President Obama gave a press conference recently, and -- since it is still the political Silly Season -- got a lot of media attention. For what he was wearing. No, seriously. Washington was all a-twitter (or even a-Twitter) because Obama wore a suit that was not dark blue or black. While some may smack their heads over the idiocy of what passes as the Washington press corps, the right thing to do is to celebrate how males have finally reached sartorial equality with women, when viewed by political "journalists." This is not a backhanded compliment, I hasten to point out, it is meant as a backhanded insult. Because it is always insulting to a politician to focus on what she (or, now, he) is wearing, instead of reporting on the substance of her words and actions. This has been going on for women in politics for exactly as long as women have been in American politics, right up to Hillary Clinton's pantsuits and Sarah Palin's shopping spree. All women know this -- they will be judged on what they wear, sometimes more than what they say or do. Especially female politicians. President Obama is just getting a tiny taste of what women have had to put up with in the political arena since Day One. So I choose to celebrate this new equality (of the idiocy of the political press), and the closing of this particular part of the gender gap.
Men, of course, have it easier than women when choosing what to don each morning, for two big reasons. One is the fact that they're men, meaning reporters report on what they say and do a lot more than how they look. The second is that there simply aren't that many "acceptable, serious" choices for what men are supposed to wear in the business or political world. Should I wear the dark blue suit, or the black suit with barely-visible pinstripes? That's about the range of choices, really. There are only two acceptable areas for expressing any sort of originality or personality: the tie, and the flag pin. And the flag pin's a fairly recent addition. Women, on the other hand, have no hard-and-fast rules limiting their choices, which serves to make the choice itself much harder (given the wider range of choice offered) -- to say nothing of the standard they'll be held to once they actually do get dressed.
As Silly Season winds to a close, there were a smattering of "Obama's on vacation -- how dare he!?!" stories, as usual. Obama has taken less than a third of the days off that President Bush did (the reigning champion of presidential vacation time), but that certainly doesn't stop pundits from complaining every time Obama picks up a golf club. Bob Cesca did an exemplary job of researching another president's vacationing (while important events were simultaneously happening), complete with some photos of Ronald Reagan not wearing a dark blue suit.
In other "quick looks into the past" news, President Obama announced he would -- only 151 years late -- award the Medal of Honor to a soldier from the Civil War who showed leadership on the battlefields of Gettysburg. Oh, and we hope everyone marked the bicentennial which happened this week, 200 years after Washington D.C. was burned in a key British victory in the War of 1812. This didn't get a lot of attention in the American press (understandably), but will likely be mentioned in passing when we all hear about the bicentennial of the battle for Baltimore two weeks from now -- which gave us our national anthem.
But enough of these detours into history. After all, we've got an election right around the corner! Labor Day is the traditional kickoff to the serious meat of campaign season, and for the wonkier among us there is an interesting article (with interactive map) at the Washington Post site which reports that over a billion dollars will be cumulatively spent this year on ballot propositions alone. This article highlights a few of these races, which could become important as goads for each party to increase turnout among their base. It's wonky, but it's also a fascinating thing to keep your eyes on as we head into campaign season.
Republicans are already campaigning their little hearts out, which always provides some amusing moments. In Pennsylvania, the Republican governor is fighting for his political life, and so he thought he'd do a little outreach to women -- with predictable results. Two years ago, Tom Corbett responded to the forced-ultrasound debate in his state by suggesting women should just "close your eyes." Stay classy, Tom!
Elsewhere, a few Republican groups (including the one Karl Rove set up), realized that they have a serious problem reaching out to women voters, so they commissioned a study on the matter. The results were pretty dismal, as can be expected -- the gender gap is fast becoming a gender chasm. Women are only "barely receptive" to Republican policies, because they view the party as "intolerant," "lacking in compassion," and "stuck in the past." The report's recommendations were pretty timid, too, since it is quite obvious where the problem lies: the extremists in the Republican Party who are not just tone-deaf to women's concerns, but are actively working against women's interests. The only solid policy shift the report suggested was to maybe stop being against equal pay laws and maybe perhaps pay more attention to gender equality in the workplace. Well, that'd be a dandy start, but we're not exactly holding our breath waiting for it to happen, if you know what we mean. Especially after Reince Priebus (a man perfect for his job, since if you remove the vowels in his name you are left with his job description: RNC PR BS) responded to the report's conclusions by channeling his inner Sergeant Schultz in fine "Nothing to see here!" style.
Up in Alaska, the Republican candidate for Senate is now running an ad where he shoots a television, twice. This tactic, we must in all honesty report, was first successfully used by a Democrat, in West Virginia. And the ad is kind of funny (I bet there are lot of voters in Alaska feeling sympathetic to killing their televisions, after boatloads of political ads), so who knows if it'll work for Dan Sullivan or not?
In even-farther-into-the-future news, Hillary Clinton finally got around to addressing the situation in Ferguson, right after everyone stopped paying any attention to it. Maybe winning last week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award had something to do with it? Well, probably not (we're simply not that egotistical in estimating the relative impact of these columns). This week also saw some speculation as to which way Hillary will jump on another contentious issue: marijuana legalization. This speculation was fueled by two news stories about close friends of Clinton, and how they're staking out their positions: Debbie Wasserman Schultz is trying to have it both ways while not supporting medical marijuana in Florida, while Virginia's Governor Terry McAuliffe has spoken out in favor of medical marijuana in his state (even though it's not on the ballot and no bill is on the horizon in Virginia's legislature). File both of these stories under "it's WAY too early for 2016 talk," we suppose.
The biggest bout of rampant speculation in Washington this week centered on what could become known as the "September Surprise" (I wrote about this subject in greater detail earlier this week, for those interested). President Obama set a soft deadline ("the end of the summer") for announcing a new immigration policy. This could shake up the midterm election significantly, even to the point of sweeping every other contentious issue aside. Some Republicans are already threatening to shut down the government again if Obama goes through with his announcement. Current rumors are that maybe Obama is rethinking the timing of such an announcement, and he might just wait until after the midterms. So stay tuned on this one, as it might be a game-changer (if it happens, that is).
OK, that's it for the news roundup this week, but we have to close with a short program note. This column will be on vacation next week. "Friday Talking Points" will return on September 12, hopefully with plenty of juicy things to snark about. We'll see you back here in two weeks!
We're not entirely sure this is even partisan, but we felt that someone deserves some recognition for taking such a bold stand, in any event. In California, unidentified "officials from the state's Department of Managed Health Care" sent out letters to insurance companies stating that abortion is "a basic health care service" and must be covered in all health care plans in the state. From the letter: "[T]he California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy. Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally." This could mean a big legal battle in the federal courts (especially after the Hobby Lobby case), but it is refreshing to see a state government making such an unequivocal stand against the new tactic of separating abortion coverage out from health insurance policies. The nameless bureaucrats who made this stand deserve recognition, for taking such a bold position.
Last week we devoted much of this column to supporting the idea of body cameras for all police, and this week we're glad to report that Representative Adam Schiff of California is now gathering signatures on a letter he intends to send to Eric Holder, which states:
The evidence from early adopters is highly promising, and body-worn cameras have garnered support from police chiefs, rank and file officers, community organizations, and civil rights advocates. We believe that a dedicated federal grant program would be a worthy addition to the support the Department of Justice has historically provided to state and local law enforcement agencies.
For showing public support -- and for getting other House members on board -- Adam Schiff deserves at least an Honorable Mention. This is an idea whose time has come. The technology exists. All that is required to implement it universally is political will.
But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia. Kane is pushing for a Senate vote to approve military strikes in Iraq and Syria. He is doing so even though he's getting a lot of pushback from fellow Democrats, who are horrified at the prospect of senators doing their jobs right before an election.
No matter what you feel about war, about Islamic terrorists, about bombing strikes, or about Syria or Iraq, the fact of the matter is that it's a lot easier to carp about what Obama is (or is not) doing from the sidelines. Republicans revel in the ability to do so, in fact. For people like John McCain (just to pick the most obvious), it's easy to say "what Obama's doing is wrong" without ever having to vote on any alternatives. Remember, Obama didn't start bombing Syria a while back because Congress couldn't agree on doing so. This is actually the way the Constitution is supposed to work. Wars without widespread public support should not be fought. That's the basic idea.
Kaine wants to force the Senate to go on record on what to do in Iraq and Syria. We think this is a good idea. Will this lead to tough votes for some Democrats? Possibly. Will it lead to Republicans having to put up or shut up? Perhaps. But more importantly, it will put everyone on the record, right before they face the voters. If senators are confident that they are truly representing the will of their constituents, then they should have no problem voting.
The naked fear shown by anonymous Democratic Senate aides was revealed in a few quotes: "Asking anybody to take that vote within two months of an election is just stupid. Why would you put people in that position?" Kaine's response to such criticism was impressive:
I don't think anybody should just be in this job for the politics. They should be in the job to do the right thing. The notion of, "Well, we don't want to cast a hard vote before a midterm because it might be unpopular" -- that's the job we volunteered for.
Bravo, Senator Kaine. Even though Harry Reid will likely not allow such a vote, Kaine still wins this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week for taking such a principled stand. War is serious business. Politicians should have to show where they stand on such a momentous decision.
[Congratulate Senator Tim Kaine on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
It doesn't really qualify for an award either way, yet, but with all the talk circulating (from Republicans, naturally) of shutting down the government, some Democrats got the very smart idea to launch a pre-emptive strike by putting up a website highlighting previous Republican quotes from last year, just before they shut down the government. This is a good idea, at heart, but the execution so far has been pretty poor. The site is called "Shutdown Broken Promises" but so far is definitely not ready for prime time. We would venture to suggest that a talented high-school student could throw together a better website in a single weekend. Perhaps it's just in "beta" phase, or something? As we said, this could be a really good "opposition research" idea, but the execution so far is pretty disappointing indeed.
But this week's winner of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is none other than Barack Obama. During his press conference, Obama made what could be called a "Washington gaffe" (usually defined as: "accidentally speaking the truth in politics"), which might in some circumstances have been excusable. However, context in this case doesn't really help Obama, since the truth he uttered was about himself and his administration.
Asked about Syria, Obama gave a thoughtful answer where he spoke of long-term plans and goals for America. But when he was asked a follow-up question about getting congressional approval for bombing Syria, Obama responded:
I have consulted with Congress throughout this process. I am confident that as Commander-in-Chief I have the authorities to engage in the acts that we are conducting currently. As our strategy develops, we will continue to consult with Congress. And I do think that it will be important for Congress to weigh in, or that our consultations with Congress continue to develop so that the American people are part of the debate.
But I don't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet. I think what I've seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we're at than we currently are. And I think that's not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military as well. We need to make sure that we've got clear plans, that we're developing them. At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard. But there's no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.
Of course, this was shortened in the media to a single soundbite: "We don't have a strategy yet."
This really falls into a sort of "rookie mistake" category -- one that Obama should now be far beyond. Instead of that one sentence, Obama could have used the previous phrasing and given the same full answer with one sentence's change: "Our strategy is not fully developed as of yet." This would have said exactly the same thing, but avoided the "gotcha" quote in the media.
It's not as if Obama is alone on this. Nobody has a strategy for fighting the Islamic State and what to do in Syria right now (except John McCain's "rain bombs down upon them everywhere, right now" strategy -- which is indeed his strategy for lots of different countries in the world and is why he did not get elected president). Congress -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- are terrified of even voting on any such strategy. So, as we said, Obama is not alone in taking some time to develop a solid plan of action.
But none of that will make it beyond the Washington bubble, because of one sentence the president said in a news conference. For making such a verbal stumble, President Obama is regretfully our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.
[Contact President Obama via the White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 318 (8/29/14)
Another mixed bag, here at the end of Silly Season. Next time around (which will be in two weeks, remember), we expect to have a little more focus in these talking points, as the congresscritters all scurry back to the banks of the Potomac. Until then, this is what we've got for this week.
We have met the enemy...
This is "shutdown talk," part one.
"I see that some Republicans have reverted to what they do best -- threaten to shut down the federal government in a gigantic tantrum over not getting their own way 100 percent of the time. Republicans will -- just like they did the last couple of times they shut the government down -- attempt to blame this on President Obama somehow, but I find it refreshing that Mitch McConnell knows better. In a recent statement, where he swears he has ruled out another government shutdown -- just like Republican leaders falsely promised last time around -- McConnell made an interesting slip of the tongue. Here is his quote: 'I'm the guy that's gotten us out of the shutdowns that some of our members have pushed us into in the past.' That's right -- some of Mitch McConnell's own Republican members are indeed the ones who are going to threaten disaster for the federal budget once again. I'd like everyone to please remember this when Republicans pathetically trot out their same old 'look what he made me do' excuses, next month."
Are you for it or against it?
This one would be handy for just about any Democratic candidate running for Congress, especially as we head into the debate phase of the campaign. To be asked of a Republican opponent, of course.
"The only thing the Republican House has been good for the past two years is driving us over fiscal cliffs and shutting the federal government down in a tantrum any parent of a two-year-old would recognize. That's the only thing they have accomplished -- threatening the entire American economy every so often, for purely political gambits that never work out. In fact, that's what we're hearing from Republicans on Capitol Hill right now: more threats of government shutdowns. So I ask my Republican opponent, in as simple language as I can manage: Are you in favor of shutting the federal government down again for any reason? If you are elected, will you join in these tantrums, or will you govern? A 'yes' or 'no' answer to that would be fine."
Time for some moral outrage
This is just downright disgusting. So say so!
"Republican Senate candidate Allen Weh is using images from the video shot of American journalist James Foley being beheaded by Islamic terrorists. Foley's family is begging all of the American public not even to view this video, but Weh feels it is entirely appropriate to force it upon the people of New Mexico. This is so far beyond the pale, I'm almost at a loss for words to express my disgust. I call upon Weh to take down this despicable ad, and if he won't, I call upon the Republican Party to disavow both his campaign and this ad. This is a matter of common decency, folks. The ad should never have been approved in the first place."
Throw out the money-launderers!
Here's a nice Biblical reference for Democrats to use.
"House Republicans are trying to pass a bill which makes it easier for money-lenders to operate as money-launderers. Yes, you heard that right: Republicans want to weaken the rule of law so that payday lenders can continue to exploit both the people who borrow from them as well as federal laws against money-laundering. I say we need to throw the money-launderers out! How hard a concept is this for Republicans to understand -- money-laundering is wrong, and we need to make it harder for those attempting to do so, not easier."
Docs versus Glocks
This one is fairly easy to state (and more power to the ACLU for supporting the "Docs versus Glocks" legal case).
"Republicans have been pushing laws -- such as the one in Florida -- which silence doctors on the subject of guns in the home. This is simply an outrageous attempt at censoring American citizens who happen to be doctors. Whatever happened to Republicans being against the concept of government getting in between a doctor and a patient, after all? In their overreaching attempt to protect the Second Amendment, these laws absolutely trample upon the First Amendment. Doctors should be free to speak to their patients about anything under the sun, because the Constitution guarantees them this right. This sets a dangerous precedent of one special interest group passing a law banning a conversation they don't think should happen. What would people say if the big tobacco companies passed a law banning doctors from discussing smoking with their patients, after all? If the patients don't want these conversations with doctors, then the doctors will go out of business because their patients will all leave -- that is the free marketplace, folks. Free speech should not be dictated by politicians in this country -- not in the streets, not in political conversations, and definitely not in doctors' offices."
Another one bites the dust
More news from the Pennsylvania governor's race.
"I see that Pennsylvania is the latest state to decide that the Medicaid expansion offered by Obamacare is a good thing, after all. The Republican governor probably realized that Republican governors in states which have accepted the Medicaid expansion are doing a lot better in the polls than Republican governors in states which have refused the expansion. This is a polite way of saying this is a desperation move in his effort to get re-elected. But whatever -- it means that hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians will now get health insurance, so it's a good thing even if it was a move born out of political self-preservation. As time goes on, more and more Republican-led states are realizing that not accepting Obamacare's Medicaid extension is both mean-spirited and politically damaging. During this entire time, not a single state has decided to belatedly opt out, while state after state sheepishly decides it is now time to opt in. Hopefully, sooner or later, all Republican governors will come to this simple conclusion as well."
How to appeal to women, for dummies
We end with a few stats taken from that "how do we talk to women, guys?" report, just because.
"Karl Rove and a few of his buddies just spent some money on a report to detail why Republicans have such a big 'gender gap' with the voters. The numbers are pretty staggering, folks. When women voters were asked who 'wants to make health care more affordable,' Democrats won by a 39 percent margin. When asked which political party 'looks out for the interests of women,' Democrats won by 40 points. On who 'is tolerant of other people's lifestyles, Democrats had a 39 point lead. When asked such basic questions about which party cared about jobs, and which party is willing to compromise, Democrats again held whopping big advantages of, respectively, 35 points and 26 points. In other words, this ain't rocket science, guys. Women just aren't that into the GOP. Did they really need yet another report to tell them this? The gender gap is fast becoming a gender chasm. But the only way Republicans are ever going to change this is if they follow a simple, two-step plan. Step one: stop supporting moralistic, patronizing, and -- at times -- downright misogynistic policies which make women's lives harder. Step two: start supporting policies which make women's lives easier -- such as equal pay, not inserting politicians between a woman and her doctor, and making it easier for everyone to cast their vote, just for starters. Women will vote for you if you don't attack them and if you support policies they like. It's really not that tough to figure out."
-- Chris Weigant