Friday Talking Points [464] -- Ending GOP Whataboutism

[ Posted Friday, December 8th, 2017 – 18:28 PST ]

In the same week that Time magazine gave its "Person Of The Year" award to the #MeToo movement, three members of Congress resigned because of it. The last week anything similar happened, according to historians, was during the Civil War, over the issue of slavery. On a single day in January of 1861, five senators resigned (as their states seceded from the Union). One historian noted: "If you look over the history of the 20th century in Congress, there just is no comparable event."

John Conyers Jr., Al Franken, and Trent Franks all announced their resignations this week -- two Democrats and one Republican. There are several others under pressure to resign on both sides of the aisle as well, so this may only be the beginning and not the end of the trend.

Politically, so far, the Democrats are in the winning position of taking the moral high road. Democrats, on the whole, have reacted to these scandals by drumming the offenders out. Republicans don't have much of a moral leg to stand on, and are left with weak complaints that the Democrats didn't act fast enough. However, they are hamstrung both by Donald Trump being in the Oval Office and by the special election race in Alabama, where they truly are proving they want to win no matter what the political cost. And now they've even been denied the "whataboutism" argument.

Speaking of Roy Moore, the man Republicans are trying to elect to the United States Senate in Alabama, he was asked recently at a campaign event when America was last "great" (a riff on Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan). Moore revealingly answered: "I think it was great at the time when families were united. Even though we had slavery, they cared for one another." This is the man Republicans want representing Alabama in the Senate. In 2017. "America was last great before the Civil War, even with the slavery!" -- now there's a slogan Republicans should really consider getting behind for next year's midterm elections!

Of course, not all Republicans are quite that willing to commit political suicide. This week, an anti-Trump conservative group led by Evan McMullin spent $500,000 to run two ads which essentially tell conservative Republican voters in Alabama that the best thing they could do at this point is stay home and not vote (the ads don't endorse any candidate, while ripping into Moore). The first of these ads features a staunch Republican voter saying Moore "makes Republicans and us Christians look bad." The second is even more to the point, showing photos of young women while describing the allegations against Moore before asking: "What if she was your little girl? Your daughter? Your sister? What if she was 16 years old, or 15, or 14?" These are conservative ads being run against a Republican Senate candidate, mind you.

When interviewed, McMullin says he "believes that the character of our elected leaders has great influence over the character of our nation. We must oppose candidates that fail even the most basic ethical standards and reject the idea that temporary political advantage justifies abandoning our values. Roy Moore is unworthy of a seat in the U.S. Senate. The credible allegations against him, his history as a judge, and his many discriminatory statements demonstrate that he does not respect the dignity and safety of young girls, has no commitment to the rule of law, and no respect for religious liberty."

Mitt Romney also continues to speak out against Moore, which led Steve Bannon to light into Romney during a Moore rally:

Judge Roy Moore has more honor and integrity in that pinkie finger than your entire family has in its whole DNA. You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam. Do not talk to me about honor and integrity.

Bannon used to work for Donald Trump, who not only also has over a dozen claims of sexual misconduct against him, but also got multiple deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam. So Bannon's on rather shaky ground, here. Some conservatives seem to recognize this, such as conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, who tweeted:

Actually surprised at the number of Dems who don't seem to realize the significance of Franken/Conyers resignations. Right now GOP/Moore/Trump hiding behind whataboutism. This strips them of that excuse. They go into 2018 exposed.

He's right, and if Moore wins on Tuesday, the problem is not going to go away for Republicans, it is going to intensify.

Speaking of Trump's problems with women, oral arguments were heard on a motion in the Summer Zervos defamation suit against Donald Trump. Trump's lawyers are arguing that the case should be tossed out, even though the Supreme Court ruled (in Bill Clinton's case) that civil lawsuits against sitting presidents could indeed be tried. In the case of Clinton, it was lying during a deposition that got him impeached, please remember. If Trump is deposed what chance does anyone think he has of making it through without repeatedly telling whoppers under oath?

In other #MeToo news, Republican Representative Blake Farenthold is refusing to resign, even though a sexual harassment accusation against him resulted in a settlement of $84,000. Of the taxpayers' money. Farenthold now says he'll pay the money back to the Treasury, but that he's not stepping down. So far, only one Republican member of Congress (Representative Mia Love of Utah) has called on him to step down -- a noticeable difference in how the two parties are handling these scandals. Up until now, the Republicans had the "what about John Conyers and Al Franken" defense to fall back on, but that is no longer operative.

Republican Representative Trent Franks did resign this week, after it was revealed that he asked female staffers if they would be a surrogate mother for his baby. That's a rather odd twist on the general subject of sexual misconduct, and it provoked some rather amusing reactions from journalists. Karen Tumulty tweeted: "Trent Franks to staffers: may I borrow your uterus?" while James Downie asked: "Wait, so is this scandal's name Surrogate-gate or just Surrogate?"

Out of politics (and now out of a job), former Democratic Senator Harold Ford Jr. was just fired for sexual misconduct by Morgan Stanley. And, due to limited space, we aren't even going to attempt to list all the state-level politicians who have also either recently resigned or are facing heat to do so due to sexual misconduct. It truly has been a historic week, that's for sure.

This is all pretty depressing, we realize, so we thought we'd end the subject of sex and politics on a lighter note: The Washington Post celebrated its 140th birthday this week, and admitted to a funny typo it ran a century ago, about Woodrow Wilson: "The President gave himself up for the time being to entering his fiancee." They quickly corrected this (to "entertaining," of course) and then "scrambled to recall papers already on the stands."

The other big issue in Washington this week was Congress creating a joint committee to hash out the differences between the House tax bill and the Senate tax bill. They're tasked with putting together two massively unpopular bills, and they'll probably wind up with a final effort that is even more unpopular. Evidence of this: not even two-thirds of the Republican governors signed a letter supporting the tax cuts. A surprising 13 of the 34 GOP governors refused to sign the letter. Meaning the effort isn't even all that popular within the ranks of elected Republican officials, to say nothing of the country at large.

Republicans seem to really be dropping the ball when it comes to selling their tax plan, which is kind of astonishing because usually they're much better at this sort of thing. The worst example was probably Senator Charles Grassley this week, who said (about removing taxes on heirs inheriting more than $5 million dollars at once): "I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies." Marie Antoinette would have approved that sentiment, one assumes.

Representative Barbara Lee was not amused, however, tweeting back:

Just so we're clear, Senator Grassley, here's what my constituents are spending "every darn penny" on:




College tuition.

You just made their lives harder in order to give billionaires massive tax breaks.

Michael Gerson, a Republican political operative, bemoaned the image the party was presenting to the public by asking: "What drives many elected Republicans to embody every destructive, plutocratic stereotype? Do they really need to wear spats and a top hat every time they appear in public?" Good questions.

And, in an incredible fit of political malpractice (even more stunning than Grassley's idiocy), Paul Ryan announced -- before the tax bill has even been finalized -- that now that Republicans have blown a $1.5 trillion hole in the budget, it is time to slash spending for the poor and the elderly -- because of the big, bad deficit, of course. The chutzpah is just stunning.

Here is what Ryan has to say -- again, right before blowing that $1.5 trillion dollar hole in the debt: "We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.... Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements -- because that's really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking."

Orrin Hatch agrees: "We're spending ourselves into bankruptcy. Now, let's just be honest about it: We're in trouble. This country is in deep debt. You don't help the poor by not solving the problems of debt, and you don't help the poor by continually pushing more and more liberal programs through." From a different article, Hatch identified what he'll be targeting -- children's health programs: "The reason CHIP's having trouble is because we don't have money anymore, and to just add more and more spending and more and more spending, and you can look at the rest of the bill for the more and more spending." No word on whether he was wearing spats and/or a top hat when he said this.

Jared Bernstein had the best response to this:

Turning to Hatch's statement, I cannot state the following adamantly enough:

Because they have used the deficit to pay for a tax cut that blatantly favors the rich over the rest, Republicans have forfeited their ability to tell us what we can and can't afford.

Meanwhile, new figures out show that: "The share of wealth owned by America’s top 1 percent of households has reached 40 percent, according to a new paper. The richest Americans now own more wealth than at any other point in the past 50 years."

Historically speaking, after comparing this tax plan to all other tax reform in the past 50 years, the only conclusion to be drawn is: "It's probably the most regressive tax cut in the past 50 years, but there's not enough data to speak with absolute confidence. The Bush tax cuts were pretty regressive too.... That said, it is hard to find a tax plan that has done less for the middle class."

OK, this is far too long already, so let's just quickly review what else is taking place while everyone's paying attention to the big political stories:

Donald Trump announced America will be moving its embassy to Jerusalem, which has already unleashed a wave of violence which is likely only going to intensify. Trump can now kiss any hope he ever had for a Middle East peace deal goodbye, since he has so obviously thrown his lot in with Israel's side.

Congress quietly kicked the budget can two more weeks down the road, so look for some last-minute drama in Washington, right before Christmas.

Donald Trump shrank two National Monuments by millions of acres this week, prompting the outdoors brand Patagonia to change their website to a stark warning: "The President Stole Your Land."

The wedding cake case from Colorado (where a baker refused a gay couple's request to make them a cake) made it to the Supreme Court this week, so everyone's wondering which way Justice Kennedy is going to vote (because his will likely be the determining vote).

It was announced (but not noticed much by anyone) that there are four times as many American troops in Syria as previously acknowledged by the Pentagon.

And the Republicans are utterly failing to support those troops when they get home, too: "Four days after Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin held a big Washington event to tout the Trump administration's promise to house all homeless vets, the agency did an about-face, telling advocates it was pulling resources from a major housing program. The VA said it was essentially ending a special $460 million program that has dramatically reduced homelessness among chronically sick and vulnerable veterans." Par for the course, but just imagine if a Democratic administration had done anything remotely that cruel to veterans.

And a few final items unrelated to the rest of the week's news. We offer our sincere condolences to Vice President Mike Pence's family, since their cat died this week. The Pences tweeted: "We will all miss Pickle, our very chatty, sweet kitty of 16 years." We are strictly non-partisan in our love of political pets here, so we mourn Pickle's loss with the Pences.

And we'll end with a few tweets, just because. Donald and Melania Trump both tweeted messages out in honor of the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The president misquoted Franklin Delano Roosevelt, while the first lady got the year of the attack wrong. Whoops! Again, just imagine what the reaction would have been if a Democrat had done such a thing....

But the best news from Twitterland is that even though Trump has been the most prolific president on Twitter ever, the year's most retweeted message came from none other than Barack Obama -- a message of love that has now been retweeted 1.7 million times. So, obviously, it's not about quantities of tweets, it's about the quality of what gets tweeted.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

In keeping with the times, we're going to award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Democratic women officeholders. While fewer than ten percent of Republicans in Congress are women, on the Democratic side the proportions are a lot better. This week, Democratic women (particularly in the Senate) flexed their political muscles. Whether you agree or disagree that Al Franken needed to go, you have to admit that it would have been almost impossible for him to stand up to the united Democratic women calling for him to step down.

This was all triggered by the seventh and eighth accuser of Franken going public, and it was initially led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Gillibrand's voice alone might not have been enough, but she was quickly joined by almost all the other Democratic women in the Senate.

Contrast this to the stunning silence on the other side of the aisle, as Republicans in Congress shy away from calling for cleaning up their own ranks. When Republicans are caught in sexual misconduct scandals, few voices are raised calling for them to step down.

On the Democratic side, however, a tide of such calls rose up, which led to the resignations of John Conyers and Al Franken within the same week.

That is real political power. And it's impressive -- again, whether or not you agreed with their position, you have to admit the show of strength was indeed impressive. So to all the Democratic women who showed just how powerful a caucus they can be within the Democratic Party, you have earned this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

[There are simply too many of these women to list individually, so if you are represented by one of these women in the Senate, you can use the Senate webpage to get their contact information, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

This one, alas, is pretty easy. Senator Al Franken has disappointed millions. First, for his behavior; and second, for the potential future political career he will now not have.

Franken, up to this week, was going to attempt to tough it out. He was planning on fighting the charges in the Ethics Committee in an attempt to clear his name. However, the number of women accusing him hit a critical mass this week, and after the Senate Democratic women jointly called for his resignation, toughing it out really disappeared as a viable option.

Democrats were already feeling the heat, as Republicans supporting Roy Moore were using John Conyers and Al Franken in classic "whataboutism" style. By removing Conyers and Franken, this removes this entire line of attack, making it clear which party prioritizes morals and which does not. But to accomplish this, Franken had to go.

To his credit, when faced with this inevitability, Franken dutifully stepped down. He put party above his own personal career, which is pretty rare in this day and age. There was nothing really stopping him from announcing he was going to continue to tough it out in an attempt to salvage his reputation, but he knew how bad this would be for the party as a whole, going forward. By stepping down, he completely ended the "What about Al Franken?" attacks from Republicans.

Being a comedian, he said in his resignation speech, he was fully aware of the irony in his having to step down: "There is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party." But again, if Democrats really want to successfully use this as a political bludgeon, it was really required that Franken had to go.

Of course, as we wrote yesterday, he could always run for office again. It's really up to the voters what they can accept and not accept in a politician, after all. So the possibility of a comeback isn't completely out of the question. That will be up to Minnesota voters to decide, though.

We have to admit, we'll miss hearing Franken's voice in the Senate. He had a real knack for putting progressive ideas into language that anyone could understand, which is rare in any politician. We can't remember a single instance where Al Franken was on the wrong side of an important political issue, in fact (which is more than we can say about a lot of Democrats).

Different people are disappointed in Franken for different reasons, of course. Some are disappointed that he resigned, for instance. But for us, we are mostly disappointed that we won't get the chance to see if he could successfully run for president in 2020. He certainly would have been the most interesting candidate on the Democratic side, but now that is just not going to happen. But for whatever reason, it's pretty obvious that Al Franken was the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.

[Contact Senator Al Franken on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions (but you'd better do it quick, because he won't be there for much longer).]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 464 (12/8/17)

Democrats are in a unique position right now. They are taking the moral high road, and sticking to a zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment. To be politically successful at this, however, they've got to be bold in taking this stand.

Now is not the time for nuance. Instead, it is a time for drawing a clear contrast between how seriously Democrats take the issue, and how morally compromised Republicans are with Donald Trump in the White House and Roy Moore possibly heading to the Senate.

Hammer this home. In the long run, this is going to be a winning strategy for Democrats. The more the Republican Party has to wear these millstones around their neck, the more they're going to drag themselves down into the sewer. So help them along, by all means!


   Democrats respect women

Start with the most basic way to frame the issue.

"Democrats have proven that they respect women. Democrats respect women's right to not be sexually harassed by anyone -- no matter how powerful, no matter what office they currently hold. We are saying loudly that this is no longer acceptable and it is no longer enough to brush such things under a carpet. Every daughter, every sister, every mother in this country deserves a basic level of respect no matter where she is -- and that includes working in the halls of Congress. Contrast this with the shifting moral sands of the Republican Party, who puts women second to gaining some sliver of partisan advantage. Democrats are confident that every woman voter in this country is paying close attention to what is going on right now -- as they should. We're also confident that women will remember this when they walk into the voting booth."


   Have you stopped beating your wife?

That has always been the classic example of an unanswerable question for a politician to be asked. But now we need to add a few more.

"I would like to ask every Republican currently in Congress, and every Republican candidate for office in next year's midterms the following questions: Do you support the accused child molester or not? It's important to get these things on the record, so where exactly do you stand on a man accused of abusing a 14-year-old girl? If you do support Roy Moore, an even wider question must also be asked: How do you stand on pedophilia in general? You may think these questions are revolting and disgusting, but given the candidate Republicans are now officially supporting, they demand answers."


   How about Moore's ideas on slavery?

Don't limit it just to Moore's sexual history, either. There are all sorts of issues he's vulnerable on, so many in fact that if he does get elected next week, he will doubtless prove to be the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats, every time he utters one of these gems.

"While campaigning, Roy Moore was asked when the last time he thought America had been great. His answer, and I quote: I think it was great at the time when families were united. Even though we had slavery, they cared for one another. Unquote. So every Republican who supports Moore needs to be asked one further question: Do you agree with Moore that the last time America was 'great' was when white people were allowed to own black people? Is that your measure of greatness, too? Moore seems to have a very favorable opinion of antebellum America, so do you agree with him or not?"


   Moral relativism!

Throw this one back in the Republicans' faces, since they so obviously deserve it.

"Republicans, not so long ago, used to denounce what they called 'moral relativism.' According to them, morals were set in stone, not something that changed depending on the circumstance. Republicans used this term to disparage Democrats on all sorts of subjects, including treating gay people as equals. Homosexuality was inherently bad, Republicans told us, and Democrats were being moral relativists and revisionists to suggest otherwise. Roy Moore still believes this, I have no doubt. But the interesting thing is that now it is the Republicans arguing that putting another GOP vote in the Senate is far more important than things like morals. How times have changed, eh? Democrats are now the ones accurately pointing out that Republicans are simply not practicing what they've been preaching for so long."


   How low can they go?

Everybody Limbo down!

"The entire Republican Party seems to now be doing a collective political version of the Limbo. This didn't start with the candidacy of Donald Trump, but it certainly has accelerated since then. Each scandal that comes along is rationalized by Republicans that used to actually pride themselves on their supposed 'family values.' But it's hard to square that with Trump's antics, and with Roy Moore things are spiraling even more out of control for Republicans. Each time the bar is lowered, and they contort themselves to dance under it again. Which leads me to the famous Limbo question: How low can they go? Every time you think they've hit bottom, they go lower. You don't hear that 'family values' phrase much these days from the Republicans, do you? They're too busy twisting their souls into ever-lower positions, I guess."


   So much for law and order, too

Again, hit Republicans anywhere they are vulnerable, especially their current lack of any morals whatsoever.

"Remember when Republicans used to portray themselves of the party which supported law and order? They are now lining up behind a man who -- twice -- was removed from his judicial position for flat-out ignoring the Supreme Court. In addition, Joe Arpaio is considering also running for the Senate, even though he was convicted of a federal crime. President Trump pardoned him, and I certainly didn't hear many Republicans protesting the move. Trump himself seems bent on attacking the F.B.I., as a prelude to more dirt being uncovered from his campaign. Whatever happened to Republicans supporting law and order?!? They now seem to be the party of lawlessness and disorder, instead."


   Give that man a baby!

Just to be clear, we're not saying Roy Moore is a baby-killer. Perish the thought. But all week long, the "Free Hat" episode of South Park has been running through our mind. In it, the boys get caught up in a movement to free Hat McCollough, a man convicted of killing babies. In true South Park fashion, this is played as ludicrously as possible -- although, notably, the crowd was only trying to free him from prison, not trying to get him elected him to the Senate. There are some things too outlandish even for absurdist satire, right? But the real reason it now seems germane is the one scene where the crowd proves there is absolutely nothing that cannot be rationalized away -- or even defended.

STAN: It's just that, you know, he killed twenty-three babies.

MAN IN CROWD: Well, yeah, but it was in self-defense!

CROWD: Yeah!

CARTMAN: He... killed... twenty-three babies in self-defense?

SKEETER: Hat was attacked maliciously and unprovoked by a gang of babies in West Town Park. When that many babies get together they can be like piranha.

MAN IN CROWD: Three eyewitnesses testified that if Hat hadn't killed those babies, they'd have killed him!

CROWD: Yeah! Free Hat! Free Hat! Free Hat!

When the movement actually does succeed in freeing Hat, later in the episode, Hat makes an appearance before the triumphant crowd. Now, we're not saying that this is what will happen if Roy Moore gets elected Tuesday, but at this point absolutely nothing would really surprise us.

HAT MCCOLLOUGH: And, uh, I just wonder if I could get a baby real quick?

SKEETER: Sure. Give that man a baby!

CROWD: Yeah! Woohoohoo!

-- Chris Weigant


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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post