Those who do not know history are, as we all know, doomed to repeat it. But there should be some sort of special doom reserved for those who actually do know their history, and choose to ignore it anyway. Amy Domini recently wrote a wonderful article in The Huffington Post about this phenomenon as it relates to our current financial crisis. She went back and dug out a New York Times article from when Congress passed the bill which created this whole mess. While there are some minor factual errors in her writing (as I remember it, George Bush was "elected" in the year 2000, not 1999), reading the reprinted Times article is just absolutely stunning. It covers the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the financial regulatory law that was passed as a result of the Great Depression to keep the banking industry from doing stupid and reckless things.
Anyone who is currently pointing fingers at Republicans for championing "deregulation," and demonizing them for doing so needs to read this, to brush up on their history. This Clinton-era bill passed the House 362 to 57, and it sailed through the Senate with a whopping ninety votes for it, and only eight against.
In other words, there's lots and lots and lots of blame to go around -- which includes most of the Democrats, as well. The quotes from Democratic lawmakers are simply jaw-dropping in their hubris. The best one isn't from a lawmaker at all, but rather from Clinton's head of the Treasury, who (it should be pointed out) is now a key player in Obama's financial team of experts:
"Today Congress voted to update the rules that have governed financial services since the Great Depression and replace them with a system for the 21st century," Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said. "This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy."
How's that "21st century" system, or that "new economy" working out now, Larry? It's only fair to ask, it seems.
Paul Wellstone, not surprisingly, was one of the very few who got it right:
Senator Paul Wellstone, Democrat of Minnesota, said that Congress had ''seemed determined to unlearn the lessons from our past mistakes.''
''Scores of banks failed in the Great Depression as a result of unsound banking practices, and their failure only deepened the crisis,'' Mr. Wellstone said. ''Glass-Steagall was intended to protect our financial system by insulating commercial banking from other forms of risk. It was one of several stabilizers designed to keep a similar tragedy from recurring. Now Congress is about to repeal that economic stabilizer without putting any comparable safeguard in its place.''
Seriously, anyone who wants a little history lesson on how both our political parties are equally culpable in this mess really needs to read this blast from the past.
This doesn't have anything to do with this week's Friday Talking Points. I just wanted to point it out to any Democrats who are feeling overly sanctimonious right about now, and are contemplating beating Republicans up for the evils of deregulation, that's all.
Of course, as we all know, Ronald Reagan was the beginning of such deregulatory nonsense. And I was thinking of Reagan anyway earlier this week, after the national media proved once again that it has the intelligence (and memory skills) of your average houseplant, in the media's reaction to President Barack Obama's second prime-time press conference. I was reminded of Reagan due to one of the media's trivial pursuits this week -- Barack Obama's use of a TelePrompTer. [Editorial note: I realize I must be the last person on Earth (outside of the sticklers at The New Yorker, of course) who still capitalize this brand name correctly, as everyone else has decided it's a common noun... but I refuse to bow to modern convention, so deal with it. Hrrmph.]
Seriously, I wonder to myself, this is all you guys in the big, big media have got? You get paid the big bucks to (supposedly) report on the stories of the day, and you think the American people actually care whether Obama reads what he says off a piece of paper, or off a "modern" gizmo?
Here's some breaking news: the TelePrompTer was invented when Eisenhower was president (so that -- you can't make this stuff up -- Lucille Ball could read commercials on television). It is not exactly a "news flash" that politicians use them in the year 2009. I mean, seriously, can we get real here for just one tiny moment? The economy's crashing down all around us, and this is all you've got? When it has existed for over half a century?!?
I would caution smug media mavens with a bit of history, here. [Ron Fournier especially, as well as Carol Lee (who seems to think her bastardized capitalization "TelePrompter" is somehow "cool," since she can't really think it is correct in any way) and Peter Baker -- I'm looking in your direction.] Because the last time the TelePrompTer was an issue for a president, his name was Ronald Reagan. The press ridiculed Reagan, both for not knowing how to use a TelePrompTer... and (later) for using it too well.
My key point: does anyone remember this now? Or does everyone remember Reagan as "The Great Communicator" for his style? This is my note of caution to the press. In plain, simple language: "This is a stupid issue. There's nothing to it. Please move along. Stop obsessing over this non-issue. Please?" I would bet the farm [Note: I do not actually own a farm] that in 20 years, nobody's going to remember that Barack Obama used a TelePrompTer to speak to America. Any takers?
Don't believe me? Here are some choice excerpts from articles written in the first year of Reagan's first term (1981). [I apologize for the lack of links, I got these from Lexis/Nexis, which is a subscription service.]
The Washington Post, (5/10/81)
Personally, I am reassured by the easy manner in which the president sidesteps his own hard-line rhetoric and overheated ideology in favor of pragmatic political decisions. That confirms what longtime students of Reagan, particularly The Post's White House correspondent, Lou Cannon, have always insisted was the core of Reagan's political style. One eye on the teleprompter and the other eye on the voters.
The New York Times, (7/12/81)
For seasoned watchers of President Reagan, his mid-week speech in Chicago was a familiar scene gone slightly, and tellingly, awry. His trusty index cards had given way to a teleprompter. The crisp cadences of his off-the-cuff orations were replaced by long and harshly partisan sentences that visibly wearied both Mr. Reagan and his audience. Despite the last-minute effort by aides to correct a "mistake" in the speech text, Mr. Reagan admitted that his appointment of Judge Sandra Day O'Connor to the United States Supreme Court culminated a "search for a highly qualified woman."
The Washington Post, (9/28/81)
In one of his many stumbles and omissions of words or phrases apparently because of difficulties Reagan had reading from a teleprompter, the president dropped the second clause of that sentence when he delivered the speech at the Rivergate Convention Center here.
The Globe And Mail (Canada), in an article titled: "How to keep Reagan's foot out of his mouth" (12/18/81)
The former Hollywood actor impresses his audiences when there is a TelePrompTer rolling out a speech for him to read or when the points he should make are written on three-by-five-inch cue cards. But give him a question for which he can't recite an answer and he flounders about, offering vague generalities and giving every indication of an embarrassing lack of knowledge.
I have to salute the Canadians for their capitalization. Hrrmph.
But my favorite clip is from the New York Times in August of '81, which grudgingly predicts how history would eventually see Reagan:
Sound booms, television cameras, klieg lights and, on some oncamera figures, makeup, contributed a distinctively theatrical aura to the occasion. In fact, business seemed to take a back seat to the media event. What color shirt shows best on television? How does one gracefully read a speech from a Teleprompter? Most importantly how does one communicate credibly with an unseen audience? Chief executives might begin by studying the technique of a current master of the small screen, Ronald Reagan.
Writing a story about TelePrompTer usage is only really relevant when some sort of gaffe happens -- which did happen to Reagan quite a bit (although nobody remembers it now). There was one valid Obama TelePrompTer story two weeks ago (on Saint Patrick's Day), when there was a snafu with loading an Irish leader's text, but it actually was mostly ignored by the American media. Whoever was running the TelePrompTer cued up Obama's speech by mistake (for the Irishman), which he then began reading... and then Obama made a joke of it by immediately thanking him as "President Obama"... much to the amusement of the press, who laughed loudly at Obama's ad lib. But when no gaffe exists, no story exists. Or "should exist," if the media universe was a rational place.
The mainstream media needs to get over themselves, and they really need to realize that making fun of Obama for using a TelePrompTer is the most idiotic thing they've come up with yet to criticize about Barack Obama -- because in today's world, it's like making fun of someone for watching cable television, or for using a personal computer (how ridiculous would a story be that began: "President Obama used one of those new-fangled personal computing devices today..."?).
Actually, it's worse. Neither of those were widely available to the public until over three decades after the TelePrompTer became a common communication tool.
As Joe Bob Briggs, one of my philosophical gurus, is wont to say: "I'm surprised I have to explain this stuff."
OK, enough of that, let's get on with the show. History class is dismissed. Yes, this will all be covered on the quiz. Hrrmph.
Before I get to the awards (I didn't know where else to stick this, sorry), some congratulations are in order. Yesterday was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's 69th birthday. Happy birthday, Madam Speaker, and many happy returns! And, on a more personal note, Mrs. Chris Weigant is now a United States citizen, and for people who are not regular readers of my blog (incredibly, there still are a few...), I invite you to read her essay on why she chose to do so now. And after her essay (as an addendum) are twenty of the questions on the citizenship test, if you really do want to take a history quiz (thought I was joking about that, didn't you?).
OK, with that out of the way, let's get to the good news of the week. The Democrats in the House of Representatives were most impressive this week in not only moving forward on the 2010 budget blueprint, but also by "touching second base" and leaving in the possibility of using the budget reconciliation process to cut off Senate Republicans at the knees. I admit I've been beating the reconciliation drum for a while now, and I was pleased to see that the House realizes that it would be a good thing to allow these bills to pass with Senate votes that cannot be filibustered. But, while Nancy Pelosi is strongly defending the practice, it appears to have been a joint effort in the House, so I'll just give all House Democrats an honorable mention here for now. The real fight is going to be when the House and Senate gets together in conference committee to hammer out a single bill to vote on, so stay tuned....
