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Chris Weigant

Chris Weigant

Posted: September 19, 2008 07:57 PM

Friday Talking Points [48] -- Throwing Out The Rulebook


Back in Volume 36 of this Friday Talking Points column, I pointed out what seemed to me to be an obvious observation -- that the media was going a lot lighter on John McCain than they were on Barack Obama. This earned me a fair amount of ridicule at the time (and also some support, I should say). Now, however, I can definitively say that this situation has been rectified. Whether it was McCain's campaign cutting off virtually all access to McCain (and literally any access to Palin), whether it was McCain's mudslinging and lies in his ads, or perhaps whether it was McCain manipulating the media after his running mate choice, and then savagely attacking them -- for whatever reason, the mainstream media are now closely examining everything McCain says.

This is quite a change from letting him slide on gaffe after gaffe after gaffe. I wrote on this subject earlier this week in more detail, but since the subject arose here in FTP first, I thought I'd mention it.

But we've got to move along, as there are many things to cover this week. Maybe, since we're in the second year of this column, we should create a motto... something like "longest blog post ever!" or maybe "our readers aren't afraid to read more than three paragraphs!"

Ahem.

No, no, we've got to move along, as I said. No time for such frivolity.

In any case, I mention the press' newfound skepticism of McCain because I wanted to highlight the fact that during the Wall Street meltdown, the media almost unanimously pointed out the fact that McCain was spouting diametrically opposed positions from day to day -- and they even (gasp!) went back a few months to report what both Obama and McCain were saying this March.

In other words, the media collectively committed an act of journalism. What a refreshing change! Keep it up, guys and gals!

Snideness and snarkiness aside, though, there are a few other things worth mentioning. If the blizzard of moose poop coming out of the McCain campaign seems overwhelming, and makes you tend to forget the idiocies from last week while concentrating on fresh, steaming lies... then the Democratic National Committee's "Count the Lies" page is here to help. It's a one-stop shopping place to remind yourself of the mountains of moose manure emanating from McCain and Palin. The count is currently up to 60, and is updated on an almost daily basis, so bookmark it and check back often!

And since I'm plugging things here, I have to point the spotlight on Don Siegelman's plea on Huffington Post to contact Congress to urge them to hold Karl Rove in contempt. Siegelman was personally affected by Rovian evil, and spent months in jail as a result of Rove's political witchhunt. So he's got a personal stake in this effort. I urge you to read his story, and email your Representative and Senators. Congress won't be in session much longer, so this is the last chance to hold Rove and the Bush administration responsible, and you can do your bit to help.

With that out of the way, let's dig in to the awards this week.

 

Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

Barack Obama's speaking style has dramatically improved this week, getting much sharper and more concise. So while this doesn't rise to the level of a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, Obama and his coaches certainly are worthy of an Honorable Mention here.

The really impressive story from last week unfortunately does not qualify for a MIDOTW award, since the woman's not a Democrat. But it's worth a mention here anyways. In an "only in Vermont" story, Progressive Party's candidate for state Attorney General Charlotte Dennett is running on an unusual platform:

[Charlotte] Dennett, 61, the Progressive Party's candidate for Vermont Attorney General, said Thursday she will prosecute President Bush for murder if she's elected Nov. 4.

Dennett, an attorney and investigative journalist, says Bush must be held accountable for the deaths of thousands of people in Iraq -- U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians. She believes the Vermont attorney general would have jurisdiction to do so.

She also said she would appoint a special prosecutor and already knows who that should be: former Los Angeles prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, the author of "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder," a new book.

"Someone has to step forward," said Dennett, flanked by Bugliosi at a news conference announcing her plan. "Someone has to say we cannot put up with this lack of accountability any more."

Bugliosi's not just an author, it should be pointed out, he was the prosecutor of Charles Manson.

But while this would doubtlessly have won her this week's MIDOTW award, the word "Democrat" is right there in the title, so due to this technicality Dennett has to be disqualified.

Because the award this week goes to an unlikely pair, Senators Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and Dianne Feinstein of California. Feingold and Feinstein introduced a bill which would require the Attorney General to tell Congress every time the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) decides that the president is not bound by some law or another. From Feingold's introductory statement to the bill:

The Bush administration has relied heavily on secret OLC opinions in a broad range of matters involving core constitutional rights and civil liberties. The administration's policies on interrogation of detainees were justified by OLC opinions that were withheld from Congress and the public for several years. The President's warrantless wiretapping program was justified by OLC opinions that, to this day, have been seen only by a select few Members of Congress. And, when it was finally made public this year, the March 2003 memorandum on torture written by John Yoo was filled with references to other OLC memos that Congress and the public have never seen -- on subjects ranging from the Government's ability to detain U.S. citizens without congressional authorization to the Government's ability to operate outside the Fourth Amendment in domestic military operations.

The few opinions whose content has been made public share a notable characteristic: the conclusion that various laws enacted by Congress do not apply to the conduct of the executive branch. The 2003 Yoo torture memo took the alarming position that the executive branch was not bound by the criminal statute prohibiting torture when interrogating detainees. Likewise, according to congressional testimony of former OLC head Steve Bradbury, the President's warrantless wiretapping program was supported by OLC opinions claiming that the President's wiretapping authority was not limited by the constraints of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The titles of other OLC opinions referenced in the Yoo memo strongly suggest that other statutory constraints have been disposed of in a similar manner.

The secrecy of these opinions cannot be justified or explained away by a wholesale claim of privilege.

For this effort, Senators Feinstein and Feingold both earn this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award -- the second time both have won the coveted Golden Backbone!

[Congratulate Senator Russ Feingold on his Senate contact page and Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

While I considered giving the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week to either Pelosi and Reid -- or possibly every Democrat in Congress -- for deciding that the rest of the year is a total loss and just adjourning Congress and going home, it hasn't actually happened yet, so it'll have to wait.

Instead, it's going to be merely a ten-way tie. The so-called "Gang of Twenty" in the Senate today announced that the Senate won't even bother voting on the House energy plan which allows some new offshore drilling, as well as some Democratic proposals like repealing massive tax breaks for the oil companies. Rather than force John McCain to vote against what he says he supports -- an energy plan that has a little bit of everything (call it the "Paris Hilton Energy Plan" if you must) -- ten Democratic senators have allowed the Republicans political cover to punt the issue until after the election. They're not exactly bragging about who is on the list, but from the original "Gang of Ten" list and the subsequent "Gang of Sixteen" list, we were able to come up with the names of eight of the ten Democrats who are part of this effort.

They are: Tom Carper (DE), Kent Conrad (ND), Tim Johnson (SD), Mary Landrieu (LA), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Mark Pryor (AR), and Ken Salazar (CO).

Anyone with the names of the other two, please post them in the comments, so we can make sure the awards go to the right place.

For torpedoing a good issue for Democrats to campaign on, these ten Democrats have earned their Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards. For shame, Senators, for shame!

[With so many winners this week, you'll have to search the Senate's main page for contact information, to let them know what you think of their actions.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 48 (9/19/08)

Barack Obama never gets a break from people telling him what he's doing right (or wrong). The media, in particular, love to hit him for being (depending on what day it is) either not specific enough, or too specific. Well, you just can't please everybody.

I think Obama's actually had a great week. He's getting a lot tighter on the stump, his soundbite lines have improved dramatically, and he and Biden seem to be meshing nicely in style. This is a marked improvement over last week.

Some have panned Obama's recent two-minute-long ad on the economy, but even that may pay off with the average voters scorned by the jaded media types. Maybe someone sitting down and explaining what he thinks America should do, and talking to voters like adults, will pay some dividends on Election Day. It's certainly worth a shot.

In general, though, Obama's willingness to stand up and fight for his beliefs, his good name, and his plans for the future have resonated among voters tired of McCain and Palin's seething rage. This is doubtlessly why Obama's poll numbers have recovered, and why McCain's convention bounce has melted like the Alaska snow in the springtime (...or maybe "summertime"... when the heck does the snow melt up there?).

I only have two quick suggestions for Obama up front here. The first is to not be afraid of painting everything with a broad "Republican" brush. If you read what Obama says, it is fine and good, but he needs to start using the actual word "Republican" in every sentence that also contains "John McCain", "George Bush", or "this administration's policies." John McCain would actually prefer that people not remember that he is a Republican, so this needs reinforcement every chance Democrats get. "John McCain and the Republicans" instead of just "John McCain." You get the picture -- "Republican, Republican, Republican."

The second issue is more for surrogates than Obama himself. John McCain came out with another "senior moment" and seemed to think Spain was a part of Latin America. This one writes itself -- whatever you say about it, just make sure you get the word "confused" in there somewhere.

With this minor business out of the way, we come to the Talking Points. Rather than break them up and number them this week, I offer a speech Barack Obama should give on the economy. He's been saying all the right things on the stump, he just hasn't managed to use simple language that people can universally relate to. "The economy" is such a large and complex thing that most voters' eyes kind of glaze over whenever the subject comes up. This needs to change, by concentrating on a key difference between Republican philosophy and Democratic philosophy -- which is how we got into the mess we're in now. Frame the entire thing as "this is what we think, this is how the other party thinks." And keep it to the core issue, not what is going on right now with A.I.G. or Freddie Mac or any of the rest of it.

So, here is my humble offering for a speech Obama could use to bring the entire subject home to Americans.

 

A Speech For Obama

[Ideally, Obama should give this speech in a high school basketball gym.]

I'd like to talk about the economy today.

You may have heard recently that the economy is in a "crisis." You hear things on the news, and it worries you. Wall Street seems to be crumbling. But it can be hard to get a sense of what is really happening; with this business failing, and that one being propped up by the government. It all sounds very complicated.

Well, let me explain it to you in terms everyone can understand. Does everyone know how to play basketball? (wait for response) Good! You see, basketball is a game that has certain rules. Players have to follow the rules, or else there's a penalty. Now imagine playing a die-hard game of basketball without any rules or penalties. You know what happens if you play basketball -- or any sport, really -- without any rules? Somebody usually winds up getting hurt. That's why we have the rules in the first place -- to allow for hard play but not dangerous play. And to keep the game fair for everyone.

What is happening now on Wall Street is the result of basic Republican dogma, which is to "deregulate" everything in sight. Now, the word "deregulate" is just a fancy way of saying "playing without rules." Regulations are the rules which governments lay down for businesses to follow. These rules are there for a reason -- to avoid injury, and to keep the game fair for everyone. But the Republican way of thinking has always been to just throw out the rulebook. That's right -- just chuck it out!

Republicans will tell you that they "trust" the markets to "self-regulate." "Self-regulate" -- just think about that for a moment. That's what Republicans actually believe -- that the fat cats on Wall Street are going to do what is best for the American economy as a whole, instead of just concentrating on making a quick buck. But what Wall Street cares about is precisely that -- make a quick buck, no matter who gets hurt as a result. Boost your company's quarterly earnings by firing thousands! Close a factory and your stock goes up a few points!

Well, Main Street America has seen the result of that. And we certainly don't need four more years of it.

And I'll tell you -- it's not like this hasn't happened before. It's not like they didn't know what they were doing. You don't need a blue-ribbon commission to figure that out, you just need to remember the last few decades of Republican thinking. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan deregulated the Savings and Loan industry. It seemed to do well for a few years, and then it collapsed. And taxpayers paid the bill. John McCain was in Washington, helping the fat cats.

Deregulation of the financial markets should have died right there, but when Republicans took back Congress, they decided to try the same scheme for investment banking -- just throw out the rulebook and hope everything goes well. Once again, it seemed to go well for a few years. But now here we are at the end of the process, with the taxpayers once again being asked to bail out the entire mess.

So instead of focusing on each company as it fails, look for the underlying reason for the failures -- which is letting Wall Street play by its own rules. And you don't have to look very far to see who is responsible. Senator Phil Gramm was the architect of deregulating the markets that are failing right now. He personally wrote the deregulation bill that caused this disaster. Up until just recently, he was John McCain's chief economic advisor. John McCain earlier in the campaign said he didn't know much about the economy, so he hired Phil Gramm to teach him. Phil isn't around on the campaign any more, because he slipped up and said exactly what Republicans have been saying all along behind closed doors -- that America was a "nation of whiners" and that our economic problems were all in our heads. That we were going through a "mental recession."

You know what, Phil? When you throw out the rulebook, people get hurt. Average Americans get hurt when wheeler-dealers on Wall Street gamble with their future. And it's not all in our heads. Republicans want to somehow blame this financial meltdown on you -- hard-working Americans. It's not "whining" to point out America is in a tough economic place right now. John McCain's health care advisor recently suggested solving the health insurance crisis by not counting people who are uninsured anymore, because "they can always just go to the emergency room." That is the Republican answer for all of this -- ignore the problem, because you are on your own. Don't look for government to save you, because government is bad.

Until it happens to Wall Street, that is, then it's our duty as taxpayers to bail out CEOs making millions. And companies that were playing by their own rules. John McCain and the media seem to have just discovered this week that the economy is in bad shape. I've known it all along, and I've said it over and over on the campaign trail -- we've got to fix the rules so the middle class can prosper again in this country.

Because letting Wall Street play games with no rules is not an answer! The answer is to put some smart rules back in place. Level the playing field and let the refs do their job, in other words.

Now, I've been calling for stricter regulation of Wall Street for a long time now. John McCain has been calling for stricter regulation of Wall Street since... (asks audience)... what time is it? (pause for laughter)

Earlier this week, McCain said the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Then he said he was against regulations. That was, of course, before he came out the next day and did a big 180 on both issues. Now he says he's for more regulation. He thinks if he says the word "reform" enough times, people will be so stupefied they won't bother looking at his record.

Because John McCain has been one of the biggest champions of deregulation in the Senate. He agrees with his party that regulations are evil and must be removed. Here are some quotes from John McCain. In 1995 he said that excessive regulations were "destroying the American family, the American dream." In 2000, when running for president, he boasted he was "for smaller government, for less regulation." And just last year, he told the Wall Street Journal that he was "the greatest deregulator you will ever interview."

That, taken with the dozens and dozens of times he has voted in the Senate to deregulate just about everything, is John McCain's record. But you know what? He is wrong. We will not forget his record. He can shout "reform" until he's blue in the face, but the fact remains that up until a few days ago -- when he flip-flopped for political reasons -- John McCain tried to be the "greatest deregulator" he could be.

And you know what, John? The American people have seen the results, and they don't like it. Deregulation has caused the problems we are in now. There -- I just saved you the trouble of convening your blue-ribbon commission! Deregulation is the problem. John McCain is a big part of that problem. Just this March, when I was calling for sensible regulation of Wall Street, John McCain was still boasting he was for "less regulation." Just last week he still thought deregulation was a good idea. Then, a few days ago, when it became obvious to everyone that there were problems with this risky scheme, John McCain decided that he better change his tune, or nobody would vote for him. Now he's a big champion of shaking up Wall Street.

There's a better way, people. There's a better way of dealing with Wall Street than the same tired old Republican playbook. Instead of letting Wall Street play by its own rules, you have to lay down the law to them and tell them the rules that they need to follow. Just like on a basketball court -- you've got to play by the rules. To avoid injury. And to make the game fair.

If you don't believe me, just think about this for a second -- if John McCain and George Bush had had their way, we might have privatized Social Security right now. Which would mean that the mess on Wall Street would affect every single retiree in the country. It's a good thing Democrats fought back against such risky schemes, and fought for the average worker!

That is what I have always been for, and that is what I have said my entire campaign. That's why I think I have the judgment to be president. John McCain offers nothing but stale Republican ideas which were disproven back in the Savings and Loan crisis. Until it all falls apart, that is -- then he magically decides my way of thinking has been right all along. That's not leadership, John.

It's astounding to me, but McCain and Palin won't even fully release their tax returns to the public, and yet they want us to trust them with the entire American economy? They don't even trust you to see their tax returns, and yet you're supposed to trust them when they say they have no conflicts of interest?

You have a clear choice in this election. I will fight for the middle class, for jobs, and for tax cuts for 95% of workers. John McCain will fight for tax cuts for the big corporations and the fat cats on Wall Street. The choice is obvious.

Thanks for your time. See you in November.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com

Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground