09/20/2013 08:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points -- The Answer To Obamacare, The Universe, And Everything

It's all becoming clear now. House Republicans are just really big fans of Douglas Adams -- that's been their plan all along. Adams, in his brilliantly funny Hitchhiker's Guide series, told the story of the megacomputer "Deep Thought" who spent seven-and-a-half million years working on "the answer to the ultimate question of life, the Universe, and everything." Deep Thought famously came up with the answer to this weighty query: 42.

How else to explain the House of Representatives voting 41 times previously on killing Obamacare, other than as an homage to Adams: a precursor to today's 42nd vote (after the first 41 failed utterly)? Today's vote must be an attempt to answer the question of Obamacare, the Universe, and everything. Or something. It's hard to tell, anymore.

What's amusing in the whole sorry excuse for legislating (or, if you prefer, this endless Washington soap opera) is that, increasingly, Democrats and even (gasp!) the dreaded Barack Obama himself are becoming almost irrelevant to the Republican angerfest. They've got new targets to rail against, instead. As Pogo Possum might have sagely observed of the new Republican strategy (such as it is): "We have met the enemy and he is us."

What started as a partisan ploy to raise money from gullible donors has now grown into a full-scale Republican-on-Republican cage match. It's hard to even count the corners in this boxing ring, really. We've got the House Tea Partiers versus the Senate Tea Partiers versus the House leadership versus sane Senate Republicans versus the apoplectic rightwing media versus the sane rightwing media. It is, in fact, a full-on dogfight within the party, with Democrats doing nothing more than standing back and letting the fur fly -- because they're not even the target of most of the Republican rage right now.

That's right, folks, the Republicans have begun to eat their own. Or perhaps you prefer the "circular firing squad" metaphor? As you can already tell, the metaphors (mixed and singly) freely leap to mind, while watching this fracas from the sidelines.

In fact, for the first time ever, we're going to use nothing but Republican quotes as our talking points this week, since Republican politicians and conservative pundits are now savaging their fellow partisans better than any Democrat could even hope to do. That's right -- we don't even have to create any anti-Republican snark this week, because Republicans are already doing such a good job of it. So there's that to look forward to.

Before then we've got our usual awards, and one unrelated note that just has to be pointed out here. Want to see a pro-marijuana ad during the next Super Bowl? Well then, click on over to the contest Quicken is running, and vote for NORML to win the competition! It would certainly give the biggest spotlight in the world to the issue, so it's a worthy effort which deserves support.


In a sort of "dog that didn't bark" or perhaps "dog that went off to bark to the wealthy to make oodles of cash" pick, our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Larry Summers, for gracefully withdrawing his name for consideration for Federal Reserve Chair.

Summers was facing open hostility not just among Senate Democrats as a whole, but specifically from Senate Democrats on the committee which would have initially had to vote on him. This all but doomed his chances, and so Summers did the honorable thing by "falling on his sword" so that Obama wouldn't look like he was forced into choosing someone else.

Now, we're not exactly big Larry Summers fans (for all sorts of reasons), but we have to at least give him some credit for choosing the dignified way out. Rather than being nominated and facing a defeat in the Senate confirmation vote, Summers will now be free to give speeches and sit on boards of directors across this great land.

For making this choice, Summers wins our MIDOTW award. We wish him a relaxing retirement from politics, most sincerely.

[Larry Summers is a private citizen outside of politics (thankfully), and our policy is not to provide contact information for such non-public figures.]


We have two Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards this week, for the two House members who voted with the Republicans for their "defund Obamacare" continuing resolution today.

Blue Dogs at heart, Representatives Jim Matheson from Utah and Mike McIntyre from North Carolina voted with the Tea Party in a naked attempt to keep their jobs in tough districts. Their votes were not necessary, but if they had voted "nay" or not voted at all, it would have lowered the vote count to 216 for the Republican plan -- a significant number, since it is less than half of the full House of Representatives. The whole exercise was symbolic, and over a dozen House members sat out the vote, but Matheson and McIntyre both felt the need to join with the Republicans -- the only two Democrats to break ranks on the vote.

For doing so, both Jim Matheson and Mike McIntyre deserve a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact Representative Jim Matheson on his House contact page and Representative Mike McIntyre on his House contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]

[CORRECTION: We (blush) misremembered the vote count on the bill today, thinking it was 218 for, when the actual count was 228 Republicans for, plus the two Democrats (total 230 for). Mea culpa maxima. This means the preceding sentences about "less than half," which we are leaving uncorrected as a monument to never cutting corners when fact-checking and editing. Although the two votes would not have been as significant, we're still awarding both MDDOTW awards anyway.]


Volume 274 (9/20/13)

This week's talking points section is without precedent for this column, because each and every one of them was uttered or written by conservatives or Republican officeholders. In fact, there was such a plethora of scathing commentary to choose from that what follows is merely a representational sample of what Republicans are currently saying about each other in the midst of the 42nd Obamacare shutdown showdown.

We didn't even have room for the snarkiest comments, which have been coming from unnamed "senior GOP congressional aides" (such as: "Cruz is the leader of a secret cabal of leftists that are seeking control of the conservative movement -- their aim is to force the party to take on suicidal missions to destroy the movement from within."). We also decided not to bother with all the rage the House Tea Party is flinging at Ted Cruz (example, from Peter King: "We can't be going off on these false missions that Ted Cruz wants us to go on. The issues are too important. They're too serious, they require real conservative solutions, not cheap headline-hunting schemes.") -- who set much of this ragefest off earlier this week by breaking a cardinal Tea Party rule, when he admitted that reality would win, and not the Tea Party defunding fantasy.

Which still leaves us a lot of scathing commentary. Here are seven responses (well, eight, really -- because there were just so many to choose from) to the House's plan to shut the federal government down in a tantrum because they didn't get their way on the Obamacare issue. All -- each and every one -- straight out of the mouths of respected conservative Republicans. Enjoy!


   Fanaticism on the Right

When even Bill O'Reilly is using such language, normally Republicans take note. This is Bill speaking to the leader of the Tea Party Express:

Fanaticism on the right is also harming the country. There is no way Obamacare is going to be defunded. It is not going to happen. What you are trying to do... is impossible. Do you not know that? I just think it's destructive to your cause.


   Showing your manhood on the way down from jumping off a cliff

Charles Krauthammer's politics could be described as "somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan's," on a normal day. But he absolutely lit in to the House Republicans (beginning by calling their shutdown idea "really dumb"), mixing metaphors with abandon:

The other issue, the one you're talking about now, I think is a ginned-up issue for this reason: It's all about tactics. It's not about what you think about Obamacare. The tactics that these brave people are telling us we have to do is to jump off a cliff so we can show our manhood. There is -- unless you believe that you are ready to shut down the government, unless you are ready to deliver on the threat, you don't go near there. And we know that every time Republicans in opposition have threatened to shut down the government, they've had to blink because it turned against them. If I thought it would work, I would support it. There is not one chance in a hundred that the threat of shutting down the government is going to succeed... you don't show that you are completely irresponsible and shut down the government, knowing that you will in the end have to cave.


   An ill-conceived tactic

Even Karl Rove couldn't make this turd blossom, it seems:

The desire to strike at ObamaCare [sic] is praiseworthy. But any strategy to repeal, delay or replace the law must have a credible chance of succeeding or affecting broad public opinion positively. The defunding strategy doesn't. Going down that road would strengthen the president while alienating independents. It is an ill-conceived tactic, and Republicans should reject it.


   A suicide note

John McCain's been telling anyone who will listen what he thinks of the shutdown plan (the following is a composite quote from two different articles, I should mention, which is why it's kind of choppy):

Republicans ought to understand if we shut down the government, Congress always gets blamed -- rightly or wrongly -- Congress gets blamed. We've seen the movie before. It's just some of them weren't around at the time; I was.... [W]e all know we're not going to cut off Social Security checks... And for us to say you've got to repeal Obamacare in order to get that done, as Charles Krauthammer [wrote?], that's a suicide note.... I hope my colleagues in the House who believe that we need to shut down the government will understand that that's not what the American [people want?] -- they hate government, but they don't want it to stop functioning.... So some would like to set up another one of these shutdown-the-government threats. And most Americans are really tired of those kinds of shenanigans here in Washington.


   Stupid... idiotic

Nichole Wallace, former communications guru for George W. Bush, after calling the shutdown strategy "idiotic," went on to offer her own charming metaphor to her fellow Republicans:

When Republicans run into the street, despite the fact that there is a flashing red light, they're going to get hit by the cars and killed. So this is stupid, politically.


   The dumbest idea ever

This one is a two-parter, because we just couldn't limit ourselves to just seven snarky quotes this week. Both of these refer to the same thing: the House bill, regardless of what the Tea Party thinks, doesn't even defund Obamacare. It doesn't even come close, since most of Obamacare is actually mandatory (as opposed to discretionary) spending. First we have Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina:

I said it was the dumbest idea I'd ever heard of. I still think it's a dumb idea, because you can't defund Obamacare.

Senator Lindsey Graham was a bit more jocular in his response, when addressing the same issue:

That's a technical thing. But yeah, like 80 percent of it [Obamacare funding] is unaffected [by the House "defunding" bill] ... That seems to not resonate with anybody.


   Shutdowns are bad... 'mmm-kay?

While the quote from Ted Cruz was what got all the attention this week, there was an even more extraordinary quote from his buddy, Senator Mike Lee. These two were crucial in ginning up all the anger and rage this summer, appearing in "let's defund Obamacare!" ads and whatnot in order to convince House members the shutdown idea was a great one. Which makes his remarks this week all the more extraordinary:

A shutdown is too much. We don't want a shutdown, we don't need a shutdown. We should avoid a shutdown, and Obamacare is a law that's going to harm people. It certainly is not a good idea to shut down the government in order to force through the implementation of Obamacare at a time when the president has said he's not going to follow the law and he's made substantial changes. Shutdowns are bad, shutdowns are not worth it, this law is not worth causing a shutdown over.


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