With the conclusion of the debt ceiling "crisis," the media pivoted swiftly to their standard larger questions (to them, at any rate) about any political event these days: "Who won? Who lost?"
Sigh. Well, in this one, we all lost. America lost. As the public got a close look at the innards of the political gastro-legislative tract, mostly they recoiled in horror. It's been said of Republicans that they get elected to Washington with the slogan "government doesn't work," and then they go about proving the truth of that statement with all their might. The past few weeks are a perfect example of this.
Finding "winners" in this mess is tough. Strangely enough, President Obama seemed to escape with the least political damage. The most fervent of his base said he surrendered and gave away the store, and the most fervent of his opposition is never going to give him credit for anything. But somehow Obama did manage a few scraps of victory in the power struggle. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are safe from cuts... for the next few months, at any rate. Obama will be able to extend the debt limit on his own (Congress is going to have a Kabuki vote each time, which will be meaningless) all the way through the 2012 elections, which was his "line in the sand" negotiating position. Neither was a sure thing, but these are mere scraps of victory, indeed. More intangibly, Obama's positioning as "the adult in the room" worked to a large extent, but that was fairly easy to do, considering how the other side was behaving.
The real winner, though, was the Tea Party. Even if some of them seem not to have gotten the memo. While some on the Left fulminated against the eventual deal, it was nothing compared to what some of the Tea Partiers were saying about it. "We only got 98 percent of what we asked for -- this is simply unacceptable!" seemed to sum up the hardest-core Tea Partiers' position.
But whether they acknowledge it or not, the biggest news during the entire "crisis" was the end of the factional struggle within the Republican Party. Up until this point, the Tea Partiers and the Republican establishment types were in a power struggle of their own, over the control and direction of the Republican Party. The Tea Partiers have now won this battle, in a rout. I can even precisely pinpoint when the establishment Republicans lost -- when John Boehner walked away from the "grand bargain" he had been negotiating with President Obama. The problem wasn't what Boehner said it was ("Obama moved the goalposts!"), the problem was that no matter what big agreement he had struck with Obama, Boehner simply could not get enough votes for it in his House. Imagine if Boehner and Obama had struck a deal which raised $800 billion in revenue (as they reportedly were close to achieving). How many House Republicans do you think would have voted for it? When Boehner was told this in no uncertain terms by the rest of the House Republicans, then he was left in a quandary -- if he did strike a deal with the president, then his weakness would be on public display as he desperately attempted to pass it in his own House. Boehner chose an easier way out -- and walked away from the talks. He then bent over backwards trying to write a bill which had every single Tea Party demand contained within it -- and it still took him three long days to round up enough votes for it. The upshot was that the Tea Party took control of the Republican Party.
Nobody is ever going to underestimate the Tea Party again. That's my guess, as a lasting effect of the debt ceiling fight. Love them or hate them, they have shown their power and flexed their political muscle. John Boehner's never going to underestimate them again -- he's going to do their bidding from this point on, or else he may be challenged for Speaker of the House by someone who will. Barack Obama is certainly not going to underestimate the Tea Partiers, either. He now knows exactly how extremist they can be -- all other political consequences pale in comparison to the fact that the Tea Partiers were willing to gamble not just with the American economy, but with the entire world's. Agree with them or disagree with them, nobody's ever going to give the Tea Partiers the brush-off again -- at least not for a long time to come.
The debt ceiling "crisis" isn't going to be the last of these fights, either. All sorts of manufactured "crises" will occur, for the rest of this year and on into next. There are budget battles galore ahead, and that's without even counting the second round of deficit-cutting laid out by the deal just struck. In every single one of these, the Tea Party (and the rest of the Republican Party) is not ever going to vote for one thin dime in taxes. Ever. This will become obvious in September, as the federal gasoline tax comes up for what is normally an uneventful renewal. I doubt it'll be uneventful this time around, to put it mildly.
This week marks the beginning of the generous monthlong summer vacation Congress takes every single year. At some point, between fundraisers and corporate junkets to faraway shores, they'll have to head back to their home districts. Which means, as we all know, town hall meetings. The talking points this week are devoted to what Democrats should say in these meetings, and how they should be directly attacking the Tea Party's ideology. Because, at this point, it is one and the same as the Republican Party's ideology. The Tea Party is now running the Republican show, so don't underestimate them -- take them on directly!
But first, our weekly awards.
This one is easy.
The Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was none other than Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who made her first floor appearance in the House of Representatives since being shot in the head by a deranged gunman.
This was the only inspiring and uplifting event in the entire month of debt ceiling debate in Congress. Gabby Giffords got an incredibly rare spontaneous standing ovation from the entire House, when everyone realized she was on the floor. Republicans and Democrats applauded and cheered wildly to see their colleague's return. Giffords showed up for the vote both because she thought it was an important one, and to mark her incredible recovery in a moving way.
Nobody else even came close, this week. Gabrielle Giffords wins the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week, hands down.
[Congratulate Representative Gabrielle Giffords on her House contact page, and send her good wishes on her continuing recovery.]
David Wu resigned his House seat this week, but we already gave him the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award last week, so we'll just mention it and move on.
There was a meeting between unnamed "Democrats" and Vice President Joe Biden this week, in which the word "terrorists" was applied to the Tea Partiers (or perhaps Republicans in general, the whole thing's a bit foggy). Biden has stated that he himself didn't use the term, but that he heard it from other Democrats.
Whatever the truth of the matter is, we're going to award a special MDDOTW "in absentia" award to any Democratic officeholders who actually used the term -- even behind closed doors.
David Letterman, when the story broke, called it "a real slap in the face... to terrorists." But being a late-night comedian is different than being a politician. We are supposed to have higher standards for the latter.
Calling someone a terrorist in a political discussion has -- for roughly the past ten years -- been completely unacceptable in the political world. It was absolutely unacceptable back in 2004 for George W. Bush's Secretary of Education to call the leading teachers' union a "terrorist organization," and it is still just as unacceptable today. It is the equivalent of calling someone a Nazi, in about 1950.
There are certain lines you just don't cross, and this is one of them. For Republicans or Democrats -- it makes no difference. Call the madman who shot Gabrielle Giffords a terrorist, or call the madman who shot dozens of innocent children in Norway a terrorist. But don't call your political opponents terrorists, because it is simply not appropriate. Ever.
But our real MDDOTW this week goes to none other than Harry Reid, for passing the House's version of the F.A.A. funding bill. Now, you can argue that Harry was between a rock and a hard place on this one -- the House had already left town for their five-week vacation, so if Harry didn't pass the exact same bill the House had previously passed then the government shutdown which caused 70,000 people to be thrown out of work would have continued. Harry had a choice. He could have passed the House bill, which is only a six-week extension, or he could have tried to pass a "clean" bill (which likely wouldn't have survived a filibuster), or he could have just thrown up his hands and gone on his own monthlong vacation. So you can say that he took the best of several bad choices.
You can say that, but I won't. Reid caved. He never should have set himself up in this position in the first place, but without 60 votes in his pocket he couldn't have passed a "clean" bill even if he had tried. But there was one thing he could have done, and that would be to deny the Senate their vacation time. Reid has, in the past, shown he knows how to use this tactic -- masterfully, in some instances. Reid should have announced that the Senate would stay in session until they passed a clean F.A.A. bill, without the poison-pill amendments the House had stuck in. They would vote on it daily, until a clean bill passed. If Republicans kept voting it down, then Reid could have scheduled other work for the Senate to do for the remainder of each day. If the Republicans finally allowed the bill to pass, then Reid (with Obama backing him up) could have told the House to get their butts back to Washington and pass the bill.
Reid chose, instead, to postpone this fight until September. But now the Senate is on record passing the poison pills. Which makes the fight that much harder, next time around. While I do understand Reid wanting to get those 70,000 people back to work, this sort of brinksmanship is going to be the "new norm" in Congress, from this point on. Reid throwing in the towel on this bill could set a very bad precedent. Because of this, Harry Reid wins his record twenty-second Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, to enjoy while he's on vacation all month long.
[Contact Senator Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 176 (8/5/11)
Many on the Left have all but dismissed the Tea Party, ever since they first appeared on the scene. Because the movement is nebulous and hard to define, Lefties made the attempt to define the Tea Party as some flavor of insanity, or ignorance. Tea Partiers were called all sorts of things -- racist, stupid, crazy, or just plain rubes (and that's just scratching the surface). All of these were one form of dismissal or another.
But, as I said before, I don't think anyone's going to underestimate the Tea Party for a long time to come, now. The writing was on the wall for all to see in last November's election. Now it is impossible to ignore. The Tea Party are just not going to "play nice" in the Washington-as-usual game. They are not going to compromise -- ever. They are going to go for the most extreme position possible, and they show no indication of backing down. In other words, they are a formidable political enemy. And Democrats better start treating them as such, instead of brushing them off as a bunch of misguided crazy people.
Instead of personal attacks, or instead of attempting to define the entire movement as nothing more than the fringe, Democrats need to start taking on the Tea Party on the ideological front more often. Don't attack the Tea Partiers, in other words -- attack their ideology. Attack their politics.
As I also said, this "crisis" certainly isn't going to be the last one in the next year and a half. This is going to happen over and over again. Democrats would do well to channel the public's anger over the Washington brinksmanship towards the Tea Party's rigid, unbending, uncompromising ideology.
Today, we're going to attempt to do just that. But if I've forgotten anything, feel free to suggest your own talking points in the comments, as always.
Wagging the dog
The first thing to do is to point out the fact that the Tea Party is now firmly in charge of the Republican Party. Make this point as often as possible, to cement the idea in the public's mind.
"I see that the Tea Party tail is now wagging the Republican Party dog. There was a power struggle for control of the GOP, but it's now over, and the Tea Party won. It's obvious that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell can't even sneeze without the Tea Party's permission. The Republican leadership is now getting their marching orders from the Tea Party radicals. From now on, political reporters shouldn't even bother asking Boehner or McConnell what the Republican Party position is going to be on any issue -- because it's easier just to go get it directly from the Tea Partiers in the House."
Use variations of the word "extreme" in every sentence you speak about the Tea Party. This one polls well with the public, since very few people approve of extremism in any form.
"The Republican Party has now been taken over by their most extreme wing -- the Tea Party. Tea Partiers are nothing short of radical extremists, which means that the Republican Party is now the Extremist Party. Ask the Tea Partiers their stance on just about any issue, and their response is similar in one respect -- they'll take the most extreme position they can, and they'll refuse to compromise one inch from their extremism. They simply don't care if the government shuts down, or if America goes into default, or if they throw tens of thousands of Americans out of work by their extremism. It's all part of the political game to them. I'll say it again -- the Republican Party is now the Extremist Party."
Don't call it "populism," please
The media has fallen into this sloppy habit, and it really needs to be smacked down at every opportunity.
"I'm sorry, did you just call the Tea Party 'populist'? That is just not true. Go look at a history book if you don't believe me. American populism is, at its heart, fervently against Wall Street robber barons and big banks. Populism means fighting against the big money folks. Has the Tea Party ever said anything disparaging against Wall Street? Not that I'm aware of. Being anti-Washington or anti-government doesn't make you a populist. The real populists in America today are the ones out there fighting corporate dominance over American government. The ones pointing out that hedge fund managers should pay the same income tax as the rest of us. But those people aren't Tea Partiers, so please don't conflate the two. Please don't call the Tea Party populists, since you're only showing your own ignorance by doing so."
The kitchen table
This is another bad analogy from not only the press, but also by people who really should know better. But if the battlefield presents itself, Democrats should fight back on it.
"Your analogy of the federal budget somehow being like a family's kitchen table finances is a bad one, but since you brought it up, let's run with it for a moment. Take your 'family' budget, of a family that's in debt. The breadwinner of the family is only making twelve bucks an hour, and they're somehow scraping by while going further into debt. Now, who in their right mind would tell that breadwinner to go to his employer and demand that he start making minimum wage? It is absolute lunacy to suggest telling this person to demand lower wages. And yet, that is the extremist position of the Tea Party, and of the Republicans they hold in thrall. They want this family budget to become even more dire by reducing the money this family takes in. Maybe they can't do basic math, I don't know. But most families can, and most families would never reduce their income to solve their debt problem. They'd be looking for more income, not less."
The American people
This is an ongoing battle with the media, and with the Republicans. Point it out often.
"Every time I hear some Republican politician use the phrase 'the American people' -- as in 'this is what the American people want,' or 'the American people support us in this' -- I am amazed that journalists don't call them on it. Because there actually is a way to find out what the American people think, and it is known as a public opinion poll. The Republicans say 'the American people want us to fix the deficit,' and I keep waiting for someone in the media to say 'well, actually, that's wrong because what the American people want you to do is fix the jobs problem.' The Republicans say 'the American people want us to lower taxes,' and yet nobody in the media responds with 'actually, seven in ten Americans consistently say they're for taxing the wealthy more.' Republicans say 'the Tea Party speaks for the American people' and the media somehow don't challenge this with 'actually, the Tea Party's position was seen as extremism by the American people, and most of the public wanted to see a balanced deficit approach which raised taxes as well as cut the deficit.' It's as if the media collectively has never even heard of the existence of public opinion polls. Why doesn't the media point out -- every time some politician throws around the phrase 'the American people' -- what the actual, measured support is on the issue? It's a mystery to me, personally."
This is another of those labels that the Right loves to attack the Left with. Whenever the hint of a scintilla of a suggestion arises that perhaps billionaires could contribute a tiny, wee, microscopic bit more to our society, you can expect the Republicans to respond with one particular term. So turn it around!
"Class warfare? Did you really use that old chestnut? You think it's class warfare to ask people making millions or billions per year to give up a tax break or two? You really equate that with some sort of nightmare of mobs with pitchforks and torches? In fact, what has been going on since about the 1980s is indeed class warfare -- except it's only being waged by one side. The wealthiest among us have made out like bandits the last few decades, and they have done so at the direct expense of the American middle class. So if class warfare is being waged here, it's being waged in exactly the opposite direction as you claim. When the little guys start to fight back a little bit, that's only because of the last three decades of class warfare -- which they have been steadily losing."
Tax the rich
Whether this makes Democrats shake in their boots or not, the next election's ideological battlelines have been drawn. And Democrats -- led by President Obama -- are taking the side of raising taxes. This is going to be interesting, because Democrats have been scared of being called "tax-and-spend Democrats" for at least twenty years now. But if you're going to fight this fight, you might as well call it what it is so everyone understands your position.
"Democrats should make their campaign slogan next year a simple one: Tax The Rich. That's it in a nutshell: Tax The Rich. This is the position of almost three-fourths of the American people. It is the position of a majority of Republican voters. It is the position of almost as many Independents as Democratic voters. It is, in fact, the most mainstream political position in American today. And it can be summed up in three little words. Tax. The. Rich."