Friday Talking Points [65] -- The Sausage Race

[ Posted Friday, February 13th, 2009 – 18:05 UTC ]

About a week ago, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs got off a good line about the progress of the stimulus package: "The sausage race is the beginning of the next inning. So just stay tuned." This was about halfway through the bill's legislative process. Not only did he declare an opening to Baseball Metaphor Season, he also rather ingeniously alluded to Otto von Bismarck's well-known warning that the public should not look too closely at how laws and sausages are made.

That was last week. This week, we are approaching the bottom of the ninth for the stimulus. The game's a foregone conclusion at this point, all the season ticket holders have left, and the beer's been cut off for anyone still in the stands.

OK, maybe it's too early for baseball metaphors. I mean, that was fun to write and all... but even I have no idea what it means.


Forgive me for being silly, but I am just so astonished at the silliness coming from inside the Beltway these days. The Republicans seem to think it's a brilliant idea to bet their party's future on the collapse of the American economy, and are actually patting themselves on the back for having done so. The few voices of sanity left in the party who backed Obama are being vilified by the party's base. And they show no sign of realizing their colossal mistake any time soon.

Meanwhile, among the chattering classes, there was much gnashing of teeth over the "failure" of Obama's bipartisan outreach effort. The people who live in the DC bubble see news as a daily jousting event, and score everything accordingly. Obama, however, is smarter than that. He realized that the appearance of bipartisan outreach is actually much more important in the public eye than how many Republican votes he gets. And he's winning the battle of appearances mightily. Because it simply does not matter whether he convinces any Republicans to vote with him in the House, what truly does matter to the public is the fact that he gets points for even making the attempt. Is it crass to put into such nakedly political terms? Possibly. But on a purely political level, Obama is winning this game handily. And the media hasn't seemed to realize it yet.

Obama knows that this is a long haul. One baseball game does not a season make. [Whoops, there's another baseball metaphor.] Nobody really expected very many Republicans to suddenly get swept up in the bipartisanship on the first big legislation to come down the pike. Over time, as the midterm elections near, some of them may decide that the way to job security is to occasionally support the president, but my guess is that's going to take a while. Obama's approval went up when he extended his hand to Republicans. While congressional Republicans' public approval is the worst in Washington.

You wouldn't know any of this listening to the media. Obama's approval ratings are in the mid-60s, higher than Bush's or Clinton's at this point in their terms. And his debut at the bully pulpit also went over well. His prime time press conference and his two forays beyond the Beltway (both to heavily Republican towns, with unscreened audiences, it should be noted) were both winners, too.

Obama also did a good job of staying above the fray of details. He let Nancy Pelosi (for the most part) take the heat for what was actually in the bill, and kept his focus on the big picture. But while Republicans screamed themselves blue in the face over 2% of the bill, and while the Senate pared it back, nobody seems to notice that 80-90% of the core bill survived intact. That's pretty good sausage-making, if truth be told. Most of the media missed the point, though -- Republicans were trash-talking about Pelosi, rather than Obama. That's a public relations victory right there, but I guess it was too obvious for the talking heads to notice.

Obama's first big legislative test had some minor problems. Because of his appointees' problems, he was thrown off his stride in the middle of the process. He waited too long to get out and start selling his plan. His message could have been tighter and more focused. And he has learned that instead of offering Republicans a generous amount of what they want in a first offer that was also pretty much a final offer (the initial 40% was tax cuts, which surprised some Republicans who expected much less), he should be seen as "allowing them to talk him down" in order to share the political credit, even with House Republicans.

But Obama has shown he's a quick learner. So these rookie mistakes will likely go smoother the next time around. But don't listen to the media when they tell you this isn't a "victory" for Obama, but rather some sort of "defeat" of one kind or another. Because while they treat politics like a daily sporting match, most of America only measures the results. Most Americans don't pay all that much attention to the process, because they know that the results are what count, and not which particularly entertaining floor speech won the news cycle during the debate.

And, keep in mind, this is only the first step down a long path. These battles are going to be fought over and over again. There is the bank bailout coming, and what to do about the mortgage crisis. Then Congress really needs to pass last year's budget (which they will do in an "omnibus appropriations measure") -- and if you thought Republican nitpicking during the stimulus was over the top, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Then there's the matter of passing this year's budget, which Congress is theoretically supposed to do before October 1. Maybe this'll be the year they actually make that date (don't hold your breath, though).

