Before we get to all of that boring political stuff, we tune in to what the mainstream media has decided is the official Thing Everyone Should Be Talking About This Week. I refer, of course, to Tiger Woods. Woods, as we all know by now, had an altercation recently involving, in whatever mix you choose to believe: (1) an SUV, (2) a fire hydrant, (3) a tree, (4) his own driveway, (5) a golf club (how perfectly apropos!), and (6) his wife. Of course, there may have been a (7) or even (8) involved as well ("The Other Women"), but they were indirect players, at best, in the actual altercation.
To which I would like to throw my own wackadoodle conspiracy theory into the midst, since we're all having such fun obsessing over the incident. Consider, for a moment, two of Tiger's major sponsors: Nike and Gatorade. Why would I bring these up, you wonder? Because I think Tiger's under a subtle form of mind control, which may have caused him to consider extramarital hanky-panky as a good idea. Allow me to present two facts to support my tinfoil-hat thinking.
Nike's slogan: "Just Do It."
Gatorade's slogan: "Is It In You?"
That's right -- I think Tiger was done in by the subliminal messages in his own advertising.
Heh heh. At the very least, Tiger's exploits have created a "stimulus package" (OK, sorry about that one) for comedians everywhere, as evidenced by their unrestrained glee on the late night talk shows. Which is only matched by the glee "journalists" bring to rehashing the incident on a daily basis.
Moving on from wackadoodle theories to politics... oh, wait!... the two have intersected! Idiocies from last week alone: Barack Obama is a Muslim president who intentionally pre-empted the Charlie Brown Christmas special just to annoy one mayor in Tennessee. Sarah Palin just gave a big wink to the "birthers." And Cynthia McKinney is hanging out with anti-Semites and Holocaust-deniers. Oh, and Lou Dobbs appears to be annoying his base because he's saying things that are slightly less xenophobic than they've come to expect from him -- which has led to the "draft Lou Dobbs to run for office" folks to even take down their own web page.
Because this was a week heaped high with such turkey-ness in the media, we will take pity upon you, dear reader, and offer up a do-it-yourself conspiracy theory for you to fill out at home, just so you don't feel left out. With the brilliant title "It's Hillary Clinton Mad Libs!" Salon's "War Room" blog gives the initial transcript of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from a recent appearance. Print it out, and grab a pencil!
We do offer a heartfelt apology for the silliness of our opening segment. We make a solemn promise that such silliness will not appear in these hallowed pages ever again... once such silliness disappears from both politics in general, and the media's obsessive lunacy. Once silliness is absent from both of those, we'll never resort to it again, how's that?
On a very not-silly note, President Obama announced a new war strategy for Afghanistan this week. Which, for two reasons, wins him the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. The first reason is that Obama, mindful of history, laid out as clearly as he possibly could what our mission in Afghanistan now is, and when he would like the troops to begin coming home. And the second reason Obama's speech won him the MIDOTW award is that it appears to have worked wonders in the public's opinion of the war and the war strategy.
Now, whether you agree with Obama's new plan or not, you've got to admit he did a good job of explaining what it was. And by doing so, Obama undercut the two major perennial complaints about American military involvement (going back to about Korea, actually) -- that there is no "defined mission" which leads to "mission creep," and that there is no exit strategy going in (I wrote at more length about Obama's Afghanistan policy yesterday, if you're interested in a more in-depth look at it). Obama deserves to be commended for detailing both the mission and the exit strategy up front, a rare thing for an American president sending troops off to foreign lands to actually do.
The adult way Obama explained his reasoning for his plan seemed to resonate with the public, as well. Before his speech, CBS News was reporting that only 32 percent of Americans supported sending more troops to Afghanistan. After his speech, Gallup released an extraordinary poll, which showed 51 percent support for the president's plan. From Gallup's site:
More generally, Obama's new policy has managed to bridge the pre-existing partisan gap on this issue to some degree, bringing the support levels of Democrats and Republicans closer together. This is an unusual situation. Most major policy initiatives that a president promulgates find support among the president's own party and opposition among the other party. In the current situation, Obama has, at least in the short term, generated majority support among Democrats -- who previously had been opposed to a troop increase in Afghanistan -- while holding on to majority support among Republicans. Obama's continuing problem appears to be independents, less than half of whom support the new policy.
This is nothing short of astounding -- true bipartisan support for Obama. While Independents only supported Obama's new plan 45 percent (to 44 percent in opposition), Republicans and Democrats were within a few points of each other. Republicans supported the plan 55 percent to 37 percent against, while Democrats supported the president 58 percent to 35 percent against.
Because Barack Obama's own job approval poll numbers are scraping 50 percent (as I dissected earlier this week, in our monthly Obama Poll Watch column), he could benefit politically from this bipartisan support for such a major foreign policy issue.
But for both laying out the mission and the exit strategy, and for the impressive bipartisan support he has garnered as a direct result, Barack Obama is this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. And, as icing on this cake for Obama (sorry to squeeze this in, but it's "late-breaking news"), just today it was revealed that the unemployment rate went down, from 10.2 percent to 10.0 percent -- some much-needed good economic news which will also do nothing but help Obama politically in the weeks ahead.
[Congratulate President Barack Obama on his White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
You know what? Since we took a one-week hiatus for this column last week (burp!), I find myself still filled with the spirit of Thanksgiving, and will forgo naming a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.
Oh, sure, there were some minorly-disappointing things going on in the Senate and some disappointing posturing and inane statements (Senator Nelson, I am looking in your direction...), but upon reflection I find that none of them truly rises to the level of a MDDOTW award. Of course, I could always hand it out to Joe Lieberman (just for being Joe Lieberman, as it were), but I am so full of the milk of human kindness (either that, or leftover turkey and stuffing) that I find even Joe can't get a rise out of me this week.
Of course, feel free to nominate your own Democrat for the MDDOTW award in the comments, if I'm missing someone obvious (like the New York state senate, for instance). And, I promise, we'll return to our regular level of snarkiness next week, never fear.
Volume 103 (12/4/09)
OK, for once I am going to try to get through the talking points without bringing up healthcare reform once. But I am going to immediately cheat on this, by bringing it up here in the intro instead.
The current push to ban all federal dollars from funding abortions in any way, shape, or form is getting a little ridiculous, I have to say. While no direct federal funds have gone to pay for abortions for decades (see: the "Hyde Amendment"), conservatives see healthcare reform as another opening in which to interject the abortion debate, in an effort to derail the entire process. Their current tactic is to try to ban anyone receiving federal subsidies for healthcare from using this money to pay for any health insurance that covers abortion services. This is disingenuous on several levels.
First, this comes just after conservatives pushed a "women's health amendment" in the Senate which bars the feds from "rationing" mammograms based on an independent medical report released a few weeks ago which suggested women from age 40 to 50 didn't need them. Which caused a few people to go ballistic. The rhetoric was along the lines of: "We don't want the government getting between a woman and her doctor when it comes to medical decisions!" Except, of course, when it comes to abortions. Conservatives are just fine with the federal government making this decision for every woman in America without any consideration of what these women want, or what their doctors say to them.
Secondly, the rhetoric of the religiously-based arguments also qualifies as doublethink of the first order. "We are morally opposed to killing fetuses because of our religion, therefore our tax dollars should not go to pay for it" is the way this argument runs. Well, you know what? The government is involving in killing on a daily basis -- and it has nothing to do with babies (unless they happen to be in their mother's womb underneath one of our drone-launched bombs or missiles). Many people's religion ("Thou shalt not kill") forbids them utterly from taking human life. Of course, only a couple of mainstream sects really uphold this (the Quakers, I believe, and other doctrinally-pacifist religions), but if we're allowed to bar our tax dollars from paying for things a few of us don't believe in, then the Pentagon should be completely and utterly de-funded immediately. As should our entire judicial system, both the feds and (most) states combined, because the death penalty is an option in some trials. So spare me the "conscience clause" morality, until you advocate taking every penny for the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice out of the federal budget. Sometimes your tax dollars kill. It's a fact of American government. Deal with it.
And thirdly, conservatives show their open hypocrisy on the issue of whether subsidies are in fact "federal dollars paying for X," as can be seen in their completely contradictory stance on school vouchers. School vouchers, a favorite of conservatives for years, are federal money given to families (in the form of "vouchers") which they can then use to pay private schools' tuition for their children. Private schools -- including religious private schools. This is not a problem, conservatives have been saying for decades, because the money stops being "federal tax money" when it is given to the family. It magically becomes "freedom money" (or some such, I confess I didn't look that term up), which the family, in a burst of independence, is free to use either for a religious school or a secular school. Which is OK, conservatives tell us, and completely avoids the whole "separation of church and state" issue -- because the family is the one doing the deciding. And now, on healthcare, money given to a family to buy healthcare (in the form of a "subsidy") cannot -- simply cannot -- be used in any way that goes against the religious beliefs of some of those who pay their taxes, because the federal government (not the families, note) would be paying for something some people don't agree with. As I said, sheer and utter hypocrisy.
But enough of this cheating on my own arbitrarily-imposed rules! Let's move on to the non-healthcare-reform talking points for this week, for Democrats everywhere to use in television interviews this weekend, or just around the office watercooler next week.
Unemployment just went down
Be careful with this one, because one month does not a trend make, by any stretch of the imagination, but good news does deserve to be spread.
"The unemployment rate just went down from 10.2 percent to 10.0 percent, which I think all Americans can see as good news. Now, this is merely one month's data, and could go back up again next month, but even reacting cautiously, you've got to admit that it's the first good news on this front in a long, long time. Democrats need to redouble our efforts to get America back to work, and see that everyone looking for a job can find decent employment. We should not sit back complacently and think that we're over the hump, but instead do everything we can to assure that the unemployment rate continues to fall throughout all of next year."
Democrats "pay as you go," Republicans borrow from China
This is such a basic one, it just astounds me that Democrats seem to never ever mention it. Why, oh why, are Democrats so perpetually inept at beating their own drum once in a while? Republicans have targeted "spending" and "the deficit" and "the budget" as Issue Number One in next year's elections. Democrats actually have a much better hand to play on this, but you certainly wouldn't know it from hearing them speak. Oh, and one minor point -- DO NOT use the cutesy-pie semi-acronym "PAYGO," as it is WAY, WAY too wonky to get your point across. Use the full term. Every time.
"I find it interesting that Republicans have seemingly discovered anew the benefits of getting our federal budget under control. Some quick facts show which party is truly committed to this concept. When Republicans ran Congress for years, they busted our budget every single chance they got. They didn't even pretend to try to pay for our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You know where this led us? The cost of both of these wars is just about the same amount of money as we have borrowed from China. It's close to a trillion dollars. Democrats, on the other hand, after re-taking Congress, have struggled mightily with Republicans to adhere to 'pay as you go' rules. These rules are simple. If you propose new spending, you have to pay for it. You have to either propose a new tax, or find new savings in the existing budget. Since 2006, Democrats have been bending over backwards to try to make sure everything we do is budget-neutral. Democrats are the ones who instituted this 'pay as you go' rule, and have done more in that regard than Republicans ever did when they were in charge. So it's a little amusing to hear Republicans now agreeing with Democrats that things should be paid for, because we've been trying to do that for years now in Congress."
The Paris Hilton tax
This is an old battle which I've addressed countless times in the past, so I'll be quick here. The House just moved on the estate tax issue, to get rid of George W. Bush's massive giveaway to the ultra-wealthy. The Senate is reportedly going to take it up before the end of the year. So it's time for a quick review of terminology.
"The estate tax is there for a reason -- to prevent America from ever having too much wealth in too few hands. To prevent European-style aristocracies, in other words. The Republicans like to call this tax a 'death tax.' But we have a more accurate name for a tax which hits only those estates over seven million dollars a couple -- a mere 0.23 percent of all estates, mind you -- we call it the 'Paris Hilton tax,' because that's who it hits, not family farms (as the Republicans would have you believe)."
