"Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's [insert your own "supercommittee" joke here]!"
Sigh. The collusion between Washington types and media types to provide cutesy labels for just about everything has entered a new phase, it seems.
The joint committee on reducing the deficit (I refuse to call it "super" because, well, it's just not) met this week, and immediately proved to just about everyone that the entire exercise is quite likely to produce nothing more than an increase in hot air over the Capitol building.
But maybe I'm being too cynical. Maybe the committee will do something superior. Maybe the sun will rise in the west tomorrow, too, who knows?
Enough of all that -- we'll have plenty of time between now and Thanksgiving to dissect the committee's machinations, so we're going to move quickly on to our own news.
Because today marks the fourth anniversary of this column's appearance. Woo hoo! FTP is four years old, meaning if it were human it would have stopped crapping in its diaper, be walking around under its own power by now, and forming rudimentary independent thoughts. Well, you'll have to be the judge of any parallels on this scale, I suppose. Ahem.
"But Chris," I hear some mathematically- and calendrically-astute readers exclaim, "four years is 208 weeks -- so why is this only Volume 181?" The answer is a simple one: we like to spring these anniversaries as a surprise on everyone, before you'd normally expect them! Well, that's as good an excuse as we could come up with, so it'll have to do.
The real reason is that we're sometimes lazy. Yes, we do take an occasional week off here. In our defense, the column is sometimes pre-empted by more important columns which have to also fall on a Friday (for arcane and obscure reasons), such as our two-part "best of" year-end column at the end of each December. So it is really a mix of pre-emption and downright laziness, if truth be told.
I started writing these columns in the hope that Democrats in Washington would take them to heart. There are simple rules to playing the political game in today's media environment, most of them from the advertising world (easy stuff like: "repeat things over and over again so they sink in"). Some people, early on in this column's life, were offended that I was even suggesting using the tactics of the opposition -- that the tactics themselves were bad, wrong, or even evil. I disagree. Tactics are tactics. They are neutral. It's all in how you use them, and what you use them for. Imagine a company who decided "repeating our phone number three times on a radio ad is a bad thing to do because our competition does it" -- and then imagine them going out of business because nobody called them up and ordered their products. Tactics can be used by Democrats to achieve the same effect for their ideas as Republicans continually manage to do (usually much better than Democrats) for theirs.
Sadly, today's Democrats seem just as much in need of advice on how to frame issues as they did back in 2007, so it's looking like we'll have to be writing these for another four years to come. [Here's the first-ever FTP column, for those who care about such things, and here is the first which really settled in to the current format.]
Oh, well, it certainly gives me something to do at the end of every week. But enough of this self-centered egotistical navel-gazing, let's get on with this week's show. First up, the awards, and then a special talking points section where we suggest a few ads President Obama might want to consider running.
President Obama has certainly been impressive out on the campaign trail in battleground states this week. He's been cheerleader-in-chief for his American Jobs Act, which economists estimate will put almost two million people in this country back to work. More on this in a bit.
But while Obama's been firing up the crowds, it only rises to the level of an Honorable Mention this week, for kicking off his campaign in such an energizing manner.
This week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon. Senator Merkley introduced an excellent new idea to the debate surrounding the supercommittee's work -- call on the Congressional Budget Office to "score" any legislation the supercommittee proposes not just on the federal budget impact, but also on the impact the legislation would have on jobs.
I wrote about this earlier in the week, and the more I think about it, the better this idea sounds. After all, it boils down to simple fairness -- let the American people know the data, and then let them decide whether to support such ideas or not. In fact, the CBO should score all major legislation in this fashion. Want to do some budget-cutting? Fine -- then please let us know how many jobs it will kill.
In fact, I think it's such a good idea that I think Obama should pick it up and run with it. But, again, I'm getting ahead of myself here -- more on that in a bit.
For such a stunningly good and impressively original idea, Senator Merkley is this week's winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Democrats should be falling over one another in the rush to get behind this idea (and if your elected representative isn't, contact them and demand to know why!).
[Congratulate Senator Jeff Merkley on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
Democrats scored a very disappointing loss in New York this week, as a Republican won a special election for a House seat last held by the GOP in the 1920s. Now, this is cause for concern, but not as much as you might think. In the first place, New York state is about to lose a few seats in the House of Representatives (due to reapportionment), and everyone expects the NY-9 district to be one of the ones on the chopping block. So the Republicans will hold the seat until next year, when it will then disappear.
The second reason this may not be the catastrophe some are painting it as is that special elections aren't usually a very good barometer of nationwide trends. The Democrats, you will remember, won quite a number of very tough special elections -- right before they were routed in 2010 (including one in New York which had been in Republican hands since the Civil War). All of those special election wins didn't change anything much for the 2010 election, however.
Thirdly, the special election was to replace a Democrat who was forced to resign in disgrace after sending photos of his genitals out into the ether. Anthony Weiner's downfall may have contributed to the voters giving the other team a chance (in much the same way as Democrats captured Mark Foley's seat after his disgrace).
But whatever the reason, and whatever the spin, David Weprin's loss this week was a big disappointment. Which makes him, by default, the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[We are not going to provide any public contact information for Democratic candidate David Weprin. Contacting him now would just be rubbing salt in his wounds, and that would be unseemly, wouldn't it?]
Volume 181 (9/16/11)
Since it's our anniversary, and we opened the champagne a wee bit early, we're going to provide a special edition of the talking points today. Rather than our seven discrete (but never discreet) talking points, today we were hit with a brainstorm (or, perhaps, a champagne cork -- it's hard to tell).
Since the president is not facing a primary challenger, and since the president has raised a whopping big pile of money already, and (most importantly) since the president has rediscovered the joys of speaking directly to the American people about his agenda -- why not buy some political ads, now?
OK, you can be forgiven for thinking me crazy (or tipsy) for proposing such a radical idea, but hear me out, if you will, Dear Reader. Obama should run a few ads right now which do not even mention the election. He's got the money to do so, and he can follow all the election ad rules and pay for them out of his campaign funds, so the whole thing is nice and legal (if rather unorthodox or even unprecedented). Instead of saying "vote for me!" these ads should say "pass my jobs bill" in as many creative ways as possible.
Obama discovered the power of the Bully Pulpit during the debt ceiling debate, and he could leverage this is a big way right now in the jobs debate. So far, he is doing his best to do so, in the traditional manner of speaking to friendly crowds in battleground states. But he shouldn't stop there -- Obama should boldly roll out a few television ads that call on Americans to demand that Congress act now on his jobs bill.
Obama is already setting himself up to "run against Congress" or even the Trumanesque "run against a do-nothing Congress." This is the campaign the White House is looking for, because Congress' poll numbers are much worse than Obama's. Positioning the president against Republican intransigence in Congress would be enormously helped by running ads right now demanding the public weigh in on this debate. This would keep the pressure on them, in a big way. Absent this pressure, Obama's jobs bill may just linger on the vine with no action whatsoever. With the pressure, Congress may actually wake up and do something. It's not only Obama who will have to face the voters next year, after all.
It'd cost the president's re-election campaign some money, but not all that much. Run these ads on national broadcast television (or, at the least, on cable), and all the news organizations would pick them up and run them as a "news story" -- gaining far wider attention than the cost of running the ad. Even these costs would be easy to bear, as Obama's campaign has a pile of money right now that they're hoarding for next year.
Anyway, here are my three ideas for political ads which would do President Obama a world of good right now. It would be a bold move on the political stage -- using campaign funds to speak to the American people about an agenda item, and not the election itself. It would raise the level of attention the president is getting on his jobs plan. In fact, I just can't see any downside to running a few of these in the next few weeks.
You must match my jobs numbers
Republicans, predictably, howled when Obama introduced his jobs plan. The complaint they settled on was the laughable claim that Obama was taking a "my way or the highway" approach to legislation. Perhaps they felt it was a violation of their copyright on the idea, since this has been the main Republican political position for years and years now.
Obama has been pointing this out, but he needs to do so while at the same time drawing an important line in the sand. Picture this ad beginning with still images of out-of-work Americans, perhaps in jobs fair lines. The scene morphs into a shot of the Capitol dome at night, looming ominously. Show a headline trumpeting the 1.9 million jobs figure, and then fade to a shot of Obama speaking directly to the camera (for the last few sentences), with just about any neutral background. The entire ad text (for all these ad ideas) is spoken by President Obama himself.
Too many of our fellow Americans are out of work. The public thinks unemployment and the economy should be the number one priority of Washington right now, and I fully agree with them. We've got to take action to get people back to work, and we've got to do it immediately.
I have sent my plan to create jobs over to Congress. The American Jobs Act is predicted to create almost two million jobs. Congress needs to pass this bill as soon as possible, or add their own ideas for job creation. I'm open to anyone's ideas for creating jobs, because it is so important to every American right now.
But these ideas need to be just as good, when it comes to creating jobs. Congress needs to propose legislation that creates at least the 1.9 million jobs the American Jobs Act would create -- if not more. Any ideas are welcome, but at the end of the day the bottom line needs to be the same, in terms of jobs created. We can work together to create almost two million jobs. We must do so, and we must do so now.
I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this message.
Pick up the phone -- "We can't wait!"
After running the first ad for a week or so, change it to the following call to action. This one sharpens the divide between Obama and the glacial pace of Congress -- something the American public is already annoyed at.
This worked amazingly well for Obama during the debt ceiling debate. When he urged Americans to contact Congress, they responded in droves. They overwhelmed the switchboards and the web servers on Capitol Hill the next day. Elected officials take note of this sort of thing, because each of those calls and emails is from a voter.
This ad should start out with a still shot of Obama waving the American Jobs Act in front of an audience earlier this week. Morph to another ominous (and dark) shot of the Capitol. Add another headline on the 1.9 million jobs figure as an overlay. Close with a shot of a depressed-looking American job seeker watching television, and then dialing a phone. End with white lettering on a black screen: "You can make them act." Fade this to "We can't wait any longer" at the very end.
I'd like America to know that Congress has a plan on its desk right now to create almost two million jobs. The American Jobs Act is ready to go -- all it takes is for Congress to act on it. I think this proposal deserves an up-or-down vote in both chambers of Congress. I think the American people send their representatives in Washington so that they can cast votes on solving important problems, rather than spending all their time figuring out new creative ways to slow things down.
We could begin creating almost two million new American jobs within a week or so. That's really all the time it would take to pass this bill through the House and Senate and get it on my desk to sign into law. America is sick of waiting for Congress to act to make the unemployment situation better. At the very least, Congress should be able to act by Thanksgiving.
I'm urging each and every American who wants to see almost two million new jobs created to pick up the phone and call their congressman and their senators and demand action on the American Jobs Act by Thanksgiving. Do it today. Hold their feet to the fire. Call on them to act, and to act now! Tell them directly: "We can't wait any longer!"
I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message.
Tell the people the truth
As I said before, President Obama should get behind Senator Merkley's idea, and give it a big presidential push. This ad should be run last, after the second ad produces the desired result of overloading the phones up on Capitol Hill again. Just when the phone calls start tapering off, give the people a brand new reason to call once again.
Open with a still shot of an accountant in a green eyeshade, bent over a desk, working hard. Then begin a slideshow of quick shots of happy Americans working at all types of job -- construction, police officers, firefighters, teachers, white collar workers, etc. Cut to the same shot of Obama waving the printed American Jobs Act in front of a crowd, and the same headline shot of "1.9 million jobs." Cut to a live shot of Obama, picking up a telephone and holding it out to the viewer. End with white text on black: "Tell the American people the truth about jobs."
The Congressional Budget Office is the scorekeeper for bills making their way through Congress. The CBO lets everyone know, in a non-partisan way, the impact any bill will have on the federal budget. But the CBO also can score the same bills on their impact on unemployment and jobs.
Senator Jeff Merkley has proposed that important legislation being considered right now in Congress be scored in this fashion. Every big bill should have numbers not just for how much money it will raise or cost, but also for how many jobs it would create or end.
I agree with Senator Merkley. I am calling on Democrats and Republicans alike to support this idea. Large bills should be scored so we can see if they will create jobs, or kill jobs. I am requesting that the CBO score my American Jobs Act in this fashion, to see if private economists who have predicted it will create 1.9 million new jobs are right or not. I think all major legislation should be graded on the jobs scale in this way. We need to tell the American people the truth about the effect on jobs these ideas really have. Why would anyone be against telling the people the truth?
If you agree with me, pick up the phone and let your representatives in Washington know how you feel. Score all bills on jobs! Let's see whose ideas are better for the economy, before they are voted on!
I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this message.
-- Chris Weigant