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Friday Talking Points [67] -- Washington At Warp Speed

[ Posted Friday, February 27th, 2009 – 18:47 UTC ]

We open today's column with a mental image -- a gigantic metal turtle-bot, inching its way along. Clomp, clomp, clomp... it moves forward so slowly you can barely see it move. Voiceover: "This is Washington." But wait! Barack Obama jumps aboard, and the robot transforms into a giant steamroller. It starts moving so fast, flattening issues left and right, until you can barely even see it and it becomes a blur. "This is Obama's Washington. Any questions?"

Barack Obama is moving Congress so fast, we're approaching warp speed. Consider the fact that neither presidents Reagan nor Clinton got their (much smaller) stimulus packages passed for over six months -- and Obama got his passed in mere weeks. And with Clinton and Reagan, that was a major party of their presidential legacy, whereas with Obama it is just the first item on a very long list of enormous changes to be made. Soon.

Even the Republicans are worried by the Obama juggernaut. Here is none other than William Kristol, whom the Washington Post took pity on after he lost his job at the New York Times (so much for that "liberal media," huh?), in a recent column:

Obama outlined much of this new foundation in the most unabashedly liberal and big-government speech a president has delivered to Congress since Lyndon Baines Johnson. Obama intends to use his big three issues -- energy, health care and education -- to transform the role of the federal government as fundamentally as did the New Deal and the Great Society.

Conservatives and Republicans will disapprove of this effort. They will oppose it. Can they do so effectively?

Perhaps -- if they can find reasons to obstruct and delay. They should do their best not to permit Obama to rush his agenda through this year. They can't allow Obama to make of 2009 what Franklin Roosevelt made of 1933 or Johnson of 1965. Slow down the policy train. Insist on a real and lengthy debate. Conservatives can't win politically right now. But they can raise doubts, they can point out other issues that we can't ignore (especially in national security and foreign policy), they can pick other fights -- and they can try in any way possible to break Obama's momentum. Only if this happens will conservatives be able to get a hearing for their (compelling, in my view) arguments against big-government, liberal-nanny-state social engineering -- and for their preferred alternatives.

Right now, Obama is in the driver's seat -- a newly elected and popular president with comfortable Democratic congressional majorities and an adulatory mainstream news media. Still, Republicans do have advantages over their forebears in 1965 and 1933. There are more Republicans in Congress today, so they should be able to resist more effectively. There is much more of a record of liberal failures to look back on now than when the New Deal and the Great Society were being rushed through. Conservatism is more sophisticated than it was back then. So there is no reason to despair.

Wow. I mean, wow. There it is in black and white: they got nothin'. Here is a respected conservative voice (respected by conservatives, that it), admitting that their only shot is to be the Party of Obstructionism. Just Say No (to everything Obama tries to do). And never fear, because "conservatism is more sophisticated" than before.

Um, isn't that kind of an elitist thing to say, Bill? I'm just asking...

Anyway, let me repeat Kristol's main point, just because it is such a joy to type: "Conservatives can't win politically right now."


But he's right about the speed factor. Obama is getting so many things done in such a short period of time, it is literally hard to keep track of it all. The liberal blogosphere anticipated somewhat of an identity crisis right before Obama took office, worrying that without Bush to bash on a daily basis, maybe there wouldn't be enough news to write about anymore. Those fears, looking back after Obama's first month, are now in the laughable category.

There's too much to write about. That's the new problem.

Obama, while overturning Bush-era policies at a fast clip (just to have something to do before breakfast, one assumes), has gotten his stimulus package through. He's gotten several other good laws passed that the public barely even had time to notice (like children's health insurance expansion). This week alone, he gave a "don't call it the State of the Union" State of the Union speech to Congress, introduced his first budget outline, and capped the week off by announcing our withdrawal plan from Iraq. That's in one week. And those are just the high points.

Maybe we need a stimulus plan for Congress: free Red Bull for everyone, just so they can keep up with the pace.

Nancy Pelosi, when she was first sworn in as Speaker of the House, announced that Congress was going to be working longer weeks and more days, because things needed to get done. Then, after Bush proved he could stop anything Democrats passed that he didn't specifically ask for, they kind of slacked off a bit. Well, it's time to get back to work, in a big way.

So far, for the most part, Congress has kept up. They slipped their original target date for the stimulus (Inauguration Day) back to Presidents' Day, but then they met that deadline.

And the most amusing thing to me, which really proves what I'm trying to say here, is that the House passed an omnibus budget for the current fiscal year (something they were supposed to do before last October, and hadn't done yet) -- and nobody even noticed.

Obama is moving so fast, that the news cycles don't have time to keep up. All eyes were instead on Obama's budget for next year, and this year's budget just snuck by everyone. Now usually, this would have taken weeks (if not months) of haggling in the House before it even got to a vote. While it still has to get through the Senate, it's just astounding that it flew through under everyone's radar.

Oh, and by the way, Congress is halfway through adding new members to the House of Representatives, something it hasn't done for 80 years (which, as I pointed out yesterday, will remove the possibility of a tie in the Electoral College). You may have missed that one, too. It's been a busy week. Hopefully, the first of many.

Maybe we should start calling it the "Do-Everything Congress." Let's see if they can live up to that label.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

Senator Dick Durbin gets a hat tip here for stepping up to the plate, but you'll have to wait for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week section to hear why.

This week we had a lot of contenders for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, which is always good news. The more the merrier, that's what I say.

For refusing to let the Bush cabal slink away into the night, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Pat Leahy were strong contenders for the MIDOTW this week. Both spearheaded the effort to investigate the abuses of the Bush administration, and refused to just sweep everything under the carpet. Salon has some Whitehouse quotes on the matter, and the Washington Post reports today that they're moving forward. Both Leahy and Whitehouse deserve an Honorable Mention here for their efforts.

Nancy Pelosi also gets an Honorable Mention, for her Rachel Maddow interview this week, where she is pushing further than even the Truth Commission proposed by Leahy. She wants prosecutions. Period. Salon's Glenn Greenwald has the story. This is the only chance we're going to get to find out what was done in our name, so I salute Pelosi for pushing harder than most Democrats on the issue.

But clearly the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was President Obama. His speech was stunning in its reach, its breadth, and even (yes) its delivery. This was not your father's State of the Union, in other words. And Bobby Jindal's response was laughable not for his delivery (which was widely panned), but for the actual content -- refusing to offer any new ideas from the GOP, which will only serve to shrink their party to its hardcore base. But, speeches aside, just look at what Obama got accomplished this week, and the outline of his plans for the next few weeks. Obama has kicked Washington in the seat of its collective pants, and for that alone he wins the MIDOTW award.

Well done, Mister President!

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


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

This is getting kind of redundant. I was trying to think of a candidate for this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, and was almost to the point of not handing out an award at all (a rare occurrence, but it has happened before) when I remembered the gift that just keeps on giving.

Sigh. Roland Burris, for the second consecutive week, is the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week for new revelations that there was apparently some nepotism involved in his Senate seat as well as the usual Blagojevich slime. Burris got told by yet another leading Illinois Democrat, his fellow Senator Dick Durbin, that he really should resign. Burris ignored him. As with last week, Burris will share his MDDOTW award with the Democrats in the Illinois legislature, who could end this nightmare by calling a special election.

For the second week in a row, they both deserve their Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. I have helpfully provided Burris' contact info here, in case you'd like to join the chorus urging him to go.

[Contact Roland Burris on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think he should do.]


[Program Note: I have been asked by a nameless congressional staffer (yes, some of them do actually read this weekly screed) whether it is proper for them to directly draw my attention to individuals in Congress who may have done something which deserves an award. I have ruled that this is indeed proper. I cannot be "lobbied" -- as I will accept nothing of value in any way for my consideration, but then that's probably illegal anyway (just wanted to mention it). But if you'd like to contact me in the hopes of spotlighting worthy Democrats, feel free to do so via my "Email Chris" page on my website. Full anonymity, is (of course) guaranteed. Sorry for the interruption, we return you now to your regularly scheduled article....]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 67 (2/27/09)

But all this patting ourselves on the back for the blinding speed doesn't mean that we've won the battle. Let's keep our shoulder to the prize and our eyes on the wheel (or something like that). Because no matter how great a product you have, you have to market it well or it will fail. And Republicans are already publicly admitting that their only hope is to rabidly attack all of Obama's ideas, meaning the other side is chomping at the bit.

Democrats have to be ready with their response. So, as our usual public service, we offer up this week's suggested talking points for Democrats everywhere. Especially the ones about to be interviewed this weekend.


   Don't forget the SOFA

Barack Obama laid out his plans for withdrawing from Iraq today. Republicans actually seem to think it's not that bad a plan (so much for all that "waving the white flag of surrender" nonsense, eh?). Nancy Pelosi was a bit concerned about the 50,000 residual troops left behind, but what Obama reportedly said today was "35-50,000." But Obama did commit to bringing all our forces home by the end of 2011. Right?

Well, actually, yes and no. That's what Obama said, but the reality is that this timetable had already been set by the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which Bush signed late last year (which Obama pointed out, in the same sentence). Meaning that all the debating about it that is likely about to happen is kind of a moot point. The details of the numbers are a lesser point right now, and somebody needs to point this out.

"Under the SOFA that Bush agreed to, all U.S. military personnel will be out of Iraq at the end of 2011. And, furthermore, all U.S. combat troops will pull out of Iraqi cities and back to their own bases in just a few short months. By this summer, U.S. forces will have only a very minor role in keeping stability in Iraq. Which means they'll start to come home, in large numbers. After this drawdown is complete, in 2010, we will then look at how to bring the rest of them home before the deadline we have already agreed to. This will allow the president to make his decision based on the situation at that time. I honestly don't see why there's even an argument about any of this, as we've all known this is how it was going to happen ever since Bush signed the SOFA."


   Trusting Obama's honesty

I think Democrats are missing a key framing opportunity. The media has been allowing Republicans to rant and rave for the past few weeks about how bad Obama's plan is for (fill in the blank). The polls, however, show Obama retaining his high popularity. There is a reason for this, and I think it boils down to this: People trust Obama to at least try to do the right thing.

That sounds simple. It is. Americans want to trust their president. Especially in a time of crisis. They want to believe that he is leveling with them. And, so far, they do. Democrats need to forcefully remind the media of this, and of what a change it is from the past eight years.

"President Barack Obama is getting high approval ratings not just because he is changing Washington before our eyes. The real reason why is that people trust him. They trust that when he puts out a budget, he will not resort to fancy accounting tricks to hide the size of the problem. They trust that when he said something on the campaign trail he really meant it. They trust he is going to try and enact his agenda. That's why they voted for him, and that's why they continue to support him. You need to point that out to your viewers a bit more often. When you use phrases like 'the American people believe X or Y,' you need to check the polls first to see if you are correct, or if you're just repeating what some Republican told you is the case. The American people are solidly behind our president, as am I. We will fight for his agenda, because that is exactly what the American people want. Don't act so surprised that Obama is attempting to do exactly what he said he would do."


   Helping people, not socialism

This one needs to get nipped in the bud. The big, bad, scary wolf Republicans are trotting out as their best rhetorical weapon to slay the dragon of Obamaism seems to be the word "socialism." Ooo! Scary!

(Ahem.) Forgive me.

But for whatever reason, among many Americans (who would struggle to come up with a definition for the word) the term "socialism" is just a continuation of the fear tactics Republicans have been using for around a century now (it's a watered-down version of their "communism" left-baiting). So it must be addressed.

"I hear lots of sneering about how Obama is turning American into some sort of socialism. Well, you know, Obama didn't start these bailouts, George W. Bush did -- are they calling him a socialist too? And Bush started this process because of events on the ground. In the midst of the collapse of the American economy, the government is the last resort at times. Both Republicans and Democrats used to agree on that basic premise. But we don't see helping people out in a time of need as 'socialism,' and we would remind Republicans that people getting pink slips aren't fired on the basis of what political party they belong to -- it is happening across the board. So I wonder how many Republican voters who need their government to act right now are worried about 'socialism' versus putting food on the table for their family."


   Socialism isn't bad when your house is on fire

Socialism, part II.

Here's another way to put it:

"Republicans seem to want to label anything government does nowadays as 'socialism.' But you know what? When your house is on fire, you want the fire department to show up and put it out. You don't want to have to write them a check before they start pumping water. And you don't want them to only respond to houses with the ability to pay their fees. So why is what Republicans are calling 'socialism' fine for our police forces, our firefighters, our roads, our air traffic control, our military, and our national parks... but not fine for other things as well? By their definition, we have been a 'socialist' country for decades now! The whole argument is ridiculous on the face of it."


   OK, Bobby, let's cut hurricane monitoring too.

Bobby Jindal's campaign speech... oh, excuse me... his "response to Barack Obama" (ahem) earlier this week had an awfully strange moment in it. Jindal, citing "government waste" (as Republicans are wont to do), came up with the bizarre example of "volcano monitoring." Um, we should privatize volcano monitoring? Really? That's not a valid function of government? Wow.

"In response to Governor Jindal calling for the removal of volcano monitoring from federal outlays, I would like to propose the following: if we cut all funding for volcano monitoring to zero (since we obviously shouldn't care about people living in Seattle or Hawai'i or Alaska, for that matter), then how about we also cut all funding for hurricane monitoring? If natural disaster warning isn't a valid function of government, then why should all of our tax dollars pay to warn places like New Orleans of impending disaster? This shows the absolute idiocy behind what now appears to be the official Republican Party position. I think we can do better than that, personally, because I care about protecting all of America's citizens, no matter where they happen to live."


   Let them eat cake

Republican governors have come up with a brilliant strategy for their party: enrage their own citizens against them. Someone needs to tell them that it's not only Democrats who are being laid off and having to file for unemployment. There's a whole lot of Republicans in the same boat. The New York Times reports that some of them are getting a little annoyed at the Republican ideology and dogma from their governors. In keeping with the populist nature of this issue, a comment to my article on Bobby Jindal's speech earlier this week summed it up pretty well (responding about Bobby Jindal, but you can change the state and it works for any of them), so I'm going to just repeat the quote here:

"Governor, how do you expect a Louisianan who has lost his job, and doesn't have the same unemployment benefits as someone from Texas, to vote in 2010? Do you think he might harbor some resentment against you and the Republican party?"


   Then why are you in government?

In keeping with our populist theme, our final Friday Talking Point is also from a commenter to the same Jindal article. "Chicago Molly" had a beautiful response to all those Republican governors who are making political hay out of refusing unemployment benefits from "The Gummint" in Washington. And I couldn't have put it better myself, although (heh heh) I apologize for the "bad" language:

"I've got two questions I'd love to ask these people if they ever dared show up around here. (1) If you really, truly believe that Government is always the problem, not the solution; and that a 'Government job' isn't a 'real job,' then what the badword are you doing in the government?? (assuming that you're not there simply to commit sabotage). (2) Since you are, albeit grudgingly, participating in the dreaded government, are you at least, as a matter of principle, refusing to accept your paychecks?"


[Program Note: Our standard policy, for those unaware, is that commenters never are publicly acknowledged by name or login unless I get their permission to do so before publication. This is our standard policy, and while I was able to credit one commenter today, I was unable to reach the other one in time, hence the difference in the last two talking points. Just for everyone's information....]


Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground

Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


4 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [67] -- Washington At Warp Speed”

  1. [1] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    The GOP have become whiner obstructionists and it's easy to count them out but lets not forget that not too long ago the press was predicting the doom of the Democrats and we know how that turned out. The Bobby and Sarah show is likely only to give SNL and the Daily Show lots of great comic moments than generate any real political power. My fear is while everyone is focusing on them, the next Newt is somewhere out there ready to start building the next conservative wave. He may be a junior house member or won't be elected until 2010. If we let the GOP surprise us with this person they have a good chance to spring in to populist power. If that person or even those that can be that person can be identified and countered early, the next pendulum swing can be staved off for a while.

    On the Socialism charge, I think comparisons between Mogadishu and Scandinavia need to be made. At this point Mogadishu and greater Somalia have little or no real government. Which also means little or no taxes. No government, no taxes, is this not the GOP wet dream? How's that working for them? Scandinavia on the other hand is much more socialistic than us, has much higher taxes, and has some of the highest standards of living in the world. But this really brings the conversation to the important point: we need government and taxes to run it. What is the right or ideal level of taxation? It easy to cry lower taxes but much more difficult to pin down a single number. Following this line of logic, puts the "lower taxes at any cost" type on the defensive which counters that argument quite nicely as anti-tax as a tactic is much more effective when used offensively.

