If that title drew you in, I have to warn you up front that the ranting contest suggestion is at the very bottom of this article, so feel free to just scroll down to it if that's all you're here for. Full disclosure, and all of that -- I just didn't have any better title for this weekly wrapup, sorry. Enough navel-gazing, though, let's get on with it.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law this week the first regulations setting up a legal recreational marijuana market since the Drug War began. This marks a historic milestone (legal weed won't actually become reality until next year), but even though it is now seven months from when the state's voters approved the idea, there is still no word from the Justice Department on how the disparity between the state's new laws and federal laws will be handled by the feds. I guess Eric Holder's got other things to do, or something. Maybe he just "spaced out" on the whole thing, who knows?
Holder has been busy this week holding off-the-record meetings with the press about how the Justice Department can be more transparent about upholding the First Amendment's freedom of the press. Insert your own oxymoronic joke here, I guess. The icing on the irony cake was that information about the meetings was leaked to the press in advance by an unnamed source. A few major media organizations refused to even attend the meetings unless they were on the record, so bully for them for standing on principle. Since I wasn't invited, I wrote a column about what I'd say to Holder instead.
Barack Obama appeared in an boosterism ad for the Jersey shore this week (it's hard to call it anything else, really), and played boardwalk arcade games with New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie. Has anyone actually told him what happened to Charlie Crist after he got too close to Obama? Anyone hoping for Christie to win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination has got to have mixed feelings about the photo op, I suppose. Both Christie and Obama actually looked like they were enjoying themselves, though.
Obama's standing up today for keeping student loan rates low, rejecting the bill House Republicans passed as too hard on students. This is one of those political fights with a built-in timeline, which means (in today's Washington) that something may actually get done. We'll see whether the final bill is closer to Obama's ideas or the House's. Personally, I think Elizabeth Warren's got the right idea: set the student loan rates the exact same as the federal government charges banks to borrow money. It's only fair, right?
The other brewing fracas is over a wily scheme President Obama has come up with to... um, do exactly what the Constitution mandates he do. Why is this news? No reason, except that Republicans want to change the rules in the middle of the game and are inexplicably (as usual) charging that Obama is the one tampering with the rules. They floated the talking point that Obama was engaging in "court-packing," and the entire media pretty much loudly laughed at this description (myself included, I have to admit).
Former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole gave an extraordinary interview on Fox News last Sunday morning, in which he sadly admitted that neither he nor Ronald Reagan nor Richard Nixon could get elected in today's Republican Party. He then went on to give his party some sage advice, but we're going to save that for the Friday Talking Points part of the program.
As previously mentioned, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed a historic law this week, setting up guidelines for his state to usher in a fully-regulated recreational marijuana market. This is the first time since the War On (Some) Drugs started almost a century ago, so it's big news.
We'll give Hickenlooper an Honorable Mention for signing the law, but we have to say we're still a little annoyed that he campaigned against the ballot initiative (even though he made a lot of money brewing beer himself), and about that crack he made about Cheetos and Goldfish when it passed. We have mixed feelings, in other words.
Instead, our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is one of the newest Democrats, as Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee formally switched to being a registered Democrat this week. Chafee was pretty much the last of the dying breed of liberal Republicans (yes, there did used to be such things...), consistently rated as the most liberal Republican senator during his entire time in office by conservatives and liberals alike. He was appointed to serve out his father's term in 1999, and got beat by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in the wave election of 2006. Since then, he has become a registered Independent and won the governor's race in 2010. As re-election approaches, Chafee decided to complete his political evolution and openly embrace the Democratic Party.
Other Democrats who were thinking of running for the seat are quite likely disappointed by this news, but we would like to think that most Democrats will welcome Lincoln Chafee to their party with open arms. There's no better way to show your party's "big tent" nature than when politicians from the other side see the error of their ways and decide to sign up.
For doing so this week, Lincoln Chaffee is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award-winner. See, Republicans? Not only will you be welcomed, you'll actually get awards for making the trek across the aisle! Step right up, there's room for everyone!
[Congratulate Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his party switch.]
Maybe we should create a new category for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, called: "Wait... what?!?"
Tea Party Republican Representative Michele Bachmann announced she would not be running for re-election next year, much to the delight of all who value factual political discourse and much to the dismay of pundits and late-night comics everywhere (because we won't be able to make fun of her anymore). The Left's online reaction to this announcement was nothing short of orgiastic (which we just had to participate in, yesterday).
But today brings the news that the Democrat who came within a few thousand votes of knocking Bachmann out of Congress last year has suddenly announced that he won't be running, either. Which is where the "Wait... what?!?" part comes in.
I guess you've got to give Jim Graves credit for being honest. He admitted he ran last time and was running this time for the sole reason of getting Bachmann out of Congress. Now that that's been accomplished, he's hanging up his spurs before the next cattle drive begins. Or something (sorry, that's really not much of a Minnesota metaphor, I fully realize). Graves insists he never really wanted to be a politician, he just thought someone should remove Bachmann from office, and nobody else seemed to be doing so.
Now, Graves would have had a tough time winning without Bachmann in the race. This is a district, remember, that elected her four times to represent them -- even after she said a whole bunch of crazy-ass stuff on national television. So it's a pretty conservative district to begin with. Without Mrs. Coo-Coo Bananas on the ticket, candidate "Mr. or Mrs. A. Generic Republican" would likely win the seat back for the party. I mean, look at what just happened down in South Carolina, where they decided to send Mark Sanford (R-Appalachian Trail) back to the House.
So I suppose it is understandable why Graves dropped out. He did show a refreshing amount of honesty in explaining why he was doing so, uncharacteristic for anyone in the political realm. But still, he already had name recognition in the district and came within a hair of winning last time -- meaning that any Democrat who now runs probably won't even have as good a chance as Graves would have (because they'll be starting from scratch). Which is disappointing enough, and which earns Graves the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week.
[You could try to contact Jim Graves on his campaign contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions, but this page likely won't be up for very much longer, so you should hurry.]
Volume 260 (5/31/13)
Our Friday Talking Points this week are split in two parts. The first part is all on health care, since Democrats really need to start touting the unexpectedly good news on this front now -- because Republicans have already announced that their entire campaign in 2014 is going to consist of trying to pin every stubbed toe in America on Obamacare and paint the whole thing as a giant failure. They're making no secret of this, they fully admit that this is going to be their playbook. If Democrats don't get in there first and play some offense, then they're going to be playing defense all next year.
The second part is just gratuitous Republican-bashing. Just because.
Good news on the cost of medical care
This should be the first argument out of any Democrats' mouth when the subject of medical costs or health insurance comes up.
"Part of the reason the federal budget deficit is now projected to be less than half what it was when Obama took office is that medical costs are not rising as fast as they used to. For the past few years, inflation in medical costs has gotten a lot more realistic. As the economy recovers, some predicted that costs would start to dramatically climb because they blamed the recession for the slowdown, but now it appears that is not happening -- they were wrong, in other words. And California just published the prices for their Obamacare health insurance exchange, and the costs were a lot lower than the doomsayers predicted. When you look at the actual facts, it seems the naysayers didn't know what they were talking about."
This one just came out today, and also needs some cheerleading from the Democratic sidelines.
"Medicare was predicted to only survive until 2017 when Barack Obama came to office. The most recent projection is that the program is now fine until 2026 -- two years further into the future than the last report. This is the dramatic sort of change that slowing the rise in medical costs has brought. Republicans tried to sell the idea that they would 'save Medicare' during the last election, and the voters just didn't believe them. For good reason, it turns out. Medicare is doing better and better with a Democrat in the White House, and I think that deserves some acknowledgment, don't you?"
Immigrants doing their fair share for Medicare
This one is really a double-whammy, since it sets two traps for Republicans to fall into.
"Medicare has actually been boosted enormously by the contributions from immigrants. Harvard Medical School just reported that immigrants' contributions to Medicare showed a $115 billion surplus from 2002 to 2009, while the native-born population showed a $28 billion deficit. Immigrants are younger, and the baby boomers are retiring. Far from being a drag on the federal budget, immigrants are contributing more than their fair share and are in fact sustaining Medicare during the aging of the native-born."
Closed for repairs
Bob Dole says that Bob Dole couldn't get elected in today's Republican Party, because the party is no longer interested in "ideas." Can't argue with that, really.
"Bob Dole last week made an excellent suggestion to the Republican National Committee. He told them they should shut their doors for the entire rest of the year, and hang a sign on the door stating, quote, closed for repairs, unquote. Like many Republicans who are horrified at what the extremists are doing to their party, Bob Dole is a voice crying for moderation in the Tea Party wilderness. I think his idea is an excellent one, and the only reason I am comfortable giving the Republican Party advice like this is that I know full well they're simply not going to act on such advice -- from me, from Bob Dole, from anyone. If the ghost of Ronald Reagan appeared before the Republican Party and told them to change their ways, they still wouldn't listen. It's a shame, really, but that's the position they've staked out for themselves."
GOP War On Women (continued)
It seems this is becoming almost a weekly thing. Maybe I should just dictate that one Friday Talking Point each week will be the War On Women update, or something.
"A report showing the growing earning power of women brought some bizarre reactions from conservatives this week, which can be summed up as nostalgia for the 'keep them barefoot and pregnant' days. Sorry to be so offensive, but I'm not the one espousing such antediluvian views. There was one ray of hope from Republicans on women, though, as a Republican state representative in Oklahoma penned the most amazing article I've seen in a long time. Allow me to read an extended quote from this incredible article:
What happened to the Republican Party that I joined? The party where conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater felt women should have the right to control their own destiny? The party where President Ronald Reagan said a poor person showing up in the emergency room deserved needed treatment regardless of ability to pay?
. . .
Is my thinking too clouded by my experiences in the real world? Experiences like having a preacher, in the privacy of an exam room say, "Doc, you have heard me preach against abortion but now my 15-year-old daughter is pregnant, where can I send her?" Or maybe it was that 17-year-old foreign exchange student who said, "I really made a mistake last night. Can you prescribe a morning-after pill for me? If I return to my home country pregnant, life as I know it will be over."
What happened to the Republican Party that felt that the government has no business being in an exam room, standing between me and my patient? Where did the party go that felt some decisions in a woman's life should be made not by legislators and government, but rather by the women, her conscience, her doctor and her God?
"As I said, this is truly an extraordinary article, from a doctor who has delivered over 800 babies, and never performed an abortion. If it were up to me, when the RNC hangs up its 'closed for repairs' sign, I'd put Doug Cox of Oklahoma in charge of rewriting the party's position on women's health."
Yeah, that's the ticket!
From the "you just can't make this stuff up" files...
"Phyllis Schlafly has joined the chorus of anti-immigration on the Right, but her advice is a bit novel: just ignore all minority voters altogether and concentrate instead on turning out white folks to vote. No, no -- I'm serious -- that's what she's telling Republicans. Not only should the Republican Party kill the comprehensive immigration bill, but they should instead concentrate on turning out the white vote. Here's the quote: '[T]here is not the slightest bit of evidence [Latinos] are going to vote Republican. And the people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes -- the white voters who didn't vote in the last election.' It's hard to imagine a more out-of-touch position that that, these days -- but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the Republicans do decide to follow this strategy. It worked so well for them in 2012, after all."
So you think you can rant?
I suggested this in yesterday's column on the Michele Bachmann news, and the more I think about it, the better an idea it seems...
"You know, after watching the popularity arc of such Tea Party favorites as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, I can't help but wonder why they don't just skip over what appears to be the hardest part of becoming famous for them -- the part about serving in office. Why not just go straight towards being a media darling on the Right? The Fox network could get in on the action in a big way, and broadcast a reality show once a year to search the nation for the next Tea Party superstar. They could call it 'So You Think You Can Rant?' and hire Palin, Bachmann, and Donald Trump to be judges. I bet it'd be a ratings smash, personally."
-- Chris Weigant