Traditionally, for pundits, this is the last week in what might be called "timely football metaphor season." With the Super Bowl right around the corner, and (this year) the Winter Olympics close behind, it would normally be the time to get some final football metaphors into the political conversation, before wordsmiths everywhere scratch their heads over ice skating and snowboarding terminology, in an attempt to remain relevant to the sports-hungry American public. You can almost see the wheels turning inside pundits' brains: "David Axelrod? Isn't an 'axel' some sort of skating jump? Hmmm...."
But we are going to eschew both football and winter sports in our metaphor toolbox today, and instead speak in more generic (team) sporting terms of the concept of "offense" and "defense."
Because Democrats need to realize that they still have the biggest majority in both houses of Congress that they are likely to see in their lifetimes -- and if they can't get things done with this overwhelming power, then they really should consider just folding up their tents and calling it a day as a political party.
To be blunt, Democrats need to start playing offense. The best defense is a good offense, and all that sort of thing. They need to get out there and remind voters of the good things they do, explain clearly to voters what the good things they are trying to do are, and also take the game to the other side by explaining why Republicans are the main obstacle they face in succeeding.
When a Democratic idea gets signed into law, do not just stop talking about it from that point on. Praise it to the skies, for months afterwards. Every interview from every Democrat should open with "well, we're all happy we got the 'X' bill passed and signed, and we're ready to take on the next challenge." When you refuse to laud your own successes, it is no wonder when the public doesn't give you much credit for them. You have to remind people. It's like advertising -- repeat often, and it sinks in.
And when you talk about the opposition, don't talk about "the opposition." Call them "Republicans." This basic rule is ignored so often by Democrats (including by Obama) that it makes me pull my hair out at times when watching television. It's called "branding" and the Republicans do a dandy job of making it work against Democrats. Democrats should go on the offensive to do the same thing in return.
Here is how every quote from a Democrat should run, from now until election day:
"Well, of course, Democrats saved our economy from falling into a second Great Depression last year, and now the economy is starting to rebound. Democrats are trying to ensure this happens, and increase the rate of job creation, by (insert current legislation's name here). But, of course, Republicans are against these goals. Republicans won't even vote on ideas from other Republicans in their blind rage at the president, and their hopes that he will fail on everything. Republicans will use every trick in the book to make sure nothing happens at all this year in Congress -- even when Americans are hurting the most and need their government to work -- because Republicans are content to play politics with any issue, just to score points. Democrats want to change things for the better. Republicans don't care whether it's better or worse, they are committed to being against every single thing, in the hopes of electing more Republicans. I wish the Republican Party would start acting like adults, so we could constructively get some things done for the American people."
OK, that ran a bit long, it probably should be a lot shorter and snappier. But you get the idea.
In advertising, in "branding," you repeat: "Democrats = good stuff. Republicans = sheer political obstructionism" over and over and over again.
This will have a broad effect of putting Republicans on the defensive against the "Party of No" label (which they're already worried about). And it might actually bear some fruit, legislatively, who knows?
But this is the way majority parties get things done. There hasn't been a supermajority in the Senate for decades (not counting last year's brief few months), and yet things have still gotten done. Bush never had 60 votes in the Senate. Neither did Clinton, or Reagan. But stuff got done.
But the only way it's going to happen is for Democrats to press their case, and go on offense. It doesn't matter how good an idea you have, if you won't adequately promote it and defend it and sell it to the American people, it will not become law. If Democrats believe in their cause, then they need to fight for it. Because if nothing gets done this year legislatively, it is all but certain the balance in Congress is going to be a lot worse for them this time next year.
But enough of that for now, let's hand out the awards before we really go on the offense here.
While there were minorly impressive things happening in Washington from Democrats all week long, one action stood out strongest. But before we get to the actual Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, though, we have to single out Senator Al Franken for an Honorable Mention this week, for taking on both the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC/Universal, and also for taking on David Axelrod on the subject of White House floundering (instead of leadership).
But the clear winner this week of the coveted MIDOTW award is Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for holding the first hearing on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy of excluding gay people from serving openly in the U.S. military. The first hearing, it should be pointed out, since President Clinton signed DADT into law.
Levin was reportedly going to hold his hearing a week or so ago, but politely pushed the date back after the White House let him know that President Obama planned on supporting the repeal of the DADT policy in his State Of The Union speech. But one week isn't much, when gay rights activists have been waiting over a decade and a half even to be heard on Capitol Hill.
What was stunning about Tuesday's hearing was the fact that the two top-ranking military people in the country (just under President Obama himself) were the ones to testify in favor of overturning the DADT policy. In the parlance of Republicans, the "generals on the ground" have now spoken. Which, incidentally, puts the Republicans in an awfully awkward place.
But for even daring to hold the hearing in the first place, Senator Levin showed some real leadership on the issue. It is in no way guaranteed that DADT will be repealed this year, but as Chairman Levin put it (correcting Joe Lieberman's assertation that it would take 60 votes to accomplish): "[If overturning DADT is introduced as] a provision inside the Defense authorization bill; that goes to the floor, which would then require an amendment to strike it from the bill; in which case the 60-vote rule would be turning the other way."
Got that? Because of budgetary rules, it requires 60 votes to remove overturning DADT from a military appropriations bill. It's confusing, I know, but what it means is that 41 Democrats in the Senate could get this done.
For explicitly pointing this out, for holding the hearing in the first place, and for inviting Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (originally a Republican appointee) and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the hearing, Carl Levin is without a shadow of a doubt the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.
[Congratulate Senator Carl Levin on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
While today's theme is "go on the offense," we have to point out one instance of just plain "being offensive." Due to the quote involved, an offensive term will be used, so we advise anyone easily offended by language to just skip this section entirely.
Rahm Emanuel had a "retarded" week last week. That word is in "scare quotes" because it is a nasty slur, and because it is the core quote in the controversy which broke last week around Rahm. All of this actually happened months ago, during last summer's debates about which direction to go on healthcare reform, I should mention, but the news itself broke last week, forcing Rahm to go into apology mode. Partly.
Last summer, during the heat of the debate (on the Left) over which direction healthcare reform should be heading, Rahm was present at a meeting at the White House, where he told some Lefty types they were (in Rahm's words) "fucking retarded" for running ads attempting to pressure elected Democrats into supporting the strongest possible option for reforming the health industry in this country. In Rahm's view, one supposes, the Left should have just trusted Rahmbo that he had their best interests at heart and would produce the best bill possible. Of course, that turned out to be so far from the truth as to be laughable (see: Senate bill, where Rahm leaned on Harry Reid to give Joe Lieberman everything he asked for).
Rahm, sensing he was becoming a distraction this past week from a newly re-energized Obama, immediately apologized to all the developmentally-challenged and "anti-R-word" folks he could find (on short notice). Sarah Palin demanded he resign or be fired. Rush Limbaugh defended Rahm, since (according to Rush), the Lefties are "retarded," and it is simpering political correctness not to say so in plain terms (which he then did).
But you know who was missing from Rahm's apology list? The Lefties he had originally insulted.
In other words, Rahm apologized for using a slur, and for demeaning developmentally-challenged people by associating them with Lefties. Got that? In essence, he's saying that the Lefties are not just developmentally-challenged, but actually less worthy of consideration than such challenged folks.
In other words, he not only failed to apologize to the Lefties, he actually compounded the original insult, by his silence.
All action on DADT this week aside, this is a message the White House simply has not received yet. Rahm feels free to insult, disparage, ignore, and fight the Left (a goodly portion of the Democratic base), and no matter how over-the-top Rahm's comments get, he sees no reason to change his behavior, much less apologize.
Here is my message to the White House in response, and in no uncertain terms. Democrats didn't show up in Massachusetts and Virginia and New Jersey for a reason. They are not enthusiastic about voting this year in general. This is why. When you treat the things the voters actually care deeply about like dirt, and bargain them away in cavalier fashion, then Democrats stay home on election day. And when you don't even realizing how insulting you are being towards a big constituency that helped get you elected -- much less feel like apologizing for it -- then that sound you just heard was your chances in the midterm elections being flushed down the toilet. And spinning in the bowl as well is your chance of getting your legislative agenda passed, both swirling down into the watery vortex.
So, for conveniently forgetting to apologize to the people you directly offended by your speech in the first place, Rahm Emanuel wins this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
Please, Mr. Emanuel, please, please... don't you feel it's time to "spend more time with your family," for all our sakes? You were sold to us as "Rahmbo" -- the guy who would muscle Obama's ambitious agenda through Congress. Instead, you are the first one to wave a white flag in any negotiations, and the first one to throw what Democratic voters actually want into the trash. Wouldn't it be so nice to spend a whole bunch of time with your family right about now? Please?
[Contact the White House on their contact page, to let his boss know what you think of Rahm Emanuel's actions.]
Volume 110 (2/5/10)
Republicans are currently throwing down so many gauntlets, it is hard to even keep up with them. Democrats need to pick one of these up and smack them across the face with the mailed glove, instead of "running for the hills."
Here are a few examples of this, offered up as ways Democrats can get back on offense instead of continually being defensive about who they are, what they stand for, and what they will fight for.
The science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein had a phrase he used in his writings to explain how to deal with a bully: "you step on his toes until he is forced to apologize." This is exactly the tactic to take right now.
So here are my seven items this week for getting Democrats back on the offense. For Pete's sake, there are gauntlets lying around everywhere -- just pick one up and start flailing away!
The gift of Shelby
Exhibit A: Senator Richard Shelby (R-Earmarks).
Shelby gave an early Valentine's Day gift to Democrats today, when it was revealed he was holding every single Obama nominee hostage, so that he could score a lucrative earmark for his state. By using what is known as a "hold" on all 70 nominations (which a single senator has the power to do), Shelby is in essence holding a tantrum and demanding more money for his state.
This is tailor-made for the exact political environment we find ourselves in -- if Democrats would only point it out.
"Senator Shelby is a prime example of what voters hate about Washington. Shelby is holding up every single one of President Obama's nominations to key positions in our government, simply because Senator Shelby wants a billion or so more dollars for his state. This is what Republicans call fiscal responsibility? Where is John McCain on this issue, when he should be denouncing such obstructionism in naked pursuit of earmarks? This is what the American people hate about the way our government works -- the way one Republican can throw a tantrum and hold everything up until they get more pork for themselves. This is a big reason our budget process is so broken, and I call on all responsible Republicans to denounce such tactics with me."
The gift of Tancredo
Exhibit B: Tom Tancredo (R-Out of office, thanks be).
The Tea Party Convention got off to a rousing start today. It opened with Tom Tancredo (who tried unsuccessfully to win an election on anti-immigrant rhetoric) calling for (are you sitting down?) a return to literacy testing for voters. There are likely other parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 that he's not a big fan of either, but this one's bad enough.
This one would work ideally for a Democrat being interviewed sitting at a table with a prominent Republican, obviously.
"I notice that Tom Tancredo called for moving America back to the days of segregation in calling for literacy tests for voters. Perhaps he is unaware of the history of such tests. Or perhaps he knows exactly what he's calling for. While all Democrats rightly denounce Tancredo's comments for the backwards thinking they exhibit, I'm still waiting to hear what prominent Republicans have to say about his words. [Turn to Republican] What are your thoughts on literacy tests for voters? Do you support Tom Tancredo, a member of your own party, in his call to return America to the pre-Civil-Rights era? Or would you like to also denounce his remarks?"
Generals on the ground
This one is also in the category of "corners Republicans paint themselves into."
For years now, Republicans have been repeating some version of: "listen to the generals on the ground" as holy writ, in just about all circumstances. Now that the generals have spoken on DADT, there is an absolute gold mine of quotes from Republicans over the past few years to use as fodder for debate.
Because many Republicans used it as a dodge, when asked about DADT. John McCain was the most prominent, but there are many others who said, in some version or another, "When the Pentagon comes to us and tells us we should change DADT, then we will support them." They all said this, because they were absolutely confident that it would never happen.
Now, unfortunately for them, it has happened. Once again, Democrats need to point this out clearly.
"When you thought it would never happen, you said that the Pentagon should guide the policy on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and that if the military leaders ever came to Congress and called for a repeal of the policy, then you could support it. Now this has happened. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense both called upon Congress to repeal the policy, and allow them to transition our military beyond it. So were you lying earlier when you said you would support the generals, or did you just never expect to be called on your words, because you never expected it to happen?"
Yet another "hoist on their own petard" item to toss in Republican faces.
"We just saw the most naked display of 'judicial activism' in a long time from the Supreme Court, in their decision which puts corporations on the same standing as American voters in our political process. This was not following some long-established precedent, this was overturning a long-established precedent -- something Republicans usually call 'judicial activism.' This was 'overturning the will of Congress,' and 'legislating from the bench.' Republicans should just admit that they only call things 'judicial activism' when the decisions aren't what they agree with, and stop pretending it is some high moral ideological stance they believe in. Because you can't have it both ways -- you can either denounce the Roberts court for their judicial activism in the recent campaign finance case, or you can just admit that you've been playing politics with the term all along. When activist judges do things you agree with, then you are blind to the perils of such judicial activism, instead of denouncing them. It's pure politics."
Put up or shut up on the deficit
With the Tea Party folks in the political ascendancy over on the Right, Republicans are falling all over themselves to denounce "spending." And to polish up their "deficit hawk" credentials.
Well, until they propose a budget of their own -- complete with numbers this time, guys -- then every time the deficit question is asked, Democrats should use some version of the following in response.
"Republicans have so many positions on the deficit it's hard to keep them straight. They want to cut spending. But they also presented themselves as champions of Medicare spending recently. They certainly don't want to cut military spending. They sneered at Obama's suggestion for a freeze on non-military discretionary spending. And we all know they're never going to agree to any tax increase. So, please, enlighten me as to how you are going to tackle the deficit. In detail, please. President Obama has put forth his budget. Democrats in Congress with produce their budget. We are still waiting for Republicans to put forth a budget -- at least, one with numbers. If there is all this excessive spending that only Republicans can magically get under control, then we would truly like to hear how they are going to do it. When Republicans come out with a budget, and when that budget goes through the neutral Congressional Budget Office and is scored numerically, then you can be taken seriously when you talk about all this wonderful deficit-cutting you are in favor of. But until that point -- until you put your cards on the table -- you are just blowing smoke. Put up or shut up, in other words. If your ideas are so wonderful, and will work so well, then you wouldn't be so afraid of sharing them with the American people."
Make them pay for their votes
There is a reason Republicans have been so effective at using their Senate minority to halt passage of so many things. The reason is, they are not being forced to pay a political price for doing so. Time after time, Republicans are allowed to get away with purely political tactics, because the Democrats have such an inability to shine the spotlight on such shenanigans. While the Shelby situation is the easiest target right now for Democrats to strongly denounce, there are others. The problem is, Republicans have seen that Democrats just refuse to throw this stuff back in their face. And as long as Democrats continue to let these opportunities pass them by, then Republicans will continue to get even bolder in the tactics they use.
"President Obama has rightly denounced the Republicans in the Senate who co-sponsored a bill to form a bipartisan debt reduction commission, and then when it looked like it had a chance to actually pass, voted against it. This is what Democrats mean when we talk about obstructionism. Republicans think something's a good idea until Obama supports it, and then they do everything they can to destroy their own idea. The American people expect politicians not to be so nakedly dishonest. If something is a good idea when you co-sponsor the bill, then it is still a good idea when Democrats get on board -- or it should be, at any rate, if Republicans were not so hypocritical. Because their sole objective is seeing Obama fail, they will not even support their own ideas when the president embraces them. This is what the American people are so disgusted with when it comes to Congress, and I would hope Republicans would soon realize it."
Voting to bankrupt the Pentagon
This one is from a little over a month ago, but it is the ultimate thing to end on in any discussion featuring any of the previous talking points.
"Republican obstructionism in Congress knows no shame. It really doesn't. A while back, we had to pass an emergency appropriations bill, or else the Pentagon would run out of money and their checks would have started bouncing. One day before this was set to happen -- one day before the Pentagon would have gone broke in the middle of two active wars -- the Republicans voted against funding our troops in the field, and what's worse, they did so for purely political reasons that had nothing to do with the Pentagon. With our troops bravely in the field, Republicans voted not on some appropriations bill that wouldn't have affected the Pentagon for months, but on an emergency bill that, if it had failed would have bankrupted the Pentagon one day later -- and they voted to put their party ahead of their country, and ahead of the troops, and ahead of the Pentagon. Now just imagine what the Republicans would say about Democrats if this position would be reversed. This is naked political obstructionism, and it deserves to be pointed out, and every Republican who voted against it needs to be asked why they would put their party in front of their country in such a fashion, because they really should be ashamed of themselves for doing so."
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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant