Before his second term has even begun, are we seeing "Obama 2.0" in action? This is the question swirling around right now in the inside-the-Beltway punditocracy, and it's a refreshing one to contemplate: has President Barack Obama finally learned his lesson that his old method of legislative negotiation simply was not working? Has he, to put it another way, grown some backbone?
We'll see, we'll see. But so far, the signs certainly do seem to be positive. Obama, immediately after the election, proposed a fiscal-cliff-avoidance plan to the Republicans. They ignored it. For the past two weeks, negotiations have been taking place between Boehner and Obama (and all the other minor players). Tim Geithner went to Capitol Hill with a plan yesterday. To the utter astonishment of the Republicans, it was essentially the same plan originally proposed -- even with a few more "poison pill" additions.
Obama, as the chattering classes will tell you, is "done negotiating with himself." That's a pretty good phrase, because it accurately describes how these negotiations have taken place over Obama's first term. This time, the White House seems to be saying, that isn't going to happen.
The Republicans then made a tactical mistake. They leaked the president's plan to the media. Meaning they've now made the entire bargaining process public. But what is glaringly obvious to all but the most partisan of the public is that there is now a Democratic plan, and... nothing... from the Republicans. The Republicans just shot themselves in the foot, to put it as politely as possible. Now they've got to come up with a proposal, which (by definition, almost) is going to be more harsh than the Democratic proposal. If they fail to come up with anything, they're going to lose this battle for public opinion, and if they propose radical budget-cutting to favored programs they're equally going to pay a political price.
Meanwhile, Obama is playing this game like a virtuoso. Finally we see the "multidimensional chess master" spoken about, of yore. Where's Obama today? Off on the bully pulpit circuit, speaking at a factory that actually still makes toys in America. Pretty good optics, right there. 'Tis the season, and all.
Obama's already issued a veto threat in the negotiations -- tax rates on the wealthy will go up or he's not signing the bill. By doing so, Obama is reminding Republicans that if we go over the fiscal cliff, they will automatically go up anyway. Obama has all the leverage on this one. And he certainly looks willing to use it, at this point.
Also refreshing is the fact that Obama's opening bid was so outrageous (at least as Republicans see things). He's asking for twice the tax hikes Boehner was ready to accept in the Grand Bargain a year and a half ago, he's asking for stimulus money, and he's asking for Congress to give up its power and all its leverage over the "debt ceiling," forever. That's pretty astonishingly optimistic, right there.
Now, the Left knows Obama's not going to get everything he's asking for. But that's the whole point of negotiations -- you aim for the moon and the stars, and let the other guy talk you down a bit. Obama seems to finally have learned how to play this game effectively.
Some might scoff. "We've been here before and Obama caved," they will indeed scoff. They may wind up being right. But I have to say I'm more optimistic this time around. Obama has all the leverage here, and can come out and say at any time "if Congress refuses to act, everyone's paycheck is going to get smaller starting in January." That'll get the public's attention.
So while that "Obama 2.0" headline might be proven wrong quite quickly, hopefully it won't. Hopefully this time around we're seeing a different "Negotiator In Chief." Part of the shock this may cause is due to the fact that Obama really hasn't had such a "death match" legislative struggle since the Grand Bargain failed. And that was a year and a half ago -- time enough for Obama to have changed his style dramatically.
Speaking of shocks, this one is a big one (at least for us). I'd advise sitting down, and not taking a big drink of any beverage before you read the next sentence (to avoid doing what actors call a "spit take").
Our first winner for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than Senator Joe Lieberman.
Now, one of the joys of this election season was knowing that no matter how badly things turned out on election day (President Romney, a Republican Senate, etc.), there would be one shining silver lining to it all: we would all get to watch the door hit the nether regions of Lieberman on his way out of the Senate in January. After the last decade or so of ol' Joe, this would have been satisfying indeed. We even assumed we'd be handing him a few Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards, on his way out.
Instead, we've got to hand it to Joe, he showed some integrity this week in standing up for Susan Rice. Rice, who will quite possibly be the nominee for Secretary of State, held several closed-door meetings with senators last week, to answer their questions on Benghazi. Every single Republican came out of these meetings ranting and raving, but Lieberman stepped up to the microphones and pronounced himself completely satisfied with what she had to say on the matter.
Now, normally, this could be written off as just a partisan protecting his party's president. Not with Lieberman, however. Lieberman has never been reluctant to criticize the foreign policy of Democrats, in fact he seems to actually enjoy doing so. On national security matters, he is "hawkier" (so to speak) than many Republicans. This is the man John McCain reportedly seriously considered as a running mate, remember.
So his voice was weighty and important, in the whole Benghazi "there's got to be a scandal here somewhere, dammit!" frenzy from the Republicans. For him to speak out in defense of Rice was meaningful, and for doing so he earns one of the MIDOTW awards this week. And yes, we're as surprised as anyone at this turn of events.
We do have a second MIDOTW award this week, for a state senator from Ohio named Nina Turner, but we're going to explain why in our final talking point, so that's all we'll say about it for now.
Being the "first" at anything for an entire group of people is always tough. Ask a woman or a minority -- when you're the "first (fill in the blank) to ever (fill in the achievement)," you have to be twice as good as the average just to get there. That includes being twice as squeaky-clean, though.
Our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is, sadly, the first transgender state representative elected in New Hampshire, Stacie Laughton. That's a big achievement. But her failings have nothing to do with her historic achievement. They are more mundane than that. She fell prey to a disease which affects a lot of politicians, no matter what their gender identity -- she thought her criminal past wasn't worth sharing with the voters before the election.
Laughton has been convicted or admits to the following: credit card fraud, tire-slashing, falsifying physical evidence, and faking an illness to ride in an ambulance. She served time for the fraud and evidence-tampering charges. And she forgot to mention any of it during her campaign.
This is beyond disappointing, it is downright disgraceful. And it has nothing to do with her gender identity -- it has to do with her being a convicted crook. After waffling over the decision for few days, she has today turned in her resignation.
While this was the right thing to do, it will not stop us from awarding her the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, since she has done more than enough to earn it.
[Since Stacie Laughton has resigned, she is now a private citizen, and we do not provide contact info for such as a rule here.]
Volume 236 (11/30/12)
Before we begin, we have to share a hilarious headline from a blog on the Washington Post. This would have been funnier a few weeks ago, of course, but you've still got to hand it to whomever wrote the headline "Obama Has Romney For Lunch." Well done, Sir or Madam, well done indeed!
After taking a week off last week for Turkey Weekend, we can see that it's time once again to offer up suggested talking points for Democrats to use in the coming days. Everyone from an interviewee on a Sunday morning political show to a guy or gal discussing politics around a water cooler can join in, as always.
It's going to be a fun week for talking points, because the Republicans are so freaked out about Obama's newfound bargaining toughness. Of course, if talking points aren't your thing, then you can always read about ways to cut the federal budget without slashing the safety net -- but we're feeling feisty this week, so let's get started, shall we?
Where's your plan?
This is really the only talking point necessary this week. It is that powerful an argument. This should be on the lips of every Democrat interviewed this weekend, and should be repeated until the Republicans cry "Uncle!" This would best be used by a Democrat sitting next to a Republican, for the exit line to have the most punch, of course.
"Democrats have put forward a proposal. Republicans have not. We cannot bargain with what doesn't exist. Republicans need to get serious, and the way to get serious in Washington is to present a plan or write a draft of a bill. Once they do so, we can negotiate over the differences between their plan and ours. But our plan is now on the table. Where is the Republican plan? [turn to Republican interviewee next to you] Where's your plan? It's time to put your cards on the table. We have done so. You have not. Where is the Republican plan?"
GOP wanted a public debate
Republicans will sputter, in response to that first talking point. So helpfully point out how this situation is one which they created all by themselves. Again, this works best as a response to weaseling by a Republican sitting next to you.
"I'm sorry, but you can't now say that you want to preserve the secrecy of the negotiations. President Obama sent Tim Geithner down with an offer. Republicans immediately leaked this offer to the press. You guys wanted to have this fight in public -- because you're the ones who put it before the public. Well, fair enough. We stand by the Obama offer. That's our plan. Where's yours? Since you want the public to see how the negotiations stand, then you've put the ball in your own court. You can't expect anyone to now buy that these negotiations need to be kept secret. So where's your plan? Let the public know what your position is!"
'Tis the season!
There are almost an unlimited amount of metaphors and allusions and even clichés to be used, at this time of year. Obama has already started this ball rolling. The possibilities are endless.
"Republicans are defending to the end their tax cuts for millionaires. If they don't get their way, they're going to give every American taxpayer a big old lump of coal for the holidays this year. The president is right, the American public is going to see very soon now who is naughty in Washington and who is nice. Having a tantrum over tax cuts for the top two percent of earners in this country should not give you the right to elect yourself Grinch for the other ninety-eight percent's paychecks. We're on Bob Cratchit's side of this fight, and Republicans are fighting to the death for yet another tax cut for Mr. Scrooge."
Holding middle class tax cuts hostage
Obama is also using this line to great effect.
"President Obama is calling on Republicans to not hold middle class tax cuts hostage to tax cuts for millionaires. I agree -- I don't think tax cuts for ninety-eight percent of America should be used as some sort of political leverage by the Republicans. But then, I'm a Democrat, so you shouldn't take my word for it. Instead, I'd like to now read what a staunchly-conservative Republican -- Representative Tom Cole -- had to say this week on the issue... and I quote: Some people seem to think this is leverage. I think that's wrong. You don't consider people's lives as leverage. I live in a blue-collar neighborhood. I've got a retired master sergeant as my next-door neighbor, police officer across the street. These are working folks, they're great people, and the idea that I would ever use them as leverage is just wrong. Unquote. I fully agree with Representative Cole, and I call on the Speaker of the House to immediately bring the Senate bill which restores the middle class tax cuts so we can all vote on it. Anything less is just holding every middle class taxpayer's paycheck hostage, as even honest Republicans will admit."
Laugh it up, Mitch
This one is pathetically easy. It's a cheap shot, but when someone walks up to you and begs you to take such a cheap shot, it's hard to resist at times.
"I heard Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell actually laughed when he was presented with President Obama's proposal. Have you all got that? McConnell thinks it is funny that everyone's paycheck will be smaller in January if Republicans don't get big tax cuts for the rich. To everyone worried about what their first paycheck of 2013 will have in it, Mitch has just laughed in your face. He calls the president's proposal 'not serious' but he refuses to come up with a proposal of his own. His party is willing to send us over the fiscal cliff if millionaires don't keep their tax cuts, and he thinks anything short of that is downright funny. You'd think someone would take him aside and explain that showing such raw disdain for such a huge portion of the country didn't work out so well for his party in the election, wouldn't you? This is no laughing matter. It's going to affect hundreds of millions of Americans. It's not a joke, Mitch."
In a coma?
Speaking of the election, bring it up whenever you can fit it in. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had the best line of the week, while reiterating Obama's veto threat, so we're just going to use his quote for this talking point:
There can be no deal without rates on top earners going up. This should not be news to anyone on Capitol Hill. It is certainly not news to anyone in America who was not in a coma during the election.
What GOP really stands for
[Note: after this whole article was written comes breaking news on an unrelated story. Republicans figured out that naming all white men to their House committee chair posts was pretty a pretty stupid move, and have now named a woman chair to a minor committee. An unnamed Democratic aide came up with a pretty good slogan (which is why we're mentioning it here), responding that the opposition should be called the "Grand Old Patriarchs." That's pretty good, but we still feel the following is even better.]
And finally, we explain why Nina Turner won her MIDOTW award this week. Turner is in one of those state legislatures infested with Republicans who absolutely insist that the number one priority of their party should be continuing to wage the War On Women. So Turner made a T-shirt to vent her frustration. What she came up with is such an all-around great slogan, we think it ought to become the standard response to any and all such Republican legislative Puritanism. Check out this somewhat-obstructed photo of Turner in her shirt. Our final talking point of the week is Turner's slogan, which clearly earned her the prestigious MIDOTW, for its soundbite nature alone:
"G.O.P. -- Get Out of my Panties!"
-- Chris Weigant