03/02/2012 09:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points -- A Look Back

Welcome to the 200th Friday Talking Points column!

Because of this momentous occasion, we are going to present a special column today which takes a look backwards at this column's history. Because of this, the normal weekly Friday Talking Points and the awards we normally hand out will all get preempted. So if you're looking for an update on what is going on in the political world, you'll have to wait until next week, sorry about that. And if this sort of retrospective doesn't appeal to you, well, there's a whole Internet out there waiting, I'm sure there's something better for you to read, somewhere else.

But before we even get to our review, we do have one piece of business which cannot wait, so we will quickly address it and move on. Washington state has a caucus tomorrow, although you'd barely know it from the national news media. This is due to two related reasons: Washington is on the West Coast, which is far, far away from the media centers of New York and Washington, D.C.; and many so-called "journalists" are barely even aware the state exists. Polling is likewise thin and not very prominent in the media.

Romney seems to be doing well, but the state is a caucus state so Ron Paul might have a chance. I'll throw a dart at the wall on this one, and predict Romney wins it, with Santorum close behind, and Ron Paul picking up third place.

I only called three out of a possible six correct this past Tuesday, leaving my overall record standing at:

Total correct 2012 primary picks so far: 20 for 33 -- 61%.

One technical note for those of you who have been following along with these predictions: Washington is the last state where I'll be calling all three top winners. Starting with Super Tuesday, I'll only be calling the number one winner for each state.

OK, with that out-of-the-way, let's get to the talking point review.


Volume 200 (3/2/12)

This column, while mostly put out on a weekly basis, skips a number of weeks each year. You'd think that Volume 200 would be just short of our fourth anniversary, but you would be wrong. We actually hit the fourth calendar anniversary last September, since the very first one of these columns was published on September 14, 2007.

Early Days

This column was born out of the frustration of watching Democratic politicians being interviewed on national television, and being unable to articulate in a short and snappy way the ideas they are trying to get across. Republicans just seem to be better at this sort of thing, so I decided to do what I could to help out the Democratic team. The very first column was titled "Memo To Democrats: Talking Points" and had a rather crude and unfinished look to it. While the seven talking points (this number was not thought-out, it just happened that seven is a good length for these lists) mostly dealt with the Iraq War, two of them would become recurring themes, because Democrats have yet to reliably use these two tactics ever since. The first was Talking Point 3 -- demand an "up or down vote" from the congressional Republicans. This easy-to-use phrase is the way to push back on Republican obstructionism, but bizarrely -- even after more obstructionism in the Senate than anyone thought possible back in 2007 -- Democrats still fail to use it to call out Republicans when talking to the media. The second recurring theme was to force the mainstream media to report on good poll numbers for Democratic ideas. Talking Point 6 points out that when you have 60 to 80 percent of the public on your side, you need to point it out every chance you get by using "the vast majority of the American people agree with us." Both of these, as I said, I still use today -- because Democrats still haven't quite learned how to use them effectively.

By the time the first 10 of these columns had been written, the format was in place. We had come up with two weekly awards to hand out (the Most Impressive Democrat of the Week and the Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week) and even had all the snazzy graphics in place (which were graciously provided by C.W. Cunningham, I should add).

Looking over the first 10 columns shows a few other points which retain relevance or are otherwise worth pointing out. In [FTP 3] Talking Point 2 rips into the elitists in the Republican Party. The details are out of date, but the theme is decidedly not. The [FTP 4] column had Talking Point 4 from none other than Teddy Kennedy, challenging Republicans to do without their taxpayer-funded health insurance if they were going to deny it to children (the SCHIP bill was a hot topic). In [FTP 6], a Bush appointee was attacked in Talking Point 6 which can now be seen as foreshadowing:

President Bush has shown once again that he is more interested in making points with the extreme right-wing of his party than with health care. His appointee to distribute public health funds for education on family planning has been quoted saying contraceptives somehow contribute to the 'culture of death' (whatever that is). Bush needs to reconsider this appointment and name someone who is not a proven ideologue and who actually cares about women's reproductive health.

Back in 2007, torture was being debated (astonishingly enough) as United States policy. In [FTP 8], Talking Point 5 asked: "Who would Jesus torture?"

But with 199 previous columns, we simply can't review all of them here (at least not without running monstrously long, which we're already planning on doing anyway). So I limited this retrospective to only the past 50 columns (roughly one year).

Rants and Tangents

Sometimes there are no actual talking points in the Friday Talking Points. At times, I offer up themed columns (like thanking Labor on Labor Day in [FTP 179]). Other times I suggest political ads, as I did for President Obama in [FTP 181]. Some weeks I review an Obama speech or press conference, to give some praise to well-crafted talking points he used.

Occasionally, I'll just turn the column over to someone else's words. I wrote [FTP 185] using Bob Cesca's excellent talking points from a recent column he had written (example: "The Republicans filibustered the creation of two million jobs"). For some reason, I spent an entire week in [FTP 187] on a veto message from Andrew Jackson, which only goes to show that at times this column does tend to head off into the weeds.

At times, I find I have too many items to fit in the seven weekly Talking Points, and have to squeeze an extra one into the introduction, as I did in [FTP 184] (in other words, sometimes we just make stuff up as we go along, here):

Because, we've just got to say, the Occupy Wall Street slogan "We are the 99 percent" is truly brilliant and deserves recognition. Whomever came up with this slogan is a genius in the world of framing things politically.

It's simple. It's easy to understand, and needs no further explanation. It fits on a bumpersticker. It's memorable. It has every quality a good political slogan should have, in other words. We are the 99 percent.

. . .

"We are the 99 percent" deserves the first-ever Best Political Slogan of the Week award, which we just now created.

To the author of this slogan: Good job. Well done. I genuflect in your general direction.

The columns that wind up being the most fun, however, are the ones where I just toss out the "seven enumerated Talking Points" formula, and go off on a rant. In the past year, this has included rants on:

Class warfare in [FTP 155].

The option, in [FTP 172], of President Obama using the Fourteenth Amendment to forcibly shut down Congress so he could recess-appoint a head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which he then did, although not in the manner suggested).

How I felt Obama had fumbled the initial rollout of the birth control issue, just a few weeks ago in [FTP 197].

And then, last week in [FTP 199], how the whole "War on Women" language should be framed, since the issue had risen in the public eye so fast.

As I said, these rants are both fun to write, and they usually generate a higher-than-usual level of interest in the comment section as well.

Last Year's Most-relevant Talking Points

But the heart of the column is the Talking Points themselves. Here are the ones from the past year which are still relevant to the political discussion today, for various reasons. They are presented (except for the final one, continuing our tradition of saving the most outrageous for last) in chronological order, with the Talking Point numbers nest to each one corresponding to the numbers from the original columns.

From [FTP 154] we had two which still resonate.

   Taxes lowest since Korean War

Here's a story most of the mainstream media missed.

"Did you see the recent story that Americans are paying the lowest amount of taxes this year since 1950? Yes, you heard me right. We're paying lower taxes than we've paid since the Korean War. For three years in a row, Americans are paying lower taxes than under George W. Bush, due to Democratic tax cuts that seem never to get discussed in the media. Obama lowered everyone's taxes, and it's time the American public knew the facts of the matter."

   The culture wars versus jobs

This needs pointing out at every opportunity: where is the Republican jobs plan?

"I notice that the Republicans in the House are considering three bills on restricting abortion, but I still haven't heard of any job-creation bill from them. They have, quite obviously, shown their priorities -- to fight the culture wars and ignore the economy. Maybe it's really a vote of confidence in Obama's economic plans in disguise -- Republicans are doing nothing, because Obama's plan is working. The unemployment rate has come down eight-tenths of a point in the past two months -- a faster decline than we've seen in decades -- while Republicans continue to do nothing about jobs. I just hope the voters are paying attention to the Republican agenda, and how they prioritize things."

This one's going to be big in the election, one assumes. From [FTP 158].

   Romneycare pretty popular

President Obama complimented Mitt Romney recently, which the media reported as some sort of insult. Or something. It's hard to follow their logic, at times, I have to admit. On non-Charlie-Sheen subjects, at least. Obama, or some other enterprising Democrat, should strike this iron once again, while it's still hot.

"For all the smoke and noise on what Republicans call 'Obamacare,' there was an interesting poll out of Massachusetts this week. Mitt Romney's healthcare reform -- which is very similar, and even has the dreaded individual mandate -- is actually pretty popular in the state. A whopping 84 percent of the public likes Romneycare, apparently. That's a pretty high approval rating for a plan which isn't all that different than what Democrats passed last year on the national level, don't you think?"

Four years later, in [FTP 164], I'm still beating the same drum.

   Three-fourths of "The American people" agree

Poll after poll shows that the public is actually on the Democratic side in the debate about slashing Medicare, and about taxing millionaires. So point it out!

"You know, Republicans made a whole lot of noise after the 2010 election about how they were, quote, listening to the American people, unquote, and were just going to do what the American people wanted them to do in Washington. But poll after poll shows that the American people -- by a two-to-one or even three-to-one margin -- do not want Medicare privatized by turning it into a voucher system. Poll after poll also shows that the American people are strongly in favor -- again, by around three-fourths of the public -- of raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires. The American people are speaking quite clearly on the subject of what to do about the deficit. But the Republicans are simply not listening. Republicans should do what the American people want them to do, and drop this radical plan to kill Medicare. The American people list taxing the ultra-wealthy as their number one choice for solving the deficit problem. Republicans shouldn't be so deaf to what the American people are saying they want."

This one, from [FTP 177], isn't still relevant, since events have overtaken it. But it's still worth digging it out, in the hopes that it can be slightly reworded to bring it up to date.

   Thank Obama for your free birth control

Democrats are notoriously bad at one of the basic tenets in politics -- when your party achieves something you think the American people will like, then you have to point it out to them repeatedly to cement in their minds who was responsible for improving their lives. As I said, this is basic, basic politics, but so far I haven't heard many Democrats saying any version of the following.

"Millions of American women will soon be enjoying a healthcare benefit which will change their lives for the better. Next year, health insurance plans will be providing free birth control prescriptions to American women. It has been outrageous that Viagra is covered by most health insurance, but not birth control -- and this disparity will now be largely fixed. But this didn't happen in a vacuum. Democrats were the cause. Democrats care about young women who can't afford birth control, because their health insurance doesn't cover it alongside the erection pills for men. Every woman should remember this next year, and thank President Obama and the congressional Democrats for their free birth control prescriptions -- because Republicans certainly didn't have anything to do with it."

This one was from [FTP 180], which covered a speech Obama gave to a joint session of Congress. It was a great speech, and a defining one for his re-election campaign.

   We can't afford to do both -- it's simple math

One of the best highlights of the speech was Obama turning this one back against the Republicans. It's not a question of spending -- it's a question of what priorities we have, as a nation. It's not class warfare to point out simple math. We can't afford to do everything? Fine, then let's get our priorities straight, shall we?

So we can reduce this deficit, pay down our debt, and pay for this jobs plan in the process. But in order to do this, we have to decide what our priorities are. We have to ask ourselves, "What's the best way to grow the economy and create jobs?"

Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can't afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? Right now, we can't afford to do both.

This isn't political grandstanding. This isn't class warfare. This is simple math. This is simple math. These are real choices. These are real choices that we've got to make. And I'm pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose. It's not even close. And it's time for us to do what's right for our future.

Two weeks later, it was Elizabeth Warren's turn, in [FTP 182]. The video of her saying this out on the campaign trail had already gone viral when I wrote this.

   Nobody in this country got rich on his own

Elizabeth Warren is the other Democrat out there showing the rest of them how this sort of thing is done. I wrote earlier this week about a video of Warren's brilliant framing of the issue to a small group of voters, and it is one of the best examples of Democrats who know how to do this sort of thing that I've ever seen.

It's been made into a a graphic image, as well. Here is Warren's answer, in full:

I hear all this, you know: "Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever." No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

I've always found the doublethink Republicans exhibit on taxes amusing, as Nancy Pelosi pointed out in [FTP 190].

   Funny which tax cuts have to be paid for, isn't it?

This is an excellent point. Awfully funny that "Democratic" tax cuts "have to be paid for" while "Republican" tax cuts... um, what was it? "Pay for themselves" or some such tommyrot?

Here is Nancy Pelosi, again:

And the fact is, we know what we have to do. If we have to pay for the payroll tax cut, and we are perfectly willing to do that, even though the Republicans never want to pay for the tax cut for the wealthiest people in our country. Doesn't that strike you as funny? For the middle-income tax cut it has to be paid for. Tax cuts for the wealthy, we don't pay for that.

Some weeks are better than others, when coming up with these Talking Points. The week [FTP 193] came out was a particularly good one. If this retrospective wasn't already way too long, I would have included Talking Points 1, 3 and 5 here, as well. Here are the two that made the cut. The first was written before the contraceptive debate exploded on the political scene, I should point out.

   War on contraception

The "right to privacy" goes back further than Roe v. Wade. It actually stretches back to another Supreme Court case -- Griswold v. Connecticut. Remind people what this means.

"When Mitt Romney was asked in a debate about the right to privacy and overturning Griswold v. Connecticut, he responded by saying he didn't think states would ever consider banning contraception. This shows how out of touch he is with his own party, because there is currently a movement to pass so-called 'personhood' laws at the state level. These laws would have the result of making certain forms of birth control -- used by millions of American citizens -- flat-out illegal. Romney tried to laugh the question off as some sort of unthinkable situation, but this effort is already underway. I don't think Americans really want states to be able to ban contraception, and I think what is unbelievable is that Mitt Romney is unaware that his own party is attempting to do so on the state level."

   Rapists' rights

I've written about this one before. Like most of the rest of these talking points, all you have to do is take the Republican position to its logical conclusion, and lay it before the public to expose the ugliness.

"I notice that this year the Republican Party seems to have taken the most extreme position on abortion imaginable: make all abortions illegal, with no exceptions whatsoever. Why the media doesn't ask them about the result of this stance is beyond me. I'd like to see these candidates asked a few questions, such as 'Would you really force an incest victim to bear a child that will be both her daughter and her sister?' The very idea is repugnant, but this is exactly what the Republicans would force such a girl to do. Even worse is the fact that Republicans are in favor of what would be a 'Rapists' Rights' law. If they had their way, rapists would be able to choose the mother of their children, secure in the knowledge that their victim would be forced to bring their child to term. Why are Republicans standing up for the rights of rapists, and trampling on the rights of rape victims? It just boggles the mind."

To close the serious portion of this retrospective, here is one recent Talking Point, from [FTP 196] to springboard us into campaign season. I'm sure this won't be the last time Mitt Romney says something wildly out-of-touch, from the way the campaign has gone so far.

   Fix the safety net? Are you kidding me, Mitt?

Mitt's convinced that everyone quoted him out of context. Because this "safety net" thing that he's heard about is obviously in fine shape, and gosh darn it, he'll do whatever he can to "fix" it, if need be. One might consider uttering this talking point while rolling your eyes in a sarcastic manner. Just a suggestion.

"Mitt Romney says he'll, quote, fix the safety net, unquote, if it needs it? Who is he trying to fool? I mean, are you kidding me, Mitt? When Republicans talk about 'reforming entitlements' that is the same as saying 'gut, defund, and destroy the safety net,' plain and simple. That is what the Republican Party is all about, today: shredding the safety net and kicking the poor to the curb. If you go through the policy ideas of Mitt Romney -- or, really, any Republican -- you'll find that they all make the lives of the poor more miserable by far. Republicans aren't going to 'fix' the safety net if they get elected, they're going to try their hardest to eliminate it. Mitt Romney simply cannot be believed, there's no other way to put it."

And finally, two amusing Talking Points from last year. The first was my suggestion (which I certainly can't claim originality for) in [FTP 189] for Congressfolk.

   NASCAR jackets for Congress

This idea has been floating around the internet for a while. I certainly can't claim this as an original idea, but it is still the best radical idea in the field of campaign contributions I've ever heard.

"I am introducing a bill I call the 'NASCAR Jacket Bill' which will require all members of Congress to wear -- whenever on the floor of Congress or at a public event -- visible patches from every corporation or lobbying group they've taken money from in the past 10 years. Since this 'sponsorship' of Congress is so widespread, let's allow the public to see who is buying whom. Congressmen will be forced to display patches from every group who donates money to them -- and the patches will be larger and more colorful, depending on the amount of money given (just like NASCAR sponsorships are rewarded, in other words). Let the public see this legalized bribery, on every television screen on which a politician appears. Let the people decide for themselves whether they want to vote for a politician who has been bought and sold in this fashion. Give Americans the visual evidence of where the money in politics comes from, by forcing NASCAR jackets on each and every member of Congress."

The last Talking Point is one that earns the "most bizarre" award for the year, from [FTP 169]. You just can't make this stuff up, people!

   Where's the Hairspray cast when you need them?

File this one in the "you've got to be freakin' kidding me" file, I guess.

"To protest a recent court decision which made dancing in the Jefferson Memorial a crime, several people showed up a few weeks ago and danced in the Jefferson Memorial. The U.S. Park Police were not amused, and they arrested several people for the crime of dancing. The federal cops used quite a bit of force in doing so, to people who were peacefully dancing -- or, to put it another way, exercising free expression in a public place. Last week, the cops had apparently thought twice, and were much more restrained when another group of protesters showed up and started dancing. They merely cleared the memorial, rather than using excessive force or arresting anybody. But the whole situation is absurd. If dancing at a memorial is illegal, then why didn't the cops arrest the Rockettes when they danced on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for one of George Bush's inaugurations? Why in the name of freedom would anyone think that silently dancing is any sort of crime in the first place? Where are the outraged Tea Partiers, for that matter? I mean, I thought we had the First Amendment to the Constitution to prevent such tyranny from our government."

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