President Barack Obama continued to impress this week, in all sorts of ways, but he has set the bar so high on his own impressiveness that he wasn't considered for an award for doing so this week. He's just so darn competent that he's going to have to really do something spectacular to be considered (unless, of course, it's a slow news week otherwise...).
This week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to none other than Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner. He started the week off by unveiling his plan to deal with the toxic... oh, excuse me... "legacy" assets on Wall Street. Later in the week, he unveiled a plan to introduce much stronger regulation to the financial industry before Congress. And the stock market approved, by reversing its plummet and actually starting to rise once again.
Geithner took a lot of heat a few weeks ago for "not having a plan," and for (if you watched the news) being personally responsible for the stock market's fall. Now that these things have been proven demonstrably false, I'm still waiting for the gigantic "We were wrong, we're so sorry!" apology coming from the television talking heads. Let's all pause, so they can apologize for being incredibly, monstrously wrong, shall we?
[Sound of lone cricket chirping.]
Yeah, I didn't think so. While I am no economist and cannot rationally debate the merits and drawbacks of Geithner's plan personally, I have to say the stock market certainly seemed to approve. But, apparently, that's not news anymore, because it doesn't fit in the "Obama is failing" narrative. Maybe talking about TelePrompTers was more important. Or something.
Snarkiness aside, congratulations to Secretary Geithner, for having an all-around impressive week.
While he is ineligible (since I don't know if he's a Democrat or not), NBC's new Washington chief Chuck Todd deserves a special mention here for coming up with the most ridiculous (not to mention "out of touch") question at Obama's press conference this week. Chuck apparently lives on another planet, where Americans are not having to sacrifice during this economic crisis. I used to like Chuck, back during the campaign, because he seemed so fact-based and rational (as opposed to the normal talking heads), and even wanted him to get the Meet The Press hosting gig. But since Obama's election, he has been drifting rightwards, which makes me wonder what's going on at NBC News these days.
Dianne Feinstein also gets a "dis"-honorable mention this week, for her "investigation" over the fiasco of the Inauguration's crowd control efforts (which I wrote about yesterday), and also for appearing to back away from her support of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which she had co-sponsored in previous years. But she hedged her language on EFCA, so she doesn't rise (sink?) to the level of a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Yet.
President Barack Obama also, sadly, deserves a mention here in the MDDOTW category, for "addressing" the issue of marijuana during his online town hall meeting, by turning it into a joke. Politically, it is understandable why he would want to push this issue to the back burner, and he does deserve some credit for even mentioning the issue in the first place, but still.... Next time, maybe the question needs to be more focused on realistic moves Obama could take on the medical marijuana sub-issue.
Instead, this week's MDDOTW award goes to all the Senate Democrats who are fighting hard to remove the prospect of reconciliation. Yes, sadly, you heard that right. Now, you'd expect Republicans in the Senate to be miffed about the maneuver, but these are Democrats we're talking about. From a recent article in Time magazine:
The House bill includes a controversial provision for so-called reconciliation -- which would leave the door open to piggyback massive programs on the budget like universal health care in case they fail to make it through the regular legislative process. House Democrats and the Administration support such a move specifically for health care -- though, theoretically, the provision would allow for anything, including energy, to be pushed through the Senate with just a simple majority rather than a filibuster-proof 60 votes. Several moderate Democratic Senators, including Ben Nelson of Nebraska, have said that inclusion of reconciliation instructions in the final bill would be a deal breaker for them.
A deal breaker? Are you kidding me? "Please, please, don't force us into passing a bill that Republicans can't filibuster! Because that would be, you know, horrible!"
It's hard to even conceive of any reason why Ben Nelson (and the rest of them) would take this position. Just because the possibility of reconciliation exists does not mean they can't work with Republicans to have some bipartisan support, but it does mean there is a threat that if bipartisanship doesn't work, that a good bill can be passed anyway.
Who in their right mind could be against that?
Ben Nelson, apparently. Which is why he (and his unnamed co-conspirators) are hereby awarded the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Now I'm starting to understand how Harry Reid got elected leader in the first place. Sheesh.
[Contact Senator Ben Nelson on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 71 (3/27/09)
This article (as usual) is getting way too long, so I'll try to be brief here in the talking points. These are provided on a weekly basis for Democrats to use when being interviewed this weekend. But feel free to use them yourself, around the water cooler.
We can't wait!
Dan Froomkin noticed this earlier this week, although it flew under most of the media's radar. Barack Obama now seems to have a great answer to critics who keep pounding him for "doing too much" or "attempting too much." Froomkin even asks: "Is 'we can't wait' the next 'yes we can'?" Here is his report of what Obama said recently at a D.C. fundraiser:
Obama: "Now, let me just say that there are those who say, you know, you're taking on too much; say the budget is too ambitious, we should only focus on one problem at a time."
Obama: "But we know -- we're smarter than that. (Applause.) We know the challenges are too big to ignore. That single mom out there trying to figure out whether she can have health care for her family -- she doesn't think -- "
Audience Member: "She can't wait."
Obama: "She cannot wait. (Applause.) I'm not going to wait until we've got another $4-a-gallon gasoline before suddenly everybody says, why don't we have an energy policy? We can't wait. (Applause.) I'm not going to wait until suddenly we find out that our children can't compete for the jobs of the future. That's why we're going to fix education now, not later. We can't wait. (Applause.)"
President Obama's team is in full-court press mode to sell their budget proposal to Congress and the American people. Earlier in the week, the media (including even some lefty media) were talking about how congressional Democrats were "taking an axe to," or "slashing" Obama's proposal. This feeds the "all conflict, all the time" theme of the media; but when the dust settled, it appeared that (once again) the media were reporting on a tempest in a teapot. Because what emerged from the House and Senate was almost exactly what Obama asked for.
This needs pointing out.
"President Obama got 98 percent of what he wanted from Democrats in Congress in the budget blueprint. Allow me to repeat that figure: 98 percent. The media tried to make it seem like there was some enormous intra-party battle over the budget, when in reality, Democrats showed an amazing amount of party unity during the process. I must have missed all those screaming 72-point headlines with the figure 98 percent in them. Unless, of course, the media is just not doing their job."
Maybe not twins, but definitely brothers
But White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag got the best line off on this subject, so I will just turn the talking point over to him:
"Not only do [the House and Senate versions] embody the four key principles that the President has put forward for the budget, but they are 98% the same as the budget proposal the President sent up in February. The resolutions may not be identical twins to what the President submitted, but they are certainly brothers that look an awful lot alike."
Numbers? We don't got to show you no steenking numbers!
Actually, because everyone in the world (including that headline) gets this quote (from The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre) wrong, here is how the full quote should read: "Numbers? We ain't got no numbers. We don't need no numbers. I don't have to show you any stinking numbers!"
Just for the record.
President Barack Obama smacked the GOP in the face with a gauntlet during his press conference, saying in essence "put up, or shut up" on the budget. He challenged them to come up with their own budget if they didn't like his, or continue to wallow in their irrelevance and obstructionism.
They responded right away. But, harking back to Obama's presser once again, they apparently didn't take the time to think about it. What ensued was a disaster, in full view of the media's harsh glare. Because in their 19-page "pamphlet," they forgot to give any numbers. You just can't make this stuff up.
Hari Sevugan, from the Democratic National Committee, had such a wonderful reply, I find I cannot improve on it at all:
"After 27 days, the best House Republicans could come up with is a 19-page pamphlet that does not include a single real budget proposal or estimate. There are more numbers in my last sentence than there are in the entire House GOP 'budget.' "
You know, actual numbers
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs got in on the action as well. Even just reading this quote, you can sense that he is straining mightily to contain himself and not get too snarky.
"It's interesting to have a budget that doesn't contain any numbers. I think the administration is glad that the Republicans heard the president's call to submit an alternative. We just hope that next time it will contain actual numbers so somebody can evaluate what it means."
Next time, just use Twitter
Next time, maybe they should just use Twitter and save themselves the embarrassment of appearing on television to answer over and over again the question: "Where are the numbers?!?"
It's fun to come up with a 140-character-or-less version of the Republican "budget" -- try it at home!
"More big tax cuts for rich folks. Obama budget bad. Bad bad bad! GOP budget doubleplusgood!"
Brought to you by the number zero
The fun-loving folks over at the Democratic National Committee seem to be on a roll. Maybe I should just rename the seventh talking point "this week's DNC snark" or something. After the Republicans rolled out their numberless "budget," the DNC put together an ad eviscerating it. Watch the ad if you want a laugh this week.
The talking point comes from the title of the ad itself:
"I was watching Sesame Street the other day, and saw the Republican budget pamphlet introduced, brought to you by the number zero."
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant