01/20/2012 09:28 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points -- Out of Touch

We're going to start off in an odd way today, as two of my column series collide. Because the South Carolina primary is tomorrow, first we're going to announce our picks. Afterwards, we'll get on with the usual Friday blathering, rest assured.

South Carolina is a real dart-at-the-wall pick, due to the extreme volatility of the race. Two candidates dropped out this week (Huntsman and Perry), but that won't affect the race much since neither of them had much support. But the fight between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney has certainly heated up, with two debate performances which showed Newt at his best (Newt just loves debates, for good reason). Romney has been fighting the headwinds of all the Bain criticism, and this week plowed into another political morass, this time around the question of releasing his tax returns. The elitism Mitt just exudes is apparently not playing very well down in South Carolina. Add into this mix an interview with a Gingrich ex-wife, just to remind everyone what a horn dog Gingrich has been, and the polling has been a real rollercoaster ride all week long.

Newt is up in the most-current polls, which do not reflect either the final television debate or his ex-wife's interview. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Newt wins South Carolina, and that his strong debate performances outweigh the ex-wife interview (which really wasn't all that great an interview -- only one revelation, no other real dirt). Mitt will win second place, but will now be described by the media as having won "only one of the first three" primaries. I'm going to go even further out on my prognosticating limb here, and say that Ron Paul defeats Rick Santorum for third place -- which could be the death blow to the Santorum campaign (then again, maybe not, who knows?). So, for South Carolina: Gingrich out in front by 5 points, Romney sheepishly taking second, and Paul edging out Santorum for third.

As always, I like to post my record for the election cycle when making these picks. I actually called New Hampshire 3-for-3, with my prediction of: Romney, Paul, Huntsman in the top three places. This is good news, because my stats are going to need a boost.

How much of one depends on how we rearrange my record, though. Iowa just announced that Rick Santorum led by 34 votes, but that they are unable to determine who actually won, because the Republican Party in Iowa is, to be blunt, incompetent. They couldn't even accurately count 120,000 votes, so "incompetent" is actually being generous.

But the question for me is: how do I score this? My picks for Iowa were (in the following order): Paul, Santorum, Romney. I scored this as 1-for-3, since the order announced that night was: Romney, Santorum, Paul. Now they tell me it could also have been: Santorum, Romney, Paul, which would leave me at 0-for-3.

Or I could get creative with the scoring. Since the top two are essentially a "tie," I could award a half-point to myself for at least putting Santorum in the top two: 0.5-for-3. Or I could declare the top two races null, since Iowa can't accurately report the total, leaving me at 0-for-1. Or I could just suck it up and decide that Santorum was the "winner" (with a big asterisk) and leave it at 0-for-3. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, as to how the scoring should go. For now, I'm going to leave it at the worst of these (0-for-3), which puts my record at:

Total correct 2012 primary picks so far: 3 for 6 -- 50 percent.

Enough of this nonsense, though, let's get on to our regularly-scheduled nonsense instead.


President Obama did two things last week that earned him the Most Impressive Democrat of the Week.

First, he (once again) turned down the Keystone XL pipeline project, as it stands, since it would pose an unacceptable environmental risk to the Ogallala Aquifer which thousands of farmers across multiple Plains states rely upon for their livelihood. Obama told the Canadians to go back to the drawing board and figure out a route around the aquifer. Good for him. He did this in the teeth of a ginned-up Republican hissy fit over the project, which Republicans in the House are promising to ratchet up in the next few weeks. They see it as an "anti-jobs" bludgeon to use against Obama. Since they've voted down every single jobs bill Obama's suggested, however, this likely isn't going to fly in the end.

The second action Obama took which earns him the MIDOTW award was to hold firm on birth control regulations. Religious organizations were lobbying hard for Obama to widen the "religious exemption" they use to not provide birth control in the health insurance they offer their religious employees. Obama refused, instead only allowing them a one-year exemption to get used to the new rules which everyone now falls under, rather than allowing them to deny birth control to non-religious employees in hospitals and schools across the country.

This was a bigger deal than it might sound, because of fears on the left that Obama was about to cave in to the religious organizations' demands. Especially after the Obama administration overruled scientific advice to deny young women over-the-counter access to the "morning-after" pill. But, this week, Obama did the right thing and stood up for women's rights.

For taking two bold political positions this week, President Barack Obama picks up his record 13th Most Impressive Democrat of the Week award this week, giving him exactly twice the number second-place-holder Nancy Pelosi has won. Well done, Mister President, and let's see more of this sort of thing all year long.

[Congratulate President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Obama did one other impressive thing last week, but we had to save it back for the disappointing award section, because of those arrayed against him.

Which brings us to a big (Dis-)Honorable Mention for all the Democrats in Congress who are still supporting S.O.P.A. and P.I.P.A., two bills that would bring a chilling amount of censorship to the Internet. Pushed (naturally) by Hollywood, in their continuing crusade against online piracy, these bills would have allowed websites to be shut down without adequate legal due process, and both bills deserve an ignoble death.

Harry Reid announced today that he wouldn't even be bringing them up for a vote in the Senate, due to their sudden lack of popularity. This issue was spotlighted by major websites "going dark" this Wednesday, in one of the most far-reaching efforts Silicon Valley has ever made in the political arena. This powerful message worked. Obama came out against the bills, and co-sponsors (Democrat and Republican) started dropping their names from the bills left and right.

But some Democrats are still supporting these odious bills, because they really, really love Hollywood's money. Which is why they collectively get a (Dis-)Honorable Mention.

The Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week award, however, goes to a man we thought had gone beyond being considered for these awards. Chris Dodd used to be a senator, from Connecticut. He retired from the Senate when it became obvious he was not going to win re-election. On his way out, the Washington Post quoted him on the issue of what he was going to do next:

Sen. Chris Dodd says he still doesn't know what he'll do come January 2011, when, for the first time in 36 years, he will no longer be a member of Congress. But he has ruled out one option. "No lobbying, no lobbying," Dodd said in a recent interview.

In an interview with Salon, Dodd reiterated this stance, saying (quite specifically): "Who wants to be president of a trade association?"

So it might come as somewhat of a surprise that Chris Dodd is now the chief spokesman for the M.P.A.A. (the movie lobby). He's the one who has been lobbying his little heart out on Capitol Hill to get S.O.P.A. and P.I.P.A. passed. He's even issued dire warnings that Hollywood is not going to cough up campaign cash for Democrats who don't fall into line, as well.

Read the Salon article for the sordid details. And, lest we be misunderstood, Dodd is not being singled out for being a lobbyist pushing for a bad law, or even for threatening to withhold campaign donations if he doesn't get his way -- that's what lobbyists do, after all, and there certainly are more of them in Washington than you can shake a stick at. No, no, Dodd is just doing his (current) job the best he knows how, for which we don't fault him.

Chris Dodd wins the MDDOTW award for his hypocrisy. This is exactly the same thing we'd say about some politician who built his political career on attacks on gay rights, and who was then caught in a public bathroom with another man. It's not the action, it's the rank hypocrisy that deserves denouncing. Dodd tried to leave the Senate on the high road of decrying that messy, messy world of lobbying -- and how he was going to hold his head higher than that, and forego such despicable behavior. If he had then accepted a position at some prestigious university, we would have cheered him on for this stance.

Dodd didn't. Dodd lobbied, instead. Dodd prostituted himself, when he said he wasn't going to. Dodd doddered off into the sunset with a whole bunch of Hollywood movie money -- quite possibly the glitziest lobbying position in the entire country. Dodd left with holier-than-thou denunciations of lobbying, and look at him now.

For that -- and for that alone -- Chris Dodd wins our Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week award.

[Ex-Senator Chris Dodd no longer holds public office, so you'll have to find his contact information on your own should you wish to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 194 (1/20/12)

Barack Obama will be giving his annual State of the Union speech next Tuesday, and we'll be weighing in with suggestions Monday, so today we'd like to focus instead on what other Democrats should be saying these days.

OK, to be completely honest, we just felt like beating up on some Republicans today. Because all our talking points are precursors to the presidential race. The Republican slate of candidates has narrowed to four, and only two of them seem to have a realistic chance of gaining the nomination (at least, at this particular point), so we're going to train our fire on them. Democrats should really be astonished at who is winning on the Republican side, and should be saying to themselves right about now: "Really? This is who you're going to go with? Wow."

To encourage thoughts like these, we offer up our talking points this week.


   Out of touch

This is the most powerful paintbrush to use, for this election. Luckily, the candidates are making it extremely easy to paint them as elitists. This first phrase should be used about every third sentence, when speaking of the Republican Party, Republicans in general, or the Republican candidates.

The Republican Party seems to be radically out of touch these days, since their only answer to any economic problem is to give the richest few bigger tax breaks. That's their answer for everything. Think about it: have you heard a Republican plan for the foreclosure crisis? Give bankers more money and big tax breaks, I guess. How about a Republican plan for jobs? They answer with the same old tired supply-side economics which has been proven a failure over and over in the past three or four decades. That's how out of touch Republicans are, it seems. Nothing for the middle class, everything for the hedge fund managers and Kardashians of the country. It's really stunning how Republicans seem not to appreciate what an average family goes through these days, but then when you look at who is leading their party and who is running in 2012 it's not all that surprising. When the party is led by out of touch elitists, then I guess you should expect them not to care much about the middle class. Every time any other idea is proposed, Republican elitists scream 'class warfare' -- because they've been fighting this fight against the middle class for a long time now.


   "Not much," Mitt?

Which brings us to the frontrunner in the Republican race. Mitt Romney's really been making this easy, by his pathetic response to the charges being hurled at him by fellow Republicans. You'd think his campaign would have been ready for these attacks, but he just seems to flounder around hopelessly when these utterly predictable charges appear.

Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in the Republican race, won't release his tax forms to Republican primary voters. That right there is out of touch, but what's even more astoundingly elitist was what he said when discussing his income and taxes recently. Mitt said that he hadn't made 'that much' money giving speeches. Later we found out this was over $370,000. Think about that for a moment -- what would the average American middle-class family be able to do if they got a windfall of $370,000 in one year's time? How many of them would describe this amount of money as 'not that much?' Mitt Romney did. I guess, to Mitt, anything under a cool million dollars is chump change. That's how dangerously out of touch Mitt Romney is with the financial reality most Americans face.


   I'll bet you $10,000 Mitt's out of touch

As I said, Mitt's campaign so far makes this sort of thing really easy to do.

Remember during one of the Republican debates when Mitt Romney wanted to make a $10,000 bet with a fellow candidate? How many of you regularly make bets of such magnitude? How many people in this audience have ever bet $10,000 on anything in their lives? Do the American people really want someone who is that out of touch with the lives of average Americans to live in the White House? I'll bet you $10,000 Mitt's out of touch, how's that?


   The Caymans? Really?

Every time you turn around, there's another way to point out Mitt's elitism, it seems.

We don't know for sure, because Mitt Romney refuses to let Republican primary voters see his tax returns, but it is rumored that Romney has a whopping big pile of money deposited in offshore Cayman Islands accounts -- probably to dodge U.S. taxes. Is this the man we want leading our country? A man who -- during wartime -- hides his money offshore so he can avoid paying taxes which support our military? I find this disgustingly out of touch with American values, personally. But then, that's what Republican elitists do, I guess, move their stacks of dough around to avoid paying soldiers' salaries. Maybe that's why Mitt's afraid to release his taxes until after he gets the Republican nomination.


   Mitt's out of touch tax rate

This could be the biggest problem Mitt faces with his taxes. He's already owned up to it, so hit him hard!

Mitt Romney says he pays around 15 percent in federal taxes. This means he pays a much lower tax rate than a firefighter, a policeman, a teacher, a blue-collar worker, a white-collar worker, or even a star quarterback who makes millions of dollars. According to Republicans, what Mitt does is more beneficial to society than putting out fires, driving ambulances, teaching our children, or working on an assembly line building American products. This is what 'supply side economics' is all about: the rich pay a lower tax rate than you do. I'm in favor of demand-side economics, and I'd like to give a tax break to cops and construction workers, so they can spend their money and produce American jobs by their consumer demand. Republicans are for letting the middle class pay much higher tax rates than the idle rich such as Mitt Romney. I think that is wrong, and I think it is dangerously out of touch with American values. Why should a firefighter have to pay 10 percent more of his income in taxes than Mitt Romney? It makes no sense at all.


   Mitt isn't half the man his father was

This one comes from Joan Walsh over at Salon. In her words:

On Hardball Wednesday I noted that Mitt's father, George Romney, released 12 years of tax returns, when he ran for president in 1968, and they showed he didn't avail himself of many loopholes commonly used by the wealthy to minimize what they pay. If Mitt wants to be half the man his father was, I joked, he should release six years.


   Half a million bucks at Tiffany's?

Lest he feel left out, we left the last one for Romney's main challenger, at this point.

Who else do the Republicans have lined up if the public thinks Mitt Romney is an out of touch elitist? Newt Gingrich? Wow... that's just... wow. Newt reportedly had to convince his current wife to support him running for president by buying her a lot of jewels and taking her on a two-week Mediterranean cruise. Newt had a $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany's, for Pete's sake. How many Americans have a credit card with a limit of a half-a-million-bucks at any store, much less Tiffany's? So if voters decide Mitt Romney, with his Cayman Island accounts, is too out of touch to elect, they have the fallback candidate who enjoys picking up his wife a necklace worth six figures on his way home from work. It's the elite versus the elite. I think American voters will decide both of these guys are completely and utterly out of touch with their own lives.


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