While today is not officially Turkey Day, I will warn you in advance that it's going to be a theme running through today's column, like gravy through a poorly-constructed dam of mashed potatoes. So to speak. And yes, this will include discussion of the recent Sarah Palin video, but before we get to that, we've got other turkeys to deal with first.
Ben Franklin notwithstanding (who wrote his daughter a letter suggesting among other things that the wild turkey was a more appropriate symbol for America than the bald eagle), the word "turkey" has come to denote, in a slang sense (from dictionary.com): (a) a person or thing of little appeal; dud; loser, (b) a naive, stupid, or inept person, or (c) a poor and unsuccessful theatrical production; flop.
And, by those definitions, the turkeys were flying fast and thick last week. First up was the decision to let Senator Joe Lieberman (CT - Ego Party) remain as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate (see definition (a), above). Only 13 Democratic senators voted against Joe, who blackmailed the party by saying if they didn't give him his chairmanship back he would not only bolt to the Republican Party but also vote against Democratic proposals every chance he got. Way to demean your vote, Joe! Nothing like selling your vote in order to prop up your own ego!
What a turkey.
Lieberman was returned to his leadership post by the head Democratic turkey in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (see definition (b), above), who wasn't even challenged last week for his leadership post. Mark my words, Democrats are going to come to regret this, in a flurry of "what we might have accomplished" stories for the next two years. These stories will universally open with the line: "We could have gotten so much more done, if we had just been able to move things through the Senate...."
Go ahead, Harry -- prove me wrong. In fact, I'll go further -- Please, please, prove me wrong.
But the real flock of wild turkeys today is the flurry of rules and regulations the Bush administration is changing at the last minute. Now, these so-called "midnight regulations" come from every departing president (Democrats included), and have run to tens of thousands of pages of last-minute rules in the past few transitions. Bush is not going to break this streak. And today is the final day he can get away with such skullduggery without Barack Obama being able to undo these changes with the stroke of a pen.
This is because by federal law, rule changes have to be published for 60 days before they take effect, and any time during that period the president can revoke them. And 60 days from now is... you guessed it... Inaugural Day. So look for lots of breaking news late in the day today on this front.
But wait! Nancy Pelosi is rumored to be calling Congress back into session after Thanksgiving, which could save everything. Because Congress has the power to overturn these new rules before they take effect. The problem is, it's a fairly new law which gives them this power, and they've only ever used it once -- meaning some feathers are going to fly if and when it happens.
But then Bush countermoves! The federal law, it seems, says that rules and regs have to be published 60 days before they become law only if they are "major" rule changes. So Bush (who has never shown himself to be shy of interpreting language any old way he feels like) can just call every single change "minor," and wait another month to publish them at all.
This game of chicken [Editor: How did chickens get in here? We're supposed to be talking about turkeys!] may force yet another lame-duck [Editor: Turkeys! Focus!] session of Congress late in December -- either immediately before or immediately after Christmas.
Stay tuned... because hunting these rules and regulations down and blasting them out of the sky like the turkeys they truly are is going to be a hard-fought drama played out in the next few weeks.
[Author to Editor: Ta Dah! See, I told you I'd bring it back to turkeys!]
Anyway, onward to the awards, and then a special Talking Points essay (instead of the normal enumeration) which deals with the worst turkey (see definition (c), above) of the week.
There's really not much competition for this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. In a stunning coup of anti-Detroit feelings, John Dingell was deposed as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- which is responsible for energy, climate, health, telecommunications, and a host of other important legislation -- by Representative Henry Waxman.
Waxman is widely seen as being a lot more open to climate change legislation and more progressive in general than Dingell, who (as Detroit's protector in D.C.) has virtually single-handedly stopped any improvement in fuel economy standards and has also fought every common-sense safety law for the car industry -- for three decades now. Waxman is also a feisty chairman, so this committee should prove to be both highly effective and also highly entertaining in the upcoming term.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi should also get an Honorable Mention here for helping Waxman's insurgent push for the chairmanship behind the scenes. Pelosi has butted heads with Dingell in the past, and has every right to support her own picks for committee chairs.
So for bringing great expectations to progressives across the country by his successful leadership challenge, Representative Henry Waxman is hereby awarded his third Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
Well done, Chairman!
[Congratulate Representative Henry Waxman via his House contact page to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
While there were a few disappointments this week, laying blame for some of them would be tough. The Lieberman vote was a secret ballot, so we have no way of knowing which way any particular Democratic senator voted. The whole Hillary Secretary of State sideshow of leaks was annoying in its inconclusiveness (which cased me to make a rash prediction which may prove foolish), but leaks are, by definition, anonymous. Meaning while both were disappointing, it's hard to send a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week statuette to "an unnamed source."
So we'll have to settle on some sour grapes made public just after the Waxman victory was announced. Because Waxman was not "in line" by dint of seniority for the post (Dingell was, which is why he had the chair in the first place), some Democrats felt this was a monstrously wrong thing to do. But the House is a lot less stringent about seniority than the Senate, meaning this sort of thing happens a lot more often.
Chief among the Democrats outraged by this popular election of Waxman (or at least first to speak to the press about it) was Representative Charlie Rangel from New York. Rangel was immediately quoted describing the seniority system: "It's just been buried." About Nancy Pelosi, who was officially neutral and said she had not played a role in the leadership fight, Rangel quipped: "I assume that not playing a role is playing a role." He also called the idea "crazy" that she had not worked behind the scenes for Waxman.
For this display of petulance in the nation's news media, Charlie Rangel is awarded this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Looks like some in Washington still haven't gotten used to the idea that change is a-coming.
[Contact Representative Charlie Rangel via his House contact page to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 56 (11/21/08)
The word "framing" has evolved with its entry into politics. It originally meant either (1) putting a decorative border around an artwork, or (2) figuring out what a camera would see before you shoot it (think: Hollywood directors holding up their fingers to make a rectangle, to see what shooting angle to use).
Then it began to be used in the political sphere. While it is now mostly used to describe political language and terminology ("estate tax" versus "death tax," for instance), it still retains some of its original meaning when talking about how a political event will play on television. This is the reason no politician appears at any event these days (it seems) without a backdrop complete with their "message" written endlessly on it (this is a fairly recent development in politics, it should be noted, but is now considered indispensable). Politicians "frame" the message of their speech with subliminal text-repetition behind them, to drive the point home with a sledgehammer.
Occasionally, a politician will get caught with a strange backdrop to a video interview (usually in some sort of ad hoc interview setting).
Sarah Palin just showed the world the difference between having nationally-experienced political consultants, and being a rural-state governor. Up until her defeat as John McCain's running mate, she had a top team of political operatives whose job it was to handle and spin her message as best they could. Now she does not.
Which explains why she was interviewed recently, after a "turkey-pardoning" event, with a man in the background slaughtering and draining the blood from turkeys. As political "framing" it is disastrous. You can watch the video if you'd like, to see what I mean.
But what is far more interesting to me than even the framing gaffe is the way some are reacting to the entire episode. First, because it points out a great divide in America -- those who think meat arrives in their supermarkets in sanitary plastic wrap without ever thinking about how it got there, and those who (through rural, farm, or hunting backgrounds) do not. Meat means the flesh of an animal. Which was once alive, and which was slaughtered. I'm sorry to be the one to point this out, but there it is.
If I sound like a militant vegetarian, I apologize. I am actually an omnivore, and love eating burgers and turkeys and all the rest. But I don't flinch from where that food came from. I know that as a meat-eater, I am the moral equivalent of a slaughterhouse worker or a butcher. I accept this responsibility and I am fine with it. But many shy away from this basic connection.
Which brings me to what I really wanted to talk about -- it has been reported that some of the networks who showed this video pixilated (blurred out) the turkeys being slaughtered in the background. Seriously -- even though you can barely see what the guy in the background is actually doing, and cannot see any truly gruesome details -- the networks were scared to show it.
This is pathetic. Truly, truly pathetic. Now, if we lived in some genteel society of yesteryear (which never actually existed), then all "offensive" things wouldn't be shown on the news. But, that world never existed. If you compared just about any clip from the Iraq War that the networks have run to an average clip from the Vietnam War, you would be astonished. Because we didn't use to sanitize the same things on television.
Here's a handy list of what is "OK" versus what is "not OK" on network television (broadcast, not cable). You'll note a lack of any logic to these decisions.
- Beheading turkeys -- not OK
- Terrorists beheading American captives -- not OK
- Dead American soldiers (in ANY context) -- not OK
- Saddam's statue coming down in Iraq -- very OK
- The fact that Saddam's statue is being pulled down by a U.S. Army vehicle and not Iraqis -- not OK
- Dead Iraqis or other foreigners killed by terrorists -- OK
- Dead Iraqis or other foreigners killed by American troops -- not OK
- Dead Iraqi "insurgents" killed by American troops -- OK, at a distance
- (in fiction) Dead bodies, decomposing bodies, beheaded bodies, gruesome injuries, forensic examinations of gruesome injuries, autopsies (with full detail) -- very OK
- Dennis Franz's naked rear end -- used to be OK, now not OK any more
- Female backside, 99% naked (in thong or bikini) -- extremely OK
- Female breast, nipple barely covered -- very OK
- Female breast, nipple exposed -- not OK
- Janet Jackson's nipple -- very not OK
- Full frontal nudity -- absolutely not OK, even on statues or other artwork
- Speaking the word "abortion" -- OK (on news), very very not OK (in fiction)
- Speaking the word "condom" -- sometimes OK, sometimes not (on news); very not OK (in fiction)
- Jack Bauer torturing prisoners (in fiction) -- totally OK
- Photos of American troops torturing prisoners -- some OK, some not OK
- Saddam Hussein's execution by hanging -- OK, up until his body actually drops and his head comes off
- American prisoners' executions by American states -- very very not OK
- (in fiction) Murder most foul, by every known method (dreaming up new and more grotesque methods all the time) and in slow-motion detail of the actual act -- very OK
Now, most arguments for not showing stuff like killing turkeys on the news hinges on some version of the "Won't someone think of the children!!" argument. But you know what? There are millions of American children (ask any 4H group) who are fully cognizant of the basic fact that meat comes from animals and who have witnessed, or even (gasp) participated in the slaughter of farm animals, or field-dressing animals killed by hunting. And it hasn't hurt them one tiny bit. In the entire history of America, the people who have seen or participated in such activities probably outnumber the ones who haven't. In modern times, of course, the trend is towards sheltered urbanites or suburbanites who think meat magically appears in the supermarkets -- but that's a relatively new situation.
So I am going to eat a turkey next Thursday, and I don't see a problem with airing the Sarah Palin interview uncut. Palin, and anyone else who has ever been involving in transforming animals to meat probably doesn't even understand what all the fuss is about.
It was a disastrous example of political framing (because of the over-coddled and overly-sensitive American public's reaction, not because of any inherent wrongness of the image itself), but the media's decision to blur the images out is just another example of the monstrous hypocrisy of the American television industry, and should be seen as nothing less.
[Note: Depending on how sleepy the leftovers leave me next Friday, I may skip the column for a week. We'll see how I feel... and, please, pass the stuffing and mashed potatoes down to this end of the table....]
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground