It's been a rollercoaster week in the political world, beginning with Hillary Clinton shifting the gears of her campaign by holding her first big rally, which was immediately followed by the man we're going to call "Jeb! Bush!" finally officially announcing his own candidacy.
For those who are wondering, yes, we here at the Friday Talking Points editorial board are indeed seriously contemplating making our own executive editorial decision to call him "Jeb! Bush!" throughout the entire campaign season. Jimmy Fallon actually made a good suggestion on The Tonight Show this week, that we all (in an imitation Regis Philbin voice) scream "Jeb!" whenever discussing the candidate out loud (another editorial idea we are endorsing). Earlier in the week I toyed with "Jeb?" (which has got to be the shortest headline I've ever written in nine years of blogging), or possibly "...Jeb..." but neither truly captures the ridiculousness of the exclamation mark. So we're thinking of just doubling down on exclamatory punctuation and calling him "Jeb! Bush!" in the upcoming months. Let us know your thoughts in the comments, as always. If it gets too annoying, we'll stop, how's that?
After Jeb! Bush! and Hillary's rallies, the entire world of late-night comics loudly praised all that they hold holy, when the news broke that Donald Trump was semi-officially entering the Republican presidential race (note: he still hasn't filed his official paperwork). The jokes just write themselves!
Trump began his candidacy by calling Mexican immigrants "rapists," and then in an ever-so-classy way moved on to sneering at the "jerk" conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer, who is a "loser" because all he does is just "sit there." Krauthammer, for those unaware, uses a wheelchair. So this campaign will have no shortage of idiocies falling out of Trump's mouth, that is for certain.
If a few days go by without any Trump news to report on, journalists might want to check out his 2000 book The America We Deserve, which he used in an earlier feint towards a presidential run. There are all sort of fun things to mine out of this, Salon helpfully points out, such as Trump agreeing with Bernie Sanders: "I'm a conservative on most issues but a liberal on [healthcare reform].... we need, as a nation, to re-examine the single-payer plan."
A bit of trivia is worth mentioning that nobody seems to have noticed so far. Trump may have gotten the jump on whoever announces next on the Republican side, because Trump became the twelfth Republican to announce his presidential campaign. What this means is that the next entrant in the race will be unlucky thirteen. Who will be brave enough to defy this superstition? Who will be the thirteenth Republican to announce?
But we have to shift gears to a much more serious tone here, because this week ended with a tragic act of terrorism, in a South Carolina church. A young white supremacist shot up a Bible study group in an African-American church for purely racist reasons. After being arrested he has reportedly confessed to his crimes, and also to his racism.
Now, you'd think that domestic terrorism and racist violence would be pretty easy things to condemn. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. Fox News tried to offer up an alternative explanation for the brutal killings, that the terrorist (they didn't use that word, of course) was really against Christianity. This fits in with their "Christians as oppressed members of our society" theme, but had no actual basis in reality. Fox bent over backwards to try to spin the killings as something -- anything -- different than an act of domestic terrorism by a racist. They weren't the only ones, sadly.
Much of the media just flat-out refused to use the words "terrorism," or "terrorist." Republicans (normally the ones who regularly castigate Democrats for avoiding the word "terrorism") backpedaled furiously away from even admitting that race was a factor, as fast as they could. The Department of Justice issued a statement which was pretty clear: "This heartbreaking episode was undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community, and the department is looking at this crime from all angles, including as a hate crime and as an act of domestic terrorism." But few Republicans seemed to notice. Think I'm being unfair? Presidential candidate Marco Rubio spoke to conservatives after the shooting, and neglected to mention the shooting at all -- although he did find time to reaffirm his commitment to the Second Amendment. Rubio was merely the most egregious example, though. While some Republicans did have the courage to admit the reality of the situation, most either ducked or otherwise avoided the word "racism" entirely. The Huffington Post has a good roundup of what Republicans have been saying, if you've got the stomach for it. The worst of the bunch, by far, has got to be the National Rifle Association board member who actually blamed one of the victims since he was against allowing handguns to be carried in churches.
I mean, even white supremacists themselves are "worried Charleston shooting makes them look bad." It's pretty obvious what was in the young man's head, and it wasn't just free-floating hatred. It certainly wasn't anti-Christian hatred. It was racism, plain and simple. Why Republicans are refusing to admit this is unfathomable, in fact.
Moving on, because it is June, the Supreme Court is in the news. The two big decisions (on Obamacare subsidies and marriage equality) won't appear before the very end of the month, but we did get some other rulings this week. The Supremes also refused to take up a case where a North Carolina law was overturned, which keeps the ruling in place that forcing women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound and coercing doctors' speech are both unconstitutional laws. So score a victory for doctor-patient confidentiality and the First Amendment (governmentally-coerced speech is the exact opposite of free speech). Two other Supreme Court decisions were also announced on the subject of free speech (which I wrote about earlier this week, for those interested). One of these is fast becoming very relevant, as it dealt with Texas refusing to put the Confederate flag on a specialty license plate.
Which brings us to the "worst photo op of the week," which we're going to close on today. The Washington Post ran an article on how the murderous rampage at the South Carolina church is opening up an old debate in the state over the Confederate flag -- which used to fly over the statehouse, in a proud statement to the state's treasonous past. The flag has since been removed from the dome, but still proudly flies in a Civil War memorial monument on the statehouse grounds. So an enterprising photographer took a photo from just the right angle to show the United States flag and the South Carolina flag both flying at half-staff over the statehouse, while the Confederate flag flaps in the breeze at the top of its pole. If we were in charge of the Pulitzer Prize committee, this photo would automatically jump to the top of the list for this year's awards.
We have an Honorable Mention to hand out this week, for Democratic National Committee spokesperson Holly Shulman, who wrote the perfect response to the news that Donald Trump had entered the race. We're going to provide the text of her comment later (as a talking point), though, just because it is so downright priceless.
Snark aside, this week's winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is none other than Senator Dianne Feinstein. Now, as any regular reader of this column can attest, we're not the biggest fans of our very own senior senator. However, on one subject DiFi (as we like to call her) stands head and shoulders above the all other politicians in Washington, with the possible exception of John McCain. That subject is torture.
Feinstein has been leading the charge to both get the American government to admit what it did -- torture prisoners -- and also to do everything humanly possible to make sure it never happens again. This goal got a lot closer this week, when Feinstein won a successful vote in the Senate to codify this basic idea -- not torturing anyone -- into federal law. President Obama, of course, changed America's course when he came into office by immediately banning torture, but since this was just a presidential directive, it could conceivably be overturned by any future president. This is important, since of the four Republicans running for the office who currently sit in the Senate, only two of them voted to permanently ban torture in U.S. law this week (Rand Paul and Ted Cruz). Of the other two, Lindsey Graham (who, due to his career as a military lawyer, should really know better) voted against it. Marco Rubio was too chicken to even vote, but later said he would have voted against it.
The vote was a stunningly-lopsided 78-21 to ban torture. All Democrats voted in favor of the restriction.
While this represents a strong statement of American values, the measure still has to make it through the Republican-controlled House, so there's no guarantee it'll make it to the president's desk in its current form.
Still, the credit for getting the measure through the Senate in such spectacularly bipartisan fashion belongs to Senator Feinstein. Feinstein has been instrumental in exposing the brutalities of America torturing prisoners in the past, and this week she was instrumental in trying to make it impossible for any future president to contemplate repeating the actions of George W. Bush.
For that we applaud DiFi, and she certainly deserves this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Well done, Senator Feinstein!
[Congratulate Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
If this column had been written two centuries ago, we might have come up with awards for either the Federalists or the Anti-Federalists. This week contained a severe disappointment for the Federalists, as it was announced that Alexander Hamilton would be retired from his position on all our ten-dollar bills in a few years, to make way for an as-yet-unnamed woman. Good thing it's over two hundred years from Hamilton's heyday, since the partisan bickering (or what would have been called "factionalism" back then) between Washington's Federalists and Jefferson's Anti-Federalists was actually much fiercer than anything we see in today's political world. Don't believe me? Read up on the history of the 1800 presidential election (or the "Revolution of 1800" as historians now call it).
Getting back to modern times, however, we're going to slightly rename this award this week, and give a Most Disappointed Democrat Of The Week to President Obama. For the 14th time during his presidency, Obama has had to weigh in once again on a tragic shooting. The words he said this time were different, because in his remarks he essentially admitted that nothing is going to change any time fast on the issue of guns in America. He's basically saying that America will continue to experience these tragedies over and over again as the price for doing absolutely nothing to solve the problem. That's pretty disappointing, but it's really Obama's own disappointment that comes through in his comments (which is why we renamed the award). Here's what the president said about the South Carolina tragedy:
I've had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don't have all the facts, but we do know that once again innocent people were killed because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. Now's the time for mourning and for healing, but let's be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence doesn't happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing that the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it'd be wrong for me not to acknowledge it. And at some point, it's going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.
Pretty disappointing. But also very realistic. Obama has tried to champion commonsense changes to our gun laws before, only to be disappointed at the inaction of Congress on the issue. He's admitting this reality, which is indeed a disappointment.
So this week we're going to give Obama a Most Disappointed Democrat Of The Week, and we have to say we share in the president's feelings. These tragedies are going to continue happening on a regular basis, and until Americans realize that not every advanced country puts up with such things so blithely, nothing is going to change.
[Contact President Barack Obama on his White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his own disappointment.]
Volume 351 (6/19/15)
Two program notes are in order, before we begin this week's talking points. The first is that while last week was notably the 350th of these columns, it also signified my ninth anniversary of being asked to write blog posts for the Huffington Post. My very first column was an effort to instill some backbone in Democrats, urging them to do their best to take back Congress, so it still actually has some relevance today.
The second program note is that this column will be on vacation next week. I can't even guarantee that I'll have a re-run column up on my website, in fact, and the best I can promise is that I'll see you all back here in two weeks. Just so nobody says I didn't warn them ahead of time, as it were.
OK, enough announcements, let's get right to this week's talking points, shall we?
This one should be used whenever anyone -- in the media, in politics, whatever -- tries to use weasel words to describe the South Carolina tragedy.
"I'm sorry, but I can't use the terms you are using to describe what took place. This was nothing short of an act of domestic terrorism, from an individual who was murderously racist. Why is that so hard for some people to say? Terrorism is violence intended to bring change to society through fear. That's exactly what this young man was trying to do. It is a textbook example of domestic terrorism. The perpetrator himself has reportedly admitted to his own racist motivations for his heinous crimes. So please, let's call it exactly what it was intended to be and what it was: domestic racist terrorism."
Maybe we should call in James Bond
The Pope certainly stirred things up among Republicans this week, by pointing out that mankind is the steward of the Earth.
"You know, I don't think there's anything in the Bible that talks about the proper profit/loss ratio for polluting businesses, which might come as a shock to some who are denouncing the Pope's new encyclical on the planet's environment. Republicans have long been advocates of 'cafeteria Catholicism,' where they pick and choose which Catholic doctrines they agree with (such as on abortion), and ignore the doctrines they disagree with (such as on the death penalty or war). I guess climate change is going to be one of those they ignore, at least from what they're saying after the encyclical was released. One Fox News commenter actually went as far as calling the Pope 'the most dangerous person on the planet.' Wow. Maybe we should call in James Bond or something, if he's really that dangerous."
Congress does its job for two hours, then punts
This is just pathetic. There's really no other word for it.
"Ever wonder why President Obama feels the need to occasionally act without involving Congress? The answer is that Congress is incapable of doing even the most important of its jobs. Ten months ago -- that's ten months ago -- Obama began a military campaign against the Islamic State. At the time, Republicans complained that Congress should have been consulted. Obama stated that he had the authority to act, but then sent over a proposal for a new 'authorization for the use of military force,' in an effort to share the warmaking responsibility with Congress. This week -- the first time in ten months, mind you -- the House finally spent two hours debating the war. Then they gave up. Democrats had to use parliamentary procedure to even force the debate, because the Republicans running Congress have not done anything on the war with the Islamic State. Nothing. One of the Democrats pushing the issue, Representative Jim McGovern, did not mince his words, stating that Congress was, quote, guilty of moral cowardice, unquote. I could not agree more. They are indeed shirking their constitutional duties -- another phrase McGovern used -- and every citizen should bear this in mind the next time Republicans complain that Obama is acting without their approval."
These next two are from Greg Sargent's Washington Post blog, where he's been doing a bang-up job exposing the doublethink of Republicans on what will happen if the Supreme Court strikes down the Obamacare subsidies. Some explanation is required before you read these next two talking points, though.
If the subsidies are struck down in the King v. Burwell case, Republicans swear they've got a plan to fix the problem -- but they won't say what this plan is, because they're already afraid of the political backlash it will cause. In essence, they are going to try to continue the subsidies for the next two years (which puts the end of them conveniently beyond the next election), while attempting to gut all the other parts of Obamacare. But in doing so, they have to square a circle of Republican orthodoxy. As far as Republicans are concerned, everything about Obamacare is bad. That's where they start from. But now they're beginning to admit that yanking the subsidies is going to hurt people. The New York Times has a good rundown of some of these hilariously pretzel-like statements (example: "We cannot sit idly by as millions of Americans lose their health insurance" from Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana).
Sargent has been blistering in his takedown of the core contradiction in this Republican position. The background to his comment below was a quote from a House member who stated: "I'd be willing to [continue the subsidies] on a temporary basis as we transition to something better. We all represent people in our districts who are victims of this law. We want to take care of our constituents."
Sargent then helpfully puts this in context, which we're gladly going to use as one of this week's talking points (note: emphasis in both these next talking points is from the original):
Yep, all those millions who would lose Obamacare subsidies are victims of Obamacare, and Republicans will protect them from Obamacare by temporarily giving them back Obamacare before repealing it for all its beneficiaries and replacing it with argle-bargle.
Look over there!
That was pretty funny, but later in the week Sargent absolutely knocked it out of the park.
The GOP argument is basically this: Obamacare is to blame for the awful outcome of millions of people losing Obamacare, so Republicans will protect all those people from Obamacare by temporarily restoring their Obamacare, before repealing it entirely for all its beneficiaries, and replacing it with... "oh, wow, look over there, a unicorn is wandering through the Capitol!"
All ten of them!
Hoo boy. This one speaks for itself.
"Disgraced former Speaker of the House Tom DeLay is now a political consultant. That means people actually pay him to advise them about how Washington works. If I were a client of his, though, I'd be thinking about asking for a refund. Recently, expressing his concern that the Supreme Court was going to legalize gay marriage across America, DeLay stood up for constitutional knowledge, saying: 'People don't understand the Constitution. We haven't taught our children now for three or four generations what the Constitution is, and the separation of powers.' He then zeroed in on the problem of the Supreme Court, vowing: 'If they rule against marriage, we will all defy them.' Only problem was, Tom DeLay is obviously just as uninformed about America's form of government as those children he earlier was so concerned about. He swore he'd stand up to the Supreme Court because: 'It's not in their authority to write law by ten unelected, unaccountable people, lawyers.' I'd like to take this opportunity to bet Tom DeLay a cool million bucks that he can't name all 'ten' Supreme Court justices. Think he'll take me up on it?"
Much-needed (smirk!) seriousness (guffaw!)
And finally, we close where we began, with the uproarious political news of Donald Trump entering the race. As mentioned in the awards section, Holly Shulman wins the "best response to Trump's announcement" award, hands down, for authoring the Democratic National Committee's reaction statement, which is reproduced in full below:
Today, Donald Trump became the second major Republican candidate to announce for president in two days. He adds some much-needed seriousness that has previously been lacking from the GOP field, and we look forward to hearing more about his ideas for the nation.
-- Chris Weigant