03/08/2013 09:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points -- I'd Love to Change the World

Our column's subtitle this week is a silent homage to guitarist Alvin Lee of the band Ten Years After, who sadly died this past week. Anyone who has seen the movie Woodstock knows of Lee's incredible talent on the electric guitar, and we just wanted to begin by noting that Alvin Lee is "Goin' Home" for the last time. Requiescat In Pace.

Transitioning from Alvin Lee's death to current political news is tough to do, but not impossible. We offer up a "six-degrees-from" sort of segue, to do so: Alvin Lee was the lead in Ten Years After. Former Republican Senator Norm Coleman (the guy Al Franken beat out) was also a former roadie for Ten Years After. During Franken's campaign, I wrote an article titled "When Hippies Go Bad," doing my part to expose the hypocrisy of Norm Coleman. This week it was revealed that Louisiana is paying tax dollars for history books which use all sorts of derogatory names for hippies (and warn they listened to rock bands which worshipped Satan). Mike Huckabee, when running for president, opined: "If you think that Medicare is expensive now, wait until 10,000 aging hippies a day find out they can get free drugs. Then, it's really going to get expensive in a hurry." And with that, we're back to the budget, Medicare, and Paul Ryan. Voilà!

Paul Ryan introduced his version of the Republican budget this week, and it seems Ryan has agreed that two or three of President Obama's biggest budget victories actually do significantly cut the deficit, and are therefore worth including in the Republican plans for the future. Remember that $716 billion that Ryan and running mate Mitt Romney made so much political hay over, in all their "Mediscare" ads during the campaign? Hey presto -- it's back in Ryan's budget! Guess Ryan and Romney were just flat-out lying about how they'd restore every dime of that $716 billion, eh? Also included in the recent Ryan budget are the tax increases Obama got through the fiscal cliff showdown. So now the Republicans are fully on board with those, too, rather than all their nonsense about how it was going to kill the American economy. Also notable, Ryan's budget does not directly attack Obamacare, and just assumes it will be implemented as designed. Another issue Republicans have now accepted as reality, apparently.

If you thought that previous segue was too convoluted, here's a much easier one: 10 years after we decided to go to war with Iraq, a final report was released that showed that America wasted at least $8 billion in the reconstruction effort (out of $60 billion total). Note that "at least" -- the real figure could be much, much higher. Talk about "waste, fraud, and abuse" in government. In any case, it allowed me to get that "10 years after" reference in, ahead of the flood of stories we will be experiencing in the next two weeks over the Iraq War's anniversary.

Let's see what's going on in the world of Republican-on-Republican attacks (always a fun place to observe from afar). We have the Virginia governor's race and the Iowa Senate race, which will both be providing all kinds of amusing stories over the next year or so. We had Rand Paul mount his first-ever filibuster, and then the spectacle of John McCain denouncing him the next day for doing so. Maybe McCain's afraid all the Sunday morning shows will be calling up Rand Paul to be on teevee more than they'll be calling him... or something... it's always hard to tell what McCain's thinking at any particular moment. And finally, we all enjoyed the deliciousness of watching Jeb Bush twist slowly in the wind on immigration. Bush wrote a book a while back (which is just now being released) in which he staked out a position that was actually more moderate than the position Republicans were holding when he wrote it. Now, however, the ground under the GOP position has shifted, and Bush now looks like a right-wing reactionary -- which was not his intended effect. So he had to kick off his book tour by disavowing the position he took in the book. A book specifically about immigration. So it wasn't even a Republican-on-Republican attack in this case, it was Jeb Bush-on-Jeb Bush. Delightful to observe!


We've got a lot of minor points to make before handing out the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, so let's get on with it.

In Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee seems to be seriously considering becoming a Democrat, which is good news because he's always been a liberal (even in Republican clothing), so perhaps in future he'll be eligible for these MIDOTW awards.

Ashley Judd continues to cause Kentucky Republicans to freak out, and she hasn't even announced if she's running for Senate or not. If she does toss her hat in the ring, look for plenty of fireworks in this race.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (boy is it fun to type that title!) continues to do exactly what we all expected she'd do in the Senate: put the big bankers on the hotseat. Warren's withering contempt for "too big to fail" banks is a refreshing breeze in the halls of the Capitol, and so she's worthy of at least an Honorable Mention this week.

Bill Clinton just penned an opinion piece in the Washington Post where he admits that the Defense Of Marriage Act was not just an inadequate half-measure but also downright unconstitutional to boot. Although we applaud Bubba for completing his evolution on the matter, we can't hand him any sort of award for doing so, since he actively campaigned on signing DOMA in the 1996 campaign. This precludes whatever he has to say about it now, we feel, at least as far as handing awards out is concerned.

