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is a man we thought we'd heard the last from. Ex-mayor of San Diego Bob Filner was apparently doing more than just making women uncomfortable at work. The Associated Press had this terse report:

Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has pleaded guilty to felony false imprisonment and two misdemeanor counts of battery.

The plea came Tuesday in Superior Court, weeks after Filner was forced to resign over claims of sexual harassment by numerous women.

The victims in the case were only identified as Jane Does.

The judge says the maximum sentence is three years in prison for the felony and one year for each misdemeanor, and may be served concurrently.

At least he spared the women the pain of a trial. But even with this silver lining, Bob Filner has won his fourth (and hopefully last) Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Bob Filner is now a private citizen, and it is our policy not to provide contact information with those who are now out of politics.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 278 (10/18/13)

Because it's been a pretty unusual week, we're once again going with an unusual format for the talking points. But I think you'll enjoy this one, as I've dusted off an oldie but a goodie and tried my hand at a little Democratic ad-writing, which is always fun to do.

Oh, I do have to mention: if you're interested in signing a petition that could actually do some good, a Huffington Post commenter has started a petition on the White House website in support of the concept of "Full Budget Or No Pay." It still needs a whopping amount of support to top the 100,000 threshold, so I encourage everyone to head over and vote for it, as this is a concept that we've long supported.

Or, if you're even more mischievously inclined, why not call up your representatives in Congress and demand they pay back America the $7,627.40 they all earned for the 16 days the government was shut down? Or call up John Boehner's office and demand he fork over the $9,797.26 he earned in the same period? Couldn"t hurt, and it'd certainly be amusing to do so.

For the past few weeks, mining the civil war commentary by Republicans has proven to be the best source of anti-Republican comments. So we've been standing back and holding the coats at this brawling donnybrook, and merely reporting the worst insults from the sidelines. How often do you get the chance to quote Republican-on-Republican violence, after all?

This week may be the end of at least the worst of the open warfare within the Republican Party, so we're going to include a final two of these quotes before we move along to our special event. In a normal week, I'd have to make do with things like quoting Harry Reid calling Ted Cruz mentally defective (spike that football, Harry, you deserve it!), but this week we've still got Republicans doing more damage than Democrats, so here's two quick examples to get us started.

First, Rush Limbaugh. Here's what Rush had to say about the outcome of the shutdown:

I was trying to think if ever in my life, I could remember any major political party being so irrelevant. I have never seen it. I have never seen a major political party simply occupy placeholders, as the Republican party has been doing. There has not been any serious opposition...against what's happening in this country. The Republicans have done everything they can to try to make everyone like them and what they've ended up doing is creating one of the greatest political disasters I've ever seen in my lifetime... I was pondering if I could ever remember... a time when a political party just made a decision not to exist, for all intents and purposes.

Tell us what you really think, Rush! I mean, don't hold back or anything. Heh. Think Rush is too extreme a voice to listen to? Well then, let's check in with a bona fide Establishment Republican and see what Michael Gerson has to say about the Republican Party's future:

Tea party ideology involves questioning the character of Republican leaders -- presenting them as cowards or coopted by the establishment or deceptive about their actual views. Republican leaders, in turn, naturally view the tea party caucus as politically irrational and irresponsible. Boehner has not bridged this gap. Perhaps no one could.

Will the tea party be chastened by recent defeat? Not likely, or not for long. Because tea party leaders inhabit an alternative political reality -- sheltered in safe districts or states, applauded by conservative media, incited (or threatened) by advocacy groups, carried along by a deep current of anger and frustration among activists -- they have no incentive to view defeat as defeat. In fact, turning against tactical radicalism would involve serious political risk. So every setback is interpreted as a need for greater purity and commitment.

This conflict is certain to bleed over into the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. The influence of a highly committed minority is exaggerated in small electorates. All the conditions for volatility will be present: voters embittered by recent defeats, a growing infrastructure of tea party institutions, a campaign finance system easily influenced by ideologically eccentric billionaires.

The trends that helped elevate a series of politically unserious Republican candidates in 2012 -- including Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann -- have grown only stronger. It is instructive how easily Sen. Ted Cruz has gotten to the right of Sen. Rand Paul. Who will be able to gather momentum to Cruz's starboard? Ben Carson? Allen West? Republican primary voters tend to make more sober political choices in the end. But the process itself creates a durable image of radicalism and instability.

Once again (and quite possibly for the last time): this is what Republicans are saying about each other.

But Democrats shouldn't sit back and resist the urge to politically jump up and down on Republicans right now -- especially the Tea Partiers. In fact, if I ran the Democratic Party (or if I was named "George Soros," to toss out another scenario), I would immediately buy ad time in every single district of the 144 House Republicans who voted against the deal this week. And then I would buy ad time in every state of the 18 senators who both voted "nay" and who face re-election next year. I think running the following ad -- right now, more than a year from the election -- would do Democrats a world of good. The ads could be easily customized by changing the final text screen. With some professional camerawork and the right actor for the costume, this could be a game-changing sort of ad. Especially for those who remember how powerful the original ad concept was, four decades ago.

 

Proposed Democratic television ad script

[Fade in on panorama of purple mountains majestic (Grand Tetons, perhaps) as a backdrop to a grassy slope. We see in the distance a horse and rider mounting the ridge. Zoom in as rider rears his horse to a stop, to take in the stupendous view. As horse settles down, we see that the rider is Uncle Sam, in full costume. Inspirational music fades into quiet solo by horn section, evoking sadness.]

VOICEOVER: "Everyone knows America is a great nation. Uncle Sam used to be respected and admired all over the world."

[Uncle Sam sighs, reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small piece of paper, and sadly regards it. Camera shifts to closeup of his hand, with the horse's saddle as background. We see he is holding a dollar bill -- a dollar that has seen better days, and is faded and crumpled. The wind kicks up, flapping the edges of the dollar.]

VOICEOVER: "Our word inspired trust in other nations, because we were exceptional among the countries of the world. The full faith and credit of the United States was the soundest investment on the entire planet."

[Longshot of Uncle Sam slowly looking up from dollar to regard the awesome beauty before him. The horse moves restlessly, but with one gentle hand from his rider he calms down.]

VOICEOVER: "In 2013, over one hundred fifty members of Congress voted to let a default happen, for the first time in American history. For the first time, our word would no longer be our bond. For the first time, America would tell the world that we could no longer be trusted."

[Short closeup of hand holding dollar slowly relaxing, until the dollar is snatched by the wind. Longer shot of dollar blowing away across the field, until it disappears.]

VOICEOVER: "How could any politician be so extreme as to undermine the strength of the American dollar in such partisan fashion? That's not good for America."

[Medium shot of Uncle Sam staring off into the distance, with his profile showing. Camera pans in tighter and tighter to his face, until he slightly turns his head so we can see a single tear trickle sadly down his face, as an homage to the "Native American anti-littering" ad from the 1970s.]

VOICEOVER: "America used to be the most trusted nation in the world. The American dollar was seen as the most exceptional currency on the planet. America's future was a safe bet. Don't we all want that to continue? Don't we want to pass this on as our proudest legacy to our children?"

[Soundtrack goes silent, cut to black. Text appears after one second of black screen: "Congressman Feathernest voted for America's default. Vote him out of office in 2014." Smaller text, below: "This ad paid for by Democrats For American Exceptionalism." Fade to black.]

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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