Friday Talking Points [328] -- Obama's Gutsy Move

[ Posted Friday, November 21st, 2014 – 17:40 PST ]

When Congress wouldn't pass a bill, the president had to act on immigration and deportation policy, to keep families intact -- a measure that affected 40 percent of the undocumented immigrants in the United States. The president in question was George H. W. Bush, and the year was 1990. Congress, at the time, was run by the opposition party. What did they do in response? They passed a bill, which Bush later signed.

Last night, President Obama announced he's acting on immigration and deportation policy, to keep families intact, which will affect the same 40 percent of undocumented immigrants here. Congress is soon to be run completely by Obama's opposition party. What will they do in response?

There are a lot of possible answers to that question, but very far down on the list would be "pass a bill which Obama can sign." That was never going to happen -- it wouldn't have happened if Obama hadn't acted, it wouldn't have happened before the end of the year, it wouldn't have happened next year with a new Congress. And now it is definitely not going to happen. Nothing has changed on that front.

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Short And To The Point

[ Posted Thursday, November 20th, 2014 – 19:41 PST ]

President Obama just gave one of the shortest and most succinct speeches of his political career, laying out his new immigration and deportation policy. The speech seemed heartfelt and personal. There were few digressions into side issues or personal stories. It clocked in at somewhere near 15 minutes, which is notably short for not just any Obama speech but for any modern politician's speech.

Normally, during an Obama speech, I take notes to remind me of the overall themes as well as individual turns of phrase worth quoting. Tonight, this was almost not possible due to the quick cadence and brevity. Obama intelligently didn't get down into the weeds of his new policy, although I'm sure the details have been released to the press by now. There'll be plenty of time later to dissect those details, but tonight I'm going to focus just on the speech itself, and my personal reactions.

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Rescission Could Be A Brilliant Solution For GOP

[ Posted Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 – 17:35 PST ]

The Republican leadership in Congress is reportedly considering a brilliant idea. Now, normally when I start a column off with a line like that, my intent is to be as snarky and caustic as possible (especially when I use the word "brilliant"). Not this time, though -- this time I am offering nothing but praise for what could indeed be a great way for Republicans to solve their internal struggle about how to respond to President Obama's upcoming new policy on immigration. I say this because while the idea of rescission would certainly allow the Tea Partiers to stage a big political drama, it would also allow the adults in the Republican Party to move the possibility of shutting down the government completely off the table for almost a year into the future. At this point, that seems like a win-win proposition for all, and about the best of all the possible scenarios.

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Illegals Everywhere!

[ Posted Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 – 16:39 PST ]

"President Obama is an illegal!"

No matter what the president soon announces on the subject of immigration reform, you probably won't hear that line being used against him. There's no real reason why it shouldn't, though, if you follow the logic of those opposed to what they call "amnesty." Instead of: "President Obama is acting illegally," or: "President Obama's actions are illegal," there's no reason -- again, using their logic -- why they shouldn't also be saying: "President Obama is an illegal!" And the reason has nothing to do with his birth certificate.

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Obama Should Wait (A Little) On Immigration Announcement

[ Posted Monday, November 17th, 2014 – 16:42 PST ]

I don't want to deceive anyone by that headline, so allow me to explain its meaning up front. President Obama has the whole political universe holding its collective breath on when he's going to make his announcement of a change in immigration and deportation policy. News reports last week guessed that the announcement could come "as early as next week." Now that next week has become this week, everyone in Washington is expecting an announcement any moment.

Obama should wait, though. Not for long -- just for a few weeks. Obama should wait until just after Congress passes the next budget bill and puts it on his desk. Harry Reid has already called on the president to wait, and I have to say that I agree with him. The difference in timing of the next few weeks could have rather large consequences, not only for the president politically, but for America as a whole. It would be worth the wait of a few weeks to try and avoid the worst possible outcome over the budget. It may happen anyway, but the chance that it won't is worth taking, especially when it means merely a few weeks of waiting.

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Friday Talking Points [327] -- The Calm Between The Storms

[ Posted Friday, November 14th, 2014 – 17:56 PST ]

What walks like a duck and quacks like a duck but seems to have serious mobility problems?

That's right -- we have entered the season of the lame duck! So far, it's shaping up to pretty spec-quack-ular. OK, I apologize. I'll stop, now.

Lame jokes aside, the lame-duck Congress has a lot on its plate. Other than passing a flurry of bills with precisely zero chance of becoming law, the Senate has a whole bunch of confirmations they need to get through before the end of the year (since pretty much nobody's going to be confirmed in the next two years). But the heavy lift for both houses of Congress is going to be passing a budget bill. They have to do this before December 11, if reports are correct, because that is precisely how far Congress kicked the can the last time they put off regular budgeting -- conveniently beyond the election, in other words. Well, that time has now come, and it will be interesting to see what is the result.

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Elizabeth Warren Moves Up

[ Posted Thursday, November 13th, 2014 – 16:59 PST ]

Senator Elizabeth Warren is about to become more influential in the Democratic Party. It was announced today that she will be joining the ranks of the Democrats' Senate leadership, albeit in a newly-created position that might be best called "Progressive Liaison." The position is seen as forming a new bridge between progressives and the party leadership, who have mostly been much more timid when it comes to issues with real populist appeal. Depending on what sort of leadership role Warren carves out for herself, this could be very good news.

I'm personally torn between cautious optimism and healthy skepticism, upon hearing the news. This could be a big step towards the Democratic Party getting back to its populist roots, where it proudly runs on issues which immediately benefit the average working American Jane and Joe. Or it could be just window-dressing, intended to assuage progressives without actually changing much at all. Conflicted thoughts, I must admit, but this stems mostly from the newness of Warren's new job.

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What Obama Should Say Now

[ Posted Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 – 18:04 PST ]

There is a very old tactic in American politics, used for decades after the Civil War, which is called "waving the bloody shirt." Without getting into the ugly details of Reconstruction (or the ugly details of the Democratic Party's own "Red Shirts," for that matter), the definition of "waving the bloody shirt" soon became akin to "using past injustices to divert attention from present-day issues." Holding a big grudge, in other words, and then milking it for all it is politically worth.

This was brought to mind by one of the metaphors the Republicans are deploying in a pre-emptive attempt to convince President Obama not to act on his own on immigration reform: "waving a red flag in front of a bull." There are others, including "poisoning the well," and "playing with matches," but the red flag one was the one that struck a historical chord with me.

President Obama is going to be the unquestioned leader of the Democratic Party for the next two years. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have been relegated to minority status in Congress, leaving only one prominent voice to stand up for the Democratic agenda. How Obama chooses to do so in the next few weeks is going to set the tone for the next two years. It may indeed involve waving red flags or lighting fires under Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, since nothing's going to get done unless all three men agree.

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From The Archives -- For Us, The Living

[ Posted Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 – 17:47 PST ]

[Program Note: Since today is a holiday, I am taking the day off. Below is what I wrote last year for Veterans' Day, so the calendar references are a bit out of date. This may be the first time I've ever re-run a re-run column, since last year's column actually contained within it a column written earlier that year. Call me twice lazy, I suppose, but then again it is a holiday and all. I hope everyone had a meaningful Armistice Day, and regular columns will return tomorrow. Everything below was originally published November 11, 2013.]

Today's holiday originally celebrated the end of "the war to end all wars," when the 1918 armistice took place on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. No World War I veterans still remain alive, and the holiday has grown to honor all America's veterans of more-recent wars -- so much so that many forget the origins of the holiday itself (which used to be "Armistice Day").

Next week, however, is an even more poignant anniversary: the sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, certainly the most well-known speech in American history. Only 275 words long, Lincoln spoke for mere minutes, following a lengthy two-hour oration given by Edward Everett. But today, only scholars remember Everett's name, and few historians bother to read the text of his remarks. Lincoln's words are still memorized by schoolchildren, even to this day.

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SiX Could Be The Answer To ALEC

[ Posted Monday, November 10th, 2014 – 18:04 PST ]

Politico has an interesting article up which details the efforts in the liberal political donor camp to come up with something to combat the influence of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. The new liberal counterpart will be named the State Innovation Exchange, or "SiX." Creative capitalization seems to be their first innovation.

But I shouldn't get snarky about their branding, because the basic idea is a good one: counterbalance the impressive inroads Republicans have made in state legislatures. ALEC has an excellent record of accomplishments, from getting laws passed (voter suppression and "Stand Your Ground" legislation, to name two ALEC issues) to providing support (read: campaign money) for state-level legislators.

ALEC has largely been operating in a liberal vacuum. Their model is to take money from big businesses and then use it to not only help conservatives get elected at their state level but also provide them with ready-made boilerplate legislation for ALEC's pet issues after they do get elected. Just fill in a few blanks (like "name of state") and an inexperienced lawmaker can easily create a bill ready to introduce into their state legislature.

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