It's been a crazy rollercoaster of a week, and at the end of it, California can proudly state that not only do we no longer have the most embarrassing governor in the country, we are not even in the top three anymore! With the antics of Rod Blagojevich, Eliot Spitzer, and (now) Mark Sanford, we've slipped into fourth place in the state comedians look to for jokes. Or course, some might argue that Spitzer doesn't belong in that category since he's no longer governor of New York, but then the guy who replaced him started his term by admitting his own bedroom wandering, so I'm still going to include New York.
Speaking of New York craziness, Albany appears to be mired in a schoolyard spat of its own, as duelling senates tried to hold two independent sessions (one Republican-led, one Democratically-led, both with gavels) -- from the same room. You just can't make this stuff up, folks.
But back to Sanford's problems for a moment, because Salon's War Room gave their Quote Of The Day to anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist for his take on Sanford's affair, which simply must be reproduced here for your enjoyment: "It does indicate that men who oppose federal spending at the local level are irresistible to women."
In other news, Rhode Island is getting a lot closer to changing their name. A bit of trivia: the smallest state in the Union has the longest official name. "The State Of Rhode Island And Providence Plantations" has always been their official name, but now a movement is on to pare this back to "The State Of Rhode Island" instead. Trivia fans everywhere await the outcome with bated breath.
But there was also sadness this week, and I'm not talking about the deaths of entertainment icons from the 1970s. I am talking about the WashingtonPost.com website, which has booted out one of the best bloggers on the web.
Dan Froomkin's "White House Watch" column today will be the last one that appears on WashingtonPost.com. Froomkin has expressed interest in possibly moving the column elsewhere and continuing it, and I consider this a test of whether newspapers are (a.) smart enough to realize this is the way to modernize and move into the future of journalism, or (b.) dumb as a bag of hammers. WashingtonPost.com has obviously chosen the (b.) route. Because Froomkin's column is a shining example of how newspapers could migrate from their print business model to the more interactive web-based model they need to be in to survive.
Froomkin was fired, it was announced, because his "ratings" had dropped after Obama was elected. This is utter hogwash. In the first place, his column "White House Watch" (it started as "White House Briefing" but was changed later) was dedicated to putting the executive branch under a microscope and reporting what was there. Of course, the Bush White House was more fertile ground for this, especially towards the end. But Froomkin did not back off from examining Obama's White House, and has been severely critical of Obama's decisions on secrecy and openness and torture and accountability.
The real reason his numbers dropped is that the editors stopped putting a link to his column on their front page. When Froomkin got progressively harder and harder to find, fewer and fewer people found him. In other words, his ratings dropped because they didn't feature him as prominently anymore. This is the new online reality -- your hit count depends on a link on the front page of the site. The more prominent, the higher your hitcount will be.
But dark suspicions have been raised (mostly by his loyal readers) that Froomkin was fired because he dared to contradict one of the very conservative op-ed writers on the Washington Post payroll (the two entities, Washington Post and WashingtonPost.com are supposedly "separate," I should mention). The Washington Post has become a safe haven for such ultra-conservative commentators (they not only have an ex-Bush speechwriter, but they also hired William Kristol after the New York Times got tired of him being so wrong so often). So, in keeping with this conservative bent, Froomkin had to go.
This is pathetic and is an outrage. Anyone who agrees should contact the ombudsman at: email@example.com and let him know how you feel.
What is truly pathetic is that the newspaper which a few decades ago brought down an American president is now not even worth reading anymore, because the only thing in it that isn't the equivalent of Fox News is their cartoonist Tom Toles (who is excellent). A bastion of journalism has, quite literally (at least for me) been reduced to a cartoon. Pathetic.
Let's see... bring down a government, sell lots of newspapers... pack the staff with neo-cons in possibly the most liberal city in America, get ready for bankruptcy. No wonder newspapers are in such trouble, if this is the way they plan their business models.
Anyway, I encourage everyone to read Dan's last column, because come Monday it'll just be an online memory.
Thankfully, we have quite a few impressive Democrats to choose from this week, which means a lot of Honorable Mentions before we get to the main event, awarding the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
The first Honorable Mention goes to President Obama, for continuing the full-court press on healthcare reform. Obama gave his monthly press conference this week, and strongly defended the concept of a public option in the healthcare debate (no matter what you may have heard in the mainstream media). Then he went on ABC and did a primetime show to drum up further support for his ideas. Obama, it seems to me, has not fully reached his potential in the "bully pulpit" category, but he got a lot closer to that goal this week, and for that he deserves a nod.
Also deserving of a nod, although it can be written off as sheer opportunism (for the cynical), is newly-Democratic Senator Arlen Specter, who came out strongly for a public plan in the health insurance debate (not surprisingly) in front of a union crowd. Hey, he may just be trying to hold onto his job, but his support is duly noted nonetheless. It's more than some Democrats can say at this point (more on that in the next section).
Senator Charles Schumer has hit his stride as well in the healthcare debate, and for strongly standing up for the public option, Schumer deserves an Honorable Mention as well this week.
And, as a surprise for regular readers of this column, I also have to give credit to Majority Leader Harry Reid for saying in his weekly press conference what many Democratic groups have been waiting to hear -- that "bipartisanship" (when it comes to healthcare reform in the Senate) -- at best -- is going to mean "three or four" Republicans vote with Democrats on the issue. Here's his quote:
We want to do a bipartisan bill. That's not saying we need half the caucus to come with us. We need about three or four Republican senators to join with us to have a bipartisan bill. That's what we would like. That's my preference. And we're going to continue working on that.
I just completed a very, very informative, important caucus. We spent a lot of our time talking about health care. And there was not a single senator said, "Forget working with these clowns, let's just go ahead and go to the reconciliation." Everyone there, liberals, moderates, conservatives in my caucus, said, "Let's try to come up with a bipartisan bill." We're going to continue to go down that road.
. . .
But remember -- and I don't want to bore everyone with this -- but we have accomplished a great deal. Pundits have said we've accomplished more this first five months than any first-year Congress since Roosevelt -- FDR. We've done some very difficult things, complicated things. And with each one of them, we've need -- we've needed Republican support. We haven't gotten much, but we've gotten enough to get them passed. And that's how I look at this health-care bill.
This is actually a pretty bold stance to take, when you consider the wet-noodle-instead-of-a-backbone stance other powerful Democrats have been taking (again, see the next section for details). This is a reversal of the normal state of affairs, since Reid's backbone isn't normally associated with the word "strong," but I do have to give credit where credit has been earned, so Reid wins at least an Honorable Mention this week for (realistically) setting the "bipartisan" bar so low, which should end all that crazy talk about a bill passing with 70 or 80 votes in the Senate (which just ain't gonna happen). Reid also beat back a filibuster attempt this week to get an Obama nominee confirmed, further evidence of spinal growth in the Senate Majority Leader.
But the real Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to the people on the front lines of this fight -- the issues advocacy groups who have been putting their money where their convictions are, and have been advertising directly against Democrats (so-called "Democratic" senators in particular) who have come out publicly against the public option.
These groups are numerous, and they've all been busy this week.
Health Care for America Now! (HCAN) is not only running ads targeting wavering Democrats (whose campaign war chests are suspiciously stuffed with healthcare industry contributions), but also held a rally yesterday on Capitol Hill. Of course, with Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett dying on the same day, it didn't even register on the mainstream media's radar, but I mention it because there's one more Democrat who deserves an Honorable Mention for showing up and talking to the crowd -- Ohio's Senator Sherrod Brown. Here is Brown from the rally: "The goal is not to write a bipartisan bill. The goal is to write a good bill."
But HCAN will have to share the MIDOTW award with MoveOn.org, Change Congress, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). MoveOn and Change Congress are both out with their own ads targeting weak Democrats on healthcare reform, and SEIU is working the phones randomly calling Californians to urge them to let Dianne Feinstein know that her recent remarks were not appreciated (details of all of this stuff are in the next section, by the way). I know SEIU is doing this because I was randomly called myself while writing this today.
These groups, and others like them (apologies to any I've missed), are out there in the trenches in the healthcare reform battle. They are raising money and spending it wisely. They are making their voices be heard. Their goal is to put the fear of angry voters in Democrats who take millions from the healthcare industry in order to kill off reform. This is democracy, folks, and sometimes it ain't pretty. The GOP, with millions from people fighting for the status quo, are unleashing their own ads. Which means, like I said, the liberal groups are all out on the front lines fiercely fighting for what they believe is right. Since Democrats in Congress have been rather slow to jump into this battle (or have even jumped in on the wrong side), they deserve commendation, and they all have more than earned their Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
I warn you, this is going to be a longer section than usual. Because, sadly, there's a lot of disappointment to be spread around.
It seems that Joe Conason has done my work for me this week. Because I really can't add much to his recent column "The Sickening Addiction That May Kill Reform," where he talks about the relationship of Democratic senators opposing a public option to their millions of dollars of campaign contributions from the healthcare industry. He opens his column thusly:
If Congress fails to enact health care reform this year -- or if it enacts a sham reform designed to bail out corporate medicine while excluding the "public option" -- then the public will rightly blame Democrats, who have no excuse for failure except their own cowardice and corruption. The punishment inflicted by angry voters is likely to be reduced majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives -- or even the restoration of Republican rule on Capitol Hill.
Pretty strong words, and he ends with even stronger:
The excuses sound different, but all of these lawmakers have something in common -- namely, their abject dependence on campaign contributions from the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations fighting against real reform. Consider [Mary] Landrieu, a senator from a very poor state whose working-class constituents badly need universal coverage (and many of whom now depend on Medicare, a popular government program). According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog outfit, she has received nearly $1.7 million from corporate medical interests, including hospitals, insurance companies, nursing homes and drug firms, during the course of her political career.
The same kind of depressing figures can be found in the campaign filings of many of the Democrats now posing as obstacles to reform, notably including Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who has distinguished himself in the most appalling way. The Montana Standard, a news outlet in his home state, found that Baucus has received more campaign money from health and insurance industry donors than any other single member of Congress. "In the past six years," the Standard found, "nearly one-fourth of every dime raised by the Montana senator and his political-action committee has come from groups and individuals associated with drug companies, insurers, hospitals, medical-supply firms, health-service companies and other health professionals."
Whenever Democratic politicians are confronted with this conflict between the public interest and their private fund-raising, they take offense at the implied insult. They protest, as a spokesman for Sen. Landrieu did, that they make policy decisions based on what is best for the people of their states, "not campaign contributions." But when health reform fails -- or turns into a trough for their contributors, who will believe them? And who will vote for them?
Conason mentions, by name: Louisiana's Mary Landrieu, Oregon's Ron Wyden, California's Dianne Feinstein, North Dakota's Kent Conrad, and Montana's Max Baucus. To this list I have but one addition, Nebraska's Ben Nelson. All six share equally in this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
Let's take them one by one. Landrieu has accepted over $1.6 million in healthcare campaign dollars in her political career, and has also spent most of her life with healthcare provided for by taxpayer dollars (so much for not being a flaming hypocrite on public healthcare, I guess). Thankfully, Change Congress is targeting her with ads which point this out in no uncertain terms to her constituents. Landrieu has publicly said she's voting against a public healthcare option, no matter what it looks like, so she has fully earned these ads.
Change Congress is also targeting Ben Nelson with ads, who has taken over two million dollars in campaign contributions and (naturally) is also against the public option, and doing everything he can to stand in the way of its passage.
Dianne Feinstein, who reaped a whirlwind of wrath for saying last week that "I don't know that [Obama] has the votes [in the Senate] right now [for his plan]" is less culpable than the others in this list, because if you read the whole transcript you can (possibly) read it (especially if you read the second paragraph of her answer -- which is not being quoted much -- towards the very end of the transcript) as just an honest assessment by DiFi of where the whip count stands. Or, you can read it as DiFi "nay-saying" and showing Democrats how to begin a legislative fight by tying both hands behind your back. But since it's open to interpretation, you will have to judge for yourself. MoveOn.org has stepped up to this particular plate already, and has an ad out attacking Feinstein for her tepid statements towards the public plan. But, unlike others, at least Feinstein is still publicly supporting the concept of a public plan in the first place, I have to say.
As for Ron Wyden -- who has introduced a plan to tax employer health care benefits which conservatives seem to love (for some bizarre reason, as they're usually against all taxes, all the time) -- the coalition called Health Care for America Now! is already targeting him with ads in his home state.
Which leaves Kent Conrad and Max Baucus, who are pushing for their "co-op" plan, in order to undercut the support for a true public option. Howard Dean had a few things to say about this recently, which is well worth a read.
So, to all members of this pantheon of shame, it's time to decide who is more important -- your constituents or your big bucks donors. Because the pressure on you is only going to intensify as you head into re-election season if you choose the wrong path. Which includes, of course, further Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards as necessary.
[Contact Senator Max Baucus on his Senate contact page, Senator Kent Conrad on his Senate contact page, Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page, Senator Mary Landrieu on her Senate contact page, Senator Ben Nelson on his Senate contact page, and Senator Ron Wyden on his Senate contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]
Volume 83 (6/26/09)
A while back, a valuable piece of "opposition research" was leaked from the GOP's anti-healthcare-reform camp, in the form of a document written by Frank Luntz (see FTP 76).
But now there's an even more recent release of another GOP opinion survey/talking points list, which Democrats fighting for healthcare would do well to study.
Normally, this would provide plenty of fodder for our own talking points. But this week I'm going to do something a little different instead. Because I'd like to highlight the fact that virtually every argument (and then some) the Republicans are making against "socialized medicine" is exactly the same as the arguments they made forty-eight years ago. By none other than Ronald Reagan, who cut an album at the behest of the American Medical Association, in what turned out to be his initial foray into the world of politics.
The album, with the catchy title "Ronald Reagan speaks out against Socialized Medicine," was an early example of what is today called "astroturf" -- a fake grassroots effort bankrolled by a deep-pocket lobbying group. The album was sent to "Woman's [sic] Auxiliaries" of the AMA (doctors' wives -- this was 1961, after all), in an effort called "Operation Coffeecup." The doctors' wives were supposed to brew up a pot of coffee and call all their friends over to listen to the Reagan record, which exhorted them all to write to their members of Congress in opposition to what became known as Medicare. This is, once again, how Reagan got started in politics. The entire story (in exhaustive detail) is a fascinating one.
This album got a little attention last year when Sarah Palin quoted from it (or tried to, she just had to add the odd "back in the day" to Reagan's words, being Sarah Palin) during the Vice Presidential Debate. You can watch a "mashup" of Palin and Reagan to hear the differences.
But to truly bask in the red-baiting glory that was the early 1960s, you really need to listen to all ten minutes of Reagan speaking.
Because he paints a pretty horrific picture of the future of America under Medicare. A future, it should be noted, that simply has not come to pass. Which uses exactly the same threats that are being used against the "public plan" option today by its opponents -- essentially that private medicine will disappear, and that all we will be left with is socialized medicine. Well, OK, to be fair, using the word "socialism" back then had more of a punch to it, which led Reagan to use scare tactics which would be laughable today, but his main script is still in use, if a bit toned down for the modern audience.
So, for today's talking points, I offer up Ronald Reagan from 1961. To turn any of these into a Democratic talking point for use today, all you have to do is preface each with a statement like "You know, in 1961 Ronald Reagan said the following about the future of America under Medicare..." or "The last time America improved its healthcare system by enacting Medicare, the same scare tactics were used by opponents. I'd like to quote what Ronald Reagan had to say about what Medicare would do to America, and you can compare these scare tactics to the ones being used today..." or similar introductions. Either that, or read a Reagan quote, and then ask in astonishment: "Has this come to pass? No? Then why should we listen to you this time?"
Without further ado, we turn the entire rest of the talking points over to none other than Ronald Reagan, from "Ronald Reagan speaks out against Socialized Medicine."
It's all a socialist plot
"Now back in 1927 an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism the American people would adopt every fragment of the socialist program."
Beware the humanitarians!
"But at the moment I'd like to talk about another way because this threat is with us and at the moment is more imminent. One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It's very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project."
OK, Ronnie, why don't we hold a vote today?
"Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it."
Those wily socialists...
"Now what reason could the other people have for backing a bill which says we insist on compulsory health insurance for senior citizens on a basis of age alone regardless of whether they are worth millions of dollars, whether they have an income, whether they're protected by their own insurance, whether they have savings. I think we could be excused for believing that... this was simply an excuse to bring about what they wanted all the time: socialized medicine."
Government will dictate to doctors
"The doctor begins to lose freedom.... First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then doctors aren't equally divided geographically. So a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him, you can't live in that town. They already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it's only a short step to dictating where he will go."
Government will dictate to YOUR STRAPPING YOUNG SONS!!
"All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man's working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it's a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay. And pretty soon your son won't decide, when he's in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do."
Oh, the humanity! Freedom dies in America!!
"Write those letters now, call your friends and tell them to write. If you don't, this program, I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country, until, one day, as Norman Thomas said, we will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don't do this and if I don't do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."
[Note to Democratic Underground readers: Today marks the one year anniversary of my FTP column on DU. I'd just like to say thanks for having me, and thanks for making this column welcome!]
[Technical Note to Huffington Post readers: I am having technical difficulties and cannot at present answer your comments on Huffington Post. I can try answering the ones I feel need my comment over at my own site, for this week. I apologize for the interruption in commentary services, and am working to fix this problem for the future. Thank you for your patience and understanding.]
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant