09/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Friday Talking Points [42] -- Get Up, Stand Up, Barack

I have to assume if you're reading this that you're sick of the Olympics already. Wow, that was fast. Is NBC's coverage going to be twice as bad as last time around, or will they go for the gold and make it four times as bad?


Sorry, I'm in a snarky mood today. So if you're allergic to snark, I'd suggest you go back to watching the Lichtensteinian athletes walk around the field. Or whatever's currently on....

Today's Friday Talking Points column is a bit more free-form than normal. Very quickly, we will award this week's prizes, and then get on to the heart of the matter -- trying to convince Barack Obama that it's time to get up off the mat, dust yourself off, and throw a few punches. Because although Obama has a commanding lead on the state-wide level, that lead could evaporate quickly under a barrage of slime and mud from the McCain camp. Democrats across the country are holding their collective breath, waiting to see whether Obama will wind up being another Kerry, or wind up being another Bill Clinton. Kerry famously "was above" responding to August attacks. Clinton had a War Room which responded forcefully to attacks (even the true ones -- remember the phrase "bimbo eruption" from the 1992 campaign?) immediately, and within the same news cycle. Kerry, of course, lost. Clinton won.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

So, very quickly here, the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to... surprise!... Barack Obama. Because although he didn't get more than a few soundbites on the air, and while most of it flew under the media's (and the American public's) radar, Obama actually has been trying to fight back. He's criticized McCain all week long, in specific ways, on a daily basis. Maybe he's not very good at it, but if he gets a little better this could be a sign of a whole new Barack Obama. Personally, I'm optimistic, which is why I'm awarding Obama the coveted MIDOTW award. Not many people noticed Obama being impressive, but I have to say I did.


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

The Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week goes to Barack Obama's War Room. You guys have just got to get faster at this. When McCain attacks, immediately phone up all the media with your side of the story, conveniently packaged in a wowser of a soundbite that the mainstream media loves so dearly. Get up, stand up! RIGHT AWAY! Now, Obama couldn't have won MIDOTW if you folks weren't doing something right, so there is room for improvement here, I would think. But you simply have to get better -- and, much more importantly, faster -- at what you do.


Which leads right into my introduction to today's special Barack Obama Edition of talking points. Because, although Obama has shown a good deal of backbone this week, and although he is hitting back with the help of his War Room, there is a large piece missing from this puzzle -- defining your opponent by telling his story with your frame around it.

To understand this, consider the following quote from John McCain. The "he" McCain keeps referencing is Obama:

"Government is too big, he wants to grow it. Taxes are too high, he wants to raise them. Congress spends too much and he proposes more. We need more energy and he's against producing it. We're finally winning in Iraq, and he wants to forfeit."

See, that's why Democrats get beat at this "defining your opponent" stuff by Republicans so often. They know what they're doing. This should not be taken lightly. This is why Republicans win elections that everyone predicts Democrats should win. Because they know how to frame the issue to effectively resonate with the average guy or gal listening to that speech.

This is also why Democrats are so open to attacks as "elitists" and even "latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, arugula-buying liberals," who (of course) don't understand you, Mr. and Mrs. American. Especially when they don't fight back.

Because somewhere along the way, on the journey from being ordinary people to being politicians, Democrats seem to forget how to actually talk to people (the soi-disant Joe and Jane Sixpack) in their own common vernacular -- which actually communicates the basic philosophy of their message, both effectively and persuasively at the same time, while remaining eloquent and succinct throughout.

Like that whole last paragraph I just wrote, for instance.

How about this, instead: "Democrats can't shoot the breeze -- and they sure can't trash talk -- the way those Republicans can."

Now some might accuse me of cynicism (I get that a lot, actually), or of feeding into the old Washington adage: "Sincerity is crucial. Once you can fake that, you've got it made." I disagree. As Drew Westen said in his recent article at Huffington Post, you've got to tell people a story. It's got to be a compelling story. And you can't stop with just your story. You've got to tell the story of the other guy, too. You've got to define him in your terms, ones that everyone can relate to, and why you're better. You must do this in order to defeat him in an election. And Democrats have an unbelievably hard time learning this lesson.

Go back and read that quote from McCain. Other than "proposes", "produces" and "forfeit" is there a word in there that is beyond the understanding of the average second-grader? In just forty-five words, anyone listening to that speech has learned: (1) Obama wants a bigger government, (2) Obama will raise your taxes -- you, sir, that's right, you there -- he will raise your taxes, probably the first day he's in office, (3) Obama loves spending, (4) Obama is against gas prices coming down, and finally... by the way, (5) Obama wants to surrender Iraq to the terrorists -- who knows, he may be one himself.

All that -- in just forty-five words. Who cares how accurate any of these attacks are? They are all simple ideas, which tell the story: "Obama is just another liberal who hates America and wants to see you, your job, your pride, and your country fail at everything, all the time." This story has been told over and over again to America by Republicans, so it all fits in to their overarching narrative. That's why it sounds so familiar to everyone. And, more importantly, why it sounds believable.

What has Obama said about McCain that resonates with the same urgency, or the same sort of story-telling?

This is serious business, I should point out. Tony Sachs wrote an amusing (but scary) article this week, instructing Obama how he can manage to continue the Democratic streak of losing big elections which they should (by all rights) have won, by just following his five rules. Like I said, it's amusing -- but also scary. Because, as I said, this is serious business.

I personally refuse to stand by and let Barack Obama follow those five rules. There is a way to combat this type of rhetoric, and so... since Obama is on vacation for the next week... I'd like to offer the following as "summer reading" for him. This is the type of speech an ENORMOUS amount of Democrats are waiting for him to give. This is the type of speech that fights back. This is the type of thing that needs saying, not because it is "negative campaigning" (Democrats really need to get over being afraid of that term... negative campaigning does not equal mudslinging, and should be embraced responsibly), not because it is an "attack" on McCain (it is defense against McCain's mudslinging), and not only because it is effective. This needs saying if Barack Obama is going to win this election. Because otherwise he will go down in history as: "Barack Obama -- Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, who did not learn the lessons of John Kerry's swiftboating, and (as a result) lost the election to President McCain."

And that is not something I am willing to accept. Or condone. Not when I have a soapbox which could conceivably reach Barack Obama, and his campaign team.

If I had to send this to them as a telegram (boy, that's really going to date me), this is what my basic message would be, in proper telegram form:





So, anyway, this week, instead of seven discrete (but never discreet!) Friday Talking Points, I offer up instead a whole speechful of talking points, without numbers. This is a speech I would dearly love to see Obama make... perhaps on the first campaign stop after he comes back from his weeklong vacation.

Oh, and just a piece of advice, Senator Obama. While out in Hawai'i, don't get photographed windsurfing. Because we've already seen that movie, and we know how it ends.

Not again. Please... not again.


Friday Talking Points

Volume 42 (8/8/08)

John McCain must think American voters are stupid. That's the only conclusion I can come up with, after seeing some of his recent campaign ads. John McCain thinks Americans are so dumb they'll believe anything.

He's trying to paint me as some sort of out-of-touch elitist, some sort of empty-headed celebrity who doesn't understand the average American's life. I have to assume he thinks the voters are dumb, because you'd have to be pretty dumb to believe that I am somehow "the elitist" in this race.

I'd like to ask Senator McCain a few questions -- starting with why he has such a low opinion of your intelligence. Does John McCain think that Americans are such idiots that they won't notice his own lavish lifestyle? Senator McCain, I'd like to ask you a few questions about your life, to see which one of us truly does live like a rock star, and which one of us knows how average Americans live.

Has John McCain or anyone in his immediate family ever had to take out a student loan to go to college? I just paid mine off, a milestone for any American who has had to work to get through college, instead of it being handed to him on a plate. How many of you know about student loans? Yeah? You do? So do I. And yet, John McCain wants you to believe he is more in touch with average Americans like you, even though he wouldn't know what a student loan form looked like if it came up and bit him on the ankle. But remember that according to John, Obama is the elitist.

I'd like to ask John just how many houses he and his wife actually own. And how much the cheapest of these houses is worth. How many average Americans own this many homes, or homes worth this much? And how many of those average Americans are struggling to pay the mortgage on just one house? I wonder how many servants the McCains have on their payroll -- just to keep all those houses looking nice. And yet, John McCain thinks he's more in touch with average Americans, as he decides every night just which of the many houses he owns he'd like to sleep in. Yet, Obama is somehow the celebrity, not this man with a such a wide choice of places to rest his head. According to John.

