Well, that was a busy week, wasn't it?
We've got so much to cover this week, we're going to have to move pretty quickly here. In international news, North Africa and the Middle East are still seething. The American news media, however, are (I actually heard this phrase being used by someone with a blowdried haircut the other night on television) experiencing "revolution fatigue." Seriously. They're bored with the whole storyline. Another dictator fell? Crowds of unarmed people being machine-gunned? Yawn. Don't we have an Oscars story we could run, instead?
Right now, of course, the main story is Libya, but other countries Americans cannot locate on world maps are also clamoring for change. Including, very inconveniently, Iraq -- where crowds of unarmed protesters have been shot at with live ammunition. But dead protesters in our forcibly-imposed democracy in the region is just so not according to the media's storyline, meaning it didn't get much coverage.
In domestic protesting news, the standoff in Wisconsin continues. The Unions seem to be making progress in other states towards making Republicans back off their orgy of Union-busting legislation, but the governor of Wisconsin is not backing down one inch. Both sides of this battle see Madison as the front line of a much wider fight, and so it has taken on symbolic meaning in terms of which side blinks first. At this point, nobody can predict the outcome, so I'm not even going to try doing so.
As an aside, I am putting out a call to all members of the Grammar Police. Which spelling is more acceptable -- "protester" or "protestor"? I had been using "protester" pretty consistently, but the word's been popping up so frequently in the past few weeks that I've noticed some very respectable publications going with "protestor," so now I have to wonder. Are both equally acceptable? Let me know what you think in the comments. I do know the answer to one spelling question this week, though. The correct answer as to how to spell the name of the Libyan leader currently under siege is: "there is no correct English spelling," since Arabic is a phonetic language and therefore anything which, when pronounced out loud, sounds like his Arabic name is just as "correct" as any other spelling. So there.
How did we get onto spelling? Like I said, we've got a lot to cover here, so let's move on from such distractions, shall we?
Speaking of distractions, another week has gone by, and still not one single idea from Republicans on how to create jobs. Lots of ideas on attacking abortion, lots of ideas on how to cut money for things like the Border Patrol and keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, but absolutely no time for creating jobs. Guess Republicans have their priorities straight, eh? Well, no... no they don't. But we'll get to all of that later, in the talking points segment of our program.
Of course, some Democrats are prone to getting distracted as well. Harry Reid refused to force the Senate to work this week, even though a government shutdown looms next week, so that he could travel home to Nevada to meddle in state affairs by calling for an end to the state's legalized prostitution. Seriously, Harry, this was more important than working to avoid a government shutdown? Sigh.
The only good thing (perhaps) from Congress taking yet another of its week-long vacations is that this is the first chance all those Tea Party Republicans will have to hear from the folks back home. Some of them are finding out that "earmarks" and "bringing home the bacon" is actually quite a bit more popular than they had thought -- when it translates directly into jobs in their districts (or jobs lost). It'll be interesting to see if any of them change their attitude at all when they return.
Because Congress -- both Republican and Democratic -- failed to do their basic job of passing a budget for the past few months, we will now have a fourth budget battle next week, added to the already-packed schedule of three giant showdowns over spending to take place over the next few months. This will be a largely-symbolic battle over a very short-term continuing resolution to keep the federal government up and running for a few weeks while Congress hashes out the final budget resolution to fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year. The other two upcoming battles (raising the debt ceiling, and passing a 2012 budget) are going to be even bigger, so even though the first two are smaller potatoes, they are going to set the stage for the more important fights to follow. Which is why the first of these fights -- over a resolution to keep the money flowing for only a few weeks -- is going to be important. Not fiscally important so much (one way or another, it's only a few weeks we're talking about) as politically important. On the Republican side, we have the frothing-at-the-mouth Tea Party Republicans, and on the Democratic side we have... sigh... Harry Reid and Barack Obama. Well, we'll see how it all plays out, won't we?
But that's news for next week. This week, we learned that the United States military may have let loose the dogs of psychological warfare upon... United States senators? A story in the magazine Rolling Stone is making some very large waves, because if true this is not only illegal but also disgusting. Some very big names (John McCain, Joe Lieberman) were among those reportedly targeted. This story hasn't gotten much traction in the news media so far, but that could change over time due to the explosive nature of the allegations.
President Obama made big news on gay rights as his Attorney General announced the Justice Department would no longer defend a key provision of the Defense Of Marriage Act in court. Now, this may not be as big a deal as either side is making it out to be. The law will still be "enforced" but not "defended in court," which is confusing, to put it mildly. And it is not "unprecedented" as opponents claim, because other presidents have done exactly the same thing. It may be a power struggle between the governmental branches, but it is hardly a precedent-setting thing for Obama to do.
Obama does seem to be reaching out to certain parts of the Democratic base of late, especially the gay rights community (the White House just announced today that they had hired not only the first male social secretary, but the first who is openly gay, as well). I personally chalk this movement up to the fact that Rahm Emanuel is no longer running the White House ship, and heartily look forward to more movement in this direction as the 2012 elections approach.
One troubling piece of news for Obama, however, is the price of oil steadily rising as Libya burns. The sad fact is that most Americans simply don't pay that much attention to politics. Almost one-forth of Americans in a recent poll wrongly answered that last year's healthcare law "had already been repealed." Which goes to show how uninformed the American public truly is (only 52 percent got the question right) on things political. But everyone notices the price at the pump. And if gasoline hits $4.00 (or $4.50, or even $5.00) a gallon this summer, then they're going to want to blame someone. Rightly or wrongly, this usually falls on whoever is currently in the Oval Office. But that's looking pretty far in the future, and we've already got enough to cover this week, so let's move on to the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week and the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards, before we get to this week's Democratic talking points.
It really pains us to say this. It really, really does.
But this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is none other than Rahm Emanuel. That's right -- "Rahmbo" wins his first-ever MIDOTW (he's got four MDDOTW awards, by comparison).
This award should actually come as somewhat of a relief to anyone who chafed at Emanuel's stint as White House Chief Of Staff -- because it means that there is now no conceivable way that he'll ever return to the Obama White House in any official capacity. Whew!
Rahm Emanuel wins his MIDOTW award for his very impressive showing in this week's mayoral election in Chicago. In a wide field of candidates, Rahm garnered over 50 percent of the vote. This means he will not face a runoff election, and will be Chicago's next mayor (despite the serious handicap of not having the last name "Daley").
While we do commiserate with people in Chicago who can't stand Rahm, we have to admit that avoiding the runoff election with a decisive win this week was indeed impressive. Making (I'm typing this through gritted fingers, so to speak) Rahm Emanuel our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel on his recent campaign contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts (it is normally our policy never to link to campaign sites here, but since the election is now over, we feel it is no longer inappropriate for us to do so).]
This is one weird story that has just gotten weirder over time. Oregon Democrat David Wu just got re-elected to the House of Representatives. By now, though, his constituents must surely be having second thoughts about Wu.
First there were rumors that Wu had some sort of mental breakdown just before the election. His own staff reportedly confronted him days before the voters were to go to the polls, and tried to get Wu to check himself into a psychiatric hospital. As if that weren't bad enough, it was recently revealed that Wu sent a few "unprofessional" emails to his staff including this photo of him, in a tiger suit, from Hallowe'en ("Rowr!"). The photo looks Photoshopped, but sadly, it is not. Later, Wu also admitted that he took a few unprescribed Oxycodone pills which a donor had given him last year during the campaign. The Washington Post blog "The Fix" has all the sordid details (and links), for the curious.
Now, we won't go as far as some have and call for Wu's resignation. As always, in such scandals, our policy is that this is for the voters in his district to decide. David Wu was not caught in some sexual scandal, nor was he caught taking bribes for votes or anything. But if the reports are true that he is (or was) experiencing some sort of breakdown, then it wouldn't surprise anyone if his constituents are now having serious second thoughts about his re-election.
Mostly for the fact that all of this happened right before an election, and that concealing it from the public may have changed the results of that election, Representative David Wu (and his staff) have earned a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award -- even if it should have been handed out last November. Acting wacky and dressing up in a tiger outfit is one thing, but taking unprescribed pills is completely illegal behavior, Congressman.
[Contact Representative David Wu on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions. Or what you think of him in a tiger suit, for that matter (Meow!).]
Volume 156 (2/25/11)
An interesting thing happened, in the past week or so, on the talking points front.
Democrats co-opted a talking point from the Republicans. Now, some don't agree with such a strategy, saying that Democrats using Republican language is a defeat of framing the issue correctly. But that battle already appears lost in Washington, as the inside-the-Beltway crowd has become obsessed over deficits (while the rest of the country still lists "jobs and the economy" as their number one issue, of course). So it was interesting to me, at least, that Democrats did manage to force Republicans into some wild flip-floppery in the past week or so.
It started with Republican math, which (as always) comes from FantasyLand. The Republicans moved the goalposts on their pledge to "cut $100 billion from the budget" before the last election, and began the year stating they would be cutting that $100 billion from "Obama's budget proposal of last year." This budget proposal was never enacted, and so is a meaningless benchmark to measure against. Which didn't faze Republicans, who thought that if they just repeated the talking point "we've cut $100 billion" enough times that the media would go along with it. Many of the media actually did, because they cannot perform basic mathematics, either.
But this time, frustrated Democrats fought back. They announced that they had "already cut $41 billion" from the budget, and that those cuts were enough for now. They did so by measuring the current budget against the same benchmark -- Obama's budget proposal (which, again, never passed). The media began correcting itself slightly, talking about "$62 billion" that Republicans were cutting, rather than swallowing the "$100 billion" hook, line, and sinker.
But the whole thing put Republicans into an untenable position. They could either argue that "Democrats haven't cut anything" -- which would have meant admitting that Republicans weren't cutting "$100 billion" -- or they could have just ditched the entire attempt at convincing the media that their "$100 billion cuts" were any sort of meaningful or realistic figure.
This game hasn't completely played out, of course. But it's an interesting one to watch, talking-points-wise.
Speaking of talking points, here is our roundup of talking point suggestions for Democrats to deploy in the coming week (especially when interviewed by the media). Enjoy!
GOP War on the Recovery
This could be an emerging theme for the entire "budget battle season" ahead. It would put the Republicans on the defensive -- most especially when they start sending their budgets through the Congressional Budget Office scoring process. Hammer on two issues -- jobs lost, and economic growth lost.
"The Republican Party seems to have declared war on our economic recovery. Economists panned their budgetary proposals by pointing out that if the Republicans had their way, the U.S. economy would lose hundreds of thousands of jobs and would not grow as fast as it otherwise would. The economic recovery of this nation is Democrats' first priority, and we cannot stand for Republicans introducing measures which kill jobs and would shrink our economic growth. Right now is not the time to put such a heavy burden on the economic recovery. The Republicans must be cynically figuring that their chances in the next election will be better if they can manage to kill the recovery by killing jobs and by killing economic growth. But Democrats will not stand for holding the American economy hostage for sheer political reasons."
800,000 jobs lost
Democrats are already beating this drum, and they should continue to do so.
"The Republicans in the House passed a budget bill which will wipe out up to 800,000 jobs in America. When questioned about this, the Republican leader answered 'So be it.' Killing hundreds of thousands of jobs in our current economy is completely unacceptable to Democrats. Republicans would kill jobs both directly and indirectly -- including things like Border Patrol agents, food safety inspectors, police, scientists, nuclear inspectors and nuclear non-proliferation positions, safe water and air inspectors, policing Wall Street, homeland security, transportation security, education, safety inspectors, and thousands of other jobs Americans rely on. Did the American people vote last fall to make their food less safe? I don't think they did. Did the American people vote to kill every program Republicans don't like? I don't think a whole lot of people voted to kill Sesame Street funding, personally. Did the American people, for Pete's sake, vote to get rid of job training programs in a fragile economy? I don't think they did. Democrats are fighting to save these jobs. Republicans are fighting to kill them."
GOP wants lower growth
This one is excellent, mostly because it is impossible to paint the source as some sort of Democratic "front" organization.
"The Republican House budget bill is even getting some criticism from some very interesting places. Goldman Sachs -- hardly a bastion of the Democratic Party -- came out with a report that showed how the spending bill the Republicans passed in the House would reduce economic growth by one-and-a-half to two percentage points, during this year alone. This is unacceptable. This bill would kill our economic recovery just as it is gathering steam. It's almost as if that is the intended result of the House Republicans. Goldman Sachs is no shill for Democrats, and they are plainly stating that our economy would be drastically worse if the Republican budget is passed. They also go on to point out that if we shut the government down, we can expect a two-tenths-of-a-percent reduction in our economy each and every week that the government is shut down. Democrats are responsibly trying to tackle budgetary issues, while Republicans seemingly just want to wage war on our recovery."
Wisconsin budget "crisis" explained
Moving on, to Wisconsin.
"With all the smoke and noise about Wisconsin's budget problems, let's take a quick look at the reality of the situation. Wisconsin's budget is a little over one hundred million dollars in the hole for this year. This is fact. What is also fact is that the first thing the Republican governor did when talking office was to pass almost exactly the same amount of money -- a little over a hundred million dollars -- in tax breaks to businesses. Now, in a state budget (unlike the federal budget), you have to balance the books -- you can't fall back on that hoary old 'tax cuts pay for themselves' nonsense. Tax cuts mean less revenue, which means budget cuts or other tax hikes. So the governor's so-called 'budget crisis' was entirely self-inflicted due to the business tax cuts he passed. Now he's trying to use this phony 'crisis' to destroy Unions. It could not be clearer what the Republican Party stands for -- more and more unsustainable tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, paid for directly by hardship for the middle class."
The sanctity of employment contracts
I mentioned this last week, while I was ranting about our political priorities in this country, but it bears repeating. Until it sinks in.
"For the last two years, Republicans have leapt to defend the 'sanctity' of employment contracts -- when it came to Wall Street bankers and hedge-fund billionaires. These people couldn't possibly be asked to give up their million-dollar bonuses -- which were paid for by the taxpayers -- or else they would take their 'talent' elsewhere. This, for the people who almost destroyed the American economy. But when it comes to the middle class -- teachers, autoworkers, cops, firefighters -- then all of that high and mighty talk about the sanctity of employment contracts goes straight out the window for Republicans. I guess employment contacts are only sacred for millionaires and billionaires, as far as Republicans are concerned. They have been waging such class warfare on the middle class for decades now, and it's high time the middle class started fighting back."
So much for supporting "front line responders," eh?
This would make a good political ad, in my humble opinion.
"Right after the attacks of 9/11, politicians made a lot of noise about standing with our first responders. Police and firefighters were the heroes of the day. Now, the language the Republicans are using against Union members such as these is downright despicable -- calling them 'leeches,' or 'welfare bums,' or even worse. In Wisconsin, a Union website that was being used to rally protesters was censored inside the statehouse -- a move usually seen by tyrannical despots in the Middle East who cut off internet access and cell phones in an attempt to stop protesters from communicating with each other. These Union-busting tactics are disgusting, as are the Republican attempts in Congress to slash funding for the same firefighters and police they once said they supported. Democrats mean it when they stand shoulder to shoulder with 'America's front line responders.' Republicans, quite obviously, do not. They should be ashamed of themselves."
Tell me another funny story, Speaker Boehner
And finally, we come to Speaker of the House John Boehner. He's had such an amusing week, that we're really squeezing two separate talking points into one, here.
"Maybe Speaker of the House John Boehner should be working the comedy circuit. Back in 1995, when the Newt Gingrich government shutdown loomed, this is what Boehner had to say about President Bill Clinton taking time off for a game of golf: 'Now is the time, not to play golf as the president did yesterday, now is the time to act.' So, now that he's Speaker, what is Boehner's response to the looming possibility of a government shutdown? To get in a round of golf, of course. What hypocrisy!
"Even more hilariously, when Boehner heard about President Obama's decision not to defend the Defense Of Marriage Act in court, this was his response: 'While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the President will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation.' Seriously, the man should be performing such jokes on late-night television. I almost split my sides laughing when I heard that quote. In the first place, Boehner's House has done exactly nothing -- not one tiny, little thing -- to create jobs since they took power. In the second place, Republicans have the gall to point fingers at stirring up 'a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation,' when that has been their exact gameplan on this very issue for approximately the past two decades?!? It is to laugh, Speaker Boehner, it is to laugh. Republicans have demagogued the gay rights issue for every single inch of political advantage they possibly could for over twenty years, but now that the tide of public opinion is turning against their bigotry, they have the sheer unmitigated gall to suggest that there are 'appropriate times' to discuss these issues?
"Please. I mean, just... please.
"I guess the 'appropriate time' to discuss gay rights is when Republicans think they can gain political advantage by demagoguery -- all other times must be 'inappropriate,' according to Boehner. And if our illustrious Speaker is so concerned about jobs, then why hasn't he lifted a finger so far to 'focus on creating jobs'... as he put it? Nobody's stopping you from introducing job-creation bills, John. You just go right ahead -- we're all waiting. But in the meantime, please spare us the comedy routines, OK?"
-- Chris Weigant