A program note, before we get started: there will be no Friday Talking Points column next week. We have to make room for our traditional Hallowe'en column, where we try to scare the pants off of everyone across the political spectrum with spooky tales of what the upcoming election might mean (plus, we get to show off our politically-inspired Jack-o-lanterns). So don't miss that, but the Friday Talking Points column won't be back until after the election.
Campaign season has reached its peak, and is getting downright frenetic in all the big battleground Senate races. One of these is Kentucky, where first Democrats thought their candidate didn't have a chance, but then Alison Lundergan Grimes got some good polling numbers so the money is now flowing back in. Maybe some of it should go towards exposing what is supposed to -- no, really! -- be a pro-Mitch McConnell ad. An organization called the National Association of Realtors Congressional Fund tried to give McConnell a boost with a mailer. The only problem? Well, it's how they chose to present their message:
In large letters, you see "Mitch McConnell."
Below that, a sign with even larger letters: "FOR SALE."
Check the link out for the image of the mailer -- it's (pun intended) priceless!
A reader of ours in Kentucky also pointed out pointed out that the black line under the words "FOR SALE" is a flap on the mailer -- when you lift it up the word "SOLD" appears.
Now, everyone knows that the public really prefers to elect politicians who are bought and paid for, right? How could the positive message: "Mitch McConnell -- FOR SALE" not resonate with the voters? Maybe this is a cautionary story about how groups like this are not supposed to coordinate with campaigns -- which often leaves them to come up with their own ads, which can occasionally be off message. I mean, who in their right mind would think "FOR SALE" is a valid (again, pun intended) selling point to the voters?
In other bad campaign advertising news, we have a "Sharknado" ad attacking Gary Peters in Michigan. The idea's not that bad for what they trying to accomplish (they're trying to tie him to a loan shark), but the execution is pretty pathetic. Hire a better cartoonist next time, guys.
In Minnesota, Republicans are running an ad exploiting the death of a 4-year-old child without ever asking the family's permission. Stay classy, GOP ad creators!
Up in Alaska, Republican Don Young is saying some insulting things on the subject of suicide, and then when asked to respond to the controversy, saying even more insulting things. Now that's the way to win voters over!
Down in Georgia, a Republican House candidate showed how Godwin's Law relates to politics, by comparing public schools in America to Hitler's Third Reich. Here's the full quote: "Obviously, if we have government -- which is what the public school is -- if we have government indoctrinating what students are learning, then we have a problem. This took place in Germany, friends. I'm not trying to say we are necessarily headed in that direction, but it is undeniable that one of the first things Hitler did was to grab, so to speak, the minds of the youth."
Over in Wisconsin, a co-chair of the Republican National Committee showed how to respect a state's voters -- by calling them stupid. The full quote: "I don't want to say anything about your Wisconsin voters but, some of them might not be as sharp as a knife." Hoo boy.
North Carolina Republicans are fighting hard to keep college students from being able to easily cast their ballots. This is a prime example to use when arguing with anyone who swears the GOP is just interested in "voter fraud" and not outright voter suppression. How does making college kids travel further to vote have anything to do with "fraud," guys?
And finally (for campaign news this week), Republicans are now -- are you sitting down? -- portraying themselves as the saviors of Social Security. That's right, groups (like Karl Rove's) are attacking Democrats from the left for even considering the Bowles-Simpson plan a few years back. Democrats would have had to accept such "entitlement reform" in exchange for Republicans accepting some tax increases -- that's the way the "Grand Bargain" was supposed to work. It fell apart because Republicans would not accept it -- for the higher taxes, not for the Social Security changes. They were all for changing Social Security in fact, and now they're trying to flim-flam the public into believing it was the Democrats who were pushing for such changes. My guess is the public's just not that stupid, personally. Mitch McConnell apparently missed the memo, though, and is bizarrely out there bragging that he was trying to be "bipartisan" in passing George W. Bush's idea to privatize Social Security, showing that Republican logic is impossible to understand ("We're saviors of Social Security, except for Mitch!" maybe?)
Speaking of swimming against the tide in Republicanland, Michael Gerson wrote an interesting article about how the GOP may misread a Senate victory. Warning his fellow Republicans not to get too exuberant if they win, he writes some sobering thoughts, looking ahead to the national situation the GOP will face in the next election: "At the presidential level, the GOP brand is offensive to many rising demographic groups. Republicans are often perceived as indifferent to working-class struggles (because they sometimes are). The GOP appeal seems designed for a vanishing electorate."
