President Obama stunned the political world today by announcing he will switch political parties, and soon become a Republican. "It seems the only way we're going to get bipartisanship in this town is if I lead the way," he said, in brief remarks before leaving for vacation. "The Republicans have refused to work with me because I'm a Democrat, and Republicans' biggest strength has always been the ability to fall into line with whatever their leaders tell them, unlike other certain unnamed political parties in America..." (the president appeared to cough several times at this point, although one of his coughs sounded suspiciously like the word "Democrats," if truth be told...). The president, clear-throated now, continued, "So I will now be the leader of the Republican Party, and they will fall in line with what I tell them to we're going to do. The Democrats who are interested in bipartisanship can join us to pass Medicare-for-all, instead of the Rube Goldberg machine which they have been attempting to construct."
Well, actually, that whole preceding paragraph was a lie. Complete and utter fiction. But what the hey -- it seems to be the time of year when fiction is taken seriously, so I thought I'd toss this into the silly season mix. It's certainly no more of a whopper than some of the other stories circulating and being given credibility by the media these days.
Of course, all these important rumors and falsehoods make for much better television than stories about how Tom Ridge is admitting that politics played a big part in the "terrorist attack color alert level" (which would, under George W. Bush and Tom Ridge's leadership, increase every time it was politically advantageous for the Republicans). Imagine that! What a surprise! A few bloggers even took this to its logical conclusion -- that there's a word for people who use the threat of terrorism to advance political gains, and that word is: "terrorist."
But screaming idiocy is so much more fun to cover. Much more fun than, say, a report that the CIA was outsourcing assassination to Blackwater -- a concept so fraught with potential for serious problems (to say nothing of the moral relativism which condones the idea in the first place) that it should have been headline news everywhere, but (sadly) was not.
Which led me to my decision to offer up this sprig of catnip to the mainstream media, since these days it seems they'll believe (or at least, obsess over for weeks on end) just about anything. So, if you know any professional news guys or gals, pass the word along to them, in the hopes of this complete nonsense going viral -- "Obama's going to become a Republican!" Odds are, they'll buy it. And then turn around and use it to sell dogfood and breakfast cereal.
After our recent hiatus in the awards-giving department, we are back and ready to hand out a few Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards. Woo hoo!
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid actually said some strong words this week. In this stunning development of backbone-itude, Reid (and the White House, as well) began darkly intimating that Democrats were just about ready to completely ignore both the Republicans and the corporatist bastard (oh, excuse me, that's a typo, it should read "centrist") Democrats on health care reform, and instead just go ahead and use the budget reconciliation they set up earlier this year to pass the damn thing already -- meaning they'd only need 50 votes (plus Joe Biden) to approve it, and the Republicans would be blocked from mounting a filibuster.
Holy jeepers! Harry Reid, getting tough? On members of his own party, no less? I know -- you could have knocked me over with a feather! But the jury's still out on Reid, since he has, in the past, shown a propensity for talking tough, and then folding like a cheap road map (badly, in other words), when it comes time for action. So Harry only gets a "Maybe Later, If You Actually Do It..." Honorable Mention this week. We'll see, Harry, we'll see. You've talked the talk, now walk the walk.
We have two MIDOTW winners this week. First up, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for responding to -- and getting out in front of -- the progressive Democrats in her chamber. There is a bloc of House Democrats who may wind up being the ultimate leaders in the health care battle, because they are big enough -- and, crucially, they appear united enough -- to draw their own lines in the sand on the debate. When the White House wobbled and waffled on the public option last weekend (see next section), progressive response was swift and strong. Pelosi reacted to the powerful numbers of the group (variously pegged at anywhere from 60-100 House members, depending on whom you believe) and said herself "nothing's going to pass the House unless it has a public option in it," or words to that effect (this is literary shorthand for "I'm too lazy to look up the actual quote right now," sorry). Right on, Nancy! Get up, stand up! Obama has all but abdicated the role of Public Option Champion, so thank you for stepping into the empty shoes this week. It is looking more and more like the real showdown at the OK Corral over health care is going to be a cage match between the House Progressives and the Senate Blue Dogs, so watch for that in the new fall television season.
But the really impressive Democrat this week was, without question, Representative Barney Frank. While his response to a woman (frothing "Nazi" at the mouth in a town hall meeting) will probably not go down in history as the equivalent to the "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" moment in the McCarthy hearings -- for this generation, it'll have to do. Even Fox News ran it with the headline: "Frank Speaks Truth To Crazy," which is some indication of how stunning a performance it was. Frank's words (Huffington Post has the video, as well) were long overdue for someone to say, that's for sure. When the woman questioning him asked him why he supported a "Nazi policy," Frank shot back with:
"When you ask me that question, I am going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time? You want me to answer the question? Yes, you stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis. My answer to you is, as I've said before, it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it."
This response was interrupted several times for cheers and applause from the audience, and by more incoherent ramblings from the questioner. But for that quote alone, Frank more than earned his Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Shipping the award will be easy, because I live on the same planet as Congressman Frank.
[Congratulate Speaker Nancy Pelosi on her Speaker contact page, and Congressman Frank at his House phone number: (202) 225-5931 (since Frank's House page discourages those from outside his district from emailing him), to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
We had a few candidates for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, I have to say. And, unfortunately, some of the highest-ranking Democrats were among them.
Leading the pack were none other than President Obama himself, and his Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. Last weekend, both Sebelius and Obama got pounced on by the media for appearing to back off on strong support for a public option in the health care debate. They both (through Obama's press secretary) tried to "walk back" these remarks in the following days, rather unconvincingly.
I suspect there is more to this story than has so far been reported. Not on the public option front, but on the insider's-view of Obama's White House. Up until now, the Obama White House has been remarkably tight in messaging. Very little leaks out into the press about "who's up and who's down" in the Obama administration. To contrast, consider the stories about Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Rove which we heard from the Bush White House -- stories of power struggles, infighting, and who had more access and leverage with the president. I, for one, have not read a whole lot of these stories from the Obama White House.
But that doesn't mean the struggles aren't taking place, just that I'm not hearing about them. However, sometimes you can read between the lines a bit, even if you can't identify the players by name. In the midst of last weekend's fray over what was said about the public option and what it meant, there was an article in the Washington Post full of some rather snarky comments from unnamed, but "senior" and "top" sources in the White House about what "the left of the left" thinks. To a large degree, these advisors appeared to support undermining the public option and Obama's support of it. This, to me, looks like a tactical move (leak it to the press!) in a power struggle within the White House itself. Now, it's impossible to know which side Rahm Emanuel is on (but one could guess), or David Axelrod, or any of the other top advisors to the president. But it looks to me like the battle that needs to be won (in order for the president to draw some lines in the sand on health care legislation) is taking place not so very far from the Oval Office itself.
But Sebelius, Obama, and certain senior administration advisors (who have cravenly chosen to remain nameless) didn't rise to the MDDOTW award this week, so they'll have to settle for the "With Friends Like These..." (Dis-)Honorable Mention instead.
The winner of the MDDOTW, it pains me to say, was none other than Senator Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts. Kennedy released a letter he wrote to the top state officials, where he advocated changing the law which governs succession of senators. The letter itself, and the proposed change in the law, seems entirely reasonable when first read.
But it isn't. The media frenzy which was launched by the letter's release has -- almost without exception -- gotten the facts totally wrong. This was due to two major causes: not doing their homework, and Kennedy himself. Because Kennedy's premise itself (that there will be a guaranteed five-month gap where The Bay State will only have one senator representing it) is completely wrong. Well, not completely wrong -- this gap would indeed exist if the senator in question died in office, or otherwise vacated the office unexpectedly. But Kennedy himself has the power to guarantee a smooth succession, with no gap at all (or one of a few days when Congress isn't even in session) -- if he chooses to. This is the fact the media missed, because none of them went and read the actual law itself. I devoted yesterday's column to this subject, if you'd like further details (including the full text of Kennedy's letter, and the relevant Massachusetts law).
Kennedy, by his proposed change in the law, is demanding the right to die in office -- free of political consequences -- instead of realizing that he will soon be medically unfit to fulfill the duties he has been elected to perform. This is about his legacy and about his sense of entitlement to his office, and about him putting both before the interests of his constituents.
As I said, it pains me to write this, because I have so much respect for the man, but Senator Kennedy has to be awarded this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[Contact Senator Edward Kennedy on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 90 (8/21/09)
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. explained once (via the words of his main character in Cat's Cradle), what being a writer is supposed to mean:
"When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed."
That's a pretty tall order, especially from a writer whose books often end (as does Cat's Cradle) with the entire world and the human race itself dying out. On the best of Fridays, I only reach for enlightenment, personally. You're going to have to find beauty and comfort elsewhere, is what I'm saying. However, "top speed" has always been a requirement for these Friday columns (this stuff just doesn't type itself, folks!).
But here we are in the depths of the silly season, and I have to say I'm going to chuck out even the goal of enlightenment this week. I've already written my thoughts on how Democrats should be addressing health care reform so many times, even I'm getting bored with the exercise. All the Democrats are on vacation anyway, and even the town hall meeting stories are dying down in the media. Besides, this week I couldn't hope to top Barney Frank's words.
So instead of the normal Talking Points this week, we're going to offer up random thoughts on the media's prioritizing storylines. These kind of go in all directions, so you'll have to excuse me. I blame the silliness of the season, personally.
In no particular order, here are some suggestions for the bored August media (but definitely not "august" media), in the hopes of tickling their fancy.
We've still got around 130,000 soldiers in Iraq. The media determined long ago that this story wasn't "newsworthy," but this week's coordinated bombings deserved more attention than they got. Plus, the American generals are pushing Maliki's government to be allowed in to areas in the north where Kurdish tensions still have not been addressed, which would be a significant reversal of the U.S. pullout from the cities. In the background, the Iraqis are considering whether to put a referendum on the ballot in their next election which would give their citizens a chance to vote on a speeded-up withdrawal timeline for Americans to leave. Any of these are stories worth digging out, if we didn't have to cover war "with the journalists we have" (to paraphrase that well-known military genius, Don Rumsfeld).
Reports are that the American generals in Afghanistan may ask for an increase in U.S. troops from the current level (around 70,000) to well over 100,000 by next year. This is an enormous escalation, and deserves to be investigated. The Afghan elections just held were actually covered by the American media, in a cursory way, but little or no context was provided. What does it mean if Karzai is forced into a runoff election? What do the parties opposing Karzai stand for? These would be good questions to answer if we're going to double down on this war.
Naked guy on a plane!
OK, those were a bit serious. How about some media catnip instead? A Southwest flight had to return to Oakland California because a guy took all his clothes off and got violent. Naked guy on a plane! I haven't seen the evening news yet, but I would be willing to wager this story makes the cut.
"Hee-ee-ee-re, media media media... heeere media... want some catnip, furry media-kitten?"
Obama's switching parties!
If we're going to flood the airwaves with silliness, then how about my flavor of silliness? Call it Weigant Brand Media Catnip -- the fake news story that wouldn't die!
Barack Obama will, at some point before his vacation ends, announce he is sick of Democratic squabbling and will be switching to the Republicans instead, who quite obviously don't care what species of nonsense they parrot, as long as they're all speaking with one voice.
No, seriously, I read it on the Intertubes... it must be true!
Mexico legalizes personal drug use
Speaking of August, did you know the month used to be called (by the Anglo-Saxons) "Weedmonth"? Far out, man. Oh, excuse me, I must have been spacing out or something...
I can't believe the media has been slacking on this story. I mean, Mexico is RIGHT NEXT DOOR! The fear-mongering should have begun by now, but maybe I just haven't noticed it yet. Mexico is decriminalizing personal amounts of not just marijuana; but also cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, and (one is left to assume) just about everything else. The American media yawned. The nativist anti-immigrant fanatics yawned. The American government (even Republican politicians) have so far yawned, as well. Is the Drug War finally coming to an end? One is left to wonder. This sort of thing would have caused Nancy Reagan to invade Mexico within 24 hours, not so very long ago. How things change, eh?
Who cares who wears short shorts?
You've got to be kidding me. Michelle Obama descends from an airplane (well, OK, it was Air Force One) wearing shorts, and the media swoons? What is this, 1890? Especially when the media who first swooned seems to be a certain liberal blogging site who shall remain nameless. Get the smelling salts, I caught a glimpse of the First Ankle!
The woman was visiting the Grand Canyon, fer cryin' out loud! In August! Do you know how hot it is there? You don't? Let me enlighten you: it's HOT! Really hot! This is because it is in the desert! And if the First Lady wants to wear shorts, it is not exactly newsworthy, in my humble opinion.
Elizabeth Snead, of the Los Angeles Times, summed it up nicely for me: "What should she have worn to the Grand Canyon? A tweed pantsuit? A ballgown? What do you wear on your summer vacation?"
Now if Barack appeared in Daisy Dukes, that might qualify as news. This, quite simply, does not.
Enjoy your vacation, Mr. President
Likewise, the media appears to be going faint over the news that Barack Obama is taking ten days off (maybe we'll see that paparazzi shot of him in Daisy Dukes yet!). I have to respectfully serve up a big helping of "OH, PUH-LEEZE!!" to those "reporting" this "story." George W. Bush set the all-time record for vacation days while in office, shattering Ronald Reagan's old mark. Bush took the entire month of August off every single year he was in office. This is not-so-long-ago historical fact, folks. Bush was reluctant to cut his vacation short by even a few days when Hurricane Katrina hit.
So Obama taking 10 days off is showing comparative restraint, responsibility, and respect for the duties of his office. But I bet that's not how I'm going to hear it portrayed in the next few days.
Until next week... the forecast is for heavy-duty silliness... and continued scattered media catnip....
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground