FridayTalkingPoints.com

Friday Talking Points -- Selenofriggatriskaidekaphobia (Revisited)

[ Posted Friday, September 13th, 2019 – 17:00 UTC ]

We have to begin today with an apology. Five years ago, without knowing any better, we erroneously reported in this space that there would not be another Friday the 13th which coincided with a full moon until 2049. So it was much to our surprise that we heard that this week we all were going to see another one, only five short years after we feverishly coined the word "selenofriggatriskaidekaphobia" to describe those with the very specific neurotic fear (-phobia) of both full moons (seleno-) and Fridays (-frigga-) the 13th (-triskaideka-).

In short, we were lied to. Back in 2014, we read in HuffPost (full disclosure: this was when we were still blogging for them) that there was going to be a Friday the 13th full moon, which is what inspired us to write that earlier bit with the word coinage. In the article, HuffPost reported that another such confluence of events wouldn't happen "for 35 years." We naïvely believed them.

But then this week, we read in HuffPost about tonight's "micromoon," and the article stated that such an event hadn't happened "since 2000." We've since gotten them to revise their article with more-correct information, but now we wonder about their prediction that it won't happen again until 2049. In fact, if it happened next year, it wouldn't surprise us a bit. Hey, then we'd get to use the word selenofriggatriskaidekaphobia again, right? Heh.

Enough looniness, though, let's get on with the show. For once (maybe it's the full moon or something?), we are inclined to just totally ignore President Trump and the continuing saga of his endless buffoonery. Trump was fairly quiet this week, as Sharpiegate moved on to the multiple-investigations stage.

We're kidding, of course. There were two events which have to at least be mentioned in passing before we get on to discussing the state of the Democratic Party's presidential nominating process. The first came last weekend, when Trump surprised everyone by suddenly announcing that a secret meeting with the Taliban which was scheduled to take place at Camp David had been cancelled, because Trump had just discovered (who knew?) that the Taliban kills people. That was pretty astonishing, seeing as how this week also saw the anniversary of 9/11. Imagine the propaganda value that would have handed to the Taliban on a silver platter! Trump was praised for cancelling the meeting by all his Republican toadies, who universally ignored the fact that the meeting was Trump's idea in the first place. Must be the full moon, or something.

This was quickly followed by Trump firing the guy who apparently had talked him out of holding the meeting. Sane people everywhere breathed a sigh of relief that John Bolton was no longer national security advisor, as he joined a long, long list of cabinet-level departures from Trump's inner circle. Trump's now on his fourth national security advisor in under three years, just to focus on the one job. Luckily for Bolton he won't be leaving the White House and moving into federal prison, the way Trump's first national security advisor had to do.

OK, enough of all that. Let's just move along, because the dominant news of the week (at least for us) was last night's Democratic debate, the third in an ongoing series. As we are sometimes wont to do, we stayed up late last night writing up our own snap reactions to last night's debate, so if you'd like our opinions in rather hasty detail, check it out.

Overall, nobody really had a standout debate that will be talked about for years to come, but there also wasn't anyone who went down in flames to any memorable degree. Andrew Yang and Julián Castro both had their problems, but neither one truly self-destructed. The three frontrunners (Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders) all held their own last night, and nobody else really launched themselves into frontrunner rank.

But even having said that, it was a pretty good debate all around. The pace of the moderators and the responses was noticeably better than the first two debates. This could have been due to only the top 10 being on stage (no truly desperate candidates, in other words), or it could have been due to the moderators not really caring much when people ran over their time segments. For whatever reason, it worked.

While the debate was better than the first two, the choice of debate subjects seems to be a wee bit too limited for our tastes. Certain subjects have been covered in every debate held so far, while other subjects haven't even been mentioned once. Now, understandably, an issue like healthcare reform is going to keep coming up, seeing as how it is one of the highest priorities among the electorate, but do we really need to keep having exactly the same questions over and over again?

Here's a random thought: You know what we'd like to see in a future debate? We'd like to see Congress being brought into the equation while they bring up the same major subjects once again. And we'd also like to hear each candidate be asked whether they'd support the other side of the ideological divide, if it came down to it. Here's an example question we'd love to hear asked, on the healthcare issue:

"OK, Bernie, so you say you're for Medicare For All and that a public option just isn't good enough and won't cut it with you. But what I'd like to ask is, let's assume you do become president, and let's say the Democrats take the Senate and throw out the legislative filibuster. If Democrats in the House and Senate manage to pass a healthcare reform bill and put it on your desk to sign -- and if that bill only included a public option and not Medicare For All, would you sign that bill? Or would you veto it as being insufficient?"

This would have to work both ways, of course. Here's the flip side of such a question:

"Vice President Biden, let's say you win the presidency and that Democrats take the Senate and jettison the filibuster. What would happen if Senators Sanders and Warren go back to the Senate and manage to get their Medicare For All bill passed through both houses? If such a bill arrived on your desk, would you sign it or would you veto it, and why?"

We'd be willing to bet the answers to those questions (asked of all the progressives and moderates, respectively) would be highly interesting to the viewers. We certainly know we'd be interested in hearing the top candidates answer such questions, on all sorts of issues. It boils down to how pragmatic each candidate would be, in essence, as opposed to how much purity they'd demand from their own party.

Would Biden sign a full-on Green New Deal if it were passed? Would Elizabeth Warren sign some incremental environmental bill that didn't go nearly as far as she would have liked? On all the big issues that keep getting debated over and over again (healthcare, guns, green energy, racial equality, immigration, etc.), the questions are always posed as if each candidate will be able to wave some sort of magic wand once they're in the Oval Office, and create their own legislation perfectly in line with their agenda. But it just doesn't work that way. So why not ask if the candidates would accept a half a loaf if that's all that could make it through Congress? Or, on the other hand, would they accept two loaves if they really only wanted one?

Instead, what we get is the candidates urged over and over again to debate their plans as if the magic legislative wand existed. Exploring their different agendas is important, but does it have to be repeated without any change in the question format in every single debate? What we're much more interested in is hearing how pragmatic each candidate would be when they have to herd the congressional cats. Because we think that's a valid way of measuring all the candidates against each other. And one that highlighted how Democrats are not really all that far apart, no matter how progressive or moderate the details of their individual plans may be.

One final thought before we move on. Julián Castro decided to badger Joe Biden hard about one particular issue, in the midst of the healthcare debate segment. Turns out he was wrong to do so, because Castro misstated Biden's position, which totally upended his whole "You just said so two minutes ago!" theme. But putting all that aside, what we were really astonished at was the reaction from some pundits, led by Rahm Emanuel on the same station the debate was being held. In the very first commentary after the end of the debate, Rahm called Castro's attack "mean and vindictive" and a "disqualifier." Granted, Castro was insinuating that Biden was too old and forgetful to be the Democratic Party's nominee and that may not have been to everyone's taste, but it is insane to require that Democrats be polite and overly cautious in a debate setting. After all, does anyone alive think that Donald Trump is going to play by the same rules? If Biden isn't tough enough to take some rude comments in a primary debate, then he is not the man to nominate for the general election, plain and simple. Mind you, we're not saying that's what happened -- in fact, Biden did stand up strongly for himself and was proven right when everyone had time to check the transcript. It didn't knock Biden off his stride, and he soldiered on for the rest of the debate. But the very notion (and Rahm wasn't the only one saying such things) that Democrats running for president should be coddled or protected by some Marquess of Queensbury rules is just flat-out wrong. Brutal attacks from fellow Democrats are almost downright necessary, in fact, because they will toughen the eventual candidate up and prepare him or her for the onslaught of bullying that they will face in the general election against Trump. So please, spare us the pearl-clutching. If anything, the episode wound up being more to Biden's benefit than Castro's, as most people are beginning to now realize.

 

Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We're going to get rather hyperspecific here, and award this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week on a single criterion, rather than trying to play the "Who won the debate?" game. In other words, this one's personal. We say this because just over a week ago, we took one Democrat to task for exhibiting a trait we despise and fear not only in Donald Trump but in any politician on either side of the aisle: the stubborn inability to admit fault.

Trump, of course, is the worst of the worst in this regard (see: Sharpiegate). And we have to admit we did engage in a bit of false equivalence in our article, because the Democrat we singled out wasn't nearly as egregious as Trump in denying reality and sticking to his wrongheaded story beyond any reasonable degree. But we consider this to be an absolutely disqualifying character flaw in political figures no matter what the degree, because it means they might not be trusted to face reality in a crisis, should that reality differ from their own worldview or expectations. It's a dangerous trait for a president to have, in other words, which is why we are so stringently against it. But last night, Joe Biden atoned for this sin in two very notable ways. Which is why he is our choice for this week's MIDOTW award.

Joe Biden, when he was a senator, voted for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force which gave President George W. Bush the green light to go to war in Iraq. Bernie Sanders, notably, voted against this resolution. This is a big difference between the two, although it isn't as big a deal as it was in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 elections (its importance has faded over time, in other words). And Bernie regularly brings it up.

Biden's stock answer has been that (1) Biden believed Bush when he said he wasn't actually going to use the A.U.M.F. to start a war, and (2) Biden then began opposing the Iraq War immediately after it started. He's even used lines like: "I opposed it starting with 'shock and awe,'" the shorthand for the initial bombing campaign which started the war. Last night, Bernie got in a good dig at Biden by turning the first line around and stating plainly that this was a big difference between the two, because Bernie "never believed what Cheney and Bush said about Iraq." But this line was kind of ignored, because Biden had already defused the situation.

Just before Bernie spoke, Biden accepted responsibility in a related answer about whether he and President Barack Obama had pulled the troops out of Iraq too precipitously (which left the power vacuum that the Islamic State stepped into). Now, to the best of my knowledge, Biden has previously expressed regret for his A.U.M.F. vote in the past (the subject has come up previously), but perhaps never in such forceful terms. Biden bluntly stated last night: "I never should have voted for the A.U.M.F.," which simply leaves no wiggle room at all.

That was impressive, even if (as mentioned) the Iraq War vote has faded somewhat over time as a litmus test within the Democratic Party. But what was really impressive is that Biden then went further, in an effort to defend against an attack he knew was likely coming (from one of the moderators or from a fellow candidate onstage). Earlier this week, the Washington Post prominently fact-checked Biden for his claim of opposing the Iraq War from the get-go, and found his previous claims to be, shall we say, less than truthful. In fact, it took over a year after the war started for Biden to start speaking out against it.

But rather than doubling down and just repeating the stock line that he's been using on the campaign, Biden instead got out in front of the issue with a pre-emptive mea culpa. He fully admitted that saying "from that point on" about his opposition to the war from the start was not accurate.

This is precisely what we've been looking for from Biden -- a clear indication that he's not adamant about insisting that his memory is correct when the evidence clearly shows that it is not. This originally arose in reference to the war story Biden's been telling about pinning a medal on a soldier who did not want to receive it because he thought he didn't deserve it (he was being decorated for heroism in trying to save a fellow soldier's life, but as the soldier pointed out, "he died"). It is a moving story, but Biden apparently got all the details wrong (while the core part of the story about the soldier protesting his medal was indeed correct -- the soldier in question backed up Biden's recollection, in fact). When he was called on his errors, Biden got rather indignant about the whole thing, which is what reminded us of Trump and what moved us to write about it in the first place.

But this time, Biden chose a much better route. He was shown to have been in error in a campaign story he's been telling, and he then voluntarily admitted his error in a debate, before anyone could even bring it up. By doing so, he disarmed any attacks against him and showed why it is almost always better for a politician to gracefully admit error than it is to stubbornly dig in their heels.

To most viewers it was a small moment that was barely noticed. We haven't seen any other pundit even mention it today in all the voluminous debate coverage, in fact. But to us, it resonated strongly.

No politician is perfect, and few have perfect memory. Just about everyone edits and embellishes the personal stories we tell over time, sometimes to make it a better story and sometimes to make ourselves look better in it. It's human nature. But politicians are essentially asking the public to trust them and to believe them, which is why such stories from politicians get so much media scrutiny in the first place.

Everyone (even politicians) can be excused a little such embellishment -- if they admit they're wrong when called on it. And when the subject is a very important one politically (a politician's relative support for a war America fought, for instance), then such errors become larger than just embellishments -- they tip over into self-aggrandizement. Sometimes this is intentional, sometimes it is subconscious. But whatever the motivation, when proven wrong a politician should always be ready to accept the correction and apologize for any misunderstanding.

Last night, Joe Biden admirably did so. Which was precisely what we've been waiting for from him. Because he came through -- voluntarily, no less, even before anyone else brought it up -- we think Biden deserves this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. We know we were impressed, even if everyone else seems to have missed the moment.

[Joe Biden is technically a private citizen, and it is our blanket policy not to link to campaign websites, so you'll have to seek his contact information yourself if you'd like to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

As always, the phrase "most disappointing Democrat" can be read two ways. Either a Democrat did something very disappointing, or a Democrat (through no real fault of their own) wound up disappointing a lot of people. This week, we're choosing the second interpretation, and awarding the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to Dan McCready, failed candidate for a House seat in North Carolina's ninth district.

This was the longest election from the 2018 cycle. Last year, the Republican candidate's campaign engaged in outright election fraud, making the results absolutely meaningless. When the votes were counted, the Republican had won by less than 1,000, but (crucially) all the votes cast were not counted due to all the dirty tricks. So they were forced to hold the election all over again.

The Republican who cheated quite wisely decided not to run again. If he had, perhaps McCready would have had a better shot at the seat. Instead, McCready kept campaigning (his entire campaign ironically wound up being longer than a full House term) in the hopes that he could pull off an upset given the chance of a fair election. This Tuesday, he fell short, losing the special election by two percentage points to the Republican.

Even though they won, though, this election caused a lot of fear among other Republicans, and for good reason. The district hasn't elected a Democrat in the past half-century, and was specifically gerrymandered to be a safe GOP seat. Despite all that, and despite voting for Donald Trump by a whopping 12 points, McCready almost won -- twice. That's pretty impressive, even if he did wind up disappointing a lot of Democrats nationwide by not flipping the seat this Tuesday. It means that since 2016, the district has moved 10 whole points towards the Democrats. This is due to suburban voters and women (and both) moving sharply away from Donald Trump's Republican Party. And if Democrats can move this district 10 points, then they have a reasonable chance of moving a whole lot of very similar districts their way in 2020. Which is why Republicans are so worried, even after squeaking out a win in North Carolina.

Even so, it would have been a lot more exciting if McCready had won, obviously. Which is why -- through no real fault of his own -- we feel we have to give the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to McCready, for disappointing so many Democrats all across the country. In other words, we give this award more in sorrow than in anger, this week.

[Dan McCready is also a private citizen, and it is our standing policy not to provide contact information for such persons.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 542 (9/13/19)

In the days after a Democratic presidential debate, all Democrats should be focused on one overarching messaging goal, and that is to point out the vast number of issues where there is broad-based unity within the party. This unity stands in stark contrast to the Republican Party, and to Donald Trump in particular.

Don't let the lazy mainstream media get away with equating a healthy debate among Democratic presidential candidates with some sort of huge divide within the party, because such a divide does not currently exist. Democrats are more united now than they have been in decades, and this needs to be pointed out to any pundits who are tempted to write yet another "Democrats In Disarray!" article. Democrats may differ on the details, but they are united on their overall agenda.

So paint Democrats as being behind the same worthy goals, even if there are slight disagreements on how to get there. The party is now standing up for big change in all sorts of areas, which is a marked improvement from the milquetoast things Democrats used to only be able to agree upon. This is a sea-change which has happened in a very short period of time (thanks to Bernie Sanders, in large part), and what it means is that the differences between the parties is getting starker and starker by the day. Here's a bonus talking point, as an example (one we really expected to hear from someone last night):

"You know what Democrats all agree upon? Democrats agree that the Taliban should never be invited to Camp David, period. We can talk peace with them, and we may end up cutting some kind of deal with them, but this deal should be signed on neutral territory. Unlike Donald Trump who wants to ban every Muslim except the Taliban from coming to America, Democrats believe that inviting them to Camp David would be a travesty."

All of our talking points this week are designed to point out such vast differences -- between what Democrats want to achieve, what Democrats are striving to fix, and how Republicans have no answers other than to make everything worse for the maximum number of people possible. Luckily, this is a fairly easy picture to paint, on all sorts of issues.

 

1
   A Right, Not A Privilege

This is one where Bernie Sanders really deserves the lion's share of the credit.

"You know what? Sure, every Democrat has different ideas on how to improve healthcare for the maximum number of people in this country, but we all agree on the basic goal. Democrats want more people to have health insurance. Democrats want to make medical bankruptcies a thing of the past. Democrats want healthcare to be a right, not a privilege. Contrast that goal -- which is broadly shared by each and every one of us -- with what the Republicans believe. They want to take health insurance away from the maximum amount of people. They've been working hard to do so ever since Obamacare was passed. They want us to go back to the bad old days when insurance companies could refuse to sell you a policy if you had a pre-existing condition. They're suing in federal court on this issue even as I speak. Republicans want healthcare to be a privilege only available to those with enough money to afford it. Democrats strongly disagree, and when I say that I mean all Democrats. After all, we're can split the hairs of all our plans, but when have any Republicans proposed any single idea that would improve healthcare rather than make the system worse?"

 

2
   Raise everyone's pay

This issue just never seems to come up in the debates, for some inexplicable reason.

"In the third Democratic debate, many of the candidates supported raising teachers' pay to $60,000 a year or more. That's a concept all Democrats can get behind, no matter what the target number turns out to be. In fact, Democrats want everyone to get paid better, and we are in complete agreement about the best way to begin this process -- by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. If the lowest-paid employees get a raise, then their supervisors will have to get a raise, and their managers will also see a boost in pay. Call it 'trickle-up theory,' or use a phrase from John F. Kennedy instead: 'A rising tide will lift all boats.' This is what Democrats stand for, while Republicans keep proposing the opposite over and over and over again -- giving the fatcats and the corporate owners a big boost in pay in the futile hopes that some of it will eventually trickle down. How many times has this lie been sold to the American public, with nothing to show for it at all in average workers' paychecks? So sure, we're all for boosting teacher pay, but we're also in complete lockstep on the pressing need to raise the minimum wage to reward the hardest workers in this country, rather than showering another huge tax cut onto Wall Street."

 

3
   A worldwide approach

This one is also pretty easy.

"Every single Democrat I know of has realized that climate change exists, that it is a danger to us all, and that we must all act as soon as we can to halt and reverse the process. Meanwhile, the Republicans still have their collective heads stuck in the sand, denying what scientist after scientist has concluded. What is called for is worldwide action, and America used to pride itself on leading such worldwide efforts. Any Democrat elected president would immediately rejoin the Paris accords that Donald Trump rejected. Any Democrat would work hard with every country on Earth to improve the situation and reduce the use of fossil fuels, because we want to fight for the future of our planet together. Republicans have been denying reality for too long, and Democrats are united in demanding that this inaction must end."

 

4
   Standing with us

On a similar note....

"Democrats agree that China needs to change the way it conducts trade, but we also agree that the way Donald Trump is going about it is not going to work. We stand the strongest when we stand with our allies, which is why the Western World needs to stand together as we all face up to China together. If we presented a unified front to China rather than trying to go it alone, we would be in a much better bargaining position. Instead, the Republicans have turned their backs on our allies and cheer on President Trump waging a trade war not only with China but also simultaneously with Europe and Canada and all our other former allies. As you can see, this hasn't worked. Let's instead go back to the days when America took the lead on such issues, and stood shoulder to shoulder with our traditional allies to demand China change its ways."

 

5
   It's the whole damn river

This is a repeat in some ways from a previous column, but the point bears repeating.

"In a country so incredibly divided that it's tough to find any issue which completely unites the public, there is ninety percent or better support for instituting truly universal background checks. Let me say that again: ninety percent or better. That's not just 'mainstream' -- that's the whole damn river! Over nine in ten people agree background checks should happen for all gun purchases or transfers. The loopholes must be slammed shut. Not only are Democrats completely united on this subject, it also is supported by a majority of Republicans and a majority of gun owners. The only thing stopping this law from being enacted is the stranglehold the N.R.A. has on Republican politicians. You want to see universal background checks become reality? There's an easy way to do so -- vote Democratic."

 

6
   A country of immigrants

Again, a fairly easy picture to paint.

"While much has been made over the slight differences in Democrats' policy ideas, when you get right down to it, Democrats believe we are a country of immigrants, while Republicans increasingly don't. They used to hide behind the dodge that they were 'for legal immigration,' but Donald Trump has proven that what they're really in favor of is no immigration, except maybe from Norway. You know what Democrats believe? That children shouldn't be locked up in cages like an animal. That babies shouldn't be ripped from their mothers' arms. That families should not be separated at the border. And furthermore, Democrats believe that white supremacism is a real threat to our national security and it needs to be treated as such instead of continuing the policy of allowing the federal government to turn a blind eye to it or worse."

 

7
   Legalize it

OK, we just threw this one in here to stave off any possible rampant selenofriggatriskaidekaphobia, we fully admit. Heh.

"Democrats believe that marijuana should be made legal at the federal level, which would mean not only finally ending the destructive and counterproductive War On Weed, but would also mean that marijuana should be treated like alcohol across the entire country. States, counties, and towns and cities would be free to regulate the sale of marijuana to their heart's content -- they can continue banning all sales in those places where the citizens really want that. But nobody could ever again be arrested and locked in prison merely for possessing marijuana, period. Just as today I can legally drive through a dry county with a six-pack of beer in my car, everyone should be able to do the same thing with marijuana all over this country. The War On Weed is finally about to come to an end, and you can thank Democrats for leading the way out of this quagmire."

-- Chris Weigant

 

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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground