Americans turn to their government for all sorts of advice, at times. Most especially during a crisis or natural disaster of epic proportions, citizens want solid information from experts in the government as to what they should and shouldn't do to keep their families safe. Forward-looking folks will even check out disaster-preparedness information before disaster actually strikes, in order to get their families through such an event, should worse come to worst. And now all Americans can breathe a huge sigh of relief because the Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.) just posted instructions so we can all adequately prepare for "Zombie Armageddon."
You just can't make this stuff up, people.
On a C.D.C. official blog, Ali S. Khan (Trekkies, you may insert your own "Wrath of Khan" joke here, if you must) wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about how to prepare for a zombie attack. Or, as he refers to it in the helpful "A Brief History of Zombies" section, the result of your neighbors all contracting "Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome."
A word here about timing is necessary, I think. While the blog post is quite obviously meant as a semi-joke, wouldn't this have been more fun in, say, mid-October -- a few weeks before Hallowe'en? Instead of this week, with the "End of Days" prophesied for midafternoon this Saturday? I'm just saying....
Another possible sign of the End Times (at least for locals) was reported this week, as Rahm Emanuel was sworn in as mayor of Chicago. OK, sorry, that one was just pure snark.
There was plenty of earth-shattering news over in the Republican presidential nomination race, but we're going to save all of that for later in the column, so you'll just have to keep reading (this is a cheap ploy to retain your attention, I fully admit).
Moving on to the serious news, it seems that powerful men are pigs. But I have to refrain from commenting on either of the sex scandals this week in any major way. The International Monetary Fund head's encounter with a maid has nothing to do with his political power, and as far as I know the I.M.F. has never weighed in on the subject of sex in any way previously. Out here in California, former "Governator" Arnold Schwarzenegger's fathering of a love child with his maid also had nothing to do with his political positions as governor, so I feel it's up to the family to deal with this sad situation.
Some might accuse me of going easy on these guys, but I have a hard and fast rule for dealing with sex scandals caused by politicians -- hit them on their political hypocrisy, if it exists. If such hypocrisy does not exist, then it's not really germane to the discussion of politics. I try to hold to this standard, no matter whether the politician involved is Democratic, Republican, or French. If said politician has made lots of "family values" political hay over the course of their career, then they deserve getting publicly raked over the coals by political commentators such as myself. And especially if they've specifically made any "anti-gay" political hay -- and then are caught in a homosexual sex scandal -- then they are indeed valid targets for all the ridicule that can possibly be heaped upon them. If they haven't, then maybe they should resign, but there's no need for me to metaphorically twist the knife.
By this yardstick, Eliot Spitzer -- a Democrat -- was fair game (he made a name for himself busting prostitution rings, before being known as a prostitution ring's "Client Number Nine"). But Arnold Schwarzenegger -- a Republican -- is not. He never put himself forward as any sort of "family values" champion (he's lived in Hollywood a long time), and he was the most gay-friendly Republican governor this state (and possibly any state) has ever seen -- as evidenced by his refusal to defend Proposition 8 in court. So while Arnie may indeed be a pig in his personal life, he's not a politically-hypocritical pig.
Moving right along, it seems that the Republicans and Democrats have struck a deal to renew the PATRIOT ACT for another four years (sorry for the all-caps "shouting," but it's properly an acronym). The most amazing part of this is that it doesn't seem to even be news anymore, except in places like Glenn Greenwald's column. Both parties have apparently agreed to just shove this under the rug for a few more years, rather than have any sort of debate over the privacy issues. Where are all those intense constitutionalists when you need them, one wonders. Sigh.
Possibly (and possibly not) the biggest story of the week was President Obama's speech on the Middle East, but I'm still reviewing it and letting it percolate (I'm not an Israel/Palestine expert, I fully admit), so I'll be commenting upon it later, sorry about that.
For now, let's stick our arms out in front of us and shuffle slowly onwards to the awards and the talking points, much like the production credits of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with its cutout cartoon zombie (or other unidentified monster) lurching across the screen:
Which brings us to Newt Gingrich, of course.
Newt's political career can easily be painted as "the dead returning to life" -- and that was even true last week, before his presidential campaign kicked off (or kicked the bucket, take your choice). Newt has risen from the political graveyard more than once, so to all those who are currently writing him off as a non-starter, I'm not so sure Newt's presidential aspirations have been totally killed off this week. They could rise once again, that's all I'm saying (everyone was writing John McCain off, at this approximate point four years ago, for instance).
