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Friday Talking Points [463] -- Lock Him Up!

[ Posted Friday, December 1st, 2017 – 19:35 PST ]

This morning, Donald Trump's first National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, pled guilty to charges of lying to the F.B.I. He is now the highest-ranking Trump aide to be targeted by Robert Mueller, and also the highest-ranking person to have flipped on Trump. Flynn is still at risk of being prosecuted for other charges as well, including lying about his foreign lobbying on government forms. But he's now apparently cut a deal with the prosecution to possibly avoid further charges and also reportedly to avoid charges for his son.

The main assumption, however, is that he is now singing like a little birdie to the investigators. Trump (as of this writing) has yet to respond on Twitter, which likely won't be pretty when it does happen. Already, news reports surfaced this week of Trump's increasingly unhinged behavior, including (astonishingly) trying to tell people the infamous Billy Bush Access Hollywood tape wasn't actually his voice. But there was one interesting bit about the "is Trump losing it?" story, as it relates to the entire Mueller investigation:

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Program Note

[ Posted Thursday, November 30th, 2017 – 18:58 PST ]

Sorry, but there will be no new column today, as I had to take time to deal with jury duty. The good news, however, is that I was not selected and thus will be able to write a Friday Talking Points column tomorrow. So there's that to look forward to.

If I had had the time to write today, there's an interesting article over at fivethirtyeight.com that would have formed the basis of what I would have written. Long story short, the current GOP tax cut bill is not only less popular with the public than all previous tax cut bills (going back to the 1980s), but actually less popular than two tax hikes. That is a stunning level of unpopularity, and should put to the test the Republican thinking that all they have to do is pass a tax cut (any tax cut) and their base voters will reward them next year at the ballot box. Again, that's what I would have written about if I had had the time.

So my apologies again for the lack of new column today, and I'll see you all back here tomorrow.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

How Democrats Should Solve Their Superdelegate Problem

[ Posted Wednesday, November 29th, 2017 – 18:22 PST ]

In December, the members of the Democrats' "Unity Reform Commission" will make their recommendations to the Democratic Party for changes in the way it handles presidential elections (among other things). Then it will be up to the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee to decide whether to fully or partially adopt any of these recommendations. This is a big deal for Democrats, as it is the culmination of the effort to bridge the still-raw divide between the Bernie Sanders wing of the party and the Hillary Clinton establishment wing. Nobody at this point knows exactly what the unity group is going to propose, but there's one festering issue which will likely take center stage: superdelegate reform. The answer to this problem, though, seems pretty obvious to an outside observer. There's one way to solve it which would seem to appeal to all concerned.

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Can Trump Deal With The Democrats?

[ Posted Tuesday, November 28th, 2017 – 17:35 PST ]

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are apparently ready to play hardball at the start of the negotiations to work out a year-end deal with Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress. They signaled their intentions today by snubbing a planned photo op at the White House in response to a rather nasty tweet the president sent out about them, hours before the meeting was supposed to begin. Why negotiate when Trump is already calling them names, after all?

How much any of this means to the overall chances of cutting some sort of deal remains to be seen. But it does send a strong signal that Trump will face consequences for his Twitter habit, which up until now has not yet happened. So perhaps Trump will realize that he's got to tone it down if he really is interested in cutting a deal with the Democrats. Or perhaps not. Perhaps he'll double down on the nasty tweets instead -- with Trump, this certainly remains a possibility.

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The Keys To Democrats Winning Next Year

[ Posted Monday, November 27th, 2017 – 19:01 PST ]

Two weeks from tomorrow, Alabama will hold its special Senate election. The chances of Democrat Doug Jones pulling off an upset win are really anyone's guess, at this point. Is Roy Moore so damaged that the very conservative voters of Alabama will reject him in favor of a Democrat? Stranger things have happened, but this is in no way assured. This is, after all, Alabama we're talking about. But Democrats should be looking ahead, whether Jones wins or not, to shape their strategy for the upcoming 2018 midterm congressional elections.

The Alabama race is really a one-off fluke, no matter who wins. By this I mean that no real lessons will be able to be drawn about the state of the nation's electorate, one way or