John's wife was recently quoted saying "in Arizona, the only way to get around the state is by small private plane." Wow. That must be nice, huh? I wonder what all of his constituents stuck in traffic would have to say about that. Maybe they can all eat some cake while sitting in their cars in Arizona. But remember, John McCain is supposed to be more in touch with those commuters than I am, because I am somehow above all that. Sounds like McCain's the one who is "above" all those people, in his wife's private plane. No wonder he can't see their needs, at that distance.

The McCains have reportedly spent over three-quarters of a million dollars -- in ONE MONTH -- on their credit cards during this campaign. Now, I don't know how many of you out there have ever spent seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars on a credit card. I certainly haven't. How many of you think you'll spend that much on your credit cards in your entire life? And yet, the McCains spent that much money in one month's time, just on their credit cards alone. But remember, Obama is the elitist in this campaign, who doesn't understand the working man and woman's problems. The McCains charge more money than most people see in their lives on plastic in one month's time... and yet somehow Obama is the one living a celebrity lifestyle. It just boggles the mind. How dumb does John McCain think you all are?

When my wife went on national television, she wore a dress she bought in a store that you folks would probably shop in. She bought it off the rack. Do you think you'd ever bump into Cindy McCain in a store where you shop? Cindy McCain is a long way from Pat Nixon's "respectable Republican cloth coat," I can tell you that. But remember, the Obamas are the ones living the celebrity lifestyle. The Obamas are the ones who live such a elite life that they can't understand average Americans. According to John. Even though you could actually meet my wife shopping in a store that you shop in -- a store Cindy McCain probably wouldn't be caught dead in.

Forgive me for talking so much about John McCain's wife. I am not attacking her here, I just want to know what John McCain's personal finances are. My wife and I have released all of our tax returns -- every single page -- for recent years. Cindy McCain files taxes separately from her husband, and to date has put out two pages of one year's worth of her taxes, because she wants to hide everything else from the American public. Somehow it's not relevant to the American people how a presidential candidate's wife makes her money, or how much money she makes. This is transparency? This is leveling with the American public? But remember, Obama is the one living a lavish celebrity lifestyle with elitist disdain for the little people, according to John.

Budweiser -- a historically American-owned business -- is getting sold to a foreign company. That's right -- crack a Bud, and from now on Belgium is going to pocket the profits. Will this profit the McCains, since Cindy's family money comes from a Budweiser beer distributor? Who knows? Because Cindy refuses to show American voters her tax returns, we just don't know how much the McCains will profit from this deal. Say what you want about my wife, but she's not going to rake in millions of dollars from selling an American icon to foreigners. Whether John McCain will or not, we just don't know, because his wife won't let you see her tax returns. And yet, according to John, I'm the one who is supposed to be elitist. Michelle and I show America our tax returns (because we have nothing to hide), and John McCain and his wife can't do the same because they want to hide how wealthy they truly are, and what possible financial influences are buried there... and yet I'm the one who is supposed to be out of touch with the common man? Just how ridiculous is that?

Now, I know what the media story is going to be after this speech. It's going to be about how Barack Obama went negative. I reject that interpretation -- I am defending my good name from negative attacks which originated from John McCain, whose "I'm John McCain and I approved this ad" line appears on all of them. That's right -- John McCain personally is approving these attacks on me and my character -- and he doesn't even care that the media has universally called his ads lies -- he still pays money to air them. This is disgusting not just because it is the usual Republican line of attack, but because John McCain himself promised America he was not going to do this, just a few months ago. That's right -- John McCain stood before America and lied. He said he would run a clean campaign. He said he didn't like ads which personally attacked his opponent. When he said that, he lied to every one of you.

And yet, Barack Obama is supposed to be lying to America about who he is. Well, you know what? I trust America knows the difference between a smear ad, and defending your good name from mudslinging. And I trust American voters know the difference between style and substance. I think Americans will trust me to keep my word, unlike John McCain, who has already broken his word to American voters in the kind of campaign he was going to run. I would have loved to have run the most high-level campaign in American history against John McCain, and I took him at his word that that's what we were going to do. But he has allowed the lobbyists, the Washington insiders, and the people trained by Karl Rove to take over his campaign. When faced with this level of falsehood from my opponent, I have to defend my good name in the only way I know how. Which is to point out the falsehood of the caricature my opponent is trying to fit me into.

While for the past month or so Americans everywhere have been paying top dollar to the oil companies to fill up their gas tanks in order to get to work, drive their kids to softball practice, and go shopping -- in this same period of time, John McCain has been snowed under by hundreds of thousands of dollars coming to his campaign from the oil companies. That's a direct connection Americans need to make -- their money, paying for gas at the pump, going into John McCain's campaign coffers, so that he can fool you into thinking that what's good for the oil companies is good for America, and especially that what's good for the oil companies is good for you. Think about that the next time you fill up for gas. Your money. Oil companies' profits. John McCain, who will protect those obscene profits. Campaign contributions. Bought and paid for. Because John McCain puts oil company profits above the pain at the pump. That's why they're paying him good money -- your good money -- to convince you that paying all that money is a good thing -- and should continue forever, instead of changing the whole equation. John McCain doesn't want to tax these oil companies and give the money back to you, as I have proposed. He's against you getting some of that money back. He's not against him getting that money in campaign contributions, he's against you getting that money. And yet somehow Barack Obama is the one who doesn't understand the way the common man sees energy prices. John McCain is somehow their champion, when he takes your money from the oil companies just to get elected. But that's the picture John wants you to believe. Call it the world according to John.

The funniest thing to me about the campaign over the last few months is that John McCain is supposed to be some sort of stand-up guy for veterans' benefits. John McCain, is (of course) a veteran himself. He gets regular checks to pay for his veterans' benefits. Also, of course, he gets checks from the federal government for his Social Security, since he's at the age when most Americans retire. And, of course, he also gets his Senate paycheck. For someone so against the big bad federal government, it's astounding how many checks John McCain gets each month from them. Triple-dipping into the taxpayer's dime... John McCain, if he truly believes his own rhetoric, shouldn't be getting so much free money from all of our taxes. Of course, I reject such Republican rhetoric. Retirees should get their full Social Security benefit, since they've paid into it over a long lifetime of work. And I can't argue with my own Senate salary. But to me, it is hypocritical of John McCain to take money as a veteran, while opposing bills that help today's veterans.

The Webb GI Bill, which Democrats passed over heavy Republican resistance -- including a veto threat from George Bush -- gives today's soldiers a chance to actually afford college, much like the original GI Bill's intent, passed after World War II. John McCain actively opposed this bill. He seemed to think it was too expensive. He said it was too generous. That's right -- John McCain and George Bush thought Democrats were being too generous to veterans. He thought that the troops on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan today didn't deserve this much money, because it might persuade them not to re-enlist. He didn't even have the courage to show up to vote against the new GI Bill, even though he publicly opposed it. I made time in my campaign schedule to show up on the Senate floor to vote for this bill, because I thought that the idea of giving too much money to our brave soldiers is ridiculous. Democrats fought for the GI Bill, against John McCain.

And yet, if you listen to the McCain campaign's ads, Barack Obama is the one who is anti-American, and anti-military. Well, you know what, Senator McCain? I am pro-veteran and I honored every veteran I represent in the state of Illinois when I showed up to vote for that bill. You told the veterans in Arizona you were against them getting more money, and then you shamefully didn't even bother to show up for the vote. So I think American voters are smart enough to know who truly does support our soldiers, and who does not. By our voting records in the Senate. Which, incidentally, is the third paycheck John McCain is supposedly "earning," even though he has been AWOL on more votes in the Senate this year than any other Senator.

But remember, according to John, Obama is the celebrity. According to John, Obama is the elitist. Well, you know what John? When you're not busy flying around in your private plane between your many houses, and when you're not busy charging hundreds of thousands of dollars on your credit cards, when you're not busy hiding your wife's money from the public, when you're not busy lying to the American people about what type of campaign you're going to run, and when you're not busy cashing checks from oil companies, when you're not too busy ducking important votes in the Senate because you don't want to pay veterans a fair amount, when you're not too busy on your campaign to convince America that Barack Obama is some elitist who wouldn't know an average American if he met one, if you're not too busy with your advisors coming up with more ads that lie about me, I'd like some answers to these questions. You can start with "how many houses do the McCains own?" and take it from there. Because I think the American people deserve some answers. I think the American people are smart enough to realize that the world according to John is a fantasy world, and they'd like to get back to the world Barack Obama and the American voter live in.

That's the difference between me and John McCain. I don't think the American public is stupid. According to John McCain, he must think you're stupid. And after all, isn't that really one definition of the word "elitist" -- thinking you're more intelligent than the public? Personally, I think the American voter is smarter than that. John McCain obviously does not.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

Full archives of FTP columns:

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground


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