I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the Iowa straw poll is meaningless. Unless you attach "meaning" to a process which seems designed to show the world the power of candidates to outright purchase votes, which I have to say, I do not.
The Republican debate last night in Iowa wasn't as meaningless, but will also soon be forgotten as Republican presidential candidate debate season really gets into full swing.
Having thus sneered at the two events in the political world which got the most coverage last week, allow me to sneer at the media in a more free-floating fashion. A few things caught my eye this week, as spectacular examples of outright failure by the mainstream media. Add these to the enormous list of issues which the media considers absolutely taboo to discuss on the airwaves of America, I guess.
The first was the coverage given to Rick Perry's prayer-fest in Texas this past weekend. This event did garner a lot of media attention, since Perry had all but confirmed he was about to jump into the presidential race. But while the media ran lots of clips of Perry speaking, they refused to delve into the other speakers' bigotry -- with the notable exception of Rachel Maddow. The mainstream media's storyline was: Rick Perry talks about Jesus. The real storyline should have been: Rick Perry palling around with some folks who have espoused some very scary thoughts, in the name of religion. After all, this is entirely appropriate subject matter for presidential candidates, as Barack Obama's minister found out four Augusts ago. So why aren't these supposed "men of the cloth" being given the same scrutiny Reverend Wright got?
The second instance is more subtle, and could probably be explained away as merely overzealous soundbite editing, if it wasn't part of an ongoing media blackout of one subject in the whole debt debate. Mitt Romney got a few hecklers in the audience at an appearance yesterday, it seems. Here is how Huffington Post reported one of the instances of heckling:
Speaking at the Des Moines Register soapbox, Romney was also interrupted by a heckler who asked if if [sic] he supported "scrapping the Social Security payroll cap so that rich people pay their fair share into the trust fund?"
Romney responded, "There was a time in this country where we didn't celebrate attacking people based on their success. We didn't go after people because they were successful. I've watched this president go across the country attacking people, and I... and I am... if you want to speak, you can speak. But right now it's my turn, so let me continue."
When I saw video of this on the evening news (even on PBS, I might add), the only thing they showed was the end bit, where the heckler and Romney are attempting to shout each other down, simultaneously. The question the heckler asked, notably, didn't make the cut.
The issue of "scrapping the cap" on Social Security taxes is one that you almost never hear of on mainstream media. Whenever the discussion of "saving Social Security" comes up, three stark choices are presented: "you can raise the retirement age, you can cut benefits, or you can raise taxes." Not a single word about the cap on earnings. Which is a shame, because an overwhelming majority of Americans -- when the idea is explained to them accurately, in polling -- support the idea. The media, it seems, doesn't even deem it important enough to mention.
But perhaps I'm being too harsh. The reason the clip was edited down so much was that the other heckling clip was so much better -- Romney misspeaking, and then instead of just immediately walking it back, actually digging the hole deeper. In answer to a question about raising taxes on corporations, Romney answered (at first) that he wasn't going to raise taxes "on people." When the questioner yelled back "Corporations, not people!" Romney could easily have said something along the lines of "Sorry, I meant to say corporations -- I'm actually not going to raise taxes on people or on corporations, and here's why...." It would have just melded the whole thing into standard Republican dogma, and Romney would have been safe.
Instead, he doubled down, with "Corporations are people, too." More on this later, in the talking points, of course.
The third thing the media continues to ignore could be summed up as: "any good Democratic ideas on the federal budget or jobs legislation." Representative Jan Schakowsky just introduced a bill that I'd be willing to bet would be astoundingly and enormously popular -- if anyone ever hears about it. Again, from a Huffington Post article:
Titled the “Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act,” the plan would cost $227 billion and would be implemented over two years. It would be financed by separate legislation introduced by Schakowsky called the "Fairness in Taxation Act," which would raise taxes for Americans who earn more than $1 million and $1 billion. It would also eliminate subsidies for big oil companies while closing loopholes for corporations that send American jobs overseas.
The congresswoman said that her plan would create 2.2 million jobs and decrease the unemployment rate by 1.3 percent.
"If we want to create jobs, then create jobs," Schakowsky said in a press release. "I’m not talking about "incentivizing" companies in the hopes they’ll hire someone, or cutting taxes for the so-called job creators who have done nothing of the sort. My plan creates actual new jobs."
Think that would play in Peoria? I do. Unfortunately, this plan will simply be ignored by the media, as it has been ignoring the Democratic plan to eliminate the federal budget deficit in ten years -- the "People's Budget" -- something no Republican budget plan (including Paul Ryan's) even comes close to doing.
Instead, we get the media spotlight on whether a Newsweek cover photo of Michele Bachmann is "sexist" or not. My personal feelings -- I agree with Joan Williams: the photo's not sexist (equally as embarassing shots of male politicians regularly appear in the media), but the headline might just be. However, Bachmann being asked last night about whether she's a "submissive" wife or not is fully fair game, since the debate questioner is doing nothing more than quoting Bachmann herself, from a public appearance. If she brought it up, then it is entirely fair game and in no way sexist. Married politicians can claim privacy for their family life up to the point where they try to exploit their family life for select audiences, in an effort to curry favor. From that point on, it is fair game indeed, no matter what gender the politician.
One final grammatical note, and then we'll get on with the awards and talking points. There seems to have been a lighting evolution of a political term these past few weeks which bears pointing out (to those interested in such things, either linguistically or politically). While some giant corporate media outlets tried to push the term "Super Congress" (or "super Congress") for the new special joint budget committee, the term which won the day turned out to be "super committee." But this quickly morphed into first "super-committee" and then just as speedily moved on to "supercommittee." This is notable because this sort of thing in the English language usually takes a period of years (if not decades). Compound words start as two (or more) individual words, then move on to the hyphenated form, and finally arrive as a single word. It just usually doesn't happen this fast.
Personally, I think the term is as silly as "Super Duper Tuesday" was, in the last presidential election cycle. In fact, I'm thinking of banning "supercommittee" from my keyboard, and instead referring to it more soberly as the "joint committee" or "special committee." Which just proves I can be a real stick-in-the-mud type of guy, I guess. Or should that be "stickinthemud"?
Enough nonsense, let's get on with the awards portion of our show.
Before we get to the main award, a quick Honorable Mention goes out to the aforementioned Jan Schakowsky, for putting some real jobs legislation on the table. Even if the media ignores it, this is the sort of thing Democrats should be doing right about now.
Our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award has to be awarded a wee bit late, due mostly to Gabby Giffords' triumphant return to the House being so impressive last week. But, while Giffords was definitely the right choice, someone fell through the cracks as a result, which we feel needs rectifying.
Because the Obama administration just did something good. The news was all but buried in the debt ceiling crisis, but it was good news all the same. Democrats should be touting this accomplishment to the skies, but we'll get to that aspect of it in the talking points.
I'm talking about the announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that birth control prescriptions would soon be provided for free to millions of American women. As part of what its detractors call "Obamacare," health insurance plans will have to offer The Pill for free. While there are some loopholes in the new regulation (typical grandfather clauses, and the "religious exemption"), within a very short time millions of women will receive this benefit.
For which they can thank President Obama, "Obamacare," and more specifically Kathleen Sebelius. H.H.S. could have punted this particular political football, but they didn't. It is rare that governmental action is so directly felt by the populace at large, but this one qualifies.
For her bold announcement -- even if we are a bit late in awarding it -- Kathleen Sebelius is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Secretary Kathleen Sebelius doesn't seem to have an official H.H.S. contact page, but you can always send your comments to her boss at the White House contact page, to let them know you appreciate her efforts.]
We've got two minor awards this week, before we hand out the MDDOTW. The first goes to whomever in the Obama re-election campaign was the source of the quotes in Politico this week, which not only indicated that the Obama camp's strategy is to paint Mitt Romney as "weird," but also that they had to "kill" Romney. By week's end, the Obama folks were desperately trying to walk this back -- going so far as to suggest that anyone on the campaign staff who used the word "weird" would be fired. To the unnamed sources goes a special (Dis-)Honorable Mention award, with "shot yourselves in the foot" oak clusters.
Senator Claire McCaskill also gets a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award, for reportedly saying "I'm not for extending the unemployment benefits any further." Although she also tried to backtrack from this statement, this also goes into the "With Friends Like These..." file.
But for the second week in a row, our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award just has to go to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Because Harry announced his three picks for the special joint committee on the budget last week, to the astonishment of many Democrats.
John Kerry was deemed mostly-acceptable. Patty Murray was deemed mostly-acceptable. Both of these senators are big fans of the military-industrial complex, but as Democrats go, they weren't bad picks.
But then came the third name: Max Baucus.
Really, Harry? You really want to give Max that much power? Remember, Harry, only one Democrat has to cross the aisle for a Republican plan to pass. And you are trusting the whole ball of wax to... Max Baucus? Really?
It's easy to see that this pick could come back to bite the Democratic Party in a very painful way, as Thanksgiving rolls around. For passing over literally dozens of names who would have been much much better picks, this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is, once again, none other than Harry Reid. Don't say we didn't tell you so when Baucus defects, Harry.
[Contact Majority Leader Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 177 (8/12/11)
I write these talking points every week for fun and amusement, and to provide readers with a way to speak about Democratic issues in the best way I can dream up.
But, being an amateur at it, I respect the people on the Democratic side who are the true professionals at this sort of thing. So when Drew Westen writes an editorial on the subject for the New York Times, I pay attention.
Westen's piece may not be an easy read for Obama fans (its title gives this away: "What Happened to Obama?"). But the points Westen makes are excellent. The way I usually sum up his editorial's theme is: "Who could have imagined that Barack Obama's biggest problem as president would be not being able to communicate his ideas (and his ideals) well?"
In any case, I just had to start out with my humble talking points this week by encouraging everyone (who hasn't already) to read Westen's article for yourselves.
Thank Obama for your free birth control
Democrats are notoriously bad at one of the basic tenets in politics -- when your party achieves something you think the American people will like, then you have to point it out to them repeatedly to cement in their minds who was responsible for improving their lives. As I said, this is basic, basic politics, but so far I haven't heard many Democrats saying any version of the following.
"Millions of American women will soon be enjoying a healthcare benefit which will change their lives for the better. Next year, health insurance plans will be providing free birth control prescriptions to American women. It has been outrageous that Viagra is covered by most health insurance, but not birth control -- and this disparity will now be largely fixed. But this didn't happen in a vacuum. Democrats were the cause. Democrats care about young women who can't afford birth control, because their health insurance doesn't cover it alongside the erection pills for men. Every woman should remember this next year, and thank President Obama and the congressional Democrats for their free birth control prescriptions -- because Republicans certainly didn't have anything to do with it."
We got your "uncertainty" right here...
This is just so obvious, I'm astonished more Democrats aren't making this case.
"Throughout the entire first half of this year, the Republicans warned us all about, quote, uncertainty, unquote, in the marketplace. Uncertainty was the reason business wasn't booming in America. If the markets could just see some certainty out of Washington, then all would be well. I guess that went out the window, huh? Would any of you describe last week's rollercoaster on the Dow as 'certainty'? For the first time in American history, the nation's credit was threatened by a political party for partisan gains. Our credit rating was downgraded because Wall Street specifically said that they expect even more uncertainty from Washington now that the debt ceiling has become a political football. Republican leaders are actually now bragging about how they're never going to allow the debt ceiling to be raised again without forcing the country through the same exact brinksmanship which was cited as the reason for our downgrade. Republicans are sending a message to Wall Street which is loud and clear: 'Expect more uncertainty from us. We will force this uncertainty issue, whenever we get the chance.' If the media weren't so lazy, they would be busily digging out quotes from Republican leaders uttered just a few months back about the dangers of uncertainty, and asking them why they are now so bent on assuring that, far into the future, uncertainty will be guaranteed."
Tea Party downgrade
This one is easy, and Democrats are actually starting to use it. But it should be used as often as possible. Rinse and repeat, as it were.
"If you read the actual report from Standard and Poor's, you'll see that the reason we just got downgraded was the brinksmanship in Congress. It wasn't the debt or the budget so much as S&P's pointed out, it was the fact that the Tea Party Republicans in the House are playing a dangerous game with the American economy. Make no mistake about it -- this is the 'Tea Party downgrade'. The entire thing can be laid at their feet. It wasn't the plan that passed, it wasn't the Tea Party plan that didn't pass, it was the fact that the Tea Party is willing to take things to the brink without a care in the world for what it does to America in the meantime. The Tea Party dared Wall Street to downgrade America by playing political games with our full faith and credit, and Wall Street obliged them with their Tea Party downgrade."
Corporations are people, too?
We've got to take a few shots at the Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney, here. Call it the pre-season for the presidential campaign, if you will.
"I heard that Mitt Romney told a crowd in Iowa that, quote, corporations are people, too, unquote. Wow. I mean, that's just... wow. I had to check to make sure Mitt wasn't joking around or something, but no -- that's his new campaign slogan, I guess. I can just picture Barbara Streisand singing 'Corporations who need corporations, are the luckiest corporations in the world,' can't you?"
Romney bragged to Standard and Poor's about raising taxes
OK, that one was somewhat of a cheap shot. This next one, however, cuts to the bone (at least, in Republican circles).
"Mitt Romney was awfully quiet during the whole debt ceiling debate, and after Standard and Poor's downgraded America's credit rating. Perhaps this last was because, as governor, Mitt actually bragged to S&P's about how his state had raised taxes and closed loopholes. Mitt was trying to talk S&P's into upgrading Massachusetts' credit rating at the time. I wonder how many Republican primary voters are aware of this story?"
Two very red districts in Wisconsin
This was a disappointing story from last week, but Democrats should put it into some perspective when asked about it. Or, if you prefer (as I did, this week), just revel in Wisconsin's Labor past.
"It is true that the recall effort in Wisconsin failed to turn over control of the state senate to Democrats, but the story isn't as big a defeat as you might think for the progressive movement. Recall elections are rare, and Wisconsin Democrats managed to replace two Republicans -- in what are very red districts -- with Democratic state senators. That's a mighty big accomplishment right there, even if it did fall short of taking back control of the state senate."
Has anyone asked Bert and Ernie?
And, because it is now officially the "silly season," we have the following item -- which it would not surprise me in the least if some Democrat got asked during an interview in the next week or so. Sigh. Happy August, everyone....
"I realize there is a push to convince Sesame Street to have Bert and Ernie get married and live together as a same-sex married couple, but seriously, has anyone asked Ernie or Bert what they think? Because they're the only two opinions which matter, in such a personal decision. That's what Democrats would like for everyone to enjoy, after all -- the ability to make the decision on their own, without interference from their neighbors or the state."
-- Chris Weigant