In other words, we've got a long way to go, and pet projects that got cut this time around will live to see another day -- or at least another battle. So we should all (as Obama has been doing remarkably well) keep our eyes on the big picture here.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

There were actually quite a few impressive Democrats last week. Senator Dick Durbin did a good job generating media-friendly soundbites in support of Obama's stimulus. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deserve at least a mention, for moving so blindingly fast on such a complicated bill. And President Obama himself won his first struggle with Congress. All of these were impressive, but one stood out from the pack.

Because Senator Patrick Leahy is determined not to sweep the full history of the Bush years under a rug. He is leading the call to form a Truth Commission to see what the Bush people did in our name. His proposal stops short of calling for a Special Prosecutor, which would be seen (rightly or wrongly) as a political witch-hunt by too many. But he is strongly pushing for some sort of blue-ribbon panel to get to the bottom of the worst illegal excesses by the Bush administration.

The time is now for such action. Even if nobody ever goes to jail because of it. We need to know what was done in our name. We're entitled to that much.

And Patrick Leahy, for refusing to give in to all the "we have to look forward not backward" nonsense, wins this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Congratulations, Senator Leahy -- there are many out here who support your effort.

[Support Senator Patrick Leahy's "Bush Truth Commission" by signing his online petition. Yesterday, he asked for signatures on the Huffington Post in an effort to get over 10,000 by next week. Today, it's already over 20,000 (and counting).]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was annoying in a minor way this week, when he called a press conference to announce a stimulus deal had been worked out between the House and the Senate. This kind of stole the thunder from Nancy Pelosi, who was not present, and then later it emerged that a deal wasn't quite done yet. But it was only a minor annoyance, not truly disappointing, so Harry dodged another MDDOTW award.

Because this week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was apparently most disappointing. Now, I'm no economist, but the reviews of Geithner's bank rescue plan were just about unanimous, from the right, from the left, and even from Wall Street. The near-universal view was that his plan was too timid, and way too vague.

So, while admittedly I am not competent to judge his plan on its macroeconomics, I have to say that Geithner sure disappointed a lot of people this week. Whether this will ultimately turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing we will all have to wait and see.

So, due to loud screams from the peanut gallery, Tim Geithner gets his second Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[You can try to contact Secretary Geithner at the Treasury contact page to let him know what you think of his actions, but mind your language... these are the guys that run the I.R.S., remember.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 65 (2/13/09)

Finally we come to the Talking Points, where I offer Democrats who plan on being interviewed over the weekend some advice on how to frame the issues. Hey, it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.


   Declare victory

The first bit of idiocy that needs knocking down here is the media spin that this is somehow not a legislative victory for Barack Obama. Since this is patently nonsense, this isn't really all that hard to do. Just be sure to strongly reject any notion that this wasn't a win for Obama.

"President Obama has scored a major victory in his first few weeks in office. He is moving faster than any recent president has in passing legislation to fix the problems he inherited when he took the job. He reached out to Republicans, but when they rebuffed him he declared the time for talk was over and the time for action had arrived. Congressional Democrats rose to this challenge, and we not only got the bill through both houses, we also ironed out the details between the two versions in record time. We met the deadline he set of Presidents' Day, and we are proud to put this bill on his desk in what is surely only to be the first of President Obama's legislative victories."


   It takes two to tango

Specifically reject the notion that Obama somehow "failed" in his bipartisan efforts. Once again, this one is very easy to refute. When asked any sort of leading question about the "failure" of Obama's bipartisan outreach, or about how it "cost him political capital," respond forcefully.

"Excuse me? Did you just say Obama failed to achieve bipartisanship in Washington overnight? President Obama bent over backwards trying to accomodate Republicans, and in fact I think he met more with the House Republicans than he did the House Democrats. But bipartisanship is a two-way street. It takes two to tango, and the Republicans decided to sit this dance out. There's not much more the president could have done, while still remaining faithful to his core principles. The president has said he is going to continue his bipartisan efforts, not just because they are the right thing to do, but also because the American people overwhelmingly support his efforts to do so. Take a look at just about any poll -- the president didn't lose political capital in this fight, he gained political capital. Republicans would do well to take this into account in the future."


   Old habits die hard

Likewise, the media apparently needs reminding that Washington does not change overnight. Luckily, Obama himself has provided the talking point on this one.

"Obama tried to change the culture of Washington with a bipartisan effort, and he will continue to do so. But even the president admits that, quote, old habits die hard, unquote. The culture of Washington does not change overnight, just as an aircraft carrier can't stop on a dime. The American public sees Obama reaching out his hand across the aisle and trying to get Republicans on board with his legislation. They support the president in his efforts to do so. But the congressional Republicans, with the exception of three Senators, ignored his good-faith efforts. As poll after poll shows Americans approving of Obama's efforts and disapproving of obstructionist Republicans, perhaps a few more of them will consider working with him next time around."


   Republicans voted against jobs

This is kind of a rear-guard effort, since the stimulus package was never quite adequately defined as "jobs jobs jobs," as it really should have been. However, it's still worth the effort, as even Republicans are politicians. And a politician's first job (ask any of them!) is to get re-elected.

"The House Republicans and almost every Republican Senator voted against the biggest jobs bill in American history. What they called 'extravagant spending' we call paychecks for hard-working Americans. The only alternative Republicans proposed is more of the same thing that got us into this mess -- tax cuts for Wall Street tycoons, and nothing for middle-class Americans. That approach has failed. We had to pass this bill to save four million American jobs. Republicans tried to stop us. We won. Republicans may notice when they go back home to their districts for the holiday that their constituents may have something to say about that. Because if Republicans can't figure out some way to work with the president to get America working again, they may find themselves out of a job soon enough, when the voters have their say."


   The American people are smarter than that

This is a generic talking point. It can be used for all sorts of nonsense from inside-the-Beltway media types. Whenever an interviewer starts obsessing over something the American people don't even know about (much less care about) -- like who got to ask questions at Obama's press conference and who did not (for instance) -- this talking point is an all-purpose rejoinder to keep handy in the rhetorical toolbox.

"This is such hair-splitting, that I have to jump in and say the American people are smarter than that. You are trying to spin some esoteric detail, when the American people are out there hurting. We are losing 20,000 jobs a day in this country. Fast action was needed. Maybe the administration made some minor process errors along the way, but you know what? It was their first attempt. I bet they get a lot better next time. And I bet that the American people will remember Obama's stimulus bill years from now when this trivia is long forgotten. Obama was right when he said that Washington engages in too much day-to-day navel-gazing when the American people are worried about real effects this legislation has on their lives, and not some imagined issue like this one."


   President Obama isn't afraid to talk to the people

This needs to be pointed out a lot more forcefully than anyone's done so far.

"Barack Obama could have chosen to have some photo-op phony "town hall" meeting where he packed the house with his loyal supporters. He did not do so. He went to two districts which voted for John McCain, because that's where people were hurting. He did not pre-screen his audience. He did not hand out tickets to party supporters. He let the public in on a first-come first-served basis. He did not roam the parking lot looking for bumper stickers that didn't agree with him. He did not turn people away for what was written on their T-shirts. This is such an enormous breath of fresh air after the past eight years that it needs pointing out. President Obama is serious when he says he'll listen to anyone, and not just those who agree with him. And I salute him for doing so. Because that is change you can believe in."


   Happy snarky valentine...

This isn't really a talking point, but I didn't know where else to put it, so I'm sticking it at the end here. The Republican National Committee put up some truly pathetic attempts at humor on their site, in the form of e-valentines with snarky little punchlines. The whole thing looks like the product of some freshman Young Republican devotee who wouldn't know humor if it bit him in the tax cuts.

Ever since the only funny person on the right came over from the dark side to wholeheartedly supporting the left, Republicans just haven't managed to find any major league humor talent. And we have Al Franken to thank for that, since he was instrumental in wooing our very own Arianna Huffington over to our team.

So pity this poor excuse for Republican humor. And let me know which one you thought was the worst, below in your comments. My vote goes to "Guantanamo is romantic this time of year," but there are others equally as bad, so you decide!


Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground

Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


17 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [65] -- The Sausage Race”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    First off, it’s never too early for baseball metaphors - if you know what I mean, and I’m sure that you do! And, I wouldn’t count on the media and their precious pundits realizing too much, if anything, about the Obama/BIDEN administration - they’re just not smart enough. I wouldn’t count on them growing a collective brain anytime soon, either. On any given issue, more often than not, they're way out in left field if they're even in the ballpark.

    I must say, though, that I didn’t get the hand-wringing over the recent Geithner performance. I watched his ‘press conference’...well, most of it, and I thought he came across as extremely competent and knowledgeable . I would go so far as to say that President Obama owes his treasury secretary a pretty big apology for raising expectations that Geithner would be producing all the details when that was obviously not what Geithner had in mind for this particular outing. But, this is just President Obama showing a little inexperience - nothing more, nothing less. As for the rest of us, what do you say we try to demonstrate a little patience...and a little faith that this administration is trying to avoid the mess that the former administration made of this in its waning days by rushing through ill-conceived measures that were doomed to failure from the get-go.

    On Senator Leahy, I couldn’t agree more!

    You’re right - the RNC has a lame sense of humor...I didn’t like any of them...they are all equally bad...they can’t even do that right. ( how’s that for snarky?)

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  2. [2] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Humor requires a sense of timing and irony. The Republicans have neither.

    Maybe it's too late for football metaphors, but the GOP has used its hail-Mary in the first quarter. You only get one per game.

  3. [3] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    UPDATE: Obama's claiming victory and the press is picking up the narrative:

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LizM (M, dammit, M!!... I'm still paying for THAT mistake...) -

    Well, I try to keep the sports metaphors "in season" y'know. I have to admit, I haven't seen Robert Gibbs in action yet (although I think he's on Face The Nation this week), but that was one humdinger of a metaphor, bridging the sports world and the political, and not being heavy-handed about it.

    My reckless prediction: the media will wake up and start realizing that their precious inside-the-Beltway "conventional wisdom" is just NOT what the rest of the country is feeling... about one month from now, when Obama shows a sustained high number in opinion polls. They will feel sheepish because they've been focusing for a month on his percieved mistakes, and they'll realize that none of what they've been spotlighting is having any effect on how the public feels about the president. Then (hate to say it) they'll probably overcorrect and go too far in the other direction. This is the MSM we're talking about, after all.

    As for Geithner, I really don't have a competent opinion on it. He may be kicking the can down the road a bit in order to have time to figure out what really needs to be done. If so, it's certainly not the end of the world, as this stuff is big and complicated and maybe they should take a bit more time than the stimulus package and get it right. So, for now, I'm certainly willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Truth be told, I almost didn't award the MDDOTW this week, because Harry Reid's stunt wasn't bad enough to really qualify, and nobody else was all that disappointing.

    Everyone who agrees with him should go sign Leahy's petition! Do it today!

    In defense of the Republican National Committee (I can't believe I just typed those words), we've got to consider their audience. These are pitched towards Republican die-hards, remember. So, in that vein, pretending I'm a Republican, the funniest one was "This Valentine card hasn't been fully vetted." In the spirit of bipartisanship, that one was marginally amusing.

    But I still can't even figure out why the Guantanamo one was even supposed to be funny, I have to admit...

    OsbourneInk -

    TWWEEET!! Football metaphor out of season... 10 yard penalty... automatic...FIRST DOWN!

    heh heh.

    Thanks for the link. It'll be interesting to see what Democrats say tomorrow on the morning blather shows...

    And a happy Valentine's Day to all!!


    PS. Go Orioles!

  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Now, I admit that I didn't really have any numbers to justify a lot of what I said this week, or for that matter, my reckless prediction in the previous comment. But here's some vindication. This Politico article says exactly what I've been feeling for about two weeks -- there is "inside the Beltway" and there is "outside the Beltway" and there is currently a big disconnect between the two.


  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Hey CW,

    ..."LizM (M, dammit, M!!… I'm still paying for THAT mistake…)" -CW

    What the heck was that?! Am I missing something? Was it something I said? As far as I'm concerned, you stopped paying for THAT mistake a very, very long time can consider yourself paid up in full!

    Here's my prediction...the media will wake up and smell the coffee regarding conventional 'wisdom' at about the same time that they realize the Vice President is not the gaffe-prone windbag-baffoon they relish in projecting him to be...that would be not a day sooner than N-E-V-E-R!!!

  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LizM -

    Nah, didn't mean anything by it, I was just reading some old columns looking for something I had written and came across the one where I called you LizK...

    Got a laugh once again reading your response, that's all!


    I'm actually seeing some signs that the media narrative may be slightly changing, but we'll see what people say tomorrow morning...


  8. [8] 
    ChicagoMolly wrote:

    We should make use of a line from the President's inaugural address when the Rs start whining about his not really being bipartisan: "President Obama has extended his hand to the Republicans and they give him a clenched fist in return." And now that some of them are claiming the Taliban as role models, they're just begging to get their noses rubbed in it.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Whew...I thought I might be in the doghouse. But, it's hard to believe I wrote something that funny...guess I should have printed it out! My particular sense of humor usually doesn't translate very well across the internet(s). :(

    Anyway, I didn't pay too close attention to what the media types had to say this morning...just not that interested anymore. However, I did read Ms Dowd's column today and I think I can assure you that her latest piece didn't spring from any well of respect for the Vice President.

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    BOO!!!! :D

    Yea, I'm still kicking... Been swamped with real life stuff... It's amazing how much real life work one can actually get done when one earns a HuffPo ban.. :D The BAD news is, it came at the height of the UN slamming HAMAS for their GAZA atrocities.. I really would have loved to twist the knife over that little gem...

    But I digest..


    I have an award in mind for the GOP'er who had the YouTube clip about how NO ONE in Congress had read the Stimulus Bill that they are voting on.....

    I don't know what award would be most applicable...

    Maybe, "The Scariest Admission By Congress" would be appropriate..

    I mean, doesn't that disturb anyone?? Congress voting YES on a bill that they are only TOLD is good for the country???

    What are we electing these people for???

    Anyways, it passed and for millions of Americans, it's gonna be a great thing...

    Long term???

    Time will tell....


  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Hey, Michale!

    Don't scare us like that - and don't be such a stranger around here, either.

    I can't believe HuffPo banned you - maybe it was because you were becoming a bit too popular. ;-)

    It was probably all just a computer glitch as I had the very same thing happen to me a while back. What is your status now?

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    Nope, still banned. :D

    Like I said, no real big deal.. I spent WAY too much time on there and had no self-control to limit my posting.. I think I did hit the 100 FANS mark so maybe there is something to your "too popular" theory..

    More likely that is just my ego talking, though.. :D

    Anyways, so what's your take on the administration to date??

    Personally, I am not too impressed..

    With Cheney it was, "a mushroom cloud as the smoking gun" and with Obama it is "an economic armageddon"...

    The more things.... ahem.... "Change" they more they seem to stay the same...

    What makes me giggle though is how Dems lap up everything that Obama says and does, much as Republicans lapped up everything that Bush said and did...

    Once again, political hypocrisy at it's finest.. Present company accepted, of course... :D


  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Have you contacted the powers that be at HP? You know, there will come a time when you read something over there that simply MUST be responded YOU!

    Since our pal Chris posts over there, you should contact him and see what he could do for you. I am sure that he'll do whatever he possibly can to get you reinstated.

    Of course, you may have to start your stats all over again... ;-(

    As for the new administration, I really do think that it's too early to tell. In fact, I'm prepared to reserve any serious judgement until the mid-term elections.

    I'll say this, though - I don't find myself worrying or complaining or lamenting etc. etc. that the new crew in the White House aren't competent enough - that's change enough for me at this early stage of the administration.

  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    Speaking of HuffPo...

    This guy here.....

    .... might have been talking about my time on HP!! :D


  15. [15] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, got a bit behind on answering people, so I'm going to cram it all into one here.

    ChicagoMolly -

    That is an excellent idea. I've been saying "Obama reached his hand out, Republicans slapped it away" but your way is much better, I have to admit!

    Elizabeth Miller -

    You have to put on your maximum-strength anti-snark glasses before reading Maureen Dowd. It's downright dangerous without them...

    Michale -

    It was in one of Michael Moore's movies (F9/11?), where he is interviewing a congresscritter about something unreleated, and the guy flat out admits "the biggest secret in Washington is we never read ANY bills before we vote on them..." He fully admitted they rely completely on their staff and their leadership's voting recommendations and never actually read anything they vote on.

    See, it's even scarier than you thought!


    You're saying my political hypocrisy isn't the finest in the land? I'm insulted... no, wait, I'm flattered... now you've confused me...

    Heh heh.

    And no, LizM, I really don't have that kind of power over at HuffPost. I wish I did, and apologize for my powerlessness, but at least they haven't kicked me off yet...

    Thanks to all for commenting!


  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Thanks for the MD advice - her column should come with some sort of warning for sensitive readers. ;-(


    You underestimate your...ahem...leverage at HP!!! It would be a pretty dull place over there without your much anticipated and thoroughly enjoyable contributions...and they know it!

  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:
Comments for this article are closed.