"Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party."
Of course, this really should be (in today's inclusive society): "Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party." But what it really should say is something more like: "Now is the time for all good men and women to pick up the phone and give their party representative an earful about what it actually means to be a member of that party, and that we actually expect them to stand up and vote for what the party not only believes in at its core but also what we were promised in the last election, and (by the way) why we gave you such overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress to play around with -- but the time for playing is over, and it's time for you to now either stand tall with the people in your party, or admit you're just a corporate whore at heart." But that's a little hard to type, so maybe not. We'll get to this ranting and raving in the Talking Points part of the program, after a quick trip down Memory Lane.
But before we get to our Memory Lane voyage, we have to take a detour on the Cool Historic Trivia Bypass, just because it's Friday and because I managed to work a segue into that last paragraph on the subject of typing. Because while most everyone knows the phrase "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party," few know where it comes from. Many (myself included, until about five minutes ago) assumed it was a quote from some heavy thinker, or (alternatively) some rabble-rousing politician. It's origins, however, are much humbler than that. Or, perhaps, more corporate. The phrase was used to sell typewriters. Or, to be even more accurate, to sell the idea of a particular typewriter. It was reportedly typed out by an early typewriter inventor, to demonstrate his new machine. It then entered a race which took place throughout the 20th century to be the sample sentence of choice for typing teachers (which it eventually lost to the all-alphabetically-inclusive "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog"). Which leads me to remember my favorite typewriter-sales story, which I heard as a rumor and have not even bothered to investigate -- because it's so much more fun to believe the conspiracy-theory nature of it: part of the reason we have such a crazy "QWERTY" keyboard design is the fact that the typewriter salesmen did not know how to type. So, to make things easier for them, they put all the letters in the word "typewriter" in the top row (try typing it!). This made it easier for the salesmen to demonstrate the usefulness of the machine. As I said, I don't even care if this story is true or not, because it's so plausible, and I love a good conspiracy theory.
But we have to yank the steering wheel of this column back from this rambling bypass to our first detour from today's topic (sorry, as I said, it's Friday, y'know?).
For this one, we have to get a little serious.
Because the world is a poorer place this week -- Mary Travers is in it no more. This is a stunning event to anyone of a particular age who grew up in liberal households. Because Peter, Paul and Mary were about as common in such homes as peanut butter and jelly.
I was pretty much was weaned on Peter, Paul and Mary. The first song I knew the words to well enough to teach others was "I'm Leavin' On A Jet Plane" (yes, I know now that John Denver wrote it, but Peter, Paul and Mary made a hit out of it). This was in kindergarten, I should add. It's got a great rhythm to it, if you happen to be on a swingset (Don't believe me? Try it. Go out and swing, and sing it at the top of your voice. At least when the guys in white coats come to take you away after you've terrified your neighbors, you'll know that I'm right). Ahem.
I have a copy of their first eponymously-titled album which has been signed by all three of them, and personally made out to my parents. My father, when he was a college student, wandered by his university's library and saw music equipment being set up. When he realized who was going to appear, he tore down the street to get my mother, and they both wound up watching Peter, Paul and Mary perform for free (assumably they were doing a tour of big universities to promote the album). They rushed down the street to get a copy of their debut album, and waited in line to get it signed.
So, as I said, I was pretty heavily indoctrinated with the group at an astoundingly early age. There were other folk albums in my parents' record collection from other folk artists, but the Peter, Paul and Mary one was the one I swiped when I went off to college myself (I still have it, Dad, sorry about that). Ahem.
I met Mary and Paul inadvertently myself, as well. I was down on the Mall in D.C. for some demonstration or another (probably anti-nuke, this was the late 70s or early 80s), and got my own chance to see the group perform for free. I've since seen them at places like Wolf Trap (the original one, before it burned down), the Kennedy Center, and elsewhere -- but it's always more fun to see music for free, especially in the carnival atmosphere of a political rally. In any case, I was walking around a perimeter fence to rejoin my group at one point, and realized with a start that I was strolling about three feet from Mary and Paul. The little temporary chicken-wire fence I was walking along evidently fenced off the "backstage" area. Anyway, for the first time in my life I felt that "I don't know what to say" feeling we all feel when meeting a celebrity. I think I told them I enjoyed their set, but I could easily have stood there and said "gah... urgh... feh..." (memories are tricky things, I have to admit). After a few seconds, Mary walked away to greet someone else. I do remember that Paul was nice enough to throw away a soda can I had been lugging around (looking for a trash can -- this was before the Era Of Recycling had taken hold). Somehow, it was easier to talk to Paul than Mary. Perhaps being a teenage boy had something to do with it. Anything's possible.
In any case, this story isn't going anywhere, it's just a side excursion down Memory Lane to see all the lemon trees there.
As I said, the world's a poorer place now that it doesn't have Mary Travers in it. That's really my only point.
But enough schmaltz -- let's get back to politics!
It has been a mostly-impressive week for Democrats all around. Which made it hard to single out the most impressive from the pack this week. So before we get the actual Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award (the coveted "Golden Backbone"), we first must tip our column's metaphorical hat to a few who, in a normal week, probably would have won their own MIDOTW, but this week will have to settle for an Honorable Mention.
First up is Senator Paul G. Kirk Jr., who is now the junior senator from Massachusetts by dint of a brand-new law passed because of the tragic death of Senator Ted Kennedy. Kirk comes pre-approved by the Kennedy family, which is not hard to understand because he was a Kennedy staffer. His job is to warm the seat for five months, not run for the special election to really replace Kennedy, and vote a strict party line in the meantime. He is most likely qualified for all three of these requirements. In any case, we welcome the newest Democratic senator to Washington, which incidentally puts the Democrats back up to an effective (OK, sometimes not so effective) 60-vote majority once again.
Next up is a group award for the House Progressives. The caucus is (gasp!) actually holding together in unity for the public option, and the Blue Dogs are reportedly in disarray and confusion -- and fear of being kicked out of office next year. Nancy Pelosi has been adequately standing behind the Progressives, and whip counts seem to indicate that the strength is there to get a public option out of the House. So for holding the line, instead of scattering in the wind (as they have been known to do in the past), we have to honor the House Progressives here. Of course, the true test is the actual votes, but so far the group looks pretty united, which is good news.
And now two surprise Honorable Mentions. The first goes to none other than Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Senate. Reid, earlier this week, sounded pretty resolved to use budget reconciliation to get healthcare reform done with only 50 votes, if Republicans succeed in blocking all other avenues to get it passed. He also strongly indicated that he was going to take a week of vacation away from all senators, unless healthcare reform is actually done. Most people don't even get Columbus Day off, so it's pretty hard to argue that the Senate deserves an entire week off for the holiday, meaning Reid could use this to his advantage in a direct appeal to The People.
Of course, Reid's talked a good game before and then wimped out when it came time to act, so we'll see, we'll see. But at least he's saying the right things, for once.
The second surprise Honorable Mention goes to Senator Max Baucus. While he has been mostly a disappointment (to put it mildly) in the healthcare debate so far, he had a fairly good week. He smacked down the healthcare giant Humana after he discovered they were sending scare-tactic letters out to seniors warning them they were essentially going to be left to die in a forest if the Democrats passed healthcare reform. Baucus gently reminded Humana that they took lots of federal dough and that they weren't allowed to use it for political reasons, which predictably enraged Republicans. Baucus has also been moving the debate along in his committee, while they ponder over 560 amendments. In doing so, he has (once again) enraged Republicans, who know at this point that their only hope of derailing healthcare reform is endless stalling and delaying tactics -- which Baucus has been smacking down repeatedly.
But the first of two MIDOTW awards goes to Representative Alan Grayson of Florida, who has been pointing out that in the extraordinary attempts to de-fund ACORN, Congress is writing laws which will demand that the biggest 10 military contractors are also de-funded. Here he is in an interview with Salon's Glenn Greenwald:
"...it is true that 10 out of the 10 biggest defense contractors have been convicted of fraud at one time or another in the past few years, and ACORN hasn't, it's difficult to frame any bill, whatever one's intent, to punish ACORN and keep ACORN from being funded by fed contracts, without a lot of what the Republicans would consider to be collateral damage, and that's exactly what we saw in this bill. This bill, taken literally, at its words, actually forbids and prohibits fed funding of virtually every large defense contractor in America. And that's a result that comes from the fact that virtually every large defense contractor in America is crooked, and has been found guilty of fraud at one time or another."
"The amount of money that ACORN has received in the past 20 years altogether is roughly equal to what the taxpayer paid to Halliburton each day during the war in Iraq."
But if you really want to get in on the fun, go to the page Grayson has set up so you can enter your own fraud and corruption which you think would disqualify a company from getting federal funds. Fun for the whole family!
Our second MIDOTW award goes to Senator Al Franken, who (thanks to Senator Kirk) is now only the 99th Senator on the seniority list! But seriously, Franken made my whole week by beating a hapless Justice Department employee over the head with the Constitution of the United States of America. In specific, the Fourth Amendment.
The Washington Independent had an article this week which pointed out what a swell job Franken is doing in Paul Wellstone's old seat. Franken read the amendment in question in full to the Assistant Attorney General, and then asked how he could square that with the PATRIOT ACT. The guy's response was classic:
[A.A.G. David] Kris looked flustered and mumbled that "this is surreal," apparently referring to having to respond to Franken's question.
Um, no, it should not be "surreal" to square what you are saying with the Constitution, sir. It should be a major part of your job description. It is the entire reason you are employed.
For helpfully exposing this surreal attitude over at the Justice Department, Senator Franken has more than earned his Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
You have to wonder whether President Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is the true loose cannon in the administration (the media usually focuses on Biden's slips of the tongue, but Rahm's seem more frequent to me). You also have to wonder how much of what Rahm says is his own agenda, as opposed to Obama's, at times. Rahm has been arguing on the side of: "Let's compromise! Let's water the healthcare bill down even further! Let's give the Republicans everything they want, even if they won't vote for it!" -- pretty much since the battle on healthcare reform legislation began. This is disappointing because he was sold (when he was named to his powerful position) as a "kick-Capitol-Hill-ass and take names" type of guy, who would do the heavy arm-twisting required to pass actual legislation up on the Hill. Instead, it seems to be Rahm's arm that always gets twisted, and the only fiery language I've heard from him is how we can't possibly manage to do anything good with legislation.
In other words, he's been a major disappointment in general.
In particular, though, Rahm was echoing the mainstream media's "the public option doesn't stand a chance, it's dead as a doornail" attitude in an interview this week. Way to quit the fight before it's even begun, Rahm! Nothing like announcing to the world that the Democrats are going to fail, right at the crucial moment when the fight is about to commence! Senator Sherrod Brown responded by smacking Rahm's idea down forcefully, and baldly stating that he thinks the public option has at least 50 votes in the Senate.
For his performance this week -- a performance that is becoming way too common, by the way -- our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than Rahm Emanuel.
[Contact the White House on their official contact page to let them know what you think of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's actions.]
Volume 95 (9/25/09)
I don't usually punt in such a fashion, but today we're going to re-run the talking points from Friday Talking Points , which is well worth re-reading in its entirety if you happen to be an Emerson, Lake and Palmer fan. What is it about three-named music groups this week?
Sorry, we don't need any more digressions, as we've already more than used up our quota. Won't happen again, I promise.
The reason for this week's reprint is that now is the time to contact your representatives and senators in Congress. This has been a long, hard slog, and the months and months of dashed expectations and wobbling Democratic Congresscritters have taken their toll among those who support strong healthcare reform (as opposed to some watered-down bill which won't fix the underlying problem). Many have already phoned or written or emailed their congressional Democrats, and may feel that the job's all done.
It is not. Because next week is going to be the start of the real battle, in both the House and the Senate. The real battle is between Democrats. This is when the "Public option or bust!" Progressives and the "We love corporate money!" Blue Dogs are going to have a showdown. And it is going to culminate not in statements to the press (or the lack thereof), not in some whispered whip count, but rather in a very public vote. So now is the time to strengthen their resolve by calling up their office and making your voice heard.
Here's a hint that wasn't in the earlier talking points: mention the word "donations." Democrats, at least on the national party level, are always terrified that donors will at some point simply stop sending in money to the party.
So, be loud and clear -- if the Democratic Party (and in particular, the senator or representative who represents you) does not deliver, then the money flow to them will end. And not only that, but the voters they're expecting next fall will stay home. Because we sent them to Washington for a reason. If they don't deliver, then we will wash our hands of them. Period.
Which leads us right into this week's talking points, provided in a topsy-turvy way as talking points to use when you contact your representative or senator. Now is the time. Look up your own representatives' contact info. Then pick up the phone, and give them a call. Do it today, or at the latest, Monday morning. They are waiting to hear from you.
Now is, indeed, the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party -- to strengthen our elected party officials' resolve for the upcoming fray.
This year. No excuses.
"Healthcare reform has got to pass this year, or we know you'll be too busy campaigning next year to tackle it. So, no excuses -- healthcare reform must happen this year. We haven't been electing Democrats to Congress in droves just for the sake of having a lot of Democrats in Congress. The magic number of 60 in the Senate is not a goal unto itself. This is not Sesame Street, with 'The Count' telling us what a wonderful number 60 is. We elected you folks to Congress to get something done, and if that doesn't happen then we are not going to help you keep your jobs the next time around. 'We tried, but couldn't manage to get it done' is no longer good enough. You can either do the job we sent you and Obama to Washington to do, or you will not have that job much longer. This is the year. Get it done. No excuses."
Anything less than a strong public option is not good enough
"You started this process by bringing everyone to the table with one glaring exception -- the single-payer supporters. So you started off by compromising. And all that talk of 'everyone gets a seat at the table' was sheer and unadulterated bunkum. Let's just admit that fact up front, shall we? Since you started with a compromise, further compromise is not acceptable. We don't care if Republicans vote for it. Can you name how many Republicans voted for Medicare? I didn't think so! Because NO ONE CARES today! In forty or fifty years, do you think history will care what the vote count was? No! History will care whether you fixed the problem or not. So let's keep our eyes on the ball, mmm-kay? It's just about time to kick the Republican obstructionists away from the table (just like you kicked the single-payer people to the curb), and get something good actually passed by the majority party. And that something had better include a strong public option, or it will be nothing more than window-dressing. And we, the American public, will know the difference this time around. So get it done right. Stop compromising, stop fantasizing about a bipartisan bill, and pass the public option."
Sorry, Rahm, a "trigger" is not good enough
"You know what the word 'trigger' says to me? It says that you want to kill something. So, for you trigger-happy healthcare reformers, I have to say: 'nice job choosing a metaphor, guys!' We do not need to wait to know that healthcare is broken in this country. The evidence is all around us. Talk to a few million of your constituents, why don't you, and they will tell you all their heath insurance horror stories. Each and every one. The only reason we would need a 'trigger' is if we somehow weren't sure that there was a problem. Here's a news flash: there is a problem! Passing a law that says 'well, if the problem gets a whole lot worse, maybe we'll fix it' is not good enough. Somebody needs to pull the trigger and kill the 'trigger' idea, because, honestly guys, you're not fooling anybody. Sorry, Rahm."
A co-op is not good enough
"Likewise, this idea of tiny little state co-ops is not acceptable. Maybe California could get a big enough pool to buy into it, but what about Vermont? Or Wyoming? I tell you what -- why not keep the co-op idea, and add it to a strong public plan? The more ideas in the marketplace the better! Give people as many choices as possible, but do not limit their choices by trying to substitute co-ops for a strong public option. Because co-ops are simply not good enough."
We're watching you
"Democrats who have not come out in support of the public option should be put on notice -- we know who you are. We know what your position is, we can find out how much money you've taken from the healthcare industry, and we will fund ads that explain this relationship to your constituents. Talk to a few of the Senate Democrats who have already felt this wrath, they'll tell you. And sorry, Mister President, but we're going to go right on funding these ads -- to save you from yourselves. Most of the time, on most of the issues, we let you get away with the stinking, fetid pile of fiction that 'campaign contributions don't influence my vote,' but this time we are not going to. This is fair warning, especially those of you who live in media markets where television ads are cheap. If you attempt to sell out your constituents, we are going to point it out. Again, and again, and again."
What is worth more to you -- healthcare campaign donations, or getting re-elected?
"You may think that those millions of dollars you've taken from the healthcare industry will be enough to get you re-elected. You should think twice about that. Because we are going to make it clear in no uncertain terms if you vote with the Republican obstructionists this time that everyone knows exactly what you've done. We are going to make it our mission to see that you get defeated, hopefully in a Democratic primary. We are quite serious about this, and we think the public will be receptive to the message that you were responsible for denying them choice in healthcare because you were so busy suckling at the healthcare industry lobbyist teat. So, given the choice, would you keep the gravy train from the healthcare industry rolling if you knew it wouldn't help you keep your job? That, indeed, it might cost you your job? Because that is the choice we are presenting."
We will actively support removing you from office if you do not deliver
"We are not going to just be disappointed if you kill true healthcare reform. We are going to actively support just about anyone who runs against you. We will encourage a nasty and expensive primary fight with a candidate of your own (purported) party. And if that leaves you too weak to defeat your Republican opponent next year, so be it! Because having you in your seat with a 'D' next to your name is completely worthless to us if you are going to vote with the Republicans anyway. It is time to make the choice, and do what is right. If you do, we will support your re-election loudly and strongly. If you don't, beware the whirlwind you will reap.
NEW! All-time award winners by rank!
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant