Welcome back to our regular Friday roundup of politics! We've been on hiatus for quite a while now, since we took two weeks off to dole out our year-end awards, and then last week we were just sick as a dog, which precluded all rational thought (much less trying to type coherently). So we've got a lot to cover this week, and our apologies in advance for all the stuff we're bound to have missed in the past month.
Of course, the big news at the end of this week was New Jersey's Chris Christie trying to navigate a bridge over some very troubled waters, but our guess is that this story is going to stick around for some time to come, so we're only going to mention it in passing (although we did write yesterday of our disappointment that we seem to have returned to labeling political scandals with the "-gate" suffix). Is Christie now no longer a viable candidate for the 2016 Republican nomination? Is "Bullygate" more appropriate than "Bridgegate"? Well, we'll have plenty of time to contemplate all of that in the weeks to come, that's for sure.
Liz Cheney dropped out of the Wyoming Senate race, which may be a sign of trouble for Tea Party candidates everywhere, or it may just be a sign that Wyoming Republicans don't take kindly to carpetbaggers who don't even know how to properly get a fishing license. Either way, we're relieved we won't have to listen to Liz expounding on all sorts of subjects about which she knows very little, in the upcoming months.
The mainstream media, in the past few weeks, have proved once again that "the weather" is the ultimate shiny, shiny object which the kittenish news anchors cannot resist, no matter how normal the story truly is. I mean, how many times can America realistically believe that "It Gets Cold In Winter" is some sort of breaking story? Look for the groundbreaking followup series "It Gets Hot In Summer," which will run in six months' time, just like clockwork.
The most fascinating news story was the opening of the legal recreational marijuana marketplace in Colorado, of course. This story wasn't fascinating just because it actually was newsworthy, but also for the secondary effect that Serious People in Washington are now forced to stop with the endless stoner jokes and actually address the failed policy of the War On Weed.
This led to some monumental hypocrisy, it should be noted, from such luminaries from the Washington cocktail party circuit (irony intended) as David Brooks, Ruth Marcus, and Joe Scarborough. Here is their argument, in a nutshell:
I smoked a little pot when I was young and reckless.
I did not get arrested.
We should keep on arresting people for smoking pot today. Because.
There's a longer and funnier translation ("condensed for maximum stoner hilarity") of the Brooks and Marcus columns available, if this was too brief, I should add.
At heart, this is just a continuing chapter in the endless story of "Why Baby Boomers Are So Special, Because Of Their Specialness," really. You see, when they were young, smoking pot was a lark, really. Now that they are parents with children, smoking pot is immoral and evil and must be stamped out. As long as suburban children don't go to jail, the way that inner-city children do for the same crime.
Part of this is intellectual inertia. The War On (Some) Drugs has been going on for so long now, and has been used so effectively against Democrats and liberals (painted as "soft on crime!"), that even now -- with legal weed being sold in an American state -- the knee-jerk reaction is still the most prevalent. This is the same type of idiocy that led to banning needle exchanges during the height of the AIDS crisis -- because it "would send the wrong message to kids." Sending the message "letting people needlessly die is good because it gives me political cover" was such a better message for the kiddies, after all.
In any case, there was one prominent pundit who did get it right. E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post summed up the reality of the situation perfectly, because he took the time to look at some hard data which unequivocally shows the racial disparity of how drug laws (marijuana laws in particular) are enforced in the real world. Which led him to the conclusion that the "lock them all up" philosophy has just failed. If you'd like to read something a lot more reasonable than the hypocrisy of Brooks and Marcus, this is the column you should read.
Two final thoughts, on marijuana. The first is an interesting historical footnote pointed out in the Huffington Post -- Denver was where the first federal arrest for marijuana took place, back in 1937. And the last is yet another poll showing that Americans' attitudes are changing much faster than the politicians, on this particular issue. If the people lead, the leaders must eventually follow, one hopes.
We end this week with a few quick items on religion. Seems Oklahoma is going to have to decide whether to allow a Satanist statue on their statehouse grounds, after allowing a Ten Commandments monument to be erected. A drawing of the proposed statue was released, which has to be seen to be fully appreciated. And the first-ever Pastafarian officeholder was sworn in to the town council seat he won in Pomfret, New York -- while wearing a colander as a mark of his faith. Worshippers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster should feel proud indeed!
Last and indeed (literally) least, we have a fun map for anyone who finds themselves guilty of too much state pride. This is a map of all the United States, annotated with what each state is "worst" or "least" in. Enjoy!
We have an Honorable Mention to hand out, for a deputy whip in the House, Representative Diana DeGette, who hails from Colorado. She sent an email out which is easily the best commentary so far on the entire subject: "It was a big week in Colorado. Across the state, recreational marijuana was sold for the first time. And guess what? The world didn't end."
Well done, Representative DeGette! We couldn't have put it better if we had tried.
But a big milestone happened which must be acknowledged, as Janet Yellen became the first woman ever to head the Federal Reserve. Her Senate confirmation was the final step for her on her path to becoming one of the most powerful women in all American political history, in fact. More independent than any cabinet secretary, and more powerful than any other individual woman who has served in any of the three branches of government, Yellen begins her term with the economy in much better shape than it has been in years.
While she has yet to put her real stamp on the Fed, her easy confirmation in the Senate and her rise to power have been impressive indeed -- more than enough to qualify her for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.
[Congratulate Federal Reserve Board Chairman Janet Yellen on the Federal Reserve Board contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
This story needs no embellishment or further explanation. Here is the news report:
Kentucky state Rep. Leslie Combs accidentally fired her gun in the state Capitol building's annex office on Tuesday night, according to a report from WHAS11.
Combs says she was attempting to unload her handgun when it went off, sending a bullet ricocheting off the floor and into a nearby bookcase. Though fellow Rep. Jeff Greer was in the room, no one was hurt.
Following the incident, Combs told reporters she'd put the gun away. "I don't want to use it anymore," she said.
Combs went on to explain that she thought the gun was "totally clear" but didn't seem too concerned about the mix-up.
"I am a gun owner. It happens," Combs said.
For reckless endangerment and statehouse gunplay, Representative Leslie Combs is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. There's just nothing else to say about this one, really, unless you'd like to make some sort of "longshot" joke.
[Contact Kentucky state representative Leslie Combs on her official contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]
Volume 286 (1/10/13)
Before we begin offering up our own suggested talking points, for Democrats everywhere to contemplate, we have to point out an extraordinary article in The Atlantic. The article is an extended interview piece with none other than Frank Luntz, who is probably the best creator of talking points over on the Republican side of things. Calling the estate tax the "death tax" was his brainchild, just to give one example of his wordsmithing abilities (and how influential his advice is among Republicans).
Luntz, it seems, is depressed these days. Not only did Republicans lose big in the 2012 elections, but it seems that the American public just isn't buying his particular brand of dog food any more. Which is making Luntz very sad. Don't believe me? Try this on for size:
The crisis began, he says, after last year's presidential election, when Luntz became profoundly depressed. For more than a month, he tried to stay occupied, but nothing could keep his attention. Finally, six weeks after the election, during a meeting of his consulting company in Las Vegas, he fell apart. Leaving his employees behind, he flew back to his mansion in Los Angeles, where he stayed for three weeks, barely going outside or talking to anyone.
"I just gave up," Luntz says.
. . .
It was what Luntz heard from the American people that scared him. They were contentious and argumentative. They didn't listen to each other as they once had. They weren't interested in hearing other points of view. They were divided one against the other, black vs. white, men vs. women, young vs. old, rich vs. poor. "They want to impose their opinions rather than express them," is the way he describes what he saw. "And they're picking up their leads from here in Washington." Haven't political disagreements always been contentious, I ask? "Not like this," he says. "Not like this."
Luntz knew that he, a maker of political messages and attacks and advertisements, had helped create this negativity, and it haunted him. But it was Obama he principally blamed. The people in his focus groups, he perceived, had absorbed the president's message of class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution. It was a message Luntz believed to be profoundly wrong, but one so powerful he had no slogans, no arguments with which to beat it back. In reelecting Obama, the people had spoken. And the people, he believed, were wrong. Having spent his career telling politicians what the people wanted to hear, Luntz now believed the people had been corrupted and were beyond saving. Obama had ruined the electorate, set them at each other's throats, and there was no way to turn back.
For everyone interested in the continuing battle over how to "frame" things politically, I strongly recommend this article. If only for the schadenfreude of seeing Frank Luntz bemoan how little people are buying into his spin these days. It truly is an extraordinary read, folks.
I am not a bully
Well, bully for him (as Teddy Roosevelt might have said).
"Chris Christie tried to rewrite history in his recent press conference, and wants us all to believe that he is, quote, not a bully, unquote. That's really funny, since he has spent his entire political career building up the image of himself as a bully. Check out just about any of the videos which his own political team posts online of him dealing with his own constituents. He yells at them, he belittles their opinions, and generally throws his considerable weight around in what can only be called true bullyboy style. It's laughable to hear Christie now try to convince us that he isn't a bully, because there are so many videos out there that prove him to be flat-out lying about that. They're not even all that hard to find."
How can you study traffic when it stops?
This is a key question that I haven't heard anyone ask yet. Of course, someone might have asked it during his press conference -- I didn't watch the entire two-hour spectacle, I have to admit.
"The really hilarious thing at the heart of the Christie bridge scandal is that somehow we were all supposed to believe that the entire exercise was to perform some sort of 'traffic study.' This is just flat-out ridiculous on the face of it. How can you study traffic by bringing it to a halt? What can be studied by closing two lanes out of three? What possible data can be collected by creating a traffic jam instead of watching the normal flow of traffic across a bridge? I would like to hear someone ask both Chris Christie and everyone else involved with this bit of political payback how any sane person could believe that bringing traffic to a screeching halt is a valid way to study traffic."
Nine million and counting
This is a crucial talking point which all Democrats really need to practice, because it puts things into much better perspective than the media is right now.
"The number of people who have gained health insurance that they otherwise might not have been able to acquire has now reached nine million Americans, and it continues to grow. In the first three months of the Obamacare website exchanges, over two million people signed up for private insurance policies. But don't forget about the others who have been helped by Obamacare as well -- including three million young people who have been able to stay on their parents' health insurance. This wouldn't have been possible without the Affordable Care Act, so you've got to count them, too. And then there are the four million people who have gone to the website to find out that they are now eligible for Medicaid. Again -- this would not have happened without the Affordable Care Act. Through the end of 2013, over nine million people have benefited directly by gaining health coverage. And that number is only going to grow bigger and bigger, over time."
Hospitals not overwhelmed
Yet again, the doomsayers were wrong.
"The opponents of Obamacare trotted out a new doom-and-gloom prediction, just before the new year began and people's new health insurance coverage started to kick in. Hospitals and doctors' offices, we were told, would be swamped and just overwhelmed with all the new patient load. People would be standing in long lines, beginning the first of the year, and there would be a massive doctor shortage because there were so many newly-insured people. Also, hordes of people who thought they had coverage would be turned away because the insurance companies had no record of them. Neither of these dire threats materialized, though. Here we are in the second week of Obamacare coverage, and I haven't heard a single story on the news of a hospital with lines out the door. Or masses of people left in limbo without coverage. It seems the system was able to handle the influx without muss or fuss. You can chalk this up on the increasingly-long list of apocalyptic outcomes from Obamacare which have just not come to pass. Maybe the media could keep this in mind, the next time the doomsayers come up with their next nightmare scenario, what do you think?"
The War on the War On Poverty
It's bootstrappin' time!
"I see that Republicans have launched a new war on poverty. They have just noticed that there are poor people in America, it seems, and they've got all kinds of ideas how to solve the problem. These ideas all have one thing in common: they make life tougher on the poor. So the GOP is going to fight poverty by making life harder and harder on the poor, in the hopes that they all will decide not to be poor anymore. Or something. It's tough to even try to understand their logic. They're going to fight poverty by cutting food stamps and by refusing to extend unemployment insurance. I'm really not sure how that's supposed to work. Or how this is even supposed to be some sort of compassionate conservative rebranding -- it sounds like the same old 'screw the poor, it's their fault for being poor' philosophy that Republicans have believed all along."
So long, Liz
Being a lover of the political fray, I am indeed sorry to see her go so early. Heh.
"The Tea Party seems to have suffered an early defeat in their plans to primary every Republican senator they possibly can. The most prominent candidate they had in this election cycle just walked away from her Senate campaign in Wyoming. Is the Tea Party on the way onto the scrap heap of history? Perhaps it is too soon to tell, but one thing is for certain, we won't have to listen to the shrill voice of Liz Cheney for the rest of the election season. That's comfort enough, I suppose. I guess it'll give her more time to work on her fishing."
I stand with The People
This one is short, so allow me to properly introduce it. Sooner or later Democratic politicians are going to notice that this is a winning issue with the voters. Nationwide, support is up to 55 percent. More people in Colorado voted for legalization than voted for President Obama in 2012. The people are leading, and the leaders need to catch up. Some day soon, this will be a required box to check off for any Democratic candidate -- instead of a fearsome and brave thing to say which might lose you votes. Look at the shift on gay marriage, to see how this will take place over the next five years or so. But however long it takes, sooner or later Democrats will feel enough political cover to stand up and proudly say the following:
"I fully support ending the wasteful and destructive War On Weed. Prohibition of alcohol was wrong, and had to be ended. Prohibition of marijuana should follow the same route. It is a failed policy, and it needs to end. Now."
-- Chris Weigant