If you've been hiding under a rock somewhere all week, you may have missed the fact that an anniversary just happened. One year ago this past Wednesday, special operations forces killed America's "Enemy Number One," Osama Bin Laden. When it happened, it was a time for some sober reflection -- and some unsober and spontaneous celebration on the streets. Whether such was a good thing or not, it is what happened.
This week, we marked the milestone in two notable ways. The first was President Obama's campaign team releasing a political ad which suggested Mitt Romney wouldn't have made the same decision Obama did. The second was (shudder) Brian Williams being invited to the White House Situation Room in order to fill our television screens with schmaltz.
I have to admit, I have not yet seen the hour of BriWi (as I like to call him) doing his thing. I did tape it, so I may have the stomach to watch it later, but after approximately 15 seconds of retch-inducing self-congratulation by Williams, I had to leave the room. This sounds like an exaggeration or hyperbole, but sadly, it is not.
I knew what to expect, because I did sit through BriWi's one-year anniversary show on Hurricane Katrina, which was (at least in my book) the absolute worst broadcast television news show in all of recorded history. The highlight (or "lowlight") was Williams being driven around New Orleans, clutching a crate of cans of beans, which he helpfully told us he had brought along with him -- in case he had to use them to bargain for his very life with the crazed rioters.
You simply cannot make this stuff up. It was like watching Geraldo, but with a more Midwestern accent. On one level, this gives us an equation that is quite useful to refer to, whenever attempting to watch NBC news shows: Brian Williams' life is equal to a small hill of beans. As I said, you just can't make stuff like this up.
I will probably go back and watch the interviews BriWi did (in what I just know he's going to refer to as "the Sit Room"), but only because it'll be very easy to fast-forward every time he opens his mouth. I am indeed interested in hearing what people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had to say about that day, if I can avoid BriWi pretending he is some sort of journalist. Thank all that is holy for fast-forwarding, to put it another way.
Which brings us to the president himself. His campaign attack ad on the Bin Laden killing certainly got some attention this week. Pundits from all sides roundly criticized Obama for using the Bin Laden killing in partisan politics. I must admit, when I first saw the ad, I got a bit of a sinking feeling myself, kind of a "did he really just go there?" moment.
Well, yes... yes, he did. And, upon reflecting on it for a week, I'm taking a "wait and see" attitude on the subject. Yes, this is a cop-out (one that I rarely take), but there it is.
Allow me to explain. Pretty much ever since Barack Obama got into the Oval Office, commentators from the Left have been suggesting, begging, admonishing, and yelling from the rooftops that Obama needed to show some political fight. Throughout the long tenure of Rahm Emanuel, we all (I definitely include myself in this bunch) screamed at the White House until we were hoarse that Obama needed to stand up for himself, for his party, and for his goals.
Yet many of those same voices were horrified at the Bin Laden ad. Now, not everyone was clutching at their metaphorical handkerchiefs -- Bob Cesca wrote a wonderful article supporting the ad, which ends with "more like that, please." But after hearing some very prominent Democratic voices express disappointment with Obama over the ad, I was left with the feeling that Obama must be thinking "damned if I do, damned if I don't" about such voices. Maybe I'm finally feeling Rahm Emanuel's pain or something (now there's a scary thought).
In the last truly bold move Obama made -- the last fight he picked, politically -- I was one of those handkerchief-clutchers swooning over the possible negative ramifications of taking on the Catholic Church over the issue of birth control. I was wrong. Massively, completely wrong. Instead of boomeranging, the entire thing has become one of the strongest campaign issues of the election season: fighting against the Republican "War on Women."
Which is why, this time, I am more cautious. I am going to wait and see on this. It is so strange for a Democratic president to even be in this situation -- where he can attack Republicans from a position of strength on one of their traditional strong points, national security. Usually, Democrats fight a defensive rhetorical battle on this issue, except when they go into full retreat and flee the field. This time, it's the Democrat out in front, and it's the Republicans who are on the defensive. So we'll have to wait and see how it all turns out, because recent history is no guide at all.
Is the ad itself "fair game" or not? That's a tough call, because it can lead right into Democrats insisting on Marquess of Queensbury rules while in a fight with a guy with two knives and a set of brass knuckles. That's what recent history has shown us, again and again. When Democrats take this particular high road, they often get creamed by their opponents.
Maybe it's just psychic numbness, after watching an entire decade of Republican ads on the subject of September 11th. I did get a laugh out of Rudy Giuliani solemnly advising President Obama to avoid such political attacks, because it was just so damn ludicrous. This is the man famously described, when he was running for the job Obama now holds, as being nothing more than "a noun, a verb, and 9/11" -- and now he's got the gall to be some sort of hall monitor on what is politically acceptable in America? Puh-lease.
Barack Obama is stronger on foreign policy and national security than any Democratic president since the 1960s. We're going to see a different sort of campaign, because of that. It will be interesting to watch, because it will be such a novel occurrence. While I do admit I was somewhat shocked to see Obama's ad last week, I wonder now what watching this tectonic shift is going to be like for the next few months. Obama seems to be planning on running the campaign that John Kerry really should have attempted (instead of getting "swiftboated"). Obama (to use the metaphor from one year ago) not only just "spiked the football," he then did a dance in the end zone, picked up the ball again, signed it with a Sharpie, and handed it to a kid in the stands.
We'll have to wait and see how it all turns out. But for those who have been telling Obama to get up off the mat and fight for three solid years now, my only advice is to take a deep breath and sit back -- because it's now too late to "be careful what you ask for."
President Obama's campaign has been rather fascinating to watch for the past month or so. Agree with their tactics or not, you've got to admire the strategy, because on issue after issue, the Obama camp is playing offense, and forcing the Republicans into a defensive crouch. This bodes well for the rest of the year. It's hard to remember after over three years of President Obama, but Candidate Obama was pretty impressive back in 2008, so we're looking forward to the 2012 campaign truly getting into gear.
This week, though, we're going to award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for a statement she released, which began:
Access to medicinal marijuana for individuals who are ill or enduring difficult and painful therapies is both a medical and a states' rights issue. Sixteen states, including our home state of California, and the District of Columbia have adopted medicinal marijuana laws -- most by a vote of the people.
I have strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medicinal marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California, and undermine a policy that has been in place under which the federal government did not pursue individuals whose actions complied with state laws providing for medicinal marijuana.
Maybe it's just that I wrote about this issue earlier in the week, but I was impressed that Pelosi had such strong words on the subject of medical marijuana, and the continuing crackdown by the Justice Department. Maybe she's been reading my columns, who knows?
Pelosi is from one of the most liberal districts in the country (San Francisco), so she can show leadership on this issue and it will actually help her at the polls, not hurt her. For showing such leadership, she has earned the MIDOTW this week.
[Congratulate House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on her House contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
Occupy Wall Street held a May Day protest, but it kind of fizzled in the mainstream media, which was disappointing (but not entirely unexpected).
John Edwards is trying to defend the indefensible, which is always disappointing to see.
In other legal news, a D.C. council member was sentenced to over three years in federal prison for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars that should have gone to youth programs, which surely earns Harry Thomas a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, at the very least. They should force him to work on the same programs he stole from, as a fitting punishment.
But our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week comes from a story which -- by intent -- flew under most people's radar this week. The Department of Health and Human Services very quietly gave its nod of approval to an "abstinence-only" program of sexual education for schoolchildren. The details are pretty grim (Salon, thankfully, covered the story).
This is extremely disappointing. The Obama administration is supposed to have changed to a "science-based" approach to all sorts of government issues like this (and like medical marijuana), but has fallen far short of that lofty goal.
So our MDDOTW this week goes to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, for continuing to use government dollars in such a disgraceful fashion, due (one assumes) to outright political cowardice.
[Contact Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the H.H.S. contact page, to let them know what you think of this action, or (since their contact page leaves a bit to be desired) just go ahead and let the White House know your thoughts on the matter.]
Volume 209 (5/4/12)
While a lot was happening around the edges this past week, we're going to mostly ignore it all and concentrate on Obama's campaign messaging. The general election is underway, and the Obama folks are busy crafting the language he's going to use to run on. They've already rocked the Republicans back on their heels with the whole "War on Women" issue -- which needs to be continually brought up, just to make Republicans squirm and dig the hole deeper on their "We're not waging a 'war on women,' we're just legislatively trying to make every woman's life miserable" stance (which I have to admit, is downright hilarious to watch).
This is only the start of the campaign season. I say this in my own defense, because these messages are going to get better and sharper as time goes on, and as the national media focus on one particular political obsession after another. So the list of talking points today is a wee bit generic, but that will get better over time.
The first five of this week's snippets are suggestions for Obama's team, and the last two are there, just because.
As a foreword (OK, I just couldn't resist that one), we take a look at the one-word campaign slogan the Obama team just rolled out. Now, following up "Hope" (and "Change") was always going to be a difficult task, politically. But "Forward" isn't bad, I have to admit. It conveys exactly the right tone: we're making progress, don't change horses midstream, and let's not go backwards (where Romney would take us). I'd give it about a seven out of ten, just for sheer versatility.
"Barack Obama has taken us forward from a very dire situation, and we are making progress as a country. This progress hasn't happened fast enough, but it would be crazy to turn around and head backward to the policies which caused the mess in the first place. We've got to go forward for the next four years, and not back to the Bush era. Continue the progress we are making, and look forward to the future with Barack Obama."
Osama Bin Laden is dead
This one's a two-parter, and Joe Biden has so far been doing a great job of getting it into the news. The next two talking points really do comprise the best bumpersticker for the Obama campaign I've heard yet.
"Osama Bin Laden is dead. President Obama has done more to successfully defeat Al Qaeda in three years than was done in the previous eight. Obama promised us he would not take his eye off the ball, and he would not back away from making the tough decisions, and that is exactly what he has done. Obama has gotten us out of Iraq, and he is getting us out of Afghanistan. And he got Osama Bin Laden as well."
GM is alive
This one is going to be the key to winning the crucial swing state of Ohio for the Obama campaign.
"Today, General Motors is alive and well. Instead of letting Detroit die -- as well as the millions of jobs which support the auto industry in other places -- Barack Obama rescued this important pillar of the American economy. Republicans were against the idea -- they sneered at it as a 'bailout.' The most astonishing thing is the cluelessness of Mitt Romney, who at the time advised that Washington just let two out of the Big Three automakers go into bankruptcy with no help -- when the credit markets were frozen solid. Romney has never explained where, exactly, the money would have come from to save Detroit if not from the federal government, which is downright astonishing because he's running on his supposed credentials of knowing how the private market works. If Detroit had followed Romney's advice, millions of jobs would have been lost -- forever. Instead, the leadership of President Obama has saved Detroit, and built an even-stronger auto industry than existed before the crisis hit. Who are you going to vote for? The man who wanted Detroit to die, or the man who saved GM? Obama bet on American manufacturing know-how, while Romney would have sold it off as scrap, and sold out the American worker."
Unemployment getting better
This one is a tough sell, today, I realize. But the attempt must be made.
"Today's unemployment figures were a disappointment, but at least progress is being made on bringing the unemployment rate down. While 8.1 isn't good enough, it is a lot better than 9.1 or even 10 -- where it was a few years ago. We're heading in the right direction, and we would be getting there a lot faster if Republicans weren't blocking every jobs bill possible in Congress. Mitt Romney says he knows how to create jobs, but his record in Massachusetts says otherwise. Barack Obama has been steadily getting unemployment down and people back to work. We need to move forward on this front, and not backward to the times when we were losing 750,000 jobs per month."
Gas prices coming down
This one is risky, because the prices always jump up for the "summer driving season," but the connection must be made now in people's minds.
"A few months ago, there was a large hue and cry to just go ahead and bomb Iran, from some very hawkish politicians. Due to this loose war talk, the price of gas went through the roof. Now that diplomacy is working and the war drums have died down a bit, the price of gas is beginning to come back down as well. There is a direct relationship between these two things. If Mitt Romney becomes president and the Republicans push him into a war with Iran, what price do you think we'll all be paying at the gas pump? That's a choice voters are going to have to think very hard about, come November."
Get back to work!
Finally -- finally! -- an actual member of the mainstream media wrote the column I've been begging them to write for years, now. It's about freakin' time.
"I would like to direct attention to the recent column by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, which pointed out that the Republicans in the House scheduled only 41 working days out of a possible 127 this year. To be fair, Democrats aren't much better. I think it's high time the people of this country got their money's worth out of congressional salaries. This is an outright disgrace. As Milbank put it: To call this 112th Congress a do-nothing Congress would be an insult -- to the real Do-Nothing Congress of 1947-48."
Indiana tea, anyone?
OK, this one is just pure snark, I fully admit. Which is why I saved it for last. You're welcome.
"I see that the Tea Partiers in Indiana are about to 'primary' a long-term Republican senator -- and by doing so, put the seat at risk for their party. Isn't it about time to get Christine O'Donnell on the airwaves to comment on this? I really think she'd be the best personification of what a brilliant political move this is for the Republican Party, don't you?"
-- Chris Weigant