Republican playbook revealed -- obstruct, delay, say "no"
Whoops! The Republicans leaked another playbook recently (whoops, it's on healthcare reform, so I guess I'm breaking my own rule yet again... sigh).
"I see Republican Senator Judd Gregg recently circulated a document to instruct his fellow Republicans in the Senate on all the arcane rules they can possibly use, in a last-ditch effort to derail healthcare reform. I guess we should have expected no less from Republicans at this point. Here is what this manual has to say, in a nutshell: Obstruct. Delay. Say 'no.' That is the Republican Party today -- completely bankrupt of ideas, and reduced to obstructionism for obstructionism's sake. Even facing this headwind, Democrats will continue to work to solve this country's problems in an adult fashion. We would like to invite the Republicans to work with us in our efforts, instead of resorting to such knee-jerk tactics."
The enthusiasm gap
But Democrats shouldn't get too smug. The 2010 midterm election could be decided by what some are beginning to call "the enthusiasm gap." This comes from a recent poll (labelled "brutal" by Markos Moulitas), which asked how likely respondents are to go vote next year. The results should be a gigantic warning to all Democrats in Congress up for re-election.
"I would caution my fellow Democrats to take a good hard look at the recent Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll, which showed an enormous gap between Republican voters who say they're likely to vote next year, and Democratic voters. Without getting too far into the numbers, four our of five Republican voters are 'definitely' or 'probably' going to vote next year. Among Democrats, two out of five say they are 'definitely not' or 'not likely' going to vote. The Republican base is fired up. The Democratic voter base is not. This is because they are becoming disillusioned. Democrats were given enormous majorities in both houses of Congress last year for one reason -- to enact an agenda. Every single time we push an issue off, or compromise so much that the resulting law winds up doing nothing, we lose more voters. Now, in a conventional election year in Congress, nothing much gets done. That is simply not an option next year, unless Democrats are tired of being in the majority and would like to hand Congress over to the opposition on a plate. We simply cannot shove issues off as being 'too contentious' or even 'too hard' next year. We have to regain our party's base voters' support by delivering on the agenda they sent us here to achieve. We need to, as the Nike ad says: 'Just do it.' That is the only way we can hope to regain our majority position after next year's midterms. If we continue on the track we're headed on, our voters will indeed stay home. And we will get sent home as a result, because we will not have our jobs in a year's time."
GOP strongly for protecting the president -- when politically expedient
This one would be amusing, if it weren't such a deadly serious issue.
"I see that Republicans are loudly demanding accountability for two wannabe-socialites crashing a party at the White House. I've heard some strong statements of condemnation for those responsible for the security breach coming from various Republicans since it happened. While I do appreciate their concern for the safety of the president, I also have to point out that these voices were completely silent when the subject of the safety of the president involved people showing up to presidential events with guns. So perhaps a little perspective is in order, here. And perhaps Republicans should just as loudly condemn any danger to the president, instead of being so selective in their statements."
Andrew Jackson's inauguration
I wrote at length about this at the beginning of the week, if you'd like to read why Andrew Jackson and Grace Slick are germane to the subject of crashing White House parties. To say nothing of Dolley Madison and the War of 1812.
"Not to minimize the seriousness of the Secret Service allowing two people not on the guest list to crash the state dinner at the White House recently, but historically on the scale of threats to the president, or even crashing White House parties, this episode doesn't really rank very high, I have to say. When Andrew Jackson was inaugurated president in 1829, so many uninvited people crammed into the White House that it appeared to some that the building was in danger of collapse from the sheer pressure of the unruly crowds inside. They eventually had to throw the windows open and serve alcohol on the front lawn to disperse the crowd from the building. Andrew Jackson himself, before he escaped through a back door, was in danger of being crushed to death by his own admirers. As I said, let's keep a little perspective, here. Two people who were subjected to metal detectors before entering is just not on the same scale."
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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant