Well, the weather outside is not exactly frightful (it's a nice day where I live), but watching the politics of the week was certainly "so delightful." So many blowhards, so little time! "Let them blow, let them blow, let them blow!"
Ahem. Sorry, just trying to get in the holiday mood and all.
Where to begin? Let's see, Obama's job approval polling is not completely through the roof, but it certainly has scraped the ceiling. The Associated Press just released a new poll that has Obama at 57 percent approval, 41 percent disapproval -- a job approval level the president hasn't seen since Osama Bin Laden's death. Added to today's unemployment rate dropping to the lowest point since Obama has held office, and you've got to believe that the folks in the White House have plenty to celebrate this holiday season.
Adding to the delight is the spectacle of the Republican Party having what seems to be a collective ideological nervous breakdown, which has mostly been gloriously public. I wrote about this in a more serious vein earlier in the week, but it's hard to keep up with events, these days. John Boehner seems to be in a cage match with the Tea Partiers in the House, and Boehner's already won a few rounds by kicking out some committee members who wouldn't support him in the clinch of negotiations. The number of Republicans fleeing the Church of Norquist seems to be growing into a flood, but keep in mind blathering on a cable television show is one thing -- actually voting for compromise on taxes is quite another. So we'll see how that all plays out, in the coming weeks. Over in the Senate, a Tea Party leader decided to take the money and run, and Mitch McConnell actually filibustered himself in public. Aren't there laws against that sort of thing? Heh.
Actually, Harry Reid is showing an incredible amount of backbone on this very subject, vowing that the whole filibuster/cloture process is going to be reformed before the next Congress begins, but the details on which reforms he's going to back aren't fully out yet. In any case, Reid has woken up to the fact that the last time he threatened this -- and then backed down, after McConnell made nicey-nicey noises -- didn't turn out all that well.
Lest we not forget the comedic side of politics, it seems that the gang behind The Simpsons is getting more and more comfortable with short political satire, as they released a hilarious new video of Mr. Burns explaining the fiscal cliff to everyone. You may have to pause it, but the funniest bits in the background are the titles of the books scattered around Mr. Burns' feet (binders of women included), and the Statue of Liberty with a big sign saying: "Immigrants Welcome. Please Use New Jersey."
Also amusing are some of the counterproposals making fun of the secessionist ones at the White House's "ask us anything" page, including a plea that President Obama immediately begin building a Death Star in space, and one to support turning America into the "Megacity One" world of Judge Dredd.
In the "we're not sure if this is comedy or not" category, there's apparently a push for Obama to solve the debt ceiling crisis by minting two coins. No, seriously (we think?). The laws which specify what currency can be created are very strict on how many dollar bills can be printed, and how many coins can be minted from ordinary metals. But apparently there's a loophole for platinum coins, which was likely designed for those "collectible" coins sold on late-night television commercials. The thinking is: have Obama mint two coins out of platinum, both of the denomination of (are you sitting down?) one trillion dollars. Obama then deposits the coins in the Federal Reserve, and somehow (hey, presto!) the debt ceiling gets pushed down the road for the entire two trillion dollars.
Wait... wasn't there a Simpsons episode about a "trillion dollar bill" a while back? As we said, we're not entirely sure this isn't supposed to be a comedy routine, but more on the whole debt ceiling thing in a bit.
We're going to close this intro with two program notes. The first is that this column will have a break at the end of the year, for our two annual 2012 awards columns. The calendar is actually cooperating this time around, so the last two weeks in December will be pre-empted here, just to warn everyone. Lastly, we encourage everyone to show their support for this column over at my website's annual year-end pledge drive (with kittens!). We promise that this will be the only mention of this donation drive in these pages, because we get just as annoyed as everyone else at reading that sort of thing over and over again. Anyway, let's get on with the main parts of our show. Or, in keeping with our theme today: "Start the show, start the show, start the show!"
We had a few candidates for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this time around.
Harry Reid is looking pretty committed to (in some fashion or another) reform the use of the filibuster in the Senate, and Harry had fun with Mitch McConnell this week as well (which we'll get to, below).
President Obama is also looking pretty steely-spined this week as well, teaching the Republicans the lesson "elections have consequences," much to their dismay.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has seemingly gotten the Russians on board with drawing a bright red line in Syria on Assad's possible use of chemical weapons, which is an impressive diplomatic accomplishment.
Elizabeth Warren will likely win a future MIDOTW when she is officially (fingers crossed, everyone) named to the Senate banking committee, where she belongs. Oh, the irony, the banking lobbyists killed her chances at being the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (where she would have equally belonged, since she thought up the bureau in the first place), and now they are fighting hard to keep Warren off the committee which regulates their activities. If there is justice in the universe, Warren will soon be sitting on this committee, but for now we'll just give her (and everyone else named in this section) an Honorable Mention.
Our real Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week, however, is none other than Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner. Not only is Geithner Obama's point man on Capitol Hill for the fiscal cliff negotiations, and not only did Geithner apparently enrage Republicans when he first met and laid out the Obama plan, but Geithner did what is technically called "the full Ginsburg" last Sunday, by appearing on every Sunday morning political chatfest known to mankind, on the same day. Geithner was forceful, he was to the point, he laid down what Obama is going to accept and what he absolutely will not, and he also previewed the consequences of several courses of action for the Republicans.
Now, an argument could be made that Obama deserves this credit himself, and Obama is the one showing the real spinal fortitude in these talks. The case can indeed be made that Obama has finally learned his lesson on how to negotiate. But Geithner is the one out on the front lines of this fight. Geithner is doing something that Obama is famously loath to do -- meet with Congress, and hash things out. So far, Geithner seems to have retained the upper hand in this negotiating process. Which we feel makes him one whale of a lot more impressive than just being an errand boy trotting up to the Hill with instructions from his boss -- which Geithner has proven he is definitely not. Geithner's performance last Sunday only served to raise his profile in the talks even higher.
Which is why we are awarding this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Secretary Tim Geithner. Keep fighting hard, Tim, we're all rooting for your success!
[Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner doesn't have a contact page at the Treasury site, so you'll have to send your congratulations to the White House contact page, to let them know you appreciate his efforts.]
We're not quite sure who in the Obama administration deserves this one, so we're just going to hand it to Obama for the time being. Today, the White House press secretary announced that Obama had taken the "Fourteenth Amendment option" off the table in the next upcoming fiscal cliff -- the raising of the debt ceiling. Maybe he's reviewing designs for trillion-dollar coins, who knows?
But, again, this is basic Negotiating Skills 101. You don't show your hand early. President Obama was masterfully freaking Republicans out last week, stating to a bunch of CEOs that he's not going to let Republicans hold the debt ceiling (and the American economy) hostage again, next year. As he put it, "I will not play that game." That's a forceful statement, especially when you consider that Republicans are going to be the ones with the deadline leverage, and not Obama. By stating he's not going to play, Obama left the Republicans wondering what he's got up his sleeve. The Fourteenth Amendment option was one possibility for causing Republicans to lose sleep at night for the next two months or so. By disavowing the option, however, Obama has reduced his arsenal by one potent weapon. If the Obama administration spokesmen had just played coy, Obama could have used the leverage in the upcoming fight. So for whomever decided to publicly throw in the towel on this tactic this week, we have a (Dis-)Honorable Mention. Now we're just left with multi-trillion-dollar pocket change to contemplate.
There are also troubling signs that Obama's Justice Department is considering a crackdown on Washington and Colorado's experiment with legalizing marijuana. The Obama administration has not said, since the election, how exactly they're going to respond. Pro-marijuana advocates have taken this as a positive sign, but this may not turn out to be correct. Since it's just rumors, really, we aren't even going to hand out a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, yet. But we'll be keeping a close eye on developments.
Instead... just because, for a few more weeks, we can... we're going to award the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to the outgoing ("See ya!") Senator Joe Lieberman. We do realize that just last week we actually gave Joe the coveted MIDOTW, but that's not stopping us from giving him a MDDOTW this week. Joe, reminiscing about his time in the public eye, recently admitted that maybe he has a regret or two about slamming Barack Obama from the stage of the Republican National Convention in 2008. Gee, ya think, Joe?
He doesn't regret appearing at the convention, mind you, just that he personally ripped into Barack Obama on such a stage. For this non-apology, and with only weeks left before he becomes a private citizen once again -- much to the relief of Connecticut residents -- we award Joe Lieberman what will hopefully prove to be his last Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. This is Joe's twelfth MDDOTW, putting him in fourth place on the all-time awards list (right behind Ben Nelson's unlucky thirteen).
[Contact Senator Joe Lieberman -- quickly, before he's gone! -- on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 237 (12/7/12)
While the weather is still not very frightful here, we going to attempt to be at least insightful, how's that? Or maybe I should just give up on this theme. What do you think -- let it go, let it go, let it go?
Heh. Welcome to the part of the program where we try to cram the week's delightfulness into seven discrete talking points for everyone to use with abandon. Yes, you can try this at home! Without further ado, here are my talking points for the upcoming week.
Not a third rail anymore
This is a hugely enormous deal, although few have been pointing it out. For at least the past two decades, the Democratic Party has been terrified of supporting tax increases. Democrats were painted -- quite broadly and quite successfully -- by Republicans as being "tax-and-spend Democrats" for at least the past twenty years. This led to Democrats being afraid of their own shadow on the subject. Although few are pointing it out, this has now changed.
"After decades of shying away from the subject, President Barack Obama made history in this election, by running on raising taxes on the wealthy. He didn't have to -- he could quite easily have dodged the issue, as Democrats have been dodging it for all these years. Instead, he negotiated the tax portion of the fiscal cliff to happen at the end of an election year. By doing so, he placed the issue front and center for the entire election. Then he did an astounding thing -- he went out and ran on the issue. This may mark the end of Democrats treating tax increases as some sort of 'third rail' -- touch it and you die -- in elections and in speaking to the public. When we look back at it years from now, Barack Obama's re-election may prove to be a transformative event on the subject of taxes for the Democrats. Obama led, in a way no Democrat has done since at least the early 1990s."
The Romney plan
This came as a comment to a column I wrote last week, so I can't take credit for it myself. But it was so good, I just had to use it here.
"President Obama has put his plan to avoid the fiscal cliff on the table. The Republicans were shamed into putting their own plan on the table as well, but on examination, this plan looks awfully familiar. Unspecified loophole-closing, slashing the safety net for average Americans -- haven't we heard this plan very recently, in fact? From now on, the Republicans' offer should be called what it truly is -- the 'Romney plan.' Accurately naming it points out an uncomfortable fact for Republicans -- they just ran an election on this plan, and they lost. America is not interested in the Romney plan -- they soundly rejected it at the polls. Once Republicans realize this, negotiations will move forward a lot more quickly."
Elizabeth Warren's triumphant return
This one is worth mentioning, just to see conservatives get all apoplectic. If you try hard, you can get their faces to go all Christmassy, red and green. Heh.
"I see that Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren is being considered for a slot on the Senate banking committee. This is kind of ironic, since the Wall Street lobbyists bent over backward to keep her out of a job regulating their behavior -- and now she'll be sitting there with the power to make them squirm in public. Just hearing one banking executive address her as 'Senator Warren' will make up for the battle they waged for years over her appointment to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau she conceived. It'll be through gritted teeth, which will make seeing it all the more enjoyable. Warren is eminently suited to be on the Senate banking committee, and I look forward to watching their hearings in the future. Just think -- if they had accepted her in a less-powerful position, it's likely she never would have even run for Senate in the first place. She should start her first question with a statement that she'd like to thank Wall Street for inspiring her run for the Senate, just to truly twist the knife."
Honey, not vinegar
I don't know how Rahm Emanuel is running his fiefdom of Chicago, but I'm certainly glad he's not in Washington anymore.
"I saw that President Obama had a meeting with progressive voices in the media, including Rachel Maddow and others from MSNBC, and other prominent media stars such as Arianna Huffington. This is a welcome change from the way the White House used to be run, when the only thing the, quote, Professional Left, unquote, got from the Obama administration was vile insults and profane epithets. Offering such respect as 'honey' is a lot better than Rahm Emanuel dishing up bitter vinegar on a regular basis, that's for sure."
Can't you go blind doing that?
Mitch McConnell would have won some sort of award this week, if the "Top Ten Conservative Idiots" weekly column series still existed over at DemocraticUnderground.com. I mean, you just can't make this stuff up, folks. So play it for all the laughs you can.
"It certainly was amusing to watch Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's antics this week, wasn't it? First he stands up and loudly demands the Senate vote on a bill. Harry Reid turns to him, shrugs his shoulders, and says 'OK, why not -- let's have a vote!' Which forced McConnell to begin filibustering his own vote! Nothing could have spotlighted filibuster abuse more than the Republican leader demanding a vote, and then filibustering it, on the same day. I mean, doesn't that sort of thing make you go blind, or something? Filibustering yourself in public?"
This one is sort of a do-it-yourself talking point, because there is so much material to work with. If ever there was a time for sneering derision, this is it, folks.
"I notice Senator Jim DeMint has decided to quit his job. Too bad for those constituents in South Carolina, eh? I guess pulling in the big bucks at a conservative think tank is more important than doing the people's business after all. You know, this reminds me of another Tea Party leader, so maybe it's time to verb-ize her name. Did Jim DeMint just 'Palin out' of his job? Did he just 'pull a Sarah' perhaps? Or maybe it's more appropriate to ask Republicans: how's that Tea Party quit-your-job thingie workin' out for ya now?"
Smoke 'em if ya got 'em
This last one is also a giant vein of comedic material, which both the mainstream media and the blogosphere has been mining successfully. Rather than go with the Cheech and Chong material, or the more-updated Harold and Kumar repertoire, instead we're going to force it back to our opening theme, thus making English teachers who love the proper essay format happy.
"Have you seen the video of the crowd of people sparking up joints under Seattle's Space Needle this week? Finally, citizens of at least one state are free to, as the voice recording the video puts it, smoke 'em if ya got 'em. So far, the Obama administration has been conspicuously silent on the new legality of recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado. But silence doesn't equal acceptance, as rumors abound that the feds are considering cracking down. Polls show, however, that Americans don't want Obama to interfere with this democratic experiment. Instead of lawsuits and arrests, we have some advice for the Justice Department: Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow!"
-- Chris Weigant