First off, happy May Day to everyone!
OK, with that out of the way, we must (sadly) turn our eyes to the Republican Party. Because they appear to be losing all touch with reality, so it's best to keep an eye on them at this point. For starters, they are calling a special Republican National Committee meeting in the next month to vote on (as if they could) forcing their opposition to change their name to what is variously described as the "Socialist Democratic Party" or the "Democratic Socialist Party" (as well as variations where they intentionally leave out the "-ic" just to twist the knife).
I'm serious -- you just can't make this stuff up. The most pressing thing to the GOP right now is throwing a tantrum. No wonder the public is leaving their party in droves.
During this party meeting, in addition to the all-important issue of having a meaningless vote on a rightwinger's wet dream, they are also going to have a return of their party leadership battle, as the faction that lost attempts to take away the power of the purse from chairman Michael Steele. While unified in their hatred of all things Democratic, they are going to show some more party unity... by refighting a factional power struggle.
Steele, meanwhile, just agreed with a caller on a radio show that Barack Obama is a "magic Negro." Again, you just can't make this stuff up. Steele, if you've been in a coma for a few months, is African-American himself.
Then there is Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, who (in a continuing effort by the GOP to bring back the Cold War) recently compared the BCS college football playoff scheme to "communism." Somebody needs to wake him up and tell him he's a few decades out of date.
This week we also had Republican House member Virginia Foxx calling Matthew Shepard's murder (which inspired a lot of "hate crime" legislation) merely "a hoax" and not a hate crime at all.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader John Boehner -- removing all doubt that his title means "leader of the party with fewest votes" and not... you know, "leader of minorities" or anything like that -- thinks all the voters need in order to rally 'round the Republican brand is a good dose of fear. Which, incidentally enough, has an image of President Obama meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, among the images of terrorists and fear-mongering. That'll get the voters to love the brand again and build your party's base with new voters, right?
Republicans up in Michigan actually did try to figure out why their party is shrinking before their very eyes by hiring someone to figure it out, but then they fired their Republican consultant when he told them things they didn't want to hear (like: "maybe we should change something").
Meanwhile down in Louisiana, Republican diaper aficionado Senator David Vitter may face a primary challenge by Stormy Daniels, a porn star. The DraftStormy Campaign is launching her on a statewide "listening tour" and says "the voters of Louisiana are ready for change and look forward to bringing honesty, integrity, and strength of character back to the United States Senate."
You just can't make this stuff up, folks.
But I saved the best for last. The week started out with the bombshell that Republican Senator Arlen Specter switched parties and will now call himself a Democrat. Republican reaction was swift, and stupid. You see, in Republicanland, it's actually a good thing when the party loses members. No, seriously.
A few lonely voices crying in the Republican wilderness had some sane things to say, but for the most part rightwingers were spinning so hard there was a tornado warning in Washington. OK, I admit I made that part up. But still, even though earlier this week I wrote that it is too soon to predict the demise of the Republican Party, I have to say they have officially entered Cuckoo-Bananas Territory.
And this has all been in the past week alone.
So, in a bipartisan spirit of compromise, I'd like to propose the following: the Democratic Party will rename itself to the Democratic Socialist Party, if-and-only-if the Republican Party takes their cue from (British) Screaming Lord Sutch, and renames itself as the American branch of the Monster Raving Loony Party. Because from the outside looking in, the Republican strategy is starting to look suspiciously as insane as the Monster Raving Looney Party's proposals.
What do you say, guys? Do we have a deal?
But I didn't mean to write the whole column today about Republicans, so let's move on to the Democrats and hand out some awards, shall we?
Two Democrats share this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. The first is Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who waged a valiant battle for a bankruptcy bill which would have allowed bankruptcy judges to change the terms of a petitioner's mortgage to allow them to get themselves out of debt. This is the way it used to be, until the law was changed a few years back at the behest of the banking industry.
Said banking industry, of course, fought Durbin's bill tooth and nail. End result: twelve (or was it eleven?) Democrats voted against it, and it failed (and is likely dead for the rest of the year). Which led Durbin to utter the quote of the week: "And the banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place."
But Durbin will have to share the MIDOTW award this week with Senator Arlen Specter. Sure, he's voted a few times against the president (this week alone). And sure, there was that whole Anita Hill thing, too. But Specter's self-serving defection to the Democratic Party is very big -- indeed, earthshaking -- news, in the world of politics. So I am making a new policy (which I will, of course, feel free to break if absolutely necessary): any Republican who follows Specter's footsteps and crosses over gets an automatic MIDOTW award that week, just for doing so.
I'm just doing my little bit to sweeten the pot, as it were.
Pennsylvania voters will have a chance very soon to either approve of this switch or vote Specter out, so time will tell whether Specter will make a worthy Democrat or not (just as time will tell whether the party fights Harry Reid's offer of full seniority to Specter on committee assignments after the 2010 elections -- even if Specter does get re-elected).
But I'd like to welcome Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party, and also honor Dick Durbin for his efforts on the bankruptcy bill as well. Both have earned their Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
First off, every Democrat who voted against Durbin's bill gets an automatic (Dis-)Honorable Mention here. While some of them tried to explain themselves, it sounded pretty thin to me, because all I could hear were cash registers ringing in the background. If any of these folks had never taken a dime from the banking industry, then I'd be happy to sit down and listen to their reasoned argument about why they voted against it. Anyone? Anyone at all?
I didn't think so.
And while Vice President Joe Biden has been getting a lot of grief over some comments he made on the flu scare, for me it doesn't rise to the level of the MDDOTW award, it's just (as Craig Ferguson said during the campaign) Biden "being all Biden-ey." What he said would have made sense in any bar, coffee shop, or water cooler across America, and nobody would have been shocked if an average guy or gal said it -- but Biden isn't exactly an average guy or gal anymore, he is now one heartbeat away from the presidency. So he really should think these things through a bit before going on the air. But it's just not that disappointing to me.
[Full disclosure, also see Program Note at end: In an interview today, I not only (gasp!) made a Biden joke, but also botched the delivery of a swine flu joke as well, so I'd like to (in Biden fashion, this week) "revise and extend" this joke for you here now: "When I first heard the term 'swine flu,' I thought it was the past tense of 'when pigs fly' -- you know, 'didja see how that swine flew?' "
OK, this comedy stuff is a lot harder than it looks, I will fully admit....]
Ahem. Where was I?
Right -- the MDDOTW presentation. This week, in a surprise move, President Barack Obama (because the buck stops with him) wins the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, for trying to quietly (in the hopes nobody would notice, no doubt) walk back their commitment to repeal (and not just "change") the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy on gays in the military. AMERICAblog has the whole story, from beginning to end. The White House swears Obama hasn't changed positions, but I smell some creeping incrementalism here. And it don't smell pretty.
Unless Obama himself steps up and publicly takes someone else to task for changing this language, he gets this week's award for now. Sure, he had a great week overall, what with Specter, a pretty darn successful first 100 days in office, and a wide-ranging and policy-setting primetime press conference -- but then all of that is only par for the course for this president. So, Obama fans, sorry I have to focus on the one blemish of the week, but it is a serious one, because this is how campaign promises fade away in Washington, and it needs to be strongly pointed out. They've since changed some of the language back, but they need to go further and restore the word "repeal."
[Contact President Barack Obama at WhiteHouse.gov to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 75 (5/1/09)
But perhaps I'm being too hard on President Obama. He did, after all, give a spectacularly competent press conference this week, where he defined a few things and framed a few things that truly needed it. I wrote about this yesterday, especially how he framed the issue of "bipartisanship" and how he laughed off the "Obama is a socialist" rumor at the very end. Both displayed the same poise we got used to on the campaign trail, and show that both he and -- to be fair -- the media themselves are settling in to the whole press conference scene.
So it's not like Obama had a particularly bad week. Quite the opposite, in fact.
But in the talking points section, it's all about the framing. And since I spent yesterday talking about some good framing from Obama, today I'd like to point out one piece of spectacularly bad framing. In fact it is so bad, it almost seems designed to be bad. It's like some interested party had a whole bunch of money to hire consultants to come up with such a bad term.
I'm talking about "cramdown."
In case you missed it, in the debate about Durbin's bankruptcy bill, this is the term that politicians and the media started using, around midweek, to describe the portion of the bill that addressed judges renegotiating mortgages for people who are not just losing their homes, but also filing for bankruptcy. This seems like "not a bad thing" to me, personally.
But, boy, "cramdown" sure sounds like a bad -- and possibly even a filthy dirty -- term. In other words, it's the worst framing since "teabagging."
Like I said, it's almost like it was designed to sound this foul. Who can support something like "cramdown" (when you first hear the term)? I have no idea where this term came from, so it could have come from some politician or it could (quite possibly) have come from the banking industry itself.
I know which end of that bet I'd take, though.
Something to think about for anyone who doubts the power of framing your issue in language designed either to appeal or (as I suspect in this case), to repel.
Having said that, let's get on to some framing ourselves here. The Friday Talking Points, as always, are offered up free of charge to Democratic politicians (and those who daily fight their verbal battles for them, around watercoolers all across this great nation of ours), just in case they're being interviewed this weekend.
I must admit, interviews are tough, which I have a new appreciation for (again, see Program Note at end), which is why everyone needs all the help they can get.
There's a word for that
Of course, the big news today is the news that Justice Souter will be stepping down from the Supreme Court, freeing up a slot for Obama's first selection for the court. Republicans lost no time ripping into the candidates -- before Obama even said a word about the subject.
Which begs some sort of response:
"I see that Republicans have jumped the gun on denouncing Obama's Supreme Court pick -- before he even makes it. You know what? There's a word for judging someone or something before it happens, and I hate to say it, but that word is 'prejudice.' I would advise my Republican colleagues to take a deep breath, and wait until the selection is announced before launching pre-emptive attacks on who they think it might be. Who knows? Obama may surprise them."
Bipartisanship (take one...)
Daily Kos has something important to point out on getting Obama's budget blueprint passed by both houses of Congress this week (and the fact that, once again, not a single Republican voted for it). His point: the news media actually didn't notice. Maybe they've finally realized the American people care a lot more about actual results than false measures of "bipartisanship" on Capitol Hill. In his words:
"So Obama's budget passed yesterday with zero Republican votes. And you know what was the best part? The Administration didn't give a damn and the media didn't give a damn. All that Obama talk about "bipartisanship" has ceased, and as a result, the media is no longer claiming Obama is a loser because he failed to garner Republican support."
Bipartisanship (take two...)
But then again, maybe the media is just noticing that some real bipartisanship did break out over on the House side this week, as they passed a credit card reform bill with a vote of 357 to 70 (which included a whopping 105 Republicans voting for it). Or maybe they were just too wrapped up in "swine flu is going to kill EVERYBODY" stories, or "First 100 days" stories to notice. It's hard to tell sometimes, with the mainstream media we've got. But it should be pointed out by someone.
"The House this week passed a bill to reform some of the worst practices in the credit card industry. This bill passed with over one hundred Republican votes, which is a milestone of bipartisanship so far for this Congress. I kept waiting for the media to devote as much attention to this positive story about bipartisanship as they did about the lack of it on other votes, and I have to say I'm still waiting for all those 'Big Bipartisan Vote In The House' headlines."
Remember when "the rule of law" was a Republican talking point?
Senator Robert Byrd wrote a very powerful piece on the subject of torture this week that is worth reading in full. I limited this excerpt due to space, but I strongly urge people to read his full article.
"The recently leaked report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as well as the four released memorandums from the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), confirm our worst fears. These documents point to brutal, inhumane acts which were repeatedly carried out by U.S. military personnel, and which were authorized and condoned at the highest levels of the Bush Administration. These acts appear to directly violate both the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. Spain and the United Kingdom have already initiated investigations of Bush Administration officials who approved these acts. The United States needs to investigate as well. To continue to ignore the mounting evidence of clear wrongdoing is a national humiliation.
"Additionally, U.S. military officials have come forward with accounts of the damage these policies have done to our military's ability to prosecute detainees. According to those officials, because torture was used as an interrogatory method, prosecution may not be brought against individuals who may, in fact, be terrorists.
. . .
"The rule of law is not just a lofty concept to which we should aspire only when convenient. It is a fundamental principal upon which our Republic was founded, and it is the foundation of our free society. I understand the desire to look forward and to forge a new path on high ground instead of on the low road of the past eight years. But to use the need to move on as a reason not to investigate basic human rights violations is unacceptable. Excusing individuals at the highest levels of government from adhering to the rule of law, whether in wartime or not, is a dangerous precedent, for it undercuts the principle of accountability which permeates representative democracy."
Happy to see Specter go
Try not to gloat too much about Specter. Offer friendly advice instead.
"For those conservatives who are saying it's a 'good thing' that Arlen Specter left the Republican Party, because it will help purify their party, I would offer the following take on it from Republican Ed Rogers, who worked in both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush's White House -- and I quote -- Notice to Republicans: Arlen Specter changing parties is good for the Democrats and President Obama and bad for us. If you think otherwise, put down the Ann Coulter book and go get some fresh air. There's always a delusional element within the GOP that thinks if we lose badly enough the Democrats will gain so much power they will implement all their crazy plans, the people will revolt and purest Republicans will then be swept back into power. -- unquote."
We want to make you happy, really we do!
If that doesn't work, then go ahead and gloat.
"Some conservatives and some Republicans seem to think it's a good thing Arlen Specter bolted their party because of their intolerance for differing opinions, and that they should be happy to see him go. Well, as you know, my goal in life is to make Republicans happy [pause for laughter], so I'd like to further that cause by taking any other Senate seats off their hands that they no longer want. House seats, Senate seats, governors -- any Republicans who are fed up with the direction of their party will be welcomed to the only party left that can say 'we have a big tent party' with a straight face. If it will make Republicans happy to kick their own members out, then the more the merrier is what I say."
The weekly DNC video
At least it seems that way. Whoever they've got running the media show at the DNC deserves a raise. But not a promotion. We need them to continue their good work.
"We'd like to congratulate Michael Steele for doing such a wonderful job leading the Republican Party. The Democratic National Committee has a web video out this week that says exactly what we're feeling towards Steele."
[Program Note: I was interviewed by "TJ and The Tux" on the podcast EastVillageRadio.com this morning (very early, for me), on their weekly show called (up until today, that is) "Obama's First 100 Days." If you'd like to hear what I sound like at 8:00 A.M. attempting to talk politics and struggling to crack jokes, it starts about halfway in (around 1:03:00), and lasts about twenty minutes.]
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Follow Chris Weigant on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChrisWeigant