04/11/2014 08:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points -- Happy 50th, Civil Rights Act Of 1964!

We have some "old business" to take care of here, first, before we begin. Last week, the subtitle of this column was "And Counting," which referred to the 7.1 million signup figure reached by the Obamacare exchanges. Our point was for all Democrats to always tack this phrase onto any stat quoted about Obamacare, to make a very basic point. We're happy to report that one week later, the official number has now changed. Which means the new slogan is:

"Obamacare signups: 7.5 million. And counting."

OK, enough of that, let's get on with the week that was. Tax time is right around the corner, and the I.R.S. is in the news again, and not in a good way. Seems due to a clause someone (nobody will admit to it) in Congress tacked on to a bill awhile back, the federal government can now go back further than 10 years to collect unpaid debts. Doesn't sound so controversial, until you hear what "unpaid debts" really means to them: some ancient overpayment from the government (on Social Security, for instance) that they don't even have records to prove -- which were overpaid not to the people the I.R.S. is now going after, but instead, to their parents. Wow. I mean, just... wow. Paul Ryan better hope his family's paperwork was in order.

This week was a big week for women's rights, as the Senate pushed for an Equal Pay Act to "celebrate" Equal Pay Day. It was filibustered (of course), which just sets Democrats up in the upcoming campaign to push home the fact that one party cares about women's rights and one party clearly does not. Republican responses to the whole issue ran from disrespectful to disdainful to insulting all the way up to kissing the women's vote goodbye completely. When asked what Republicans would do instead on equal pay, the response was: pretty much nothing at all. Democrats are, reportedly, ready and willing to take this case to the voters out on the campaign trail. To top off this week in the ongoing War On Women, a Republican House member was caught on security camera (in his own office, no less) sucking face with a married underling. By week's end, the aide was out of work, but Representative Vance McAllister -- a "family values" kind of guy -- was defiantly still in office.

Let's see, what else? Two key pages of the Senate report on torture leaked out, so check them out if you want a preview (the two pages are a bullet list of conclusions) of the firestorm that is just around the corner, if the 400-page summary is ever released to the public. From just two pages, it seems pretty damning.

Charles Krauthammer offered up some sage advice for his fellow Republicans this week, on the subject of Benghazi, which can be summed up as: get over it -- put it behind you. The chances Darrell Issa will follow Krauthammer's advice are in the slim-to-none category, however.

The House passed Paul Ryan's budget this week, and Democrats seem downright eager to use it out on the campaign trail, which is always a good sign. So far, President Obama's had a crack at it, and Elizabeth Warren took the fight to Ryan's home ground. This is who the GOP are -- that's the main message Democrats need to get across. So far, they seem to be doing a pretty good job of it.

Attorney General Eric Holder had an eventful week in front of Congress. After getting into a testy exchange with Louie "Aspersions On My Asparagus" Gohmert, Holder got in the final word: "Good luck with your asparagus."

Kidding aside, though, Holder did get some pointed questions from the left as well as from the right. In particular, on why he refuses to reschedule marijuana -- which could easily be one of those "my pen and my phone" executive actions Obama and Holder could take (the federal Controlled Dangerous Substances Act which set up the schedules clearly says the Attorney General can move a substance from one schedule to another with just a signature). Holder's answers were less than responsive, shall we say, and basically consisted of "we'd be happy to work with Congress to do so" -- which dodges the point entirely.

In other marijuana news, the Washington Post ran an interesting story about how Mexican drug cartels are switching over to growing opium poppies rather than marijuana, because the market price has collapsed. There's a reason for this, and even the farmers themselves know it:

Farmers in the storied "Golden Triangle" region of Mexico's Sinaloa state, which has produced the country's most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. Its wholesale price has collapsed in the past five years, from $100 per kilogram to less than $25.

"It's not worth it anymore," said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer who said he couldn't remember the last time his family and others in their tiny hamlet gave up growing mota. "I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization."

Take note, people who are promoting marijuana reform. Here is some solid proof of a claim you've been making: legalizing marijuana will destroy the black market. Just ask the Sinaloan farmers.

In humor news, everyone is all a-twitter (should that now read "all a-Twitter"?) over Stephen Colbert taking over when David Letterman retires next year. My own personal take on the situation seems to be one nobody else will say: "I don't care who is on before Craig Ferguson." Heh.

Speaking of funny, I guess the Atlanta Braves can breathe a sigh of relief that nothing came of that big political movement a generation ago to ban flag burning. Because someone would surely have faced arrest after the team's fireworks torched their enormous American flag. Good thing common sense (and the First Amendment) won that fight, eh?


In a surprise move, we're going to award a posthumous Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, because of the events this week to commemorate this year's 50th anniversary of Lyndon Baines Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the bill wasn't actually signed until July 2, 1964, please note). So this was the impressive thing Democrats (and even some Republicans) were talking about this week, due to events held at the L.B.J. presidential library, so we felt Johnson deserved accolades from us, as well.

This was a big deal. It is worth remembering. Johnson used the popularity he inherited after John F. Kennedy was assassinated to get this crucial law passed. Back then, it wasn't a clear "Democrats versus Republicans" split on the issue of civil rights, it was more geographic. Southern Democrats were the ones fighting the hardest against such legislation. Johnson is reported to have said after signing the bill that he had "lost the South for a generation" for the Democrats by doing so.

He was wrong. He lost the South for at least two generations... and counting. The South bears grudges hard -- this is why they were so solidly Democratic for so long, after all (Lincoln was a Republican, remember). After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and the Voting Rights Act which followed it in 1965), "Yellow Dog" Democrats in the South started a migration to the Republican Party in the mid-1960s that was complete by the 1990s. But there is no "forever" in politics, and the Democrats are poised to at least turn parts of the South purplish-blue again -- Virginia voted twice for Obama, and North Carolina did so in 2008.

Johnson's championing of civil rights cost him dearly, politically. Of course, so did a lot of other things, the Vietnam War being the most prominent. He was far from perfect. But what he accomplished in the Civil Rights Act was monumental, and stands on its own. This is why four of the existing five living men who have been president appeared at the ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary this week (although George W. Bush did somehow see fit to crack a penis-measuring joke, but as we said, nobody's perfect).

So we're forging a special Semicentenary Edition of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, and posthumously awarding it to none other than Lyndon Baines Johnson.

[Since this is a posthumous award, no contact information can be provided, sorry.]


We're going to take a look back for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week category as well, but not nearly so far back.

This week, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced her resignation. We have to admit, her timing was impeccable. Resigning right after the success of the Obamacare exchanges means she will go out on a high note. Calls for her resignation were made back when the Obamacare website was crashing and burning, but Obama and Sebelius apparently decided to allow her to oversee the cleanup of the mess before she left. This cleanup was more successful than anyone at the time predicted (us included). So now the last thing on her political résumé will be "cleaned up mess which happened on my watch" rather than "gigantic failure right before I left." Impeccable timing, in other words.

We give Sebelius credit for the turnaround, just as we gave her grief for the disaster. She admirably refused to toss some underling under the bus in the midst of the crisis -- instead stating to Congress that she was responsible for all the blame -- which is to her credit as well.

But we're getting in a last kick at Sebelius on her way out the door for another reason. Sebelius wins her fourth Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week for the same reason she won two of the other three we've handed her. Because the actions Sebelius took in the "Plan B" fight should haunt her just as much as the Obamacare website rollout, forevermore.

In case you've forgotten, or weren't paying attention at the time, here's a quick rundown of how Sebelius and the department of H.H.S. fought a protracted legal battle for purely political reasons. Astonishingly, these weren't even liberal political reasons, but conservative political reasons. That's right -- Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and most importantly Kathleen Sebelius at H.H.S. all lined up against scientific evidence for no reason other than politics.

Putting politics over science should be denounced by Democrats. In fact, it was denounced by Barack Obama, back when he was running for office. Then he got into office, and took the cowardly route. Instead of making "Plan B" and all the other morning-after pills available to all women over the counter, age restrictions were slapped on the product. Sebelius personally overruled the panel of doctors who were supposed to make the decision based solely on the science. And then both Sebelius and Obama dug in their heels and fought hard in the courts to prevent a judge from overruling them.

Now, you can argue that Sebelius was only carrying out the policies set by her boss, Barack Obama. That's a valid point. But Obama has also won his own previous MDDOTW awards during this entire fiasco, just because we didn't want him to feel left out. But Sebelius was the woman on the front lines of this battle, a fact which has now largely been forgotten (since the Obamacare website disaster was more recent history). From another article recapping the fight I wrote, which focused much more on Sebelius, a quick timeline:

  • Scientists say "sell it over-the-counter to all, no restrictions"
  • Kathleen Sebelius decides to overrule scientists in an unprecedented way, purely for political reasons.
  • Sebelius loses a lawsuit in which this nakedly political and completely anti-science decision is exposed by a federal judge.
  • Sebelius ordered to follow original scientific rules, within 30 days.
  • On the 25th day, Sebelius says we're going to relax the restrictions a wee bit, but keep them in place, for no scientific reason whatsoever. Oh, and insists that the judge's ruling had nothing to do with it.

At the end of this article, I quoted something Sebelius herself wrote, in which she was extolling the virtues of Obamacare for women's rights. The sheer hypocrisy of making the following statement while at the same time fighting tooth and nail in court to do exactly what she is denouncing should be obvious to all:

Women's health decisions shouldn't be made by politicians or insurance companies. Rather than wasting time refighting old political battles, this Administration is moving forward and putting women in control of their own health care. If women are going to take care of their families and friends, they have to take care of themselves.

Such hypocrisy deserves to be remembered, we feel. To write something like that, and then turn around and do exactly the opposite in the course of performing your office's duties is nothing short of despicable. Especially when you are betraying what should be a basic tenet for Democrats: don't allow politics to trump science.

Kathleen Sebelius fixed the Obamacare website. Well done, we say. She was allowed to stay in her job to correct her mistake, and she did so. But on Plan B, she never really had to until her legal options were completely exhausted. For waging that fight -- for fighting longer than she needed to, for overruling her scientists, for the tactics she used during the fight -- we feel that Kathleen Sebelius deserves at least one more Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, on her way out the door.

[Kathleen Sebelius is, as far as we know, now a private citizen and no longer Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. It is our longstanding policy not to provide contact information for private citizens.]


Volume 299 (4/11/14)

This is going to be a rather unique talking points section. In the first place, we've always been dedicated to the written word here. Even when we've highlighted a political speech where video has been available, we've always preferred to run transcripts instead. Sometimes we provide a link to the video for those who want to watch it, and sometimes we don't even bother. Call us word-snobs if you will, we don't mind.

But today, we are going to attempt something we've never done -- embedding not just one but two videos, instead of providing text. We are doing this for one big reason: laziness. Transcripts of these videos weren't available, and it would have taken us hours to transcribe even the best bits from the videos -- hours we simply didn't have to spare. So we're going all "multimedia" this week, even though as a rule we hate trying to read articles online with videos embedded in them (it causes problems for browsers, it takes longer to download, videos can start playing all by themselves at times -- the annoyances are many, we feel).

But this week is an important one, and these are important messages for Democrats to hear. Both of these videos were made by the national Democratic Party, and they are reaching out to fellow Democrats over a very important and timely issue: voting rights. There is simply no better time to do so than now, while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

There are two videos, one from Vice President Joe Biden and one from the big dog himself, Bill Clinton. We actually like the Biden one better, but they both manage to strongly make the same point: why are we now going backwards on voting rights?

This is a powerful message. When people see one party attempting to deny them the right to vote, they get downright dedicated to getting to the polls. It happened in 2012, and it could happen again in 2014 if Democrats spotlight the issue in the campaign.

We actually were considering writing our own rant this week on voting rights, but while researching we came across these videos. Because they're so good, it seemed redundant to try to rewrite exactly the same points. So here, for the first time ever, is our first "video-only" talking points section. Both videos should provide more than enough talking points for Democrats to use this week.

First, here is the Joe Biden video:


And finally, the Bill Clinton video:


[Note: See you all here next week, when we're going to do something special (we haven't figured out quite what, yet, but we've got to do something to mark the occasion) for our 300th weekly column!]


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