But, boy, did Newt live up to his reputation as "bomb-thrower" this week! But before we get to that aspect of the story, we first have to recognize the man who "bombed" Newt with some glitter a few days ago. Political activist Nick Espinosa threw a bunch of glitter on the Newtster at a book signing, while loudly proclaiming: "Feel the rainbow, Newt! Stop the hate! Stop anti-gay politics!" For political theater that was both amusing and effective, Espinosa earns an Honorable Mention this week.
But the real Newt story of the week was what he said last Sunday on Meet The Press. Newt shocked and rocked the Republican world with his answer to a question about Paul Ryan's plan to end Medicare as we know it (although Newt did not rock nor shock moderator David Gregory, who missed the impact of Newt's words entirely -- it was like you could almost hear the Whoosh! of the significance of Newt's answer flying far over Gregory's head... but I digress...). I wrote about the whole thing earlier this week in my own take on how the Republican Party has just made the Ryan budget their central acid test for the 2012 campaign.
Much to the glee of Democrats, I might add. Democrats, ever since Ryan introduced his bill, have been struggling to make it the key issue in the upcoming campaign. They hadn't gotten much traction in the media on doing so, until Newt called it radical "right-wing social engineering."
In fact, Democrats are so happy about the situation, the Senate Democratic election effort launched a webpage to personally thank Newt Gingrich.
Not to be outdone, the Democratic National Committee rolled out a new web ad with the Gingrich video clip. This, despite Newt's later Orwellian response to the Republican backlash: "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood." Um, OK, Newt. Sure thing.
The best headline of the week, however, comes from "The Plum Line" blog at the Washington Post site: "Schumer: You’re damn right we’ll use Gingrich’s criticism of Ryan against the GOP."
For once, it seems Democrats are not only on the same page, but are actually striking while the iron is hot. Amazing, isn't it? Saving Medicare was an issue that Democrats dearly wanted to be the main focus of the upcoming campaign season, and now Newt Gingrich -- and the Republicans who ripped into him -- have all but guaranteed that this will be so. But Democrats didn't just sit on their hands and watch it happen, they've actually entered the fray to stake out their own position. For such rare immediate response to a political fracas within the other party, Democrats should be congratulated and encouraged to do more of the same.
Which is why we're awarding the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week to Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic National Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Way to go! Let's get out in front of these things as they happen, rather than just sitting back and spectating!
[Congratulate Senator Charles Schumer on his Senate contact page, the Democratic National Committee on their official contact page, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on their official contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
We have three Democratic senators who have earned themselves a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week: Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Begich of Alaska. All three voted against a bill this week which would have stripped the outrageously generous tax subsidies from the five biggest oil companies. The less said about this vote, the better.
But the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than Barack Obama, who faced a deadline today which was totally ignored -- a deadline laid out in the War Powers Act of 1973. Today marks 60 days since we began bombing Libya. The White House is supposed to, before this deadline is met, gain the approval of Congress for keeping the American military engaged in a foreign country. President Obama chose to not even make such a request of Congress.
It's kind of an esoteric issue (Kent Greenfield at the Huffington Post has a good write-up of the details), since the War Powers Act has always been a bone of contention between the White House and Congress -- and has never been sufficiently tested in the courts. Presidents -- both Republicans and Democrats -- have long maintained that the Act is an unconstitutional encroachment upon the Executive Branch's authority. Congress has long maintained that it is the law of the land and must be followed.
This is a power struggle between the branches -- not between the political parties. But Democrats frequently howl when Republican presidents bend or outright ignore any provision within the War Powers Act. It would be the sheerest hypocrisy for these same Democrats to give President Obama a pass on such criticism, merely on the grounds that he is of their party.
Obama's avoiding a congressional fight over Libya is probably good politics for him. But it is also a power grab (or, at the very least, a recurring power struggle) by the White House and the Executive Branch. Which is why we're awarding him the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week for his non-action on the issue.
Honestly ask yourself: if George W. Bush did the same thing, what would you be saying now about it?
[Contact President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 168 (5/20/11)
Well, to paraphrase Richard Nixon, we simply don't have Donald Trump to kick around any more. Sigh.
Thankfully, we still have Newt Gingrich. And Newtie is quite likely to prove himself the "gift that keeps on giving" for Democrats, as the campaign rolls onward.
Here are this week's talking points for Democrats to use, whether during a Sunday morning political interview, or just around the watercooler at work. They're going to be a little Newt-heavy this week, I warn you in advance. But you've got to strike while the iron is hot, folks!
Radical right-wing social engineering
This one doesn't just "write itself," it has in fact already been written by Newt Gingrich.
"Newt Gingrich committed what is known as a 'Washington gaffe' this week -- by inadvertently stating the truth. No wonder he's been trying to walk his words back ever since, as he's been attacked by the Republicans over stating what most Americans believe. The Paul Ryan budget's plans for privatizing and voucherizing Medicare were called by Newt last week, quote, right-wing social engineering, unquote, which he said was, quote, too big a jump. Newt also said he'd be, quote, against a conservative imposing radical change, unquote, as he came out against the Ryan Medicare plan. Republicans have since forced Newt into flip-flopping and desperately trying to take back his words, in the hopes that he hasn't scared away all the big donors for his presidential run. But you know what? Newt was right -- the Ryan plan is radical. It is right-wing. And it is too big a jump."
Oh, so Newt was lying?
Any Democrat being interviewed next to a Republican should immediately expect the Republican to remind us all that Newt said: "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood." So be prepared with a very simple comeback.
"Oh, so what you're saying is that Gingrich was just lying when he said that last week? This wasn't some sort of slip of the tongue, Newt very cogently laid out why he was against the Ryan plan. For him to flip-flop a few days later is hypocritical enough, but either way you slice it, Newt was either lying last Sunday or he is lying now about what he really feels about the Ryan plan. You simply can't have it both ways. So was he lying then, or is he lying now?"
Kills Medicare as we know it
This is, quite possibly, the most potent phrase to use against the Ryan budget. So you should repeat it as often as you possibly can, since it is the absolute truth in a very short and memorable phrase -- the quintessential talking point, in other words.
"Last Sunday, Newt Gingrich admitted what most Americans have already figured out about Paul Ryan's budget -- it kills Medicare as we know it. That's why Newt called it 'radical' and 'right-wing social engineering.' When Gingrich was Speaker of the House, he learned the lesson of how much Americans love Medicare the hard way. Most Republicans around today apparently haven't yet learned this lesson. Democrats will fight this radical Republican plan to end Medicare as we know it, and Republicans are making it the centerpiece of their campaign. That's all the voters need to know, really."
A six-figure Tiffany's bill?
So much for that "man of the people" sort of thing....
"It was reported this week that Newt Gingrich owes Tiffany's between a quarter-million and a half-million dollars. That's a lot of diamonds, Mister Gingrich. I'm not sure how you square that sort of elitism with claiming to be a 'man of the people.' I don't personally know many average Americans who owe six figures to an expensive jeweler, do you? It's going to be a hard thing for Newt to explain out on the campaign trail to Joe and Jane Voter, that's my guess anyways. So far, he's refused to answer any questions about it to the media, but I would bet the Republican primary voters have their own questions -- and Newt is going to have to answer them, sooner or later."
This sort of thing is terrifying all of the Republicans who don't back Romney, so why not remind everyone of the fact?
"I notice that in all the news about Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich this week, Mitt Romney quietly raised over ten million dollars in a one-day fundraising effort. Much as many Republicans would like to ignore him, Romney is proving that he truly is the frontrunner in the Republican race at this point."
Ryan budget Senate vote -- what are you scared of?
This one hasn't come to a boil yet, but should do so next week, if Harry Reid follows through on his promise to hold a vote before the Memorial Day break. So Democrats might as well start taunting Republicans on it now, especially after the whole Newt Gingrich brouhaha.
"Unlike most of the Republican presidential candidates, the Republicans in the Senate will soon be able to cast a vote for the Ryan budget themselves. Since the party line now seems to be: "Support the Ryan budget -- or else!" it will be interesting to see how many Republican senators actually vote for it. Right now, they seem terrified of even holding this vote. My response is: What are you scared of, Republicans? Your party has all but declared that not supporting the Ryan budget is unacceptable behavior for Republicans, so you'd think they'd be eager to publicly show their support, wouldn't you? Instead, they are running scared, and trying to avoid having to vote on it."
Get your own Obama birth certificate!
I saved the best one for last. Instead of letting this issue die a natural death, the Obama campaign team has decided to give it a second life. But instead of some sort of zombie-like existence, it has been revived as sheer political humor. Which, considering the issue, is probably the correct thing to do, at this point. [Note: for ethical and technical reasons, I refuse to link to candidate campaign sites in this column. You'll have to read the Salon story yourself, and follow the links there, if you'd like to place an order.]
"I noticed that the Obama campaign team is now offering mugs and T-shirts with the full Obama birth certificate printed on them. If you know any 'birthers' personally, you can now buy them their own mug or T-shirt which disproves their conspiracy theory. As an Obama campaign spokesperson put it: 'The only thing we can do is laugh at it, and make sure as many other people as possible are in on the joke.' I couldn't have put it better, myself."
-- Chris Weigant