Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I thought that was a pretty good week for Democrats.
Maybe it's just the subject matter I've been tackling this week, that could contribute to my spirit of optimism, I suppose. I began the week examining the increasing and interesting struggle for power between the Tea Party Republicans and the entrenched-establishment Republicans, which is always both fascinating and amusing. Tuesday, I reflected on heroism as President Obama awarded the first Medal of Honor that went to a living recipient since the Vietnam War -- an uplifting subject matter if there ever was one. Wednesday, I got to interview the chairman of the Populist Caucus, Representative Bruce Braley, who was a little-noticed success story for Democrats in the midterm election (he had millions in outside anonymous donor money spent against him in some vicious attack ads, but instead of retreating from being a Democrat he proudly stood up for Democrats' recent achievements in his campaign -- and he won re-election as a result). And yesterday I wrote what could be read as a preamble to today's column, about Democrats and the lame duck session of Congress (more on this in a bit). [You can read any of these at my site, as I didn't want to over-link this paragraph with all the individual article citations.]
All in all, pretty positive subject matter all around. Of course, there were a few disappointments, but on the whole what I would call a pretty good week for Democrats -- something they haven't enjoyed in a while.
But mostly the optimism centers around what could happen, and not what actually has happened yet. Meaning that, once again, I have gotten my hopes up a bit. Perhaps this is naive and they will come crashing down to reality by New Year's Day, but that's the risk you always take when quaffing from the eternal spring waters of Hope.
But we shall continue to so quaff, mostly because "quaff" is such a cool word to type. Hey, I warned you I'm in a good mood this week.
Enough nonsense, let's get on with the show....
There were three Democrats worthy of mention this week. Actually, there were more than that -- which is an optimistic sign, at the very least -- but these three stood out in particular. And their names may come as somewhat of a surprise to some readers.
The first is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Perhaps Reid has been spooked by his recent very-tough re-election battle. Perhaps he has been spooked by how close Democrats came to losing the Senate. Perhaps he is following others' leads. Or perhaps it is just that Harry has shown he can indeed get things done -- right before a Senate vacation. But whatever the reason, Reid deserves credit for backing up the other two honorees this week.
As I wrote yesterday, the lame duck session of Congress could actually be more productive than the conventional inside-the-Beltway "wisdom" had been thinking. Democrats, after all (so this punditocracy-cocktail-party chatter held), were supposed to lie down, roll over, and play dead until the Republicans took over a few months from now. Democrats, of course, wouldn't get anything done except what the Republicans wanted -- more massive tax cuts for the rich.
Democrats seem not to have received this memo. Because they don't seem to be lying down and playing dead. And Harry Reid seems to actually have their back. He's been promising votes on some very contentious issues, giving a lot of political strength to Democrats who are advocating for action on these issues. For once, Democrats seem to be coordinated in their actions. And Reid played a big part in this, so he has earned an Honorable Mention for doing so.
But the first of our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards goes out to President Barack Obama. Ever since getting back from his Asia trip, the president has seemed a lot more energetic and a lot more involved with moving some legislation in Congress than he has been for a long time. As I wrote yesterday:
President Obama's White House deserves a lot of credit, at least so far, for pushing these issues to the fore. While Obama's legislative style up until now has been mostly to work behind the scenes as Congress dithers, and then jump in and support whatever bill actually makes it out of the sausage-grinder up on Capitol Hill. This is a mostly risk-free strategy for the White House, because Obama never has to come out and fight for any provision in such a bill that may ultimately get defeated.
But maybe Obama has realized that the lame duck is going to be his last, best chance to advance any major parts of his agenda until 2013. Or maybe it's just part of the "midcourse correction" that all presidents go through after their first midterm season. Maybe it's because Rahm Emanuel is gone. Whatever the reason, though, it certainly marks a change in strategy (or, at the very least, in tactics) by the White House.
President Obama has not only been making lots of calls to senators, to get them on board one issue or another, but he has also been sticking his neck out politically in a way not seen since the early days of his administration. Obama has been taking political risks by getting strongly behind issues which may fail to pass in the lame duck session. He's fighting for some things he may well lose on, in other words -- and he is doing so wholeheartedly, and not in some vague, on-the-sidelines way.
This can be seen clearest in his push to get the "New START" nuclear arms reduction treaty ratified by the Senate. Treaty ratification takes a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes -- a higher threshold than the filibuster. If every Democrat votes for it, Obama will still need a lot of Republicans to do so as well. And Obama has lined up some pretty powerful people who agree with him -- Republicans and Democrats who have served in the past three or four administrations. He has been offering Jon Kyl any sort of "Arizona Kickback" he wants, but so far to no avail.
This is a standoff Obama could win. There still are sane Republicans who subscribe to the old "politics ends at the water's edge" way of thinking on American national security issues. If Obama relentlessly hammers Republicans as putting politics ahead of American security, he could get a lot of the public's opinion behind him and shame the Republicans into ratifying the treaty.
But he could fail, as well. It's a big risk for him to take -- especially considering that 67-vote bar he's got to clear. But that's exactly what we (and a lot of others) have been begging Obama to do for a while now -- take a few risks. Get behind some stuff that might not pass. Even if the pundits will gleefully say "Obama failed!" you will still be seen as standing up and fighting for what you believe is right -- which will, in the end, help you politically in your next fight.
Obama didn't have to pick this fight. He could have thrown up his hands and punted the issue to the next Congress. But that would be putting politics ahead of security, as well. For not doing so, and for getting out on a limb for once, President Obama wins a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week.
Perhaps I should warn our readers to be sitting down for this next part. Our second MIDOTW award winner may come as an even bigger surprise, because it is none other than Senator Joe Lieberman. It absolutely pains me to type it, but he's really shown some "Joe-mentum" this week.
Hey, I warned you to sit down, so don't blame me if you just fell down and bumped your head in frank astonishment.
Lieberman is one of the chairmen of the Senate committees which deals with the military. And he has become the point man on the effort to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (DADT) of denying gay Americans the right to openly serve their country in uniform. A few weeks back, the rumor made the rounds that one of the other Senate committee chairmen -- Carl Levin -- had already agreed with his Republican counterpart to strip the DADT repeal out of the Pentagon's appropriations bill for the year. In other words, Democrats would throw in the towel on the entire effort, and it would likely be dead for the foreseeable future -- before the fight had actually begun.
Lieberman called a press conference this week with a passel of other Democratic senators, and said, in essence: "Not so fast!" He's been telling anyone who'll listen since then that he actually has the 60 votes he needs to pass the repeal, especially after the Pentagon report comes out in a few weeks.
This is the way to fight. Get out in front, with a show of strength. President Obama and the White House have also reportedly joined in the fray, pushing hard for repeal in many phone calls to individual senators. This is the way to lead your team!
Once again, the effort may not succeed. Both Obama and Lieberman are sticking their necks out, and taking some risks. And that is what most people call "leadership."
For leading the charge on DADT, we hereby gratefully award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Senator Joe Lieberman. [Yeah, we know -- he's not technically a Democrat, in the same way that Lisa Murkowski is now not technically a Republican, but for the sake of discussion (and awards) we've long since decided that Lieberman is eligible. Mostly because we keep giving him MDDOTW awards, we fully admit. Heh.]
Keep up the good work, President Obama and Senator Lieberman! Other Democrats -- it's time to get behind them and fight the good fight.
Before we get to the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, we've got to pause for a bit of silliness. From Pennsylvania state lawmaker Paul Costa, to be precise.
Costa was, a few weeks ago, attending a Pittsburgh Steelers game. As many Americans do, he was tailgating in the parking lot before the game. Also as many Americans do, he smoked a joint with a buddy of his. And, sadly, also as many Americans, Costa was busted by undercover police (who were actually looking for illegal T-shirt vendors).
None of that, mind you, is the disappointing part. What was actually beyond disappointing, jumping over the borderline to absolutely ludicrous was Costa's defense (issued through his lawyer): Costa "detests marijuana."
Um, OK. For this mind-bending legal defense -- "My client so detests marijuana that he was forced to consume as much of it as he possibly could so that others would not have the opportunity to consume it" -- Costa wins a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week. [Insert your own "what was he smoking" type joke here.]
