Now that the budget battle is truly joined, with hourly updates issuing forth from the not-so-hallowed halls of Washington, the cry among the media as I currently write this runs along the lines of: "A deal is in sight -- maybe!"
But because I'm not following the minute-by-minute flow (because I have to write this column, and, you know, that space-time continuum thing...), I will instead focus on the aftermath. This aftermath is coming, although I certainly can't say when. Tonight? Tomorrow? Monday morning? Whenever it happens, the entire political media universe is going to pivot to their old standby: who won and who lost? Because, to the denizens inside the Beltway, everything in politics can be framed as a horserace.
In this particular instance, the storyline will run with one of either two words to describe the perceived loser: "blink" or "cave." We're going with the cave metaphor, today. Call it media-political spelunking, if you will. Which brings us to the most important question imaginable (to the mainstream media): Who will inhabit the cave? Who will cave, and who will enjoy the bright, bright media sunlight of perceived victory?
Of course, I can't completely blame the media. The cave metaphor is actually used most vociferously by ultrapartisans from both sides. No, this is not false equivalence, it is merely a fact. When Republicans such as John Boehner eventually face reality (see: fiscal cliff, Violence Against Women Act, Hurricane Sandy relief), it is the rabid Right which screams "Boehner caved! RINO!" the loudest. When President Obama gets congressional Republicans to vote for and pass an income tax increase for the first time in two decades -- but has to move the bar a little on where the tax kicks in -- the frenzied Left is the one screaming "Obama caved! He shouldn't have budged one inch!"
So who will be assigned to the dark, dank depths of the cave this time around? Perhaps Boehner and Obama will both share the cave, who knows? If a deal is reached where Obama agrees to some small legislative adjustment in order to get both an otherwise-clean budget bill and an extension of the debt limit, it's easy to see the Tea Party going ballistic that Obamacare wasn't defunded after all, but it's just as easy to see some on the Left say Obama caved and shouldn't have given in on a single thing, period. Don't get me wrong. As I said, I'm not a big fan of false equivalency, I just wonder whether Obama or Boehner will have the "You caved!" label attached, when the dust settles.
My take on the situation is that Obama has been doing a great job for the past two weeks, that the Tea Party has overreached so badly that the brewing fratricide within the Republican Party has now broken out into full-fledged and open civil war, and that the Tea Partiers aren't going to get any of their major demands at all. Oh, and that the Republican brand has been so damaged by the fight that people are now seriously talking about the possibility that John Boehner will lose control of the House in 2014 to Democrats -- something which was downright unimaginable before the House Republicans shut down the government.
The most insane thing in an insane couple of weeks, at least to me, is the major demand that Republicans have -- out of desperation -- decided upon as their fallback position. "Obama and the Democrats must negotiate on the budget!" This is downright laughable. Democrats have, after all, been trying to form a budget conference committee all year long, only to be blocked over and over again by Republicans (a total of 19 times in the Senate). I compiled an extensive timeline of these facts in a two-part article series this week (on Wednesday and Thursday), as a definitive list, just in case anyone in the mainstream media wanted to review how laughable the Republican "Democrats need to come to the table" claim truly is. If you don't have time to read these two rather exhaustive articles, I came across a much shorter (and much more amusing) version which brilliantly sums the whole thing up in a Huffington Post comment.
If Boehner can sell his own party on the line: "We've exacted a major concession out of Obama, by forcing him to do what Democrats have been begging Republicans to do all year" and thus spin it as some sort of major political victory, then more power to him. Whatever floats the Republican boat, I guess. If this is a good enough face-saving measure for him, then I'm all for it.
But the media should really try to get it right. Obama agreeing to talks which his side has been trying to make happen all year is no concession at all. Unless it's a concession from Boehner, that is. Boehner needs something to save face, and it's conceivable that Obama will toss him some sort of legislative scrap or another in the negotiation. But if the scrap is tiny enough, and if the main selling point for Boehner is that he "forced Obama to the table," then Boehner's the one who will be stumbling around in the cavernous dark and hoping his flashlight batteries hold out -- not the president.
Well, it wasn't for anything he did this week, and it wasn't even us handing out the honor, but we have to at least mention in passing that Harvey Milk is going to be on a U.S. postage stamp next year. This is a high honor indeed, and a notable milestone.
While the news barely scratched the surface of the media shutdown frenzy, the real Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was Janet Yellen. President Obama (if you believe the insider scuttlebutt) had intended to nominate Larry Summers to chair the Federal Reserve, but Summers was forced to withdraw his nomination basically because his name was "Mud" with a whole lot of Senate Democrats. Obama was forced (again if you believe the scuttlebutt) to name Yellen instead, which (no matter where the truth lies) is indeed a big progressive victory.
Yellen will not only be the first woman to head the Fed, she will also be the first one to do so in a very long time who actually seems to care about unemployment more than how Wall Street profits and bonuses are doing. And that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.
Yellen is the most qualified individual for the job. Virtually everyone agrees upon that. Senate Democrats are happy with her, which simply couldn't be said about Summers. For her historic nomination to chair the Federal Reserve, Yellen is easily the clear choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate Janet Yellen's appointment via the White House's contact page, since we couldn't find contact information for Yellen.]
This one is also, sadly, a pretty easy call this week.
Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was just sentenced by a federal court to 28 years in prison, for corruption. Kilpatrick and his abettors had turned the mayor's office into a multimillion-dollar criminal enterprise, and now he's going to pay a very steep price for doing so.
There's really not a lot more to say about this one. Easily the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, by any measure.
[We have no contact information for Kilpatrick, but if you're interested enough we'd suggest trying to find him through the federal Bureau of Prisons website.]
Volume 277 (10/11/13)
Only three of these are actual talking points, this week. In case anyone's reading this column for the first time, our continuing goal here has always been to provide Democrats -- both officeholders being interviewed on weekend news shows as well as rank-and-file supporters at their workplace water coolers -- with some handy suggestions for talking points to make the Democratic case for the upcoming week.
But every so often we wander off from this goal, and provide all sorts of things under the talking points rubric. Today, we're providing two talking points dealing with the brutality of the poll numbers for Republicans, as well as a third on the same subject by Alan Grayson (who excels at creating talking points, on a regular basis). The first three in the list, however, are nothing more than the "best quotes of the week" which deserved to be shared. And the last one is just for fun, if you'd like to join in two very special efforts to register your own rage at Congress.
So, all in all, a very mixed bag this week. Let's get on with it, shall we?
Bow your heads
I'm normally not a big fan of our tax dollars being spent on congressional chaplains (for constitutional reasons), but it seems the Senate's current chaplain isn't afraid of mincing words in his opening prayer before the chamber. Here are just a few of the things Barry C. Black has been saying for the past week to the Senate. This is exactly the sort of thing Congress needs to hear right now.
Save us from the madness.... We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness and our pride. Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.... Remove from them that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism. Forgive them the blunders they have committed.
Suicide of the Right
That title isn't mine. It's the title of an absolutely brutal article by the staunchly conservative John Podhoretz. In it, he points out that the public is blaming Republicans for the mess in Washington, and that the Tea Party is causing this harm. Think "brutal" is too strong a word? Here's Podhoretz on where the Tea Party has led so far: "Their tactic failed, and now what they are left with is House Speaker John Boehner basically begging the president of the United States to negotiate with him."
In fact, the article's main point is Podhoretz begging the Tea Party to stop destroying the Republican Party. He pulls no punches. The entire article is an amazing read, but here are the best bits, especially the car metaphor at the end:
They [Tea Partiers] think that they're supported by a vast silent majority of Americans who dislike what they dislike and want what they want.
I dislike what they dislike. I want what they want. But I fear they are very, very wrong about the existence of this silent majority, and that their misperception is leading them to do significant damage to the already damaged Republican "brand."
. . .
There is only one electoral vehicle for conservative ideas in the United States -- the Republican Party.
It's one thing to refuse to waste your time buffing and polishing the vehicle so that it looks nice and pretty; that's what political hacks do, and ideologues have every right to disdain such frippery.
But if, in the guise of making the vehicle function better, you muck up the engine, smash the windshield, put the wrong tires on it and pour antifreeze in the gas tank, you are impeding its forward movement. You're ruining it, not repairing it.
It may not have been a very good vehicle in the first place, and you may think it couldn't drive worse, but oh man, could it ever. And it's the only one you've got.
A dead end with no strategy
Republicans trash-talking each other, part two. Congressman Peter King seems to be emerging as the House leader in trash-talking the Tea Party (the Senate leader is, obviously, John McCain). He's always good for a few quotes, and Salon not only reported a few of them, they also have the video for you to watch. From the article:
Speaking with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, King called the ongoing government shutdown "the strategy of Ted Cruz" and wondered aloud "why more Republicans around the country didn't join me in denouncing Ted Cruz" before the shutdown began. "We cannot allow our party to be taken over by the likes of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul," King continued, describing Cruz and Paul as "isolationists" and "RINOs" who "don't represent traditional Republican principles."
"Ted Cruz, what he did here, was lead the party into a dead end with no strategy, somehow convincing a number of House Republicans that we just sent this to through Senate [sic] as far as defunding and closing down the government, he would manage to get Harry Reid and President Obama to back down," said King. "He never had a plan. It was fraudulent from the start. And we have to cut this guy off now."
See? We told you so.
OK, this one and the next one are the original talking points, this week. They both hit Republicans where it hurts the most -- right in the poll numbers. The NBC poll, in particular, is nothing short of crushing (PDF download), across the board.
"Democrats repeatedly told Republicans -- and some Republican leaders even told their own Tea Party wing -- the hard, cold truth that the American public would hold them directly responsible for any government shutdown. Well, now the poll numbers are in, and it looks like we were right. Two polls -- Gallup and NBC -- just put the public's approval rating of the Republican Party at all-time lows. One had them at 24 percent approval, and one had them at 28 percent approval. The lowest they've hit in the last quarter-century before now was when they impeached Bill Clinton, and their numbers fell to 31 percent. One of the pollsters said, quote, these were jaw-dropping numbers. The Washington Post said these numbers, quote, hit the Republican Party like a bomb. Chuck Todd of NBC News summed the situation up, saying 'John Boehner and Ted Cruz have successfully done what Newt Gingrich couldn't do: get a majority of the country to blame the Republicans rather than a plurality.' Does anyone wonder why John Boehner is now negotiating rather than playing the games he's played for over a week? Boehner knows how to read a poll, and the turnaround in his attitude can be traced to precisely when these polls appeared. Democrats can do nothing more at this point than sit back and say 'we told you so.' Sorry if that's insensitive, but at this point I don't really care."
Some poll numbers are up, though
Again, this needs to be hammered home. Because this is the leverage which is actually motivating the Republicans to cave (numbers from previously cited NBC poll).
"Not all the polling has been downward, though. Two very important numbers came out of that NBC poll as well -- two numbers which really ought to get Republicans' attention. The first is that President Obama's job approval rating actually went up in the past month. While Republican polling is in free fall, Obama gained a few points. I think that's rather significant, don't you? But the truly astonishing movement in the polls was the public's approval of Obamacare, which gained a whopping seven points over the previous month. All along Democrats have been predicting that the dismal polling over Obamacare would resolve itself only when the public actually saw the benefits of Obamacare. That is precisely what happened this month. Americans got to see for themselves what the fuss was all about, and instead of recoiling in horror the way Republicans predicted, they overwhelmed the computers with an absolute flood of demand. And it's important to note -- even with all the rollout problems the Obamacare exchanges are having, Obamacare gained seven percent approval in one month's time. Look for those numbers to go even higher in the near future, when the benefits start actually kicking in next year."
Hemorrhoids or Congress? Dog poop or Congress?
We just love Alan Grayson's ability to boil things down to language everyone can understand, and then go out on the House floor and use that language. Check out Grayson's speech on video, if you need a break from cable television idiocy this weekend.
A national poll asked the following questions: What do you have a higher opinion of, Congress or witches? Congress, 32 percent; witches, 46 percent. What do you have a higher opinion of, Congress or hemorrhoids? Congress, 31 percent; hemorrhoids, 53 percent. What do you have a higher opinion of, Congress or dog poop? Congress 40 percent; dog poop 47 percent.
Send Boehner the bill, or drunk-dial Congress
Are you reading this column late on a Friday night, perhaps on a mobile device while enjoying some "adult beverages" in your local tavern? Oh, come on, go ahead and admit it -- I know from the scheduling of this column's appearance that that has to be true for at least a few folks on the East Coast, right? Well then, this one's for you.
Because it has been a rather exhausting two weeks, and because these two came to my attention (one was tweeted to me, one I saw on Craig Ferguson's late-night comedy show last night), here are two amusing ways to let Congress know what you think.
"Two websites have popped up to let average Americans join in on the budget negotiations. The first is BillBoehner.com, where you can figure out your share of the costs of the government shutdown and then send a bill for that amount to Speaker of the House John Boehner. Annoyed at the waste of the government shutdown? Bill Boehner. Angry at the stupidity of the whole thing? Bill Boehner.
"The second site is for a little later in the evening, shall we say. When you get to the stage of your evening where you've gotten your cell phone out and are contemplating a little mischief, we invite you to use the site DrunkDialCongress.org to (as it says) drunk-dial a random member of Congress. Got something about the Washington mess to get off your chest? Drunk-dial Congress. Want to just rant and rave randomly? Drunk-dial Congress. Tried to get through during the day but the switchboard was too full? Well, hey, after midnight I bet your chances of leaving a voicemail would be better -- so go ahead and drunk-dial Congress. You know you'll feel better if you do!"
-- Chris Weigant