Instead, this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week goes to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, for supporting Rand Paul's filibuster across party lines. Rand Paul is usually dismissed by the Left as a slightly-less-crackpotty version of his father, but in this instance Paul was indeed raising a valid point: is there any limit to what the Obama White House and the Justice Department claim they're allowed to do with armed drones?

By focusing on a very specific detail, Paul made the issue one of constitutional rights of citizens versus the federal government. By doing so, Paul's case was in fact one that Democrats (or "liberals" or "progressives," take your choice) should really have supported. Sadly, Democrats were largely absent from this debate.

Now, Rand Paul may run for president in 2016, so it's understandable that Democrats may not want to elevate his stature. And Paul's filibuster was really a political stunt, so Democrats may have wanted to distance themselves from it on grounds of propriety (or something). But Rand Paul was right. The federal government should not have the power of death-from-the-skies over American citizens on American soil when they are not actively engaged in an attack on the country. That should be explicitly stated. The Attorney General had not done so when Paul began his filibuster, but relented the next day and specifically stated that the Obama administration does not have this legal option.

Rand Paul scored a victory this week. For those who scoff at what Paul was suggesting, I pose a simple question: OK, sure, you don't think President Obama would ever do such a thing -- but what about a President Bush (or, if he had been in an unforeseen accident, a President Cheney)? For those with longer memories, how about a President Nixon (see: COINTELPRO, for context)? Executive precedents are important, and the precedents set for drone warfare now will likely be with us for a long time to come -- so it is indeed important to get all the details out on the table for discussion.

For supporting Rand Paul's effort in doing so, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Partisan politics aside, Rand Paul was right. His filibuster worked. And more Democrats should have stood with him, on general constitutional principles.

[Congratulate Senator Ron Wyden on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Before we get to the MDDOTW award, we have two notes. Senator Carl Levin announced he's retiring and will not be running for re-election next year. This is disappointing indeed, especially since it means Republicans could pick up the Michigan seat in next year's election.

Our second note is an apology. Back in FTP [243], we wrote the following:

In fact, we're feeling a little timid about our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week, which we're going to offer up with a rather large caveat. Because, so far, the story only exists as nebulous unproven accusations. If true, they'll certainly merit further MDDOTW awards in the future. If not true, then we'll rescind this week's award, and offer up a public apology.

We are hereby doing so. Senator Bob Menendez still faces several disturbing legal problems, but the "underage prostitutes" charge against him kind of fell apart this week with the news that one of the women now says she was paid to make the accusations in the first place. While we will continue to reserve judgment on the rest of the senator's legal problems, the real reason we handed him the MDDOTW five weeks ago was the prostitution scandal. We were wrong and premature to have done so, and we offer Senator Menendez our apologies and hereby rescind the award given. Mea culpa.

Looking forward, we're handing out (Dis-)Honorable Mentions to all Democratic senators, with three exceptions, for the Rand Paul filibuster. Ron Wyden, obviously, supported Paul. His fellow Democratic senator from Oregon, Jeff Merkley, at least tweeted his support. And Dick Durban stood up and asked Paul a relevant and thought-provoking question at the end of the filibuster, namely whether the president would have had the authority to shoot down the fourth plane on 9/11 before it was used as a weapon in Washington D.C. Every other Democrat in the Senate deserves a (Dis-)Honorable Mention for their silence, though.

But our winner of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week was President Obama. Now, Obama did do some impressive things this week, including launching a "charm offensive" with congressional Republicans that is, in fact, long overdue. Obama is, famously, not a big fan of the gladhandling and politicking that presidents are expected to do in order to advance their agenda on Capitol Hill. He's held a few photo-ops and made a (very) few phone calls over the years, but he hasn't personally made such a big effort since the beginning of his first term. We're hoping this time around it'll develop into more than just a photo-op or two, and in fact bring some change to the way things have been operating for the past couple of years.

But Obama made a blunder this week which seems minor but is larger symbolically. In fact, the whole thing revolves around symbolism. Obama has been accused of "overhyping" the dire effects of the sequester. Since the sequester, even at worst, will have more of the nature of a very slow-motion trainwreck, nobody's really sure how much it's going to hurt average Americans from now until the end of the fiscal year (at the start of October). Republicans have been claiming Obama's going to make sure the cuts hurt average people, because he is "playing politics."

This week, Obama announced that White House tours will end for the duration of the sequester. This was pretty heavy-handed, and a political misstep on two levels. One, it feeds into the Republican talking point that Obama's just "looking for ways to make things hurt," and two, it also feeds into a very old theme many presidents have been painted with: a "bunker" mentality at the White House. If Obama had been a bit more deft, he could have announced that White House tours were being cut back to only three days a week, rather than just slamming the door shut. It looked, quite frankly, like an overreaction.

And for that reason, President Obama is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. He's handed his opponents a "poster child" in the sequester fight, when he could have avoided doing so. Republicans are already using language about the White House being "owned by the American people," and they're just getting warmed up. That's a political misstep, and it's one he may find he has to back down from eventually.

[Contact President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 248 (3/8/13)

OK, we're already running long this week, so let's just get right to the talking points. As always, these are for Democrats everywhere to use whether arguing with a Republican on a national television show, or just arguing with a coworker at the water cooler. Without further ado...


   Halfway there on jobs

Today's jobs numbers were a bright spot in the news this week, as the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent. Be sure to put this into perspective.

"Right after Barack Obama took office, the unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent. Economists tell us that what they call 'full unemployment' is a rate at about 5.5 percent or lower. This month, the rate hit 7.7 percent. Obviously, we've still got a ways to go, but to put it in perspective, this is the halfway point between where we were when the economy collapsed and where we'd like to be. So we're halfway there, and the trend is looking good for the immediate future. Of course, the sequester is going to have an impact, with the loss of up to 750,000 jobs, and we should be working right now to avoid this hit to the recovery."


   The other filibuster

This is an important point to make, about the media's treatment of how things operate in the Senate these days.

"While Rand Paul captured the media's attention last Thursday with his 'talking' filibuster, it was in fact one of two filibusters which happened that day. The other filibuster took place very quietly, and the media didn't report on it at all. A federal judicial nominee was filibustered because the National Rifle Association didn't approve, but I didn't notice that story on television much, did you? Blocking eminently-qualified judicial nominees is not even news anymore, because of the routine nature of Republicans blocking up-or-down votes for Obama's judicial candidates. I think that says something about the media, don't you?"


   Too big to exist

Let's have some loud vocal support for Elizabeth Warren, what do you say?

"I was pleased to see Senator Elizabeth Warren asking some very pointed questions this week on the subject of banking. Warren is right. 'Too big to fail' is a revolting concept. In fact, these banks are also 'too big to jail,' which is a downright un-American concept. No entity should be above the law in such a fashion in this country. When you get right down to it, these banks are really 'too big to exist' safely in our economy. Washington has yet to rein in the size of these banks in any meaningful way, which just sets us up for the next crisis. I fully support Elizabeth Warren's efforts to prevent that from happening. These banks are simply 'too big' -- period."


   World didn't just end

The Obama administration moved so quickly on this one, there wasn't even time for the knee-jerk outrage on the Right to even develop.

"I notice that an Al Qaeda terrorist is now being tried in a federal court in New York. This should be seen as a triumph of the Constitution, and prove that such suspects are fully capable of being tried, convicted, and locked away forever using nothing but the tools the Constitution lays out. The world did not come to an end because this terrorist is being tried in federal court rather than being shipped to a secret prison or held by the military. The trial will only serve to strengthen our country and put us back on the road to trusting our own judicial system once again."


   Let's cut funding for non-existent stuff!

This one was priceless. Literally -- no price attached at all!

"I notice that in their budget-cutting zeal, Republicans this week made sure that no federal money went to an organization which no longer exists. I'm sorry to inform the Republicans that defunding ACORN is going to save exactly zero dollars, since it no longer exists. Perhaps they should be focusing on things in the budget which are.... you know... part of reality. It'd certainly be a step in the right direction."


   If you want to stop voter fraud...

This is "part two" of the previous talking point, really.

"If the Republicans are so all-fired concerned about voter fraud, then maybe they need to stop hiring an organization which has had voter fraud problems stretching back years. Maybe they should stop hiring an organization which is doing exactly what they accused ACORN of doing. Because to continue hiring these folks just points out the rank partisan hypocrisy in pointing fingers at voter fraud on one side of the aisle, while ignoring it -- and funding it -- on your own."


   About that $716 billion...

This one is such an easy shot, we saved it for last.

"I seem to recall a lot of hysteria from Republicans during the last campaign over Medicare. Millions of dollars were spent by the Romney/Ryan campaign in order to scare the holy heck out of America's seniors and try to -- laughably enough -- paint the Republicans as the 'saviors of Medicare.' In specific, Paul Ryan denounced the 716 billion dollars that President Obama had heartlessly cut from Medicare. Ryan and Romney swore up and down that they would restore these cuts immediately, should they be elected. Turn the clock forward a few months, and instead of 'Mediscare' ads, Paul Ryan has decided to keep these savings -- savings which do not and never did cut seniors' benefits by one thin dime -- in his budget document. Just like Ryan included these savings in both his previous budget bills. All throughout the campaign, Democrats were crying 'foul' over such hypocrisy on Ryan's part -- while Republicans tried to use Mediscare as a political bludgeon. With his recent budget, Ryan is in essence admitting that he was not just wrong during the entire campaign, but flat-out lying about the $716 billion. I'd really like to see some enterprising young reporter right about now ask Paul Ryan: 'About that $716 billion, Congressman...' -- wouldn't you?"


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