We've got a number of oddities to dispense with before we get started this week.
Let's begin with a quick trip through the South. Texas Republicans are worried that their state might vote for Hillary Clinton, should she run for president in 2016. Down in Florida, yet another Republican governor decided that the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid isn't such a bad idea after all. Mississippi finally ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, which really needs no further commentary of any sort whatsoever. North Carolina Republicans are in a panic because some women in Asheville like taking their tops off in public. Now this is all fun to poke fun at, but we feel that Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post went too far, when she reprinted a quote in an article on guns which engaged in a little gratuitous South Carolina-bashing:
So it goes in the state that James L. Petigru, anti-secessionist and former South Carolina attorney general, long ago described as "too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum."
Further north, the small town of Sanford, New York is trying to ban speech. Only speech about a subject they don't want to talk about, mind you -- fracking. Does Sanford not have a library, where the town council can peruse a copy of the Constitution, one wonders?
From much further west comes the most bizarre story of the week. The island of Guam is going to air-drop mice laced with acetaminophen, in a plan to control the brown tree snakes that was apparently dreamed up by a James Bond villain. The mice will have streamers attached to them, and will be dropped one-by-one, by hand. All while 007 struggles to avoid a laser beam, strapped to a table, one assumes.
Speaking of struggling, the Republican Party are in open warfare with their Tea Party wing. Don't believe me? One Tea Party group sent out a photo of Karl Rove in a Nazi officer's uniform, in a fundraising letter (to which I couldn't help but think: "couldn't have happened to a more appropriate guy"). Another conservative group provided the most amusing story of the week, when they announced a $10,000 "Liberty Prize" for anyone -- anyone, someone, please -- who can come up with a plan to "take over the Republican Party, win the November 2016 elections, and govern America by 2017." Seriously -- got an idea for world domination... um, I mean "Republican Party domination"? Jot it down and send it in, and you could win a $10,000 prize for your efforts! From the announcement, what can only be read as a declaration of open warfare among Republicans:
The most important political battle in America is not between Republicans and Democrats or between conservatives and liberals. It is the battle for control of the Republican Party between establishment big government Republicans and limited government, constitutional conservatives.
OK, so Washington Republicans are a big pit of snakes, right... so we take a bunch of mice....
The next few election cycles are going to be one whale of a lot of fun to watch, that's my humble prediction.
What else? I swear I hadn't read Robert Reich's article "Showdown Fatigue" when I wrote my own article yesterday titled "Crisis Fatigue" -- just a bit of synchronicity, that's all. And for a bit of nostalgia, Eugene Robinson just wrote one of those "Obama's playing multidimensional chess" types of article, on Obama's leaked immigration plan. But that's enough, let's get on with the rest of the column, shall we?
Way back in FTP 227, we gave this award to James Earl Carter IV, our ex-president's grandson, for being the key link in the public airing of Mitt Romney's "47 percent" video. So we were pleased to read this week that Barack Obama personally thanked Carter upon meeting him. That video was a pivotal moment for the Romney campaign, if not the pivotal moment that he never recovered from. So he deserves Obama's thanks. Also, mentioning him again means we can sneak in a link to an adorable photo of him sitting on his grandfather's lap (in a photo series labeled "Ten Epic Yawns").
Since Congress was off on vacation all week (instead of doing their jobs), we're reaching down to the state level, where marijuana is in the news. In North Carolina, Republicans exemplify why Americans have just about zero faith in their elected officials to address their concerns. The Republicans voted down a medical marijuana law that they were originally going to ignore, because -- get this -- their constituents "harassed" them about the bill. Think you can't get more cynical about government? Read the story.
But we're supposed to be talking about Democrats. Up in Maryland, state delegate Curt Anderson just introduced a bill to legalize and tax recreational use of marijuana for adults. For doing so -- in a state that has yet to legalize medicinal marijuana, Anderson is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. Voter initiatives are one thing, but legalizing marijuana through the legislative process is even more impressive. Sooner or later Democrats are going to realize this is a winning issue for them and get on board. People like Curt Anderson are showing the way forward.
For his proposed legislation, Curt Anderson is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate Maryland Delegate Curt Anderson via his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
Colorado state representative Joe Salazar said something stupid this week. He later apologized, but we still have to hand him a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week for the comment. In a debate on concealed-carry permits for guns on college campuses, Salazar said:
It's why we have call boxes, it's why we have safe zones, it's why we have the whistles. Because you just don't know who you're gonna be shooting at. And you don't know if you feel like you're gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone's been following you around or if you feel like you're in trouble when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop... pop a round at somebody.
This is not the way to make the Democratic case, folks. It is disappointingly demeaning of women, in fact. So even though he's profusely apologized, Salazar still earns this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
[I couldn't find direct contact information for Colorado Representative Joe Salazar but here's his official web page, maybe it's elsewhere on the site.]
Volume 246 (2/22/13)
The White House has been using the fact that Congress is off gallivanting on vacation this week to pretty much own the airwaves in the sequester battle. All week long, administration officials have been making a strong case that if the sequester happens, there will indeed be consequences that the country will face, and so far they've been doing an excellent job at making that case.
By doing so, the White House is putting cards on the table in the "let's cut the federal budget" game. Republicans, so far, have been very averse to talking specifics on such budget cutting, so this is a conversation that is long overdue.
Which means now is the time to press these points hard. So this week, we've got a theme for the talking points. The first two are introductory side-issues that set up the rest of the conversation. Ideally, they should be used by a Democrat on a Sunday morning political talk show, sitting next to a Republican.
73 and 98
Republicans have been bending over backwards to call the sequester "Obama's fault." They think they're going to insulate themselves from any blowback by doing so. Democrats need to remember just two numbers to fight this nonsense.
"Excuse me, but you keep saying the sequester is all Obama's doing. That is not true. In fact, 73 percent of the House Republicans voted for the sequester. A higher percentage of Republicans in the House voted for it than Democrats. So how, exactly, was Obama forcing people like John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Eric Cantor to vote for the sequester if it's such a bad thing? Did Obama put a gun to the head of 174 Republicans in the House? In fact, John Boehner said at the time that he had gotten, quote, 98 percent of what I wanted, unquote, in the bill. So let's all remember the facts, OK? Because 73 percent of the House Republicans and 28 of the Senate Republicans voted for this sequester."
Do you support the sequester?
This is a very basic question most Republicans have been weaseling out of. It's a fundamental question, but Republicans want to have it both ways. Which sets up the rest of our talking points.
"I'm not even sure if Republicans are for or against having the sequester happen. Do you support the sequester? Or not? Yes or no?"
Cut the Pentagon?
The answer to that previous question is likely to be some flavor of "I support cutting the federal budget, but I'd do it in different ways than the sequester." Take this and run with it.
"OK, then let's take the cuts one by one. Do you support furloughing over 700,000 Defense Department contractors to save money? Do you support the Pentagon having to postpone aircraft carriers' missions? Do you support cutting medical benefits for veterans? The Pentagon's got to find $40 billion in such cuts this year. If you're not in favor of cutting the Pentagon budget, then what else are you going to cut that'll save $40 billion this year? Please be specific."
Law and order
This is the second issue to hit Republicans with -- another issue that will get them in trouble with their base.
"Do you support cutting back on FBI agents? Fire a bunch of them? Do you support having fewer Border Patrol? Do you support cutting the Coast Guard's budget? How about federal prosecutors -- think we should prosecute 1,000 fewer cases this year in federal courts? These are very real consequences of the sequester, so if you're against any of these cuts, please explain what you'd cut instead."
Congresscritters use the airlines more than most people, so this one is especially personal.
"Do you think we should save a bunch of money by cutting the budget for air traffic controllers? It'd mean more flight delays for air travelers. Or how about TSA airport screeners? Think the lines at security should be a lot longer for all Americans this summer? Because that's what is going to happen if the sequester takes place. I notice that you travel home quite often, Congressman -- think it'll mean your life will be easier if we take a big chunk out of the transportation budget? Think you'll maybe be sitting on the tarmac and waiting in lines more often? Well, if you want to fly home in a timely manner every weekend, then you'd better come up with some other cuts to offset these."
This is an especially strong card to play.
"Do you really think now is the time to put 750,000 jobs in jeopardy? The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if the sequester goes through, that's how many jobs it will cost the American economy in the first year alone. Just when the economic recovery is turning the corner, who in their right mind would want to put three-quarters of a million jobs at risk? It's just insane to even contemplate doing so, and yet that is exactly what will happen if the sequester takes place. Unless you've got some other ways to cut federal spending that don't impact jobs -- but I certainly haven't heard any ideas for this coming from Republicans so far."
Shrink the economy
Which leads directly into the last point.
"Economists tell us that if the sequester happens, it will carve a half a percent off the growth of the American economy this year. Republicans have been talking about their supposedly pro-growth agenda for a while now, and then they turn around and want to shrink the economy by a half-percent, because they are incapable of giving one inch on budget negotiations. Oh, sure, it's fun to talk about cutting federal spending in the abstract, but when the consequences include things like making veterans homeless by cutting housing vouchers for over 200,000 of them, then it isn't so much fun to talk about, is it? You can scoff all you want to at the effects these cuts will have, but neither you nor your party has put any specifics on the table at all in terms of how to replace these cuts with other budget cuts. All you can do is sit back and allow the American economy to shrink a half a percent, without even offering up any suggestions of how we should do any of this differently. It's like you're actively rooting for economic failure, and it mystifies me, personally."
-- Chris Weigant