Things have apparently gone too far for Chuck Todd of NBC News. After weeks of breathless lead-story coverage of the missing airplane -- with pretty much zero new facts to report -- Chuck finally expressed his feelings on Twitter:
Wait, so when did finding NOTHING get characterized as "breaking news"?
He followed this up with a few other thoughts, including:
Another day of "breaking news" based on finding nothing or in other words, "not breaking news"
Since we're beginning with parodying the mainstream media, we have to start by offering up a riff on a Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update" sketch:
"Really, Chuck? Really? You're just noticing this now? I mean... really? Have you ever actually listened to Brian Williams?!? The man simply could not exist without at least twelve superlatives in every single sentence he reads on the air. Really!"
Ahem. Perhaps that was unseemly of me. Especially since I do agree with Chuck Todd's point. Apropos of nothing, I even think he would be a much better host of Meet The Press than David Gregory, just to show you I bear him no ill will. But Todd's right -- wasting the first five minutes of every news broadcast for weeks on end by saying "we still know nothing, folks" is one of the more tedious aspects of the "newsfotainment" industry. I get that. Believe me, I do. Keeping track of such idiocy is a thankless job, like the effort it took to create a complete list of why the Crimean situation is just the most recent of a long list of "the biggest test of Obama's presidency," for instance.
But it's really nothing new to point out the ludicrous nature of what is billed as "breaking news." In fact, I can end precisely where I began this rant. Back in its infancy in the 1970s, "Weekend Update" had a running joke parodying such "breaking news" idiocy. Chevy Chase would be handed a piece of paper (which just goes to show you how long ago this was) at his news desk, and he would glance at it and then report: "This just in... Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!"
What Chuck Todd is complaining about -- breaking news on television which is not breaking, nor news -- has been with us for quite some time. Sad to say, it's nothing new, and not news to me (pun intended).
On the national political front, we have reached some sort of milestone where the announcement of yet another state to either pass a law to legalize some form of medical marijuana or have their anti-marriage-equality laws struck down by a judge is barely even newsworthy anymore. That's actually a good thing, folks -- it is so common now to hear of such things that, really, all you need to hear at this point is the running tally. "State anti-gay-marriage laws struck down as unconstitutional" now stands at five, in addition to the 17 states (plus D.C.) where gay marriage is already the law. "States with some form of medical marijuana laws" now stands at 20 (plus D.C.), but there are 15-20 additional states where some form (some of them severely limited) of medical marijuana law has at least been introduced. Other than for the residents of the states in question, it's barely even news anymore. Which, as I said, is a great thing -- how commonplace such events have become.
What was newsworthy in the marijuana department was the Department of Health and Human Services approving the first (or at least, the "first in anyone's memory," as I have to admit I haven't checked this...) serious medical study of marijuana's benefits, for returning soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. I wrote earlier this week about why this is such a big deal, because it represents a turn towards both sanity and science in our national drug policy. Wait, I'm being handed a piece of paper...
This just in... recreational marijuana use in Colorado is now supported by a bigger percentage than when Coloradans (Coloradoans?) voted on it -- by a margin of 57 percent for, to 35 percent against. Looks like the skies still have not fallen in the Rocky Mountain state, folks!
Sorry, but I couldn't resist. Not exactly breaking news, eh? Moving right along...
Since I'm going to mostly lay off snarking on Republicans in the talking points this week, we'll have to take care of it up front. Republicans all patted themselves on the back this week for fixing their party's problems. No, really! It's been one year since their "autopsy" or "post-mortem" of the 2012 elections, and ask any Republican and they'll tell you all the problems are now gone and the party's completely fixed. Except, of course, for all the proof that it hasn't changed one scintilla of their ideological problems.
"But, but..." the GOP will protest, "we hired some women to talk to women, and stuff!" Well, let's see, "how's that workin' out for ya?" as one prominent GOP woman would put it. Not so good, as a woman hired by a new GOP outreach PAC explained that women are just so "extremely busy" that they all believe that things like laws to give them equal pay aren't, you know, "practical" or "real-world solutions." Um, right. Yeah, that's the way to perform some outreach, or something. Rush Limbaugh joined in the outreach to women effort this week by ridiculing the notion of a museum for women, saying: "We already have, ladies and gentlemen, I don't know how many museums for women all over the country. They are called malls." He later clarified, "Hey, I could have said brothel, but I didn't." Um, Rush? You just did. Way to stay classy, while reaching out to the ladies. Meanwhile, an anti-abortion group attacked Representative Gary Peters, in Michigan, by posting on their site that he "[w]ants to make sure abortion is accessible and cheap for his daughters." Classy all around, guys.
And it's not just women's outreach where Republicans continue to shine. They put together some ads geared towards hipster youth (which have already been hilariously spoofed). A Republican House candidate won her primary this week, even though she believes that gay marriage and abortion cause "tornadoes, autism and dementia," because they anger God. So there's a few more "outreach" boxes for Republicans to check off.
But what took the proverbial cake this week was that a Republican state congressman, while speaking out against the expansion of Medicaid (of all things), used the term "tar baby" to describe it. He apologized the next day, saying he "meant nothing racial." Hoo boy. He's from Virginia, so this excuse is pretty unbelievable. Democrats were quick to denounce this language, of course.
What's ironic here is that while the term "tar baby" itself has quite obviously moved into the realm of "metaphors which cannot be used anymore, due to their secondary meaning (whether meant or unintended by the speaker)," it is also a perfect description of what the Republican politician is now entangled in. The story refers to a baby made out of tar, where the stronger you fight against it, the stronger it sticks and pulls you further in. No matter how you struggle, you can't extricate yourself. Which is exactly what should happen to any politician to ever use this term even again, so be warned! Need a handy substitute which paints the same metaphorical picture? Try "quicksand" instead.
But, according to national Republicans, the party's all fixed now. What's that? Oh, wait... breaking news... Republicans outreach efforts crash and burn... film at eleven!
Our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week reinforces a point we were making earlier. Democrat Toni Atkins was named speaker of the California Assembly this week, and it was newsworthy in a "hmm, that's interesting" sort of way, but also in a "what took them so long?" fashion as well. Because Atkins is the first lesbian to ever hold the post.
This is the precise measurement of how far gay rights have come -- not in winning such a prestigious position, but the fact that the "first lesbian to do so" is almost just a footnote at this point. It is so downright normal, in fact, to see yet another ceiling fall in the climb towards equal rights, that it's barely newsworthy.
In fact, in certain parts of the state, the much bigger news was that she'll be the first representative from San Diego to ever hold the position. That is, as mentioned, the measure of how humdrum news is of yet another "first" for gays.
We certainly don't mean to belittle Atkins's achievement. Far from it. In fact, that's why we're awarding her the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Our congratulations and our best wishes for running the lower chamber of our own state's legislature both go to Toni Atkins.
[Congratulate Speaker-elect Toni Atkins on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
Two Democrats are in some hot water, but we're going to have to see further developments before we hand any awards to either Representative Luis Gutierrez (who is up before the House Ethics Committee) and Rhode Island's speaker Gordon Fox (who just got his offices raided by the feds). "Stay tuned," is about all that can be said at this point.
The Ohio Democratic Party deserves at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award, for playing some dirty pool in a governor's race. Seems a judge just ruled that "the Ohio Democratic Party, or its operatives or supporters, provided assistance to" the state's Libertarian Party "in their efforts to gather petition signatures." Got that? Democrats thought they'd benefit from a Libertarian candidate being on the ballot, so they helped the guy gather signatures. Not illegal, but definitely dirty pool, at least as we see it.
But far and away the hands-down winner (whoops, sorry, I seem to be channelling Brian Williams... let's start over...).
The unquestionable winner of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is a woman called Kesha Rogers, who will be in a runoff for the nomination for the Senate race in Texas with another Democrat. That should really read "...with a Democrat," because while Rogers calls herself a Democrat, the party has renounced her in all ways because she is really just a follower of Lyndon LaRouche. The LaRouche faction is a fringe group (some even call them a cult) who uses the Democratic label, but is not welcome at all within the Democratic Party itself.
One glance at one of Rogers's campaign posters is really all it takes to understand why Kesha Rogers is (and we've decided to add "scare quotes") our Most Disappointing "Democrat" Of The Week.
[It is our long-standing policy not to provide contact information to any candidates' website.]
Volume 296 (3/21/14)
Before we get to the talking points, I have a few odds and ends that need at least a mention (but didn't seem to fit anywhere else). The first is to point out that we're now (astonishingly, to us) only four episodes away from FTP Volume 300. More on this at the end.
Next up is an Obama quote. In last week's edition, our final talking point was a suggestion for Democrats answering back to the people who criticized Barack Obama from appearing on a web comedy show. But we have to admit, our poor effort was topped by Obama himself, who answered his critics this week, when the point came up in a sports interview:
First of all, if you read back on Lincoln, he loved telling the occasional bawdy joke and being out among regular folks. And one of the hardest things about being president is being in this bubble that is artificial and unless you make a conscious effort, you start sounding like some Washington stiff. So you've got to consciously try to get out of that if you want to remind yourself of the wonderful people that you are supposed to be serving who have a sense of humor and aren't thinking every day about position papers.
Well done, Mister President. We hereby officially withdraw Talking Point Number 7 from last week, because you've done a much better job of it.
Obama had one other relevant quote this week, warning Democrats of midterm complacency: "In midterms we get clobbered -- either because we don't think it's important or we've become so discouraged about what's happening in Washington that we think it's not worth our while." This is true, and Democrats should get a little more excited about off-year elections. To further this goal, we offer up some good news from House districts where Democrats have a chance of a pickup, and a wonderfully optimistic piece by Representative Alan Grayson. Enjoy!
In this vein, we are going to offer up this week an overview of what positive issues Democrats should be championing out on the campaign trail. Any election is a choice between the two parties' agendas for the future, and Democrats can do a better job of showing how theirs benefits more Americans than their opponents. If I were running for a House seat, this is what I'd be saying, to put this another way.
Republican health plan flim-flam
I'm a fan of the "go on offense" approach, because this is really all the Republicans are even bothering to run on this year.
"My opponent has had a whole lot of ads on how awful Obamacare is supposed to be. But he refuses to say what he's for in the way of health reform, other than waving a magic wand and repealing Obamacare if he goes to Washington. As time goes on, this position gets sillier and sillier, folks. Five million people have already signed up on the Obamacare exchanges. Millions more are eligible for Medicaid. The rate of uninsured people in America continues to drop, which is exactly what Obamacare was supposed to do. And what is the alternative? Here's the big secret, folks: there is no Republican alternative. They've had the House of Representatives for four years now, and they have not come up with one single bill -- instead they just keep voting for repeal over and over again, and trying to flim-flam you into believing they have a plan that does not actually exist. Well you know what? I'm not going to let them repeal the right to insurance even if you have a pre-existing condition. I'm not going to allow them to throw millions of twentysomethings off their parents' insurance. I'm not going to allow them to bring back lifetime caps. The only answer Republicans have is to return to the days when insurance companies set the rules -- and I don't think America wants that. But that's exactly what Republicans do want. They've had four years to come up with a competing plan. They have not done so. They are never going to do so. This is because they have no plan, other than to take us back to the past, where insurance companies called all the shots."
Right To Vote Amendment
This one's easy. In fact, Bill Clinton is going to be leading this effort (which is good news indeed).
"Republicans have become obsessed in recent years with fighting non-existent voter fraud. The honest truth is that actual cases of voter fraud in the United States are rarer than getting struck by lightning. But that hasn't stopped Republicans from passing law after law which restricts the right to vote. You'll notice that many of these laws also close down polling places or limit early voting -- to make it harder for you to vote. That's crazy. We should be making it easier for people to vote! The only reason you would try to make it harder for certain groups of people -- like students, for instance -- to cast a vote is to try to manipulate the outcome. That is downright un-American! If elected, I would strongly fight for not just expanding ballot access, but for a 'Right To Vote' amendment to the United States Constitution. I think the issue is that important. We should pass a one-paragraph amendment that sets in stone every citizen's right to vote in this country once and for all. Who in their right mind would oppose guaranteeing the right to vote?"
This one is most important in House districts, obviously.
"The Senate, in true bipartisan fashion, passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year. But in the House, the Republicans refuse to budge. They have had a whole lot of time, and they have done a whole lot of nothing. There are no Republican bills which have appeared, but they refuse to vote on the Senate's bill because they are terrified it would pass with a big majority. There is only one way comprehensive immigration reform is ever going to happen and that is to elect more Democrats to the House -- that is now crystal clear."
This one is pathetically easy, because of the whole Republican War On Women. Also, because Obama's leading the effort.
"Democrats stand firm for equal pay for women, while Republicans fight as hard as they can against such a simple idea. What do Republicans offer women? More and more laws which put the government in between a woman and her doctor. Beyond that, Republicans have nothing to offer women at all. They're against equal pay, they're against any policy which would make working women's lives easier. President Obama recently addressed the issue and said that he wants to see his daughters have the same chances as men do in America. He nailed the difference between the two parties, and called opposition to the idea of equal pay laws wrong. As Obama said, 'This isn't 1958. This is 2014.' I could not agree more."
Raise it already!
Yet another easy one.
"Republicans offer working Americans nothing at all, except empty phrases that are supposed to make you feel better about your crappy job. Democrats want to see people stand on their own two feet, by rewarding hard work. Right now, giant corporations are abusing tax dollars by paying their workers so little that they need public assistance just to put food on the table. We think that's wrong. We think that raising the minimum wage is a lot smarter than having full-time workers on food stamps. Republicans used to believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, but no longer. If you send me to Washington, Democrats will fight to raise the minimum wage to over ten bucks an hour because it is the right thing to do. If you elect Republicans instead, the minimum wage is not going up. It's a simple choice, really."
This is going to just get more potent for Democrats over time.
"America has evolved on the subject of gay rights and marriage equality. I strongly believe that we shouldn't just sit around and wait for the Supreme Court to finally consign all the anti-equality laws in this country to the ashcan of history where they so richly belong. I fully support marriage equality on both the state and federal level, while my opponent believes gay people should be legally discriminated against. The differences between the two parties could not be more clear. Gay rights are going to happen, and it's easy to see which party is on the right side of history on this issue, folks."
Reschedule or deschedule!
This one is still more controversial among Democratic candidates, but some of them are beginning to see the light.
"Current federal law states that marijuana is considered more dangerous a drug than crystal meth. That is stupid, and it needs to change. Allowing states to experiment with both medical marijuana laws and with full recreational legalization is what the federal government should now be doing. The days of the continued demonization of marijuana in federal law are almost at an end. But until marijuana is moved from Schedule I to a lower schedule -- which would allow for it to be treated like any other medicine -- or to deschedule it altogether and treat it like alcohol, I will be fighting to end this pointless and costly waste of federal time and tax dollars. Let's open it up to the states to experiment, and see where it goes. Marijuana is just not more dangerous than many Schedule II drugs -- methamphetamine included -- and it's time we admitted that fact and changed the law to reflect it."
[Program Note: I have to end with a program note, because I can't really believe I'm approaching the 300th of these weekly columns. I'll have to do something to mark the occasion, but I'm not quite sure what, so suggestions are appreciated in the comments. One other personal note, I am currently attempting to be a better Twitter user, and I am thus asking for suggestions for more hashtags I should be using, so please let me know your thoughts on that, as well. Thanks!]
-- Chris Weigant