Friday Talking Points [Vol. 7]

[ Posted Friday, October 26th, 2007 – 17:35 UTC ]

It's been a busy week in Washington, providing lots and lots of fodder for this week's Friday Talking Points column.

After being named last week's Most Impressive Democrat, Senator Chris Dodd showed what happens when you actually, you know, lead on an issue -- all the other major Democratic candidates began supporting him in his bid to shut down the telecommunications amnesty provision in the bill the Senate is currently debating. While I'm glad Hillary and Barack and the others got on board with this effort, the difference between supporting a good idea, and taking the lead on the issue was stark.

Another refreshing idea is percolating up from two Democrats you've probably never heard of. From

Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and William Delahunt (Mass.) will soon introduce legislation -- the "American Anti-Torture Act of 2007" -- to ban torture of detainees by any U.S. government agency, including the CIA or other intelligence units.

The two veteran Democrats want to build upon an amendment added by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to the 2006 supplemental Defense bill banning the use of any interrogation technique not included in the Army Field Manual.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated by Nadler and Delahunt, the two lawmakers say they want to "ensure a uniform, minimum standard for interrogations of detainees by the U.S. government. The American Anti-Torture Act ensures that individuals in U.S. custody are not tortured, a core standard already embodied in the Army Field Manual. In doing so, it reasserts basic American values as a basis for government action."

The Army Field Manual specifically bans the use of force or inhumane treatment against any detainee.

"Torture is abhorrent to American moral values and inconsistent with our deep adherence and respect for the rule of law," Nadler and Delahunt wrote.

"We should not make ourselves vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy, nor expose our troops to potential mistreatment by adhering to anything less than the standards of a civilized nation. By once and for all outlawing torture, we will be demonstrating our commitment to that standard."

While this is all but guaranteed to win them Most Impressive Democrat(s) of the Week in the future, it has not actually been introduced yet, so their award will have to wait. For now, let's look at the hero and villain from last week.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

There were quite a few valid contenders for MIDOTW this week, I am pleased to say. Senator Patrick Leahy is showing a bit more spine in refusing to vote on President Bush's nominee for Attorney General until he clarifies whether he really thinks torture is illegal, or just kind of thinks so (unless the president orders it, in which case he seems to think it's OK). Bravo, Chairman Leahy! Don't back down on this one -- play hardball.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, also gets an honorable mention for the article he recently wrote in Salon about why Democrats are not going to raise taxes on hedge fund managers. I wrote about this depressing scenario, but much to my surprise the next day Charlie Rangel attacked the problem head-on. While I don't agree with all the tax changes he's proposing, making hedge fund managers pay their fair share of taxes gets my hearty approval. Give 'em hell, Charlie!

I admit I was going to give this week's award to Henry Waxman, who (as Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform) singlehandedly seems to be taking on the job of investigating Bush's numerous power grabs and fiascos, perhaps he'll qualify for a special "Most Impressive Democrat of the Year" award later.

Because this week's award goes to an obscure House staffer. For the first time, the MIDOTW award goes to a non-politician. Dave Helfert works for Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), and this week he put out an extraordinary memo to House Democrats. From the story in The Hill:

"Our message sounds like an audit report on defense logistics," wrote Dave Helfert, a former Appropriations spokesman who now works for Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). "Why are we defending [the State Children's Health Insurance Program] instead of advocating a 'Healthy Kids' plan?"

. . .

"Almost every Republican message contains a simple and direct moral imperative, a stark contrast between good and evil, right and wrong, common sense and fuzzy liberal thinking," Helfert wrote. "Meanwhile, we're trying to ignite passions with analyses of optimum pupil-teacher ratios."

Helfert, obviously, "gets it." Which is why for his valiant memo, he is the recipient of this week's Most Impressive Democrat of the Week award (the Golden Spine). Well done!

[While Helfert does not have a publicly available email, you can congratulate him via Abercrombie's House email to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

OK, on to the other side of the coin -- the disappointing one.

While all week long I've been leaning towards giving the award to Pete Stark for playing into Republican hands with his rant on the House floor (where he said "You don't have money to fund the war or children, but you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement"), he's only getting an honorable mention. What he said is indefensible on the face of it, and he could have made exactly the same point without being so offensive by changing one word -- amusement -- to something better. So Stark gets a special "Shooting Yourself in the Foot" award.

But the winner of the MDDOTW award this week goes to Dianne Feinstein, (DINO-CA) who helped President Bush out on his photo op to tour the Southern California fires by standing so her face was visible in every picture of the event (sorry, but I refuse to even link to any such photos). Nothing like helping President Bush with his approval ratings, for no apparent reason. Heck of a job, DiFi!

[Contact Feinstein on her Senate contact page to let her know what you think of her actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 7 (10/26/07)


[OK, I know it's kind of a lame name, but I've decided to go with "Friday Talking Points" for the name of this column. It's honest, at least, pointing out that what I am offering here is essentially "spin." I have also secured the rights to which is still in its infancy, but for now takes you to the FTP archives.]


Democrats trust the people, Republicans don't

"The Bush administration is so afraid of what the public thinks about how it governs that they consistently try to hide the facts from the American people. Whether it's withholding scientific evidence from Congress on global warming, refusing to release a study on the safety of the flying public, or faking official FEMA news conferences, the administration over and over again shows its contempt for the American people. We believe that if you give people the facts, they can make their own minds up. Republicans obviously don't have that faith in the intelligence of the American public."


The world laughs at Bush's irony on human rights

President Bush gave a speech on Cuba this week which didn't attract much notice. This speech shouldn't have been ironic, since it's pretty much what all presidents have said about Cuba, but because of the United States' own refusal of human rights (torture, extreme rendition, denying habeas corpus rights, and -- on Cuba itself -- Guantanamo Bay), it was decidedly ironic. Bush doesn't seem to realize that his words are spoken by the rest of the world, except they're talking about us, not Cuba. Here are some excerpts from his speech, to show you what I mean:

Cuba's rulers promised individual liberty. Instead they denied their citizens basic rights that the free world takes for granted.

. . .

The socialist paradise is a tropical gulag. The quest for justice that once inspired the Cuban people has now become a grab for power. And as with all totalitarian systems, Cuba's regime no doubt has other horrors still unknown to the rest of the world. Once revealed, they will shock the conscience of humanity.


Republicans won't take "yes" for an answer

This line was actually spoken by Rahm Emanuel, and it pretty much sums up the status of the SCHIP debate. Bush and the Congressional Republicans complained about certain things in the SCHIP bill, so Democrats very quickly rewrote it to undercut the GOP's arguments, and hastily passed it through the House this week. Unfortunately, they didn't pick up any new Republican votes in doing so. This should point out in stark contrast who exactly is obstructing this bill. Paint the House Republicans as not wanting any bill at all, and point out their hypocrisy every chance you get.

"We addressed Bush's complaints about the bill, but Republicans are more interested in playing politics than getting things done. They just don't seem to be able to take 'yes' for an answer."


We will vote on SCHIP as many times as it takes until it passes

Kudos to Speaker Nancy Pelosi for getting a new bill forward so soon. This tactic should be repeated over and over again, with the most minor changes possible, until she has enough votes to override a Bush veto. Playing politics? Maybe... but what else should she do with an issue that is just about politically perfect for Democrats? The only other thing she could compromise on is the funding for the bill (the tobacco tax) since it's a regressive tax to begin with (not exactly a core Democratic issue), but she should not compromise on the bill itself -- the health care for children part of the bill -- or on the dollar amount (Bush has upped his offer from five billion more dollars to twenty billion, so it shouldn't be that hard to get him to accept thirty-five billion at this point).

But Republicans need reminding that this issue is going to kill them at the polls next year if they don't get on board soon. "We strongly believe in our SCHIP bill and we will vote on it as many times as it takes to pass it."


The United States should use our military to protect our diplomats, instead of hiring mercenaries

Democrats need to strongly attack the concept of Blackwater making billions of tax dollars. Blackwater personnel are hired at a cost of almost a half-million dollars per year. This is just indefensible.

So attack the idea on a basic conceptual level. One, it costs too much. Two, we shouldn't have paid mercenaries in the first place, outside the military chain of command. U.S. Marines guard American embassies all over the world, and if we need more Marines to provide security for the State Department in Iraq, then we should hire some more Marines. But not at a half-million dollars each per year.

"The United States should get out of the business of hiring mercenary armies. We have the best military in the world, and we should use them instead of Blackwater. Privatizing government services only makes sense when it saves us money, not when it costs more."


Dana Perino needs a science lesson

"White House Press Secretary Dana Perino needs to learn a little science before she says how wonderful global warming is going to be. Maybe she needs to read the draft of the health report on global warming written before the White House censored it."


Republicans should set an example by not pirating copyrighted images on the web

I wrote about this earlier this week, and it still annoys me. Republican House member Joe Barton appears to be blatantly pirating images from The Simpsons in one of the strangest press releases ever issued by a Republican.

"Do Republicans really want to provoke the wrath of Simpsons fans everywhere by pirating their art on a taxpayer-funded web server?"


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


5 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [Vol. 7]”

  1. [1] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Kudos, Chris for recognizing someone who "gets it". I've been arguing for a while that the #1 issue for the Democrats is that people don't know what they stand for. Democrats would do themselves a huge favor if they could get together and come up with 5 bullet points that define them. For example, bullet point number 1 (a la Dave Helfert) might be: A better future for our children.

    Think not only how this would help them pass bills like SCHIP, but also to fight against deficit spending, to fight for college spending bills, to fight for a better economic plan. The list goes on.

    Democrats need to remember that leaders set a vision. Don't get drawn into policy discussions. Ignore Republican attacks. Set the vision and stick to it no matter what.

    Republicans have done a great job setting a vision. The problem is that they have used this vision to accomplish other goals that run counter to their vision. For example, the party of "lesser government" is now the biggest government in history. People are tired of this. Unfortunately, however, until someone comes along and sets a better vision, it may be tough to dislodge them as they still a lot of gas left in their rhetoric. Fortunately, however, right now rhetoric is about all Republicans have.

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    akadjian -

    You are preaching to the choir here. I have long been arguing for exactly that -- Democrats to start getting a cohesive message together and presenting it with some message discipline to the media. I haven't yet seen a copy of David Helfert's memo, it was not distributed publicly and I haven't found a link to it yet, but I sincerely hope the movers and shakers in the party pay it heed.

    I've also said in the past that naming the bill correctly is a cheap and easy way to force the media and the Republicans to call it (for instance) the "Healthy Kids bill." Half the battle is won just by forcing your opponents to use your terminology.

    Pelosi and others seem to be in a frame of mind to at least consider this stuff, though. They held some sessions last week to try to get their message together with some unnamed consultants (my invitation to speak at these events seems to have been lost in the mail... ahem). We'll see whether it does any good or not in the coming weeks.

    Even if Democrats fail against Republican obstructionism, if they can project an image of fighting hard for their principles, their approval ratings will improve. The Iraq war is obviously subject #1 for them to being doing this, but it's not the only way to show commitment to a cause.

    Anyway, thanks for commenting.


  3. [3] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Keep us posted, Chris. I'd be interested in hearing more about a Pelosi session or Dave Helfert's memo.

    Couldn't agree more that they will gain more respect if they can show that they're fighting for their principles. Especially when it comes to Iraq.

    Just wish they would do a better job of defining their principles. For example, if they were for a "successful end to the war," they would have more of a leg to stand on than simply wanting to end the war. It's a small detail, but makes a significant difference.

    Most of the people I know who want to end the war still feel responsible for the mess that our government has created. This sense of responsibility makes it a tough sell to say we're just going to leave.

    Bottom line is, you're right. More people could get behind them and they could fight more passionately if they had a better, more effective message.

    Hope they eventually get your invitation.

  4. [4] 
    CDub wrote:

    akadjian wrote:

    Just wish they would do a better job of defining their principles. For example, if they were for a "successful end to the war," they would have more of a leg to stand on than simply wanting to end the war. It's a small detail, but makes a significant difference.

    Most of the people I know who want to end the war still feel responsible for the mess that our government has created. This sense of responsibility makes it a tough sell to say we're just going to leave.

    You make some excellent points. The simple rephrasing of a position is a powerful tool. I also agree that most Americans feel Iraq should have some reparations from America, but there's something wrong with this picture.

    How can it be that we've gone so deep into debt destroying a country, and now we must go deeper into debt in order to make them whole?

    We could use some laws that give us recourse against those who pushed for, and profited from this war. Laws with such teeth that this never happens again.

  5. [5] 
    PlacitasRoy wrote:

    I look forward to every Friday and have recommended it to several friends, family members, and candidates.

    I want to recommend a new feature on one of my favorite sites
    Ask Rockridge, a collaborative project brought to you by the BuzzFlash News Network and written by the Rockridge Institute....The Rockridge Institute experts want to answer your questions about framing the political discourse.

    It's all about the message and there is so much work to do!

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