Friday Talking Points [28] -- It's Debatable...

[ Posted Friday, April 18th, 2008 – 16:21 UTC ]

The twenty-first debate of the Democratic presidential nomination race happened this week. Much fulminating in the blogosphere immediately followed.

I must admit, I was kind of surprised at the ferocity of the response, myself. Because I actually expected exactly what happened during the first hour of the debate -- shallowness and insipid "gotcha" questions. This is, after all, the mainstream media we are talking about. Did anyone really think it was suddenly going to morph into PBS on debate night?

What surprised me is that the second half of the debate got such short shrift in the reaction. The second half of the debate was actually about issues, and some things got said during it which will be repeated over and over again in the future -- long after the controversy over the first half has been forgotten by all but a few.

I realize this puts me in the awkward position of seeming to agree with David Brooks' recent column, but Brooks has a point -- about the promises which were made (the rest of his column is pure drivel, I might add). I prefer to think of myself agreeing more with Eugene Robinson, who wrote the best review of the second half of the debate I've seen yet.

You may not have noticed it, but both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton made two pledges which could come back to harm them as much as George H.W. Bush's famous "Read my lips -- no new taxes." The first was they both seemed to agree not to raise taxes one penny on what was fatuously defined as the "middle class" -- people making up to $200,000 (Barack's lowball) or $250,000 a year (where Hillary set the bar). Um, making a quarter million dollars a year means you're "middle class" now? Sounds kind of... I don't know... "elitist" for any Democrat to be proclaiming.

The other pledge was less risky, because if either candidate breaks it or bends it, the public will likely forgive them for it. Both candidates pledged to keep to their Iraq withdrawal plans no matter what the generals on the ground are telling them. Watch for this one to be used as a blunt instrument by the McCain campaign later this year. But, like I said, if elected and something radically different is happening in Iraq, the public will understand if the withdrawal plan has to be adjusted slightly, as long as it keeps to the same broad goal of getting U.S. troops out safely and in a timely fashion.

But that "no new taxes for anyone making less than $200/250,000 a year" is going to be tough to wiggle out of. It's arguably a good campaign tactic for Democrats (to blunt the Republican "they're GOING to RAISE your TAXES!!" refrain), but I would have drawn the bar much, much lower myself. Like perhaps $100,000. Obama, to his credit, attempted to do so at one point, but then threw in the towel and made the pledge.

I realize that tax policy isn't everyone's idea of exciting blogging, so I'll shut up about it now. If you'd like to read a detailed rundown of some real differences between Clinton and Obama which showed up during the debate on specifics such as Social Security taxes (and raising the cap on income), and on capital gains taxes (or "why Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary"), you can check out my column from yesterday (warning: it's long).

But I still do agree with Brooks in saying that these two promises will be run as "gotcha" clips for whoever is the nominee for a long time to come; when the high dudgeon the first hour of the debate provoked has been forgotten by all but a few.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

There were a few good choices for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week, which is always a positive sign.

I'll start with a quick rundown of the honorable mentions this week. Howard Dean continues to pressure the superdelegates to make up their minds -- soon -- on who they're going to vote for at the convention, and then publicly announce their decision. Barbara Boxer is apparantly ready to send Republican Representative Don Young ("Mr. Bridge-to-Nowhere") to jail for doing something I thought was illegal, if not to say impossible -- entering an earmark for a campaign donor into a bill after it was passed by both houses of Congress, but before Bush signed it. It would seem to me that this isn't legal, or to put it bluntly, that this is not a law because Congress didn't vote on it as signed by Bush. In any case, go Senator Boxer! And Senator John Conyers is ready to haul Karl Rove in to answer some questions, after Rove's lawyer said "sure" when asked if he would testify. Rove's lawyer has since begun backing off from the comment, so we'll see how this ends up. But kudos to Conyers for the effort!

But this week elected Democrats have to take a back seat to Huffington Post blogger Mike Stark, who is singlehandedly trying to amend the Constitution to remove the language which condoned slavery. Call me a sucker for tilting at windmills if you must, but Stark is following in the footsteps of Gregory Watson, a law student who made it a personal crusade to ratify Amendment XXVII to the Constitution (the last amendment added, in 1992). One idealistic law student dedicated to doing what is right can change this country's bedrock law, as Watson has already proven. And Stark is absolutely 100% right about what he's trying to do -- this language should be explicitly stricken from our Constitution.

So Mike Stark, who I am not even sure is a Democrat (I'm just assuming...), gets this week's Golden Backbone award, the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. More power to you, and good luck in your crusade, Mr. Stark!

[Congratulate Mike Stark via the comments to his Huffington Post blog to let him know you appreciate his efforts. To show support for his goal, you can also join the Google group he has set up for just this purpose.]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

George Stephanopoulos has been disappointing some Democrats ever since he fled Bill Clinton's administration to write a tell-all book before Clinton left office. The word "traitor" was on quite a few Democratic lips at the time.

But that's not why he wins this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

His debate performance as moderator during the first hour of Wednesday night's ABC debate has earned him even worse epithets.

But that's also not why he wins this week's MDDOTW award.

No, he has earned most disappointing status because he actually defended his performance the next day. From Politico, Michael Calderone reports:

When I asked whether questions about flag pins or Bosnia are actually relevant to voters, [Stephanopoulos] replied: "Absolutely."

Really, George? Really?

George, I will offer you one chance to prove that you're a journalist, and not just someone who plays one on TV: please provide one shred of actual evidence that this is true. One poll of "what issues voters consider important" which has "wearing a flag pin" in the top five answers. OK, that's too tough. How about the top ten answers? OK, how about "above one percent" of respondents?

[sound of lone cricket chirping]

That's what I thought. Which is why George Stephanopoulos gets the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. For shame, George, for shame.

[Contact George Stephanopoulos at ABC News' This Week or by posting a comment to his bio page at ABC to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 28 (4/18/08)


This week I am turning over the entire talking points list to slamming John McCain. While the shark feeding frenzy in the media over the Democratic nomination race continues at fever pitch, McCain has been getting one heck of a free ride. He has, to be blunt, not been held to nearly the same standard as the Democratic candidates, on all sorts of things.

This has to end, and it has to end now. And the way to end it is for all Democrats to start spotlighting the media's love affair with McCain. Remember, all it took was one Saturday Night Live sketch to make the media re-examine their treatment of Obama and Clinton, so we need a breakthrough of similar proportions to show the mainstream media (once again) that their bias is showing.

There are plenty of ways to do this. My favorite would be a television ad run by some liberal 527 group which pointed out the numerous things McCain has been flip-flopping on -- and not being called to question on by the media. Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report has put together an extensive list of these contradictions, which I have used as the basis of this week's talking points. Every Democrat who wants to see a Democrat in the White House next year needs to hammer these points every chance they get with the media in the upcoming weeks.

So here are this week's Friday Talking Points, in the form of an anti-McCain television ad:


[Opening shot: black background, white text]


In the 2004 election, Republicans waved flip-flops at their convention.

[SOUNDTRACK continues throughout the ad:] (special effects sound loop of someone walking in flip flops) -- (flip)(flop)(flip)(flop)... etc.

[VIDEO in slow motion:] (Rabid Republicans waving flip-flops.)


In 2008, they're going to nominate John McCain.

[TEXT, over image of McCain with mouth open, taken from the side:]

"No new taxes." -- John McCain, this February

[TEXT, over an invert of previous image, so McCain is facing the other direction:]

"I'm not making a 'read my lips' statement, in that I will not raise taxes." -- John McCain, two weeks later

[TEXT, over image of McCain on Senate floor:]

John McCain co-sponsored the DREAM ACT to grant legal status to children of illegal immigrants when they graduate high school

[TEXT, over previous image, shown upside down:]

Now he's against his own bill

[TEXT, over image of McCain as a prisoner of war in Vietnam:]

John McCain was against waterboarding and other torture before he began running for president

[TEXT, over image of someone being waterboarded:]

But this year, he voted to allow the C.I.A. use these techniques

[TEXT, over image of Paris Hilton being an idiot:]

McCain was strongly against George Bush's tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy

[TEXT, over same image with inverse (negative) colors:]

Now he wants to make Paris Hilton's tax cut permanent

[TEXT, over image of scared-looking teenage girl, perhaps with her arm obscuring her belly:]

John McCain said he would not support repealing Roe v. Wade

[TEXT, over same image with "prison bars" graphic over it:]

Now that he's running for president, he's changed his mind

[TEXT, over image of Martin Luther King giving a speech:]

John McCain was even against a holiday for Martin Luther King

[TEXT, same image reversed, with King facing the other direction:]

Before he eventually supported it

[TEXT, over John McCain's image, which starts alternating (flip flopping) between facing left and facing right, which speeds up until it is going faster than the eye can see:]

Is there really anything John McCain won't flip flop on?

[CLOSING IMAGE:] (A pair of flip-flops, randomly arranged on the floor. Both have John McCain's face on the sole. Hold for a few seconds, then text appears.)


You just can't trust what John McCain says.



Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


One Comment on “Friday Talking Points [28] -- It's Debatable...”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    This it what is so much fun about Politics. Watching the pundits and cadidates break their backs trying to switch positions.. (Present company excepted, of course) :D

    Watching Hillary castigate MoveOn when a bit ago, she was fawning over them...

    Watching Taylor Marsh actually DEFEND the CIA when a bit ago, she wanted them all hung from their testicles...

    Watching the Democrats use the GOPs best arguments and then watching the GOP adopt the Democrats' defensive strategy...

    It used to be that you could tell which party people were from by their actions and by lines that they would not cross.

    Nowadays, you need a fracking theater program to know who is who...

    Gotta love it.. It's better than prime time! :D


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