But our real Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award is somewhat of a no-brainer this week. Representative Charlie Rangel takes the MDDOTW cake this week. This will be Rangel's sixth time for the award, as he's won it on five separate occasions -- four of which were given for the same misconduct we're talking about now (see: FTP , , , and ).
Now, Rangel's already gotten the MDDOTW for his income tax problems themselves (while chairing the House committee which writes the income tax laws), and for not stepping down from his powerful chairmanship until forced to do so. But this week, he wins not for finally having his trial and being found essentially guilty on 11 counts, and not for the humiliating censure he's about to have to endure; but rather for his grandstanding conduct during the ethical hearing itself. He huffily got up and stormed out of the hearing, because the committee refused him time to raise money for a lawyer. The man's got chutzpah, that's for sure. He forgets to report a property in the Caribbean worth over half a million bucks on his taxes, and now he's pleading poverty to the committee -- he simply can't afford a lawyer to sit next to him, and wants time to raise money for one via a legal fund drive. Oh, puh-leeze.
For his antics in front of the committee, which were only partially mitigated by the much-more-humble statement he gave later in the week, we hereby award -- hopefully for the last time (at least for this particular subject) -- Charlie Rangel the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[Contact Representative Charlie Rangel on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 147 (11/19/10)
This is a warning to Democrats everywhere: the new fall line of Republican Talking Points is out.
There are, basically, two of them. The first is that the Republican Party is now doing what "the American people" (or perhaps "The American People") want. The second is the flipside of this, which is that Democrats "just don't get it." This one is comfortably vague and all-encompassing.
But the first one isn't, and this presents a giant opening for Democrats to fight back. Because we can actually tell, on many important political issues, what "the American people" think about things. Yes, I'm talking about opinion polls. Now, polls can be a two-edged sword, I'd be the first to admit that. But why let the other side use its edge and perpetually blunt your own by refusing to wield this weapon?
Because there are a lot of issues on which the American people are solidly, even overwhelmingly on the side of the Democrats. So use this fact! Point it out, for Pete's sake! Don't let the Republicans steal the phrase "the American people" as they've stolen so many others over the years.
I guarantee it -- if Democrats start using the exact same phrase to describe their positions on popular issues, then Republicans will stop using it, or at the very least, tone it down a bit. But you've got to forcefully swing that sword in order for it to cut both ways. And there's no time like the present to start doing so.
The American people want DADT to end
Here's the first one. It's easy. And it'll become even more effective when the Pentagon releases a report showing that not only do ever-wider majorities of the American people favor dumping DADT, but also that majorities of people currently serving also favor jettisoning the policy as well.
"You know, Republicans have been making a lot of noise about how they now speak for 'the American people,' and how Democrats 'just don't get it,' but then they turn that on its head when it gets down to specific issues. For instance, something like 60 to 75 percent of Americans want us to end the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy on gays in the military. I put it to you, sir, that the American people want exactly the same thing Democrats do on the issue, and Republicans are the ones who really just do not 'get it.' Even a large majority of those in uniform want an end to the policy, but Republicans continue to thumb their nose at the will of the people on the issue of ending such discrimination in the military."
The American people want arms reduction
Can somebody please get Obama's back on this one? Pretty please?
"You want to know what the American people want from Congress? I'll tell you. Recent polls show that three out of four Americans want the Senate to ratify the new nuclear arms reduction treaty -- the 'New START.' Why are Republicans playing politics beyond the water's edge? Why are Republicans in the same corner on this issue as Iran? America's national security will be strengthened by getting our inspectors back into Russia to, as Ronald Reagan said, 'trust but verify.' We cannot verify right now, because the old treaty expired. The American people want us to pass this treaty, and there is absolutely no reason why we should not ratify it. Republicans are trying to wheel and deal and get their own kickbacks put into the bill. They are shamelessly playing politics because they don't want Barack Obama to get a 'political victory' on this issue. They just don't seem to get it -- this won't be a political victory, this will be a victory for any American who cares about our national security, and we call on Republicans to support it, as three-fourths of the American public does."
This one is such an enormous bludgeon, it is almost begging to be used.
"Right before the Christmas holidays, Republicans have blocked extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. If you are about to lose your benefits and you voted Republican in the last election, I'd just like to point out that you put this lump of coal in your own stocking. This is what you voted for -- people who would cut off millions from their last resort, right before Santa arrives. Thanks, Scrooge McRepublicans!"
A Texas-sized hole in the deficit
This one comes from a recent story about a new ad going up in favor of ending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires. I find I can't improve on McMahon's words one bit.
"On the campaign trail, Republicans and their corporate backers paid a lot of lip service to the Tea Party crowd about reining in the deficit," said Tom McMahon, executive director of AUC [progressive group Americans United for Change]. "But back in Washington, what's the very first order of business? Blowing a Texas-sized hole in the deficit by extending the Bush tax breaks for Wall Street bankers and millionaires. That's $700 billion reasons why Congressional Republicans are not at all serious about putting America's fiscal house in order and getting the economy moving again for anyone but the special interests."
Listen to the Patriotic Millionaires
I can't improve on these words either. There's a new group of wealthy folks (they've even got a website) calling themselves the "Patriotic Millionaires," who are advocating to end the Bush tax cuts on themselves and people like them.
From their letter to President Obama:
We are writing to urge you to stand firm against those who would put politics ahead of their country.
For the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens, we ask that you allow tax cuts on incomes over $1,000,000 to expire at the end of this year as scheduled.
We make this request as loyal citizens who now or in the past earned an income of $1,000,000 per year or more.
We have done very well over the last several years. Now, during our nation's moment of need, we are eager to do our fair share. We don't need more tax cuts, and we understand that cutting our taxes will increase the deficit and the debt burden carried by other taxpayers. The country needs to meet its financial obligations in a just and responsible way.
Letting tax cuts for incomes over $1,000,000 expire, is an important step in that direction.
Hippie terrorists? Honestly?
This one is just ridiculous. Our tax dollars -- which are supposed to be paying for valid anti-terrorism efforts -- are instead being used to play out some Nancy Reagan-era action/adventure fantasy which casts as the evil villain marijuana terrorists.
You just can't make this stuff up, I'm afraid.
Here's the story, via WashingtonPost.com:
Federal, state and local officials carrying out a counter-terrorism drill in Northern California Wednesday played out a scenario in which local marijuana growers set off bombs and took over the Shasta Dam, the nation's second largest, to free an imprisoned comrade.
According to an account in the Redding (Calif.) Record Searchlight, the 12-hour drill was part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Critical Infrastructure Crisis Response Exercise Program, begun in 2003.
"More than 250 people from more than 20 agencies took part," said Sheri Harral, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, according to the paper.
Harral said the drill took 18 months to plan and cost the bureau alone $500,000. The other agencies covered their own costs.
The paper made only passing reference to the scenario's designation of pot growers as terrorist villains.
In the otherwise realistic mock-terror scenario, the marijuana growers' "red cell" set off bus and car bombs as distractions, took over the dam with three hostages, and then "threatened to flood the Sacramento River by rolling open the drum gates atop the dam," according to the paper.
I'm at a loss for words. Seriously. Free "an imprisoned comrade"? I mean, what year do these people think it is?
You're going to have to make up your own talking point to cover such idiocy. Imagine if this money had been spent in the wilds of some red state on a drill involving a "right-wing terrorist group," and then channel the outrage which the other side would have vented -- that may help you to formulate your talking point, here.
Because that was so depressing, we will end on a much lighter note this week.
Was it good for you, too?
Why can't we have political ads like this in our country?
This isn't really a talking point, per se, but more of a When Harry Met Sally moment, so to speak.
Spain's young Socialists have come up with an ad titled "Voting is a pleasure" -- which is exactly what it sounds like. I guess that's why Republicans are so afraid of Socialists, because they're terrified ads like this could ever run in this country. Heh.
Watch the ad. See for yourself.
"I believe I'll vote for whom she voted for..."
[Program Note: See you in two weeks, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!]
-- Chris Weigant