Well, that was a pretty stunning week. Lots of other things happened politically, but in truth it was a one-issue type of week, so this is going to be a one-issue type of column.
I must admit being personally stunned at the Obamacare decision -- not so much what it said (stunning enough), but who said it. Before the ruling, I would have given odds on two or three possible permutations: a 5-4 ruling with Kennedy being the swing vote (either way), or quite possibly a 6-3 ruling upholding Obamacare and the mandate, with Roberts joining Kennedy and the liberal wing (likely because Roberts would realize he needed to be on the right side of history on this one). But I don't think I ever even considered the possibility of a 5-4 decision with Roberts as the key swing vote. I don't feel too bad for missing this possibility, because everyone else in the entire media/political/legal universe also missed it.
Which was why it was so stunning. It was as if Lex Luthor suddenly decided that fighting next to Superman for truth, justice, and the American way was truly the right thing to do. Roberts may have prompted this last sentence (I admit) with his comment about where he's heading on vacation (to Malta, which Roberts joked was an "impregnable island fortress")... where maybe he'll seek some solitude, perhaps...?
All kidding aside, though, it certainly has been fun to see the other side spin. As a child's reader might put it: "See GOP spin. Spin, spin, spin! So sad, the spinning."
Was that too snarky? Well, it's been a snarkadelic week for Democrats, so hopefully you'll excuse my excess. Let's just get on with the rest of the column, shall we?
Speaking of snark, we have an Honorable Mention to hand out to Pennsylvania state senator Daylin Leach, for calling Republicans on the carpet for nakedly admitting that their voter ID law was (no surprise) all about winning elections for Republicans. Leach's response: "If you have to stop people voting to win elections, your ideas suck."
As previously mentioned, it's been a snarky week. Another Honorable Mention goes out to Representative Luis Gutierrez for his presentation about Arizona's immigration law on the House floor this week. Gutierrez used the "happy couple" Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez to make a point: "Because I’m not a trained Arizona official, I somehow got that backwards. Actually, Ms. Gomez, of Texas, has helped Mr. Bieber, of Canada, learn all about his adopted country. Justin, when you perform in Phoenix, remember to bring your papers." He then went on to offer up other examples (such as Geraldo Rivera and Ted Koppel), before concluding with: "the point is simple. The idea that any government official can determine who belongs in America and who doesn’t simply by looking at them is completely ridiculous, unfair and un-American." This was a brilliant way to frame the argument, and deserves a round of applause.
But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than President Barack Obama, who gained two major (if partial) victories this week in the Supreme Court, on the Arizona law and on Obamacare. Obama was careful to not appear too football-spikey (or end-zone-dancey, take your pick) in his address after the Obamacare court ruling was announced, but both of these rulings are a clear victory for Obama.
Because of the court's actions, Republicans have been robbed of two lines of attack they were depending on in the upcoming election: "Obama's just wasted his time" while in office, and "the constitutional law professor doesn't understand the Constitution." Neither will be deployed by the right wing echo chamber now, which is a relief.
Instead, perhaps they'll dust off a tactic from fifty years ago, and begin screaming "Impeach John Roberts!" Boy, that'd certainly be amusing, wouldn't it?
See, it's tough this week to avoid snark. Oh, well, nothing to do but drop these little snark-bomblets and move along....
[Congratulate President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
There weren't a whole lot of disappointing Democrats this week, but one group does deserve singling out. Seventeen Democrats in the House voted with Republicans to hold a sitting member of the president's cabinet in contempt of Congress. This is an unprecedented step, but one entirely expected by Republicans trying to gin up some sort of scandal in an election year.
Many Democrats staged a walkout during the vote, in protest. Which reminds me, everyone who walked out certainly deserves an Honorable Mention this week. But perhaps because of a threat by the National Rifle Association to use this vote against House members, 17 Democrats not only stayed for the vote, but voted with the Republicans.
All 17 of them (Politico has a convenient list) deserve this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
[See the list, and if your representative appears on it, use the main House page to find their contact info, so you can let him or her know what you think of his or her actions.]
Volume 216 (6/29/12)
But wait -- there's more!
OK, I admit, I've been waiting to use that line for a very specific reason. Barry Becher has sadly passed away. You may not know his name, but if you are of a certain age, you will certainly remember his face from television, as he was a pioneer in the world of infomercials. Becher was the guy who tried to convince America to buy Ginsu knives.
Since this column is all about framing things in snappy ways, we have to at least salute Becher's family, who are reportedly considering carving "But wait, there's more" into his tombstone. In our humble opinion, this would be the greatest epitaph since Mel Blanc's immortal "That's all, folks!"
Humor aside, this week's talking points are (quite obviously) all on one subject. If Roberts had ruled differently, we'd have a much different group of these, today, but thankfully we can come out swinging instead of in a defensive crouch. President Obama -- and Democrats in general -- have done an abysmal job on selling the concept of Obamacare to the country. This is borne out in poll after poll which shows that millions of Americans just have no idea what is contained in the new law. What we have here, to borrow a movie quote, is a failure to communicate.
Which is why we're here, every Friday, of course. So let's get on with it.
This one is so strong, I had to make it the column's title as well. To give full credit where credit is due, I saw this on a Huffington Post comment on another article, and it struck me with both its brilliance and its simplicity. The best talking points are the simplest one, and for the life of me, I can't see how this could be made any easier to understand while at the same time drawing such a stark contrast with the opposition.
"I am struck in the entire fight over the Affordable Care Act that Republicans may look back and regret one tactical error -- tying the president so closely to the legislation. They've used the term 'Obamacare' so often that now even the president accepts the label. But, years from now, this will only serve to remind people exactly who made their lives better and who was against it. In fact, I'd go even further and suggest a new campaign slogan for the president -- a simple bumpersticker with two words on it: 'Obama Cares.' Obama does care, even if Republicans don't. If I were the president, I'd be proud to run on that slogan."
It took a few hours, but the Republican spin (other than the naked rage directed at John Roberts) finally settled on the argument: "It's a TAX!!! Obama TAXED everyone!!! Run for the hills!!!" Or something like that, it's hard to tell at times. Fortunately, this is nonsense, and quite easy to debunk.
"The Republican argument that this is somehow the biggest tax ever levied on the middle class is nothing but horse manure. Let's look at who will not be paying this tax, shall we? Do you have health insurance, either through your employer or by purchasing it? Then you will not be taxed. Even if you don't have health insurance, are you too poor to afford it? Then you will not be taxed. Do you make so little money that you don't pay federal income taxes? Then you will not be taxed. There -- that takes care of roughly 98 percent of the population. Which leaves two percent of Americans who will have to pay this new tax, because they can indeed afford health insurance, but refuse to buy it. What this tax means is that these folks will no longer be able to continue their free ride -- with the rest of us footing the bill in higher premiums -- without their paying a price for doing so. Republicans are trying to scare everyone into thinking they'll have to pay a new tax, but 98 percent of Americans will be completely exempt from it -- a fact they fail to mention."
Whatever happened to "personal responsibility"?
This is a good GOP talking point to throw back in their face. We've actually got more than one of these here today.
"The Republican Party, as I recall, used to stand for 'personal responsibility' -- which is why the mandate idea originally came from the Heritage Foundation in the first place. Quoting from the document which suggested the idea: 'The requirement to obtain basic insurance would have to be enforced. The easiest way to monitor compliance might be for households to furnish proof of insurance when they file their tax returns.' The Heritage Foundation went on to state that the enforcement would likely be in the form of 'a fine.' See? Republicans used to decry freeloaders who, by their irresponsibility, caused the rest of us to pay higher prices. Again, quoting from the Heritage document: 'Americans with sufficient means would no longer be able to be "free riders" on society by avoiding sensible health insurance expenditures and relying on others to pay for care in an emergency or in retirement.' They came up with the idea of penalizing these so-called 'free riders' in order to incentivize personal responsibility among the citizenry. It's sad to see how low the GOP has sunk -- because now, they're actually defending the freeloaders and championing 'personal irresponsibility.' How times have changed, eh?"
Replace with what?
Another former talking point from the right to fling back in their faces.
"After Obamacare passed, the Republicans made much political hay over their plans to, quote, repeal and replace, unquote, the new law. They've made lots of noise and had many a tantrum over the 'repeal' part of that slogan, but we've heard nary a word about what they would replace it with. You want to repeal ending the pre-existing condition loophole for insurance companies? What would you replace it with? You want to repeal allowing children on their parents' health insurance? What would you replace it with? You want to repeal fixing the donut hole for seniors' prescription drug benefits? What are you going to enact in its place? You want to repeal the rule that forces insurance companies to send rebates out instead of just shoveling more money into CEO pay? So you're for profits over actual health care. You want to repeal free preventative care? Are you sure about that? You want to return to the days where insurance companies could set lifetime caps or just kick you off their coverage if you got sick? And replace it with what, exactly? Nothing? Republicans have had two years now to come up with a plan of their own which accomplishes all this. They haven't. Mitt Romney had a plan, and it's now called Obamacare. Mitt doesn't like to be reminded of this, but he doesn't see to have any new plan that I've heard of. So, to sum up: after two years' time, the Republicans have no plan. That's because they never really meant 'repeal and replace' -- they just meant the repeal part."
But Fox News said...
OK, we can't resist any more, we're just going to turn the rest of the column over to pure snark. This one is handy, say, for a Democratic politician being interviewed on Fox News, whenever a moment of levity is called for...
"Are you sure about that? I heard differently on Fox News -- and aren't they always right? Even CNN agreed with them, from what I remember."
You already blew that argument, didn't you?
Republicans used to have what they considered a dandy argument against the "gummint takeover" of health insurance, but now this argument doesn't hold much water any more -- through their own doing. The argument was, in a nutshell, that the big, bad Democrats were "putting government between the patient and the doctor." Since then, Republicans have done exactly that, in some pretty shocking ways. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley showed every other Democrat exactly how to shoot this argument down, using the weapon of Republicans' own actions, in a recent interview:
The only healthcare mandate they [Republicans] can embrace are transvaginal probes for women.
It's all right, it's all right.
And finally, a catchall phrase to keep handy, when faced with Republican fulminations and tornado-quality spinning, this week.
"Really? You're saying the court decision was a big win for conservatives? That's really what you're going with? Wow. So Napoleon's greatest victory was actually Waterloo, I guess? Hey, as the late, great John Lennon sang: 'Whatever gets you through the night.' "
-- Chris Weigant