  2. [2] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    "Governor, how do you expect a Louisianan who has lost his job, and doesn't have the same unemployment benefits as someone from Texas, to vote in 2010? Do you think he might harbor some resentment against you and the Republican party?"

    Expanding on this talking point just a bit, a good follow-up might be:

    "Governor, unemployment compensation is one of only a few things governors CAN veto for their states, given the direct-to-local nature of much stimulus spending. So which of the following program monies would you also refuse, given the chance? Head Start, SCHIP, food stamps, etc.?"

  3. [3] 
    LewDan wrote:


    As a personal favor I'd really appreciate it if you'd limit references to Kristol's rantings -- I mean writings. First, if we comment it forces us to publicly admit to reading him, which is humiliating enough, but worse, it may force us to read him. Second, I don't believe he's actually been right about anything. So whenever he accidentally arranges words into something that could sound sensible or, heaven forbid! something I might actually agree with, it sends chills down my spine. I'm always convinced that I just must be missing something obvious if I don't see the flaws in a Kristol screed. So please, show some mercy, we're under enough stress already.

    Burris -- another point of disgust. The Senate had its chance to reject him, now its too late. Burris shares the same narcissistic personality that afflicted Blago -- and afflicted us WITH Blago. Like Blago, Burris will never resign. He won't be good for anything but feeding his own ego, but he'll never give up a Senate seat.

    New D.C./Utah Reps -- I find it interesting that the Fed, once again belying the myth of American Democracy, goes without notice. Yes, as you stated in your earlier piece this is typical D.C horsetrading --- But -- This time what's being traded is the ability to have voters' votes matter. Once again D.C proves that government is afraid of democratic elections, just as the Founding Father's were when they conceived the Electoral College. And having trampled the Constitution in every respect for eight years, now the Republicans, even out of power, are Gerrymandering Congress -- and NOBODY CARES! Amazing.

    Republicans -- As to your other observations -- all true. But its a mistake not to reiterate with ever rebuttal, that NOTHING the Republicans are saying is true. Their only motivation is to regain power. EVERTHING else is sophistry.

    Rush Limbaugh is the only honest one left, he admits to wanting the U.S to fail -- think about that... We know Republicans are in a deep hole -- but imagine how far down you have to be for Limbagh to be above everyone else in HONESTY!?

    Obama -- An elected Federal Official actually doing his job -- and doing it expeditiously and well! Now THAT is REALLY a change in D.C.

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    BashiBazouk -

    The "next Newt" may even BE Newt Gingrich... stranger things have happened. But you are right to point out that relative unknowns could be the real threat.

    And I like the Mogadishu metaphor. "Zero government = good" is a stupid thing to shoot for, and that's a great way to point it out.

    OsborneInk -

    Next time, I'll credit your quote! I promise! Sorry for the last-minute attempt to get permission, it won't happen again.


    LewDan -

    Sorry, I should run some sort of warning label: "WARNING: inane blather ahead!" when quoting Kristol.

    I find it highly amusing, though, when conservatives are backed into such a corner that they start to become honest to their own base: "We got nothin'. Sorry about that. We'll try to obstruct everything until we get some new ideas."

    I hear rumors that the IL legislature is thinking about getting up off its collective rear end and stopping this Burris soap opera by calling a special election. About time!

    As for the DC thing, keep in mind that while it's a permanent seat for DC, Utah's will get reshuffled with all the rest after the 2010 census, so they could lose the seat almost as fast as they gained it.

    I think it's a brilliant "don't throw me in the briar patch" strategy for Obama's White House to spotlight Rush Limbaugh. The more influential he gets (RNC head Steele was the latest to be forced to apologize to Rush, I see), the worse off the Republicans chances in upcoming elections. So why wouldn't Obama help the media crown Rush king of the GOP? The more extreme they appear, the more centrist voters flee the party.

    But I could be wrong...


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