It's silly season in the political world, once again. And this year -- just like every year a Democrat occupies the White House -- an old favorite of a story is making the rounds. It involves some very thinly-veneered outrage, which is completely fabricated and hypocritical in the extreme.
President Obama is on vacation. This fact is being subject to ridicule from Republicans, and their enablers in the media. Which has prompted me to -- in the fashion of Bill Maher -- come up with a New Rule. My New Rule is this: nobody is allowed to get on their moral high horse on television over the president's vacation if they have taken more vacation time than he has in the past year. To make it even more effective, I would also sincerely enjoy it if the blow-dried media types on television had to offer up the following with their snarky reporting on Obama's vacation: "Full disclosure, I took three weeks off this year and flew my family to Fiji and then Japan and Australia, a vacation far more lavish than the one the president is currently enjoying."
If that's too much to ask, how about the media correctly reporting this "outrage" -- in full context. "Republicans in Congress are expressing outrage over the president's ten-day vacation. Of course, it was rather hard to reach most of these members of Congress, since they are all off enjoying their own five-week long vacation. By the time they return to Washington in September, Congress will have taken more vacation time this year alone than Obama has for his entire term. Making their 'outrage' over Obama's vacation schedule more than just a little hypocritical."
Or, perhaps, have the journalist covering the president's vacation insert some context of their own: "Here on Martha's Vineyard, the president walked along a beach today. We in the press pool covered this event, and then went back to our own beaches and bars. It took me about ten minutes to write down this piece I'm reading to you now, and it'll take me about five minutes to tape it in front of this majestic view behind me. Once I'm done with this strenuous workday, I will be enjoying myself with the rest of the press, on our all-expenses-paid network-financed vacation. This is so much better than sweating another August week out in Washington, and I would just like to thank the network for sending me this year. Back to you, Brian... the drink I ordered has just arrived, and I've got to go."
More on this subject later, in the talking points.
Silly season nonsense aside, though, there is some serious work being done in the background. While President Obama is on vacation, the White House itself is working furiously to put together a new jobs plan. Obama plans to announce his new plan right after Labor Day, the traditional time when Americans emerge from their own summer vacation haze.
Rumor has it that Obama's advisors are split over the political strategy he should be taking in the next year or so. One school of thought is that he should continue pursuing what can only be called "Clintonian triangulation" -- keeping his base happy enough, but trying to boost his numbers among enough independent voters to push him over the top in next year's election. But the second school of thought emerging (as rumor has it, anyway) is that Obama should build on his ability to go "over the heads of the media to the American people" (as Ronald Reagan used to put it). The White House must have noticed the relative success of their efforts during the debt ceiling fight to rouse the people and prompt them to contact Congress. Obama called on people to do this, and for the rest of the week, the congressional switchboards were jammed with angry calls. As I said, this must have made an impression on the White House team.
The choice is an easy one, when you put it into proper perspective. Right after Labor Day, Obama will announce a new jobs plan that he wants Congress to pass. Congress will then refuse to do so. Oh, sure, it might make some noise in the Senate, but over in the Tea Party House, it is going precisely nowhere. I can't even see Speaker John Boehner referring it to a committee or two, much less scheduling it for a vote any time soon. President Obama will then make this a centerpiece of his re-election effort: "I want to put Americans back to work, and Republicans are standing in the way."
It should be noted that this script is going to play out exactly the same no matter what the plan contains. It really doesn't matter what is in Obama's plan, because the House is never going to give Obama a big political victory by passing it. Obama's plan could consist solely of hiring millions of people to erect gigantic statues and memorials to Ronald Reagan in every single town in America and pay for it all by levying a steep tax on abortions, and the Republicans in the House would still refuse to pass it.
President Obama should realize the opportunity this intransigence gives him. Since the plan is not going to pass anyway, it should free him from the shackles of trying to put together some compromise to entice Republicans to vote for it. Mister President, the debt ceiling deal should have convinced you that the Tea Partiers are just not willing to bargain on anything. So why even attempt compromise this time around? Feel free to go big, instead. Remember, you're going to be campaigning on this for the next year to come. It's a lot easier to campaign on a Big Idea than it is on a Bunch Of Little Incremental Policy Tweaks.
Since the fact that the House is going to turn Obama down -- this should be seen as a given, by now -- why not put some really good ideas into the plan? There are certainly plenty out there -- Robert Reich has been screaming himself hoarse with all kinds of good job-creating ideas, for instance.
We'll see, in a few weeks, exactly what Obama and his team comes up with. It could go a long way towards shaping the entire 2012 campaign season. Or, it could be one of those plans which gets announced, is roundly ignored by one and all due to its small-bore nature, and is seldom mentioned ever again. The choice, as I said, should really be an easy one. It's certainly something for Obama to think about while enjoying his well-deserved vacation.
The Obama administration announced changes in their deportation policies this week, after suffering heavy criticism from Latinos (a group which could be key to Obama's re-election prospects). The jury appears to still be out on whether the new policy is going to fix the problems or not, so we have to take a wait-and-see approach to this news before deeming it worthy of an award here.
This week, the rules committee for awarding the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award had to make a call on whether or not our candidate technically fit our criteria for who may be nominated. We decided unanimously that we simply didn't care.
Because the coveted MIDOTW award this week goes to a man who holds no party office and who may not even publicly acknowledge that he's a Democrat. Again, we simply don't care, because the opinion piece Warren Buffett wrote for the New York Times this week was so good that it transcended any mere technicalities.
Buffett's article is a masterpiece. It needs to be memorized by every Democrat in (or currently seeking) public office. Its basic premise: "stop coddling billionaires." The 2012 election is being set up as a grand fight between the idea of "tax the rich" and the Republican insistence that the billionaire-coddling continue. This makes many Democrats nervous, because they've been afraid to come out for taxing rich people for a long time now, as Republicans have effectively used the issue to paint all Democrats as "tax-and-spenders."
Buffett's argument gives the Democrats some well-needed ammunition in this fight. By writing it, he has given talking points for Democrats to use for the rest of the campaign -- "As Warren Buffett said...." If Buffett were really serious about trying to change the dynamic of the discussion, he could quite easily fund a political action group and plaster America's airwaves with some ads promoting his ideas. He could probably fund this effort with the spare money to be found between his couch cushions, when you think about it.
Democrats need to realize that this battle is already largely won with the public. Poll after poll after poll shows the public overwhelmingly approves of higher taxes for billionaires. Even a majority of Republican voters approve of the idea. If Democrats would pick up and really run with the challenge Warren Buffett just laid down, it could paint the Republicans on the campaign trail into a very uncomfortable corner.
For giving the Democrats this chance, and for eloquently laying the case out, Warren Buffett is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Warren Buffett is a private citizen, not a public officeholder, so our policy is not to provide his contact information.]
Democrats didn't provide much disappointment this week at all. This is a good thing, as always.
But rather than just punt and not hand out a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award at all, we're going to give it to whomever decided on the color scheme for President Obama's new presidential bus.
This vehicle is a new concept. It will assumably join the ranks of Air Force One (the presidential plane), Marine Corps One (the presidential helicopter), and the presidential limousine. Perhaps they'll name it "Greyhound One" or something, I don't know.
All of that aside, the bus has a very imposing black paint job on the outside. I suppose someone thought "well, the limo's black, so I guess the bus should be all black, too" and then acted upon it. Perhaps it was even a Secret Service decision, who knows?
But, guys, doesn't the black bus seem a little... I don't know... intimidating? Wouldn't it be better to go with something like the color scheme on Air Force One (white with blue stripe and nose)? Or maybe just presidential blue?
Republicans, of course, have been having lots of fun complaining about Obama's bus tour through the Midwest. They've complained that the president is playing politics on the taxpayer's dime (probably true, but hey, all presidents do the same thing), that Obama is trying to muscle in on their fun in Iowa last week (also true, but who cares?), and that the bus more closely resembles something Darth Vader would tour the Midwest in than a presidential conveyance (have to admit, they've got a point). More substantially, Republicans complained that Obama wasn't introducing any new policies, and that the economy is terrible. But that wasn't the point of the bus tour, even if Mitt Romney did come up with a clever line -- calling it the "Magical Misery Tour" (which you've got to admire, just on wordsmithing grounds alone).
But those arguments are already fading, as the Republicans pony up their faux outrage over Obama's vacation choice. But if Obama is really going to make use of his new bus to campaign extensively over the next year, one of these complaints is going to get trotted out again and again. Someone in the Obama political organization should realize that it's time to revisit the decision, and repaint the bus in a slightly more photogenic colors.
[Because we aren't even sure whose decision this was, we are unable to provide any contact information. You can always drop the White House a note, however, and tell them "repaint the bus."]
Volume 178 (8/19/11)
The first two of this week's talking points are really a continuation of one from last week. The remaining talking points are all meant to counter the silly season stories fascinating the media currently, including three at the end specifically dealing with Obama's vacationing and how it stacks up historically.
As always, feel free to use these talking points wherever you may, or to suggest your own in the comments. Who knows, I might just use it next week if it's good enough....
Where is my certainty?
Although it is relatively rare, every so often when reading comments to this column, I am impressed enough by someone else's talking point to want to share it with everyone. Last week, I got two excellent comments I'd like to reprint here. [Full disclosure: I never reprint any comments to any article without the permission of the person who wrote it, so there is no need to worry when commenting here if you don't want to see your login name or comment in one of my columns in the future.]
Both comments came in response to Talking Point Number Two from last week's FTP  over at the Huffington Post. The original talking point was meant to point out the hypocrisy of Republicans who spent the first half of the year complaining that the business world is feeling "uncertainty" -- and then interjecting a mammoth amount of uncertainty into the markets during the whole debt ceiling fiasco in Congress.
The first excellent response I got was from "kamachanda," who wrote (slightly edited for punctuation and clarity):
Business needs certainty to invest... I am not a business, where is my certainty? The job market is terrible, anyone can lose their job at any time, my job left with the factory -- and Republicans want to kill extended unemployment? Where is my certainty? No one talks about raising the cap on Social Security but they want to change the numbers and raise the eligibility age. Meanwhile they want to privatize Social Security so brokers can generate fees and collect bonuses... where is my certainty? They killed Medicare-for-all and single-payer, leaving the cost of medical care in the hands of for-profit corporations... where is my certainty? Nothing comes out of the Senate without a veto-proof majority because the GOP wants to destroy President Obama, my government is paralyzed... where is my certainty? Banks can foreclose on houses they don't actually have a mortgage on... where is my certainty? When did it become the business of my government to ensure the profits of corporations? Where is my certainty?
Small business uncertainty
The second excellent comment came as a response to kamachanda's comment. This is from "pr0gressivist," who had a slightly-different take on the issue (again, with minimal editing):
I own a small business, like most Mom-and-Pop businesses. I'll tell you where my uncertainty lies. I'm not certain that my clients will have a job next month, and I'm not certain that they will be able to afford my services. I'm not certain that the media will accurately report the facts in my industry, something that would make my clients choose me over another provider. I'm not certain that the schools will adequately pass critical thinking skills on to my clients, which would enable them to make smart decisions. When those causes of uncertainty are addressed, then I will have business certainty.
Who's afraid of the big, bad town hall now?
Of course it would be interesting to see how a Republican member of Congress reacted to either of those past two, if it were directed at them in a town hall meeting. However, the chances of this happening seem to be dwindling, as Republicans are all but running scared from holding town hall meetings with constituents this particular year. This needs to be forcefully pointed out, whenever possible.
"Republicans have criticized President Obama for making a listening tour through the Midwest recently. Maybe they'd do better to do some actual listening to their own constituents. I notice there seems to be a trend among Republican House members this year of avoiding their constituents at all costs. Paul Ryan won't meet with people in his home district because he's off on vacation -- so he had them arrested instead. Other GOP officeholders are throwing up roadblocks such as entrance fees to their meetings with the public. Rather than boasting about how many town hall meetings they are holding -- as they were doing a few years ago -- Republicans seem to be running scared from their own constituents this summer. For all that talk Republicans spout about 'listening to the American people,' I find it astonishing the lengths some of these Republicans will go to in order to avoid having to hear what their constituents are trying to say to them. What are the Republicans so afraid of hearing?"
Border security is up
This one needs to be deployed to counter the knee-jerk-ism coming from the Right.
"Whenever the issue of immigration comes up, the Republican response to anything Democrats do is always the word 'amnesty.' It's their favorite response, and it doesn't even have to be remotely accurate because it is meant as political red meat to the Republican base. Well, allow me to address that Republican base for a moment. The border with Mexico is more secure now than it has been since Richard Nixon's time in office. Policies begun by George W. Bush and continued and expanded upon by President Barack Obama have changed the border situation dramatically. Credit goes to both for this achievement. While Republicans repeat the same things they said about the border five or ten years ago, they are just factually wrong. The situation has improved, and the border is more secure now than it has been in decades. Perfect border security is impossible without spending massive amounts of money to achieve such perfection, but with what we've spent so far, we have dramatically improved the border situation. But sooner or later, we're going to have to address the problem of people who have already crossed the border with comprehensive immigration reform. Because even if the border were perfectly secure, it wouldn't solve the issue of the millions who are already here."
More vacation this year alone
OK, for the rest of these, I'm just going to start instituting my New Rule for talking about vacations, in typically snarky fashion.
"I'm sorry, did you just say that a Republican House member was complaining about President Obama's vacation? Really? Wow. Well, looking at the congressional calendar, I see that the House of Representatives -- run by Republicans, mind you -- will have taken off more time this year alone than President Obama has taken in his entire presidency, when both return to Washington. Only eight months into the year, and Congress has managed more vacation time than the president has taken in over two-and-a-half years. I have one question -- where exactly did you contact this Republican congressman to get that quote? Was it some exotic vacation locale, paid for by some corporation begging favors? Congress hasn't been in session for weeks, and won't be for another few weeks -- because they're in the midst of their biggest vacation of the year. And they still had the chutzpah to complain that Obama is taking ten days off to spend with his family? Wow... I mean, just... wow."
Bush took three times the vacation Obama has
The Bush number I've seen reported as a range from 180 days to 196 days. Since I don't know the exact correct figure, I'll go with an easier way to put it.
"Maybe comparing President Obama's vacation time with Congress is unfair -- instead let's compare Obama to the last Republican president to occupy the White House. So far, in his term in office, President Obama has taken off 61 days. By this exact point in his presidency, George W. Bush had taken three times the vacation that Obama has so far managed. Three times! For every week Obama's taken off, Bush took off three. By the time he left office, Bush had taken off over 500 days off -- which works out to 40 percent of the time he was supposed to be working. Maybe my memory's faulty, but I don't remember Republicans complaining back then, when Bush was busy setting the record for modern presidents when it comes to vacation time. Or even when he was on vacation while New Orleans drowned. Sounds like very selective (and partisan) outrage, to me."
Ten years after
That really should be "ago," but I've always liked Alvin Lee's band, so there.
"You really want to talk about President Obama going on vacation? Let's go back ten years, shall we? Remember what was happening during the summer of 2001? George W. Bush was spending a month on his ranch. He had received briefings on the Al Qaeda threat to America, and famously told one national security briefer (from his ranch) "OK, you've covered your ass," as he left to go shoot some golf. Throughout his presidency, George W. Bush took every single August off, the same as Congress does. The entire month. No matter what was happening in America, no matter what was going right or wrong with the country -- Bush spent a month golfing and clearing brush. And now Republicans have a problem with a Democratic president taking ten days off? Please. Give me a break."
-- Chris Weigant