Rather than beginning with my usual chatty yet absolutely riveting introductory remarks (ahem), the preface to today's column will be an introduction (for some) and a reintroduction (for others). Note: If you already know what this column is all about, then you can skip directly to this week's awards, as the only new thing I'm about to say here is that there will be no FTP column next week, it being the Fourth of July. And I plan to be otherwise engaged, with a hamburger fresh off the grill and a cold beer fresh from the ice chest.
The reason I'm being so egotistical (or, as I see it, "informative") today is to welcome some new readers, as this will be the first of these weekly columns cross-posted to Democratic Underground, home of the famous (and always hilarious) "Top 10 Conservative Idiots" of the week. If you haven't seen this "Top 10" wrap-up before, I urge you to check it out every Monday morning, as I know you won't be disappointed. To coin an oxymoron: it's seriously funny stuff.
So to the DU community -- welcome!
This column was born out of my frustration with the seeming inability of many Democrats to perform well in the Sunday morning interview shows on television. It's often been said that Democrats have an inherent "herding cats" problem, so I set out to do my tiny part to help.
Because I strongly believe that Democrats do actually have good issues -- ones which mainstream America actually agrees with -- but that sometimes Democrats in live interviews just can't seem to put these ideas into snappy soundbites very well. They need help framing their own issues, in other words.
I've gotten some heat for even attempting to do this, since what I'm really doing is playing "wannabe" spin doctor. OK, fair enough. This column is all about spin, and how it could be done right (or, at the very least, better). These are my talking points for Democrats to use or ignore as they will. Advice is free, and is usually worth what you pay for it. Caveat emptor. If you simply can't stand spin from either side of the aisle, then I would recommend you not bother reading this column. What else can I say?
The reason the first column DUers are reading is Volume 37 is that this series is already almost a year old. It has been running on The Huffington Post as well as my own website ChrisWeigant.com (where I blog every weekday). Although I haven't done much other than register the domain name and point it to the correct page on my site, you can always see a full archive of these columns at FridayTalkingPoints.com, back to the very first one.
My new journal at Democratic Underground will carry this column every week, posting late-ish in the day on Friday evenings (even late-ish-er for East Coast residents). Except, of course, next week, when I'll be at a barbeque instead. My DU journal's formatting may need a little work here and there at first, so apologies for the construction dust.
Starting two weeks from now, the normal format of the column has three parts. First, a short introduction (which you're reading right now). Next, I hand out two awards -- the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week and the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week -- which are awarded completely and utterly as I see fit. Hey, it's my column after all! And the third section is the Friday Talking Points. There are usually seven talking points each week, but if I need more I'll add them. They consist of a paragraph or two about an issue, followed by a suggested quote for any Democrat to use who finds themselves across the interview table from any of the overpaid television talking heads trying to pass themselves off as actual journalists each Sunday morning (ahem... pardon me, my contempt for the mainstream media seems to be showing...).
Sometimes these columns are topical (on the election for instance, or on what Democratic congresscritters are up to), but other times the focus is wider and more general in scope. What else? Oh, if you're not into long columns, you probably won't be a fan of this one, as they do tend to run a bit on the wordy side at times (cough... every week... cough, cough). So don't say you weren't warned.
That's about all I can think of to introduce myself and the column. If you have a suggestion for next week's column, you can email me from my website, although you have to register in order to do so (or else I'd spend all my time deleting spam). And, once again, thanks to the friendly folks at DU for allowing me to reach a new audience of committed Democrats.
OK, enough of the shameless self-promotion... onward to this week's awards...
The Senate was supposed to vote this week on a new bill to revise (yet again, at President Bush's insistence) the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which would have given the telecommunications companies complete amnesty for failing to get warrants from Bush before allowing the government to illegally tap their phone lines. But the Senate didn't vote on it, due to the tireless efforts of a (shamefully) very small number of Democrats. While Senator Russ Feingold deserves an honorable mention for being one of the leading voices in this effort (and who would also, in my humble opinion, make a dandy vice-presidential selection for Barack Obama), the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award instead goes to Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.
The speech he gave on the Senate floor this week is very very long, and does admittedly take some time to read or watch. But this is "quality time" which anyone who calls themselves a Democrat should take, because it is one of the most scathing condemnations of the Bush administration and what they have done to the Constitution I have ever heard from any Democrat. Even to post just the highlights of this speech would take way too much room here, so I strongly, strongly urge you to read or watch the entire speech text in full.
Here is just one -- just one of many, mind you -- excerpt which made me want to stand up, wave a flag, and cheer loudly:
As complex, as diverse, as relentless as the assault on the rule of law has been, our answer to it is a simple one. Far more than any president's lawlessness, the American way of justice remains deeply rooted in our character.
That, no president can disturb. So I am full of hope, even on this dark day. I have faith that we can unite security and justice -- because we have already done it.
My father, Senator Tom Dodd, was the number two American prosecutor at the famous Nuremberg trials. And I have never, never forgotten the example he set.
As Justice Robert Jackson said in his opening statement at Nuremberg: "That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason."
Mr. President, what is the tribute that Power owes to Reason?
That America stands for a transcendent idea.
The idea that laws should rule, not men.
The idea that the Constitution does not get suspended for vengeance.
The idea that this nation should never tailor its eternal principles to the conflict of the moment, because if we did, we would be walking in the footsteps of the enemies we despised.
The tribute that Power owes to Reason is due today. I know that we can find the strength to pay it. And if we can't? We will all have to answer for it.
Seriously, this is some Mr. Smith Goes To Washington style speechifying. I mean, if he had said this stuff on the campaign trail, I would have voted for him in the primaries in a heartbeat. So take fifteen minutes. Read this speech. Especially if you've forgotten what a real Democrat is supposed to sound like. Dodd has even posted a video of the speech, if you'd prefer to watch it.
So while I acknowledge there were other good Democrats who worked to stop the vote on this abomination of a bill, Chris Dodd's speech gave him a lock on this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, hands down.
This also incidentally moves him into a three-way tie for most MIDOTW awards ever received (four apiece), which he now shares with Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.
Well done, Senator Dodd!
[Congratulate Senator Chris Dodd on his Senate contact page to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems to be doing his impression of Caspar Milquetoast once again. He is personally against the telecom immunity part of the FISA bill... kind of. When asked if he would vote on the bill if it still contained the amnesty, he responded "We'll see." When asked how he was going to fight against amnesty in the Senate, he responded that he'd allow the opponents to "express their views." He went on to say:
"I'm going to try real hard to have a separate vote on immunity. Probably we can't take that out of the bill, but I'm going to try."
Wow. Way to lead, Harry. Way to inspire the troops! This is just another example of Reid's propensity for caving in before the fight even happens. It's like Winston Churchill saying "We shall fight them on the beaches. We're probably going to lose, though. We shall defend our island. Until we give up, that is. We shall, in all likelihood, surrender eventually."
For this display of the weak boiled noodle that Reid uses for a spine, he gets the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, once again. He now has three of them, tying him for second place in the all-time list with Hillary Clinton and Dianne Feinstein. The number one spot, with five awards, is still held by Jay "Rocky IV" Rockefeller, IV, from whose committee this FISA bill (complete with amnesty) emerged originally.
But the time is long past to ask why this man is still Majority Leader. Democrats have a deep bench of people who would do a much, much better job than Reid. I could name five senators (in about five seconds) who have more leadership in their little pinky than Reid does in his whole body. Democrats should take note -- even with a new President Obama and even with a bigger majority in the Senate, very little good will be achieved if this man is still Majority Leader next year.
[Contact Harry Reid on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 37 (6/27/08)
With the awards out of the way, we come to the talking points part of the show. Most of these deal with the ongoing presidential race. There is a theme being kicked around the mainstream media that really needs to stop -- "Obama's a flip-flopper." Last week I devoted the whole column to showing that the media examines every nuance of every facet of every whisper from the Obama campaign, while completely ignoring (over and over again) the unbelievably stupid and contradictory things coming out of John McCain's mouth on a weekly basis. The man can't seem to answer a question without flip-flopping on something he said a few weeks earlier, and yet the media chuckles, pats him on the head, and refuses to run the story.
So I thought about devoting the entire column this week to McCain's flip-flops, but there are just too many of them to list. The column might have to count up to triple digits to accurately cover them all. Google "McCain" and "flip flop" and you can see a few lists of them yourself.
But pointing them out on blogs is one thing. Getting the mainstream media to do its job and examine both candidates in the race is quite another. So I kind of punted on the idea, and wrapped it all into the first item on the list.
Which leads me to...
John McCain, the king of the "flip-flop"
Here's a recent interview with McCain, to show you what I mean. I am directly quoting the Senator here:
"Flip. Furthermore, flop. Did I say flop? I meant to say flip. Flip! Flip-flop! Flippety-floppety-floo!!"
Actually, I made that up (and ripped off the concept from Doonesbury, to boot). But it's not hard to find these statements from McCain, since he has provided a treasure trove of them for anyone with access to a search engine and about 0.02 second's time to spare.
So push back on the "Obama's a flip-flopper" every chance you get.
"Excuse me, did I hear you correctly? You're saying Obama's the biggest flip-flopper in the race? The list of issues which John McCain has flipped and flopped on is now so big I can't remember all of them. McCain flip-flops on torture, tax cuts, the religious right, Roe v. Wade, lobbyists, gay marriage, creationism, Iraq, talking to enemies, and just about any other subject you care to name. As a matter of fact, the media is trying to paint Obama as flip-flopping on public financing for his campaign, and yet not a word is said about the fact that John McCain has taken at least three positions on it himself -- including possibly breaking the law when getting a loan for his campaign from a bank. That's right -- McCain flip-flopped on a loan application from a bank. Is that the kind of man Americans want as president? I think not. If you stacked up the flip-flops from Senator Obama, it would be a few pairs of beachwear... whereas if you stacked up Senator McCain's flip-flops it would look like Imelda Marcos' shoe closet."
Senator McCain admits beating his wife?
Well, not really. But that doesn't mean we can't have some fun with it. It's an old joke. It's meant to point out how the media can ask unfair questions, that -- no matter how answered -- make you look bad. The ultimate example of this has always been: "So, Senator, have you stopped beating your wife?"
John McCain didn't make that up. He didn't write the joke. He used it as shorthand between a politician and a reporter to let the reporter know that he considered what he was just asked to be one of those type of questions. The exchange took place with the Las Vegas Sun. McCain was being asked why his campaign chairman was not the governor but the lieutenant governor (the governor is in the midst of a messy divorce). The reporter asked: "Maybe it's the governor's approval rating and you are running from him like you are from the president?" McCain responded, chuckling, "And I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago...."
Like I said, this is kind of an "inside" joke. And I know (as did the reporter, I'm sure) exactly what McCain was referencing, and what point he was trying to make. But, as I said, that still doesn't mean we can't have some fun with it.
"John McCain made a joke recently about spousal abuse. He said -- and I quote -- I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago -- unquote. I think this joke is in extremely bad taste, and I am astonished John McCain said something like this. I think it sends exactly the wrong message to the women of America -- that beating your wife is a joke. Now, John McCain is old enough that when he was a child maybe beating your wife was a joke, but times have changed since then. I guess McCain has not. I think Americans deserve an apology from John McCain for his insensitive and demeaning comment."
This is how you "support the troops" Senator McCain?
Democrats have just passed a new "GI Bill" for the 21st century. They did so over the objections of many Republicans, who felt the bill was too generous for our fighting men and women. John McCain opposed it, and offered a watered-down version in its stead. George Bush threatened to veto it.
But the Democratic version passed, and most Republicans realized they had better vote for it or it was going to be used against them on the campaign trail. The Senate vote was a whopping 92-6. If you add that up, that means two Senators didn't vote on it. Senator Kennedy was absent due to medical problems. Senator McCain was absent due to cowardice.
This one is easy to use as a bludgeon against McCain:
"Senator McCain says over and over again that he 'supports the troops.' But when he could have done just that, he skipped the vote. A new GI Bill was just passed, with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate. Almost every Senator of both parties voted for it. Senator McCain is on the record as being against providing our brave men and women in uniform enough money to go to college when they get home. George Bush even threatened to veto it. But John McCain couldn't even be bothered to show up for the vote -- the most important vote this year for military families. So I guess all that talk about 'supporting the troops' is just talk, huh John?"
Maybe the job is just too much for him
This wasn't the first vote Senator McCain has skipped out on, and it won't be the last, either. John McCain has earned the dubious distinction of being "Most Absent" in the Senate. He has skipped out on more votes than anyone else this term.
"If I was a constituent of Senator John McCain, I would be asking why he has skipped more votes than anyone else in the Senate in the past two years. Arizonans sent McCain to Washington to do a job, and he is just not doing it. If campaigning is taking all of John McCain's energy, and he is too tired to travel back to Washington to perform his duties as a Senator, then maybe he should step down and let someone with more energy and dedication to the job represent Arizona, instead of McCain's empty Senate chair."
Republican? Who, me?
Pity the poor House Republicans. Their campaign committee is sending out a pretty dismal message for their prospects in the election. Here is a recent quote from the committee's communications director: "Any Republican running for office has to run basically on an independent platform, localize the race and not take anything for granted. There are no safe Republican seats in this election."
What they're basically saying is: don't run as a Republican, or you will lose.
That's just stunning.
"I see that Republicans across the country are being told by their own party that they'd better try to run as an independent rather than as a Republican. So I expect we'll see a lot of political ads this year that don't even admit which party the candidate is in. I can just imagine the ad text: 'Republican? Who, me? No, no, you've got it wrong, I'm just a guy running for office who happens to not be a Democrat. Ignore that little "R" next to my name, it is meaningless.' I guess even Republicans are now realizing that their party is bankrupt of ideas. It's rather sad, really, to see a party self-destruct in this fashion."
Grover Norquist's racial outlook
Grover Norquist, Republican gadfly, is apparently pushing for Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to be John McCain's running mate. This will help McCain with minorities, in his opinion.
And yet, in the same article, he is quoted as calling Barack Obama "John Kerry with a tan."
Um, Grover, that might not be the best way to court minorities.
"Grover Norquist was quoted recently calling Barack Obama 'John Kerry with a tan.' This, apparently, is how Republicans try to reach out to minorities. The irony of the situation is, it's things like this that drive minority groups away from the GOP. The only minority the Republicans are going to have to worry about in the future is the concept of their own party as a permanent minority in Washington."
With this flush, I thee honor...
Finally, in an "only in San Francisco" story I commented on earlier this week, the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco looks likely to get their proposition on the ballot this November, as it was reported this week that they'd already gotten more than enough signatures to qualify. The text of their initiative:
Should The City And County of San Francisco Rename The Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant the George W Bush Sewage Plant?
If it qualifies for the ballot it'll be an absolute shoo-in to win (this is, after all, San Francisco we're talking about) -- the only question will be how big a landslide will it win by. Making it just too good for Democrats to pass up getting a good cheap shot in:
"Boy, it must be tough to be a Republican these days. When Ronald Reagan left office, people renamed dozens -- if not hundreds -- of buildings and other memorials for him. When Bush leaves office, the citizens of San Francisco are quite likely going to vote to rename a sewage plant after him. In the future, every time people in San Francisco flush the toilet, they will think of George W. Bush. I can think of no more fitting monument to Bush's presidency, myself. Democracy in action, you might say."
Cross-posted at Democratic Underground
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com