I normally don't do this sort of thing, but today I have to begin this column with a criticism of a single media voice, because the writing was just so offensive. I mean... bad puns? In today's polite society?
The boundaries between politics and show business have become murky ever since Ronald Reagan became president. The lines between the media and politics are equally as blurred. But the line between certain types of comedy and the political/media world should be brighter than ever. This is a lesson Dana Milbank of the Washington Post apparently has yet to learn.
Using ethnic or racial stereotypes as comedy is dangerous ground, even for a professional comedian. Remarks from stand-up comedy have caused outcries in the past few years, leading to (in some cases) ruined careers. Using such stereotypes -- or even outright mockery -- has become all-but-unacceptable for people outside of the ethnic target group.
Those are just the boundaries for comedians. Journalists and politicians -- in the year 2012 -- should realize that whenever the impulse hits to use such imagery or phrases that they should follow one single rule: Don't go there.
Milbank, however, didn't just go there, he then doubled down in an attempt to be funny. You be the judge. Here's the intro to his new article, explaining the flap which occurred after his last article appeared:
When I set out to cover the confirmation of an obscure Hispanic jurist, I had no idea I would spark the Great Tex-Mex Takedown of the 2012 presidential race.
"Line of the day from WAPO's Dana Milbank," President Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina tweeted when the column appeared in the newspaper on Wednesday. " 'The chimichanga? It may be the only thing Republicans have left to offer Latinos.' "
Milbank's original article was a serious look at how the Republican Party is alienating Latinos in America. Most of the article makes a very good point, but it ends with the line Messina quoted, which used the word "chimichanga" from John McCain's recent Senate floor speech to make a snarky point.
However, his response to the fracas is nothing short of cringe-worthy. Here's Milbank, attempting to be funny:
To those demanding my apology, I say: That's nacho place. I flauta your demands. In the chimichanga wars, I will taco no prisoners -- and that's for churro.
The phrases "Holy mole sauce!" and "Not so fajitas" appear later in the article, as well.
The theme of the article is to scoff at phony outrage, or "false umbrage" as Milbank puts it. It contains an extensive list of offenses and apology demands from the political world of the past few years. The point Milbank is attempting to make, though, gets overshadowed by his mockery of his critics, and his doubling down on the whole "Tex-Mex food theme" in puns that even a fourth-grader wouldn't find amusing.
Milbank's first column made a very serious point, and ended with an attempt at snarky humor. Milbank's second column was nothing more than a sophomoric attempt at humor, which (at least for this reader) failed miserably. My guess is that whichever editor gave the green light for the second article is going to hear from a few others who were also not very amused.
OK, enough of my own umbrage at bad puns, let's get on with the meat and potatoes of the column.
The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, was just named chairman of the upcoming Democratic National Convention, which is certainly impressive, but he'll have to wait for an award until after we see how the convention is run.
President Barack Obama certainly had an impressive week, getting from Congress exactly what he demanded in the State Of The Union message -- a payroll tax holiday extension for the rest of the year... with "no drama." Speaker of the House John Boehner decided that next week's week-long vacation for Congress was much more important than staging the gigantic battle the Tea Partiers wanted him to wage, and so he caved before the fight even began. By doing so, we just saw how Congress used to work: one side realizes it is on the wrong side of an issue, and quickly retreats because it is holding a very weak political hand.
Republicans were in a lose-lose situation. Either they handed Obama a legislative victory, or they engaged in a "let's shut everything down" fight which would result in everyone's paychecks getting smaller the first of next month.
So they gave Obama his victory, and are assumably now slinking out of the D.C. swamp to jet their way back home or to some sunny locale for some relaxation.
We've got to pass out some Honorable Mentions this week for Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Mike Quigley, for walking out of a hearing on women's birth control held by the Republican House committee chair -- which featured a panel of five men. The walkout was featured heavily in the news reporting, as well as the "no women" aspect. These three Democrats won the game of spin the Republicans were attempting to play, hands down.
But our real Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is the governor of Washington state, Chris Gregoire, for signing a bill which legalizes gay marriage in her state. On the other side of the continent, New Jersey governor Chris Christie vetoed gay marriage. [Aside: What is with all the Chrises in the news this week? Can't say I mind, it's easy for me to type, personally... ahem.]
Gay marriage is an issue which the Democratic Party should fully endorse. This culture war is almost over, and the pro-gay-marriage team is going to win in the end. Republicans like Christie are going to be seen by history as being on the wrong side of the issue. Democrats like Gregoire are going to be the impressive ones, seen later.
Which is why we see her right now as the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Well done, Governor Gregoire!
[Congratulate Washington Governor Chris Gregoire on her official state contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
This one's pretty easy. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, after getting caught in the Milbank article fray, at least had the smarts to try and walk it back a little. His followup tweet when the storm clouds broke: "Tweeting someone else’s words caused a stir, but the GOP is on the wrong side of every Hispanic voter priority."
He tried to reframe the issue back to the original message of the first Milbank article, in other words.
But for sticking his foot in it in the first place, Messina is still our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. Campaign managers aren't supposed to be a distraction in the news cycle. Messina needs to think twice about snarky tweets, the next time he feels the urge to quote someone in such a fashion.
[Contact Jim Messina via (naturally) his Twitter account, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 198 (2/17/12)
OK, onwards and upwards to the talking points. Two weeks from today, we will roll over the odometer here at this column, with our 200th offering. I'm not sure how we'll mark this occasion, so any suggestions are appreciated in the comments.
For now, here's a grab bag of talking points all Democrats (especially those interviewed on national television) can use in the upcoming week. Enjoy!
GOP doesn't count
What is it with these caucus states? In most primary elections, the job of counting the votes falls on the state elected official who runs the general election. In caucus states, the party itself counts the votes. That's the theory, in any case...
"I see that the Republican Party of Maine apparently is having problems counting. Their caucus only drew one-half of one percent of the people -- less than 6,000 votes -- and the Maine GOP couldn't even count that high. This is after Iowa attempted a recount, and announced that they could not come up with an accurate number since they had lost a few counties' votes. That's two states out of only nine which have voted so far. Maybe the Republican slogan this year for their primary voters should be: Vote GOP, where your vote doesn't count!"
This one was just hilarious. John Boehner made a statement upon completion of the tax cut bill. The Huffington Post reported on it, and found one part of it amusing. I found a separate part amusing, myself.
"Did you hear the spin from John Boehner this week, on the payroll tax bill he agreed to? He said, and I quote:
Last fall, I said that the only reason we're even talking about a payroll tax break or an extension of unemployment benefits is because the president's economic policies have failed. I still believe that to be the case today. The agreement that's been reached to stop a tax hike on middle class Americans is a fair agreement and one that I support.
So, let's get this straight. The Speaker says Obama's economic policies have failed, while at the same time he is offering his support for an Obama economic policy. Somebody better stop the Speaker's spinning, because I think he's getting dizzy."
This one is just too easy.
"I see a prominent backer of Rick Santorum just said that the answer to women's health needs was for them to hold an aspirin between their legs. Wow. That's just... wow. Somebody needs to send the Republicans a calendar, because I don't think they're aware of what decade it is. I mean... aspirin? Really?"
There's a wider picture that Democrats really need to be drawing right now. Nancy Pelosi's doing a pretty good job, but other Democrats need to start framing the issue more bluntly.
"Republicans, back in 2010, told the voters to put them in power and they'd fix all of America's economic problems. Instead, once they got into office, they have launched a full-scale attack on women's rights. Mitt Romney, in a televised debate, was asked about contraception and he responded that he didn't think any states were trying to ban contraception. But that is just what the so-called 'personhood amendments' would do in every state the Republicans have been pushing them -- outlaw certain forms of birth control. This is an attack on women, on women's rights, and on women's health. The Republicans should be more upfront to the voters about their goals, and campaign wearing the red sash of Orwell's 'Junior Anti-Sex League.' At least it'd be more honest."
Remember Terri Schiavo? Rick can't seem to.
Barbara Coombs Lee recently wrote an excellent article which really should be getting some attention, especially by upcoming debate moderators. Because I'd love to see Rick Santorum answer a few more questions about the issue.
"Rick Santorum, like most Republicans, loves to rail against the government interfering in medical decisions -- at least, when Obama is the target. Seven years ago, Santorum was part of the effort to get Congress to federally intervene in the tragic case of Terri Schiavo. News reports at the time had Santorum actively pushing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to take federal action in a private medical decision. I guess the federal government telling patients and their families what to do is OK with Santorum, at least when it is Republicans in the federal government doing so. Someone should ask him about his blatant hypocrisy on the matter."
Just send Congress home
Here's an idea everyone should be able to get behind.
"The consensus in Washington is that now that Congress has passed the payroll tax extension, that absolutely nothing is going to get done for the rest of the year. I've even heard people discussing what Congress will be doing in December, in the lame-duck session. Since we're all agreed that with a Republican House and a Democratic Senate -- in an election year -- nothing whatsoever will get done for the next nine months, why not just send them all home until after the election's over? Of course, we'd have to cut their pay, too. Imagine the budget savings!"
Deploy the FLOTUS
OK, I admit I wrote this one just for that title. Because I can just see someone in the political office of the White House barking out "Deploy the FLOTUS!" to the strategy team.
"Has anyone noticed that the First Lady seems to be everywhere in the past few weeks? She's greeting people on the White House tour, she's on late night television, she seems to be all over the place. I, for one, am glad that Michelle Obama is getting herself out there, because she is the best and biggest supporter her husband has, and she's also the best ambassador the White House has to the American public -- who seem to love her."
-- Chris Weigant