In other sober news, this week saw a brief respite from Ebola panic on the nightly news, but then OH MY GOD ALL OF NEW YORK CITY IS GOING TO DIE!!! So I guess we're going for another trip on this insane merry-go-round. Buckle up, folks!
On the political side of Ebola, Think Progress has a great piece on all the politicians who use the cop-out "I'm not a scientist..." when talking about climate change, but then feel fully qualified to talk about Ebola and spread false information about it. Those dots needed to be connected, so hats off to Think Progress for doing so. To be fair, though, some Democrats are also fond of this cop-out.
Republicans came very close to admitting that all the political hay they're making over Ebola is precisely that -- a campaign issue to grandstand, not a serious crisis that needs an immediate response. Here's the quote: "In reality, Republicans are not planning a legislative response, at least for now, Republican leadership aides said Monday. They merely want their voices heard." Got that? They are not planning a legislative response for now. In other words, the issue will likely die right after the election is over. They're telling everyone to panic, but also that it's not important enough for them to act now. Cynical politics at its worst, or par for the course -- you decide.
Ebola is not exactly an "October Surprise," properly defined, since neither political party caused the Ebola outbreak to embarrass the other side. But it is October, and it is a surprise that the issue is so central in the heart of an election. What is being absolutely lost is that the system now appears to be working just fine, and none of the idiotic political responses would have changed things in New York City one tiny bit. The latest Ebola patient is an American, needs no visa to come here, did not take a direct flight from the affected country (since such flights do not actually exist), was self-monitoring his temperature, and immediately when he became symptomatic called the health authorities and was successfully quarantined. Not only is this precisely the way things are supposed to work, but none of the proposed travel bans would have affected him at all -- but try telling that to the politicians. Or the media.
It's not like there weren't interesting stories to report elsewhere. This week saw the court conviction of four Blackwater guards, for the massacre they perpetrated in Iraq years ago. This is a rather monumental court case, but you certainly wouldn't know that by reading much about it in the American media.
One amusing note that provided some comic relief this week was talk of secession. South Florida apparently wants to break off from the northern part of the state, but this isn't really "secession" so much as an attempted political divorce over irreconcilable differences. But the truly amusing story was of a bunch of Southern states that one man wants to see break away from America (refresh my memory: didn't they try that 150 years ago?), and then call their proud new country "Reagan." You just can't make this stuff up, folks.
And we have to end on a not-so-amusing note. Global warming has forced a town in Alaska to cancel door-to-door trick-or-treating on Hallowe'en. Because of polar bears. The bears used to be fine out on the ice shelf, but the ice receded and now they're walking through the town's main street. The town will put on a Hallowe'en party indoors, but still, you'd think this would be on the news (with video of some polar bears strolling down the street), wouldn't you?
It's not really "impressive," but Paul Begala got off a funny line, in an article talking about the "Fangate" debate in Florida between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist. In Begala's own words: "To begin with, Scott has all the telegenic appeal of a garden slug: lean and hairless and slick and creepy. But then again, I've been a friend and business partner of James Carville for 30 years, so who am I to judge?" Heh.
Joking aside, our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is a House candidate from Massachusetts. An article in the Boston Globe exposed candidate Seth Moulton's not-so-dirty secret: he was a war hero.
In a stunning display of modesty (real heroes never call themselves heroes, that's a pretty good rule of thumb to use), Moulton declined to make his military record part of his campaign. From a story in the Washington Post by E. J. Dionne:
Seth Moulton, an Iraq veteran and Democratic congressional candidate on Massachusetts's North Shore, has done something with little precedent in political campaigning: He was caught underplaying his war record.
You read that right: An investigation by the Boston Globe found that, unlike politicians who go to great lengths to puff up their military backgrounds, Moulton, as the paper's Walter Robinson wrote, "chose not to publicly disclose that he was twice decorated for heroism until pressed by the Globe."
It took Robinson's reporting to discover that Moulton had won the Bronze Star and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for valor during the battles for control of Najaf and Nasiriyah.
In a telephone interview, Moulton said his reluctance reflected a "healthy disrespect" among his comrades-in-arms for boasting about citations.
. . .
"The relative few of us who really were on the front lines don't like to talk about it and don't like to brag about it," he said. "I saw a lot of heroic kids who were on the front lines ... and didn't get the recognition they deserved."
Nothing more really needs be said. Seth Moulton now has another award he can add to all his military decorations: the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[We do not as a rule (for legal reasons) link to candidates' web sites. You'll have to search the name Seth Moulton yourself to contact him to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
Pennsylvania's pornography scandal just keeps getting worse. In the wake of the sexual assaults at Penn State by Jerry Sandusky, an internal review was conducted in the Pennsylvania legal system. What it turned up was porn emails. Lots of them. So far, four people employed by prosecutors' offices have been forced out. Next in line is a member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Justice Seamus McCaffery. From the sordid story:
The court's action followed disclosures last week by Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a Republican, that McCaffery had sent or received 234 emails with sexually explicit content or pornography from late 2008 to May 2012. McCaffery apologized, calling it a lapse in judgment, but blasted Castille for "a vindictive pattern of attacks" against him.
A third justice, Michael Eakin, also a Republican, on Friday went public with a claim McCaffery had threatened to leak "inappropriate" emails Eakin had received if he didn't side with McCaffery against Castille.
McCaffery denied threatening Eakin, who reported the matter to the Judicial Conduct Board. Neither Eakin nor McCaffery participated in the court's decision.
Once again, there's not much left to say about this one. It's pretty obvious that Seamus McCaffery deserves this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[We couldn't find public contact information for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery on his official webpage, but then again he probably won't be reading much email right about now anyway.]
Volume 325 (10/24/14)
OK, since this will be the last Friday Talking Points before the election, I thought I'd just do a rundown of the issues I'd run on if I were a Democratic candidate for Congress. These are pretty generic Democratic issues, although not every Democrat is on board with every idea. But for the most part, these are the things Democrats should be trying to make the case for, when convincing people to vote for them.
Campaigning is full of lots of mudslinging and bickering, but even at the heart of nasty tactics, there should always be a comparison: Democrats stand for "X," Republicans stand for "Y." Too often, this clear contrast gets muddied by Democratic candidates who listen to campaign consultants and try to run as inoffensive a campaign as possible ("Don't talk about X, our focus group shows 10 percent of the people don't want to hear about it").
My attitude is to go ahead and make the case. Tell the people why your views on governing are different than your opponents. Leave the gotcha stuff to the media, and make a strong case for the positive ideas Democrats can get behind to provide a better future. All of this week's talking points are a variation on: "I am a Democrat, and the difference between me and the Republican is pretty easy to see...."
Hike the minimum wage
I have no idea why Democrats haven't made this a much bigger issue in this campaign.
"Elect Democrats to Congress and we will raise the federal minimum wage to at least ten bucks an hour. Giant corporations right now pay their full-time workers so little that a minimum wage earner qualifies for benefits such as food stamps. That is just wrong. If you work a full-time job, then you should be able to buy food for your family. If we raised the minimum wage to a living wage, not only would it not cost any tax dollars, but it would save the federal government money, because we wouldn't have to pay benefits to someone making a decent wage. Republicans' answer to every economic problem is to give big tax breaks to those on the top of the ladder. But trickle-down just doesn't work. Instead, Democrats want a rising tide to lift all boats -- raise the minimum wage, and wages will begin moving upward from the bottom up. Democrats are fighting for the little guy, while Republicans fight for the fat cats -- it's as simple as that."
Scrap the cap
Save Social Security in one fell swoop.
"Democrats want to save Social Security not by raising retirement ages, cutting benefits, or privatizing it, but by making the program fiscally sound in a much easier and less painful way. We want every dollar earned taxed at the same rate. Right now, a firefighter or nurse pays a much higher rate than a doctor or hedge manager. Once you make about $120,000 each year, everything else you make above that is not taxed to pay for Social Security. Why? Why not tax every dollar multimillionaires make? Why should a policeman pay five times the tax rate as a banker? I support what is called 'scrapping the cap' on Social Security taxes -- making the system fair by taxing everyone exactly the same, instead of taxing the lower-wage worker at a much higher rate than the ultra-wealthy. By making this one change -- which would not raise taxes on anyone making less than the cap -- we could save Social Security and make it solvent for the next 75 years. Republicans' answer to the problem is always to make sure the little guy gets less. Democrats do not consider that an acceptable answer. That is the difference."
Once again, Democrats are on the side of the little guy. So point it out!
"Republicans have hated the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ever since it was created. They have sworn to destroy it. Why? Why, in the name of all that holy, would you remove an agency whose only purpose is to be on the side of the little guy and not the banks?!? The C.F.P.B. has already saved American consumers billions of dollars, and has done away with many of the 'stick it in the fine print' ways banks used to screw consumers. There is still a lot of work to be done, but Republicans want the banks to have free rein and for some reason hate the idea that the little guy should have anyone in his or her corner. There is only one reason for this: Republicans take their marching orders from Wall Street, even when it means crushing Main Street as a result. Why on Earth would Republicans want to kill a bureau that has helped millions of Americans, if it wasn't to do the bidding of the big banks? Democrats will fight hard to keep the C.F.P.B., because we fight for the little guy, not the banks."
Defend Obamacare by pointing out what "repeal" would actually mean.
"Millions of people now have health insurance who didn't two years ago. Millions of people can now go to the doctor without wondering if they'll have enough money to pay for food afterwards. That is an enormous success story. Republicans want to end this. They want to take away that insurance from millions and millions of Americans. Don't be fooled by the way Republicans now wistfully try to claim that they can keep all the good parts of Obamacare and just get rid of the bad parts -- because that is never going to happen. When they say 'repeal, root and branch' what they mean is taking health insurance away from millions. In a world where incurable diseases do not check for a health insurance card before infecting, why would any sane individual want fewer people in the population insured? The more people we can get insured, the healthier the population will be. Obamacare is achieving this already, and repealing it would mean tossing millions of people off their health insurance. Republicans have held the House for four years now, and they have never come up with a replacement for Obamacare. Their magic 'we'll keep all the good stuff and toss out the bad' answer does not exist. Democrats will fight hard for those millions who now have health insurance they couldn't previously afford. Republicans will fight to take it away from them."
This is an issue Republicans are particularly vulnerable on.
"Why are Republican governors so dead set against expanding Medicaid? Well, not all of them, to be fair -- nine or ten states with Republican governors have realized that expanding Medicaid is good for their citizens, and have joined the Obamacare program. More Republican governors will likely realize in the future that they're fighting to keep their people uninsured which doesn't help anybody. But Republicans in Congress want to repeal the whole program, even though it has been a huge success so far. Once again, they like to pretend that the Medicaid expansion is somehow a separate thing from Obamacare, but this is not actually true. If they repeal Obamacare, they will end Medicaid for millions of people. They don't like to talk about it, but that doesn't make it any less true. Medicaid expansion has been a big success, and Democrats will fight to keep it. Republicans -- or, at least, those Republicans who don't have a state to run -- will fight to kill it. It's that simple."
Doctor's First Amendment
Once again, I don't know why Democrats are so timid on this one.
"Democrats stand strongly for the First Amendment's right to free speech for all -- including doctors! We do not think politicians should dictate what a doctor can and cannot say to anyone seeking medical advice. Why in the name of Thomas Jefferson would you limit free speech by a professional medical practitioner? Why would you dictate what they have to -- or cannot -- say? Republicans are busy passing laws all over the country which do exactly that. Democrats want conversations between a doctor and a patient to be sacrosanct -- no politician should be in that room with them. When a rape victim asks a doctor for a morning-after pill or an abortion, the doctor should not have to preach a sermon before practicing his profession. He should not have to do medical procedures because some politician thought it'd be a good idea. The First Amendment should be absolute, for all American citizens including doctors. Democrats want to get the government out of the examining room, and protect the Bill of Rights. Republicans do not. That's the difference."
Comprehensive immigration reform
Hammer Republicans with how their inaction has caused our current situation.
"Republicans are fear-mongering about Ebola, telling everyone who will listen that a wave of sick people is about to cross the southern border and infect everyone. They whine about border security and try to paint Democrats or Obama as being the problem somehow. This is laughable. Democrats and Republicans passed a bipartisan bill in the Senate which would -- if the House had voted on it promptly -- have doubled the number of Border Patrol agents. Yes, you heard that right -- we could have twice as big a Border Patrol right now if Republicans had just voted on the bill. In fact, there is nothing stopping the House from voting on this bill today. Democrats already voted to double the Border Patrol. Republicans refuse to. They complain about other parts of the bill and say they want to pass immigration reform piecemeal, starting with securing the border. But they have not done so. They've had years to act in the House, and no bill has appeared -- even one just dealing with the Border Patrol. Republicans are lying when they say they're concerned about the border, because they refuse to pass the bipartisan Senate bill and they also refuse to pass their own bill. The status quo must be just fine with them, which is why I have to scratch my head when they try to fearmonger on the issue during a campaign. Want the border secure? Then pass a freakin' bill. There is absolutely nothing stopping them from doing so."
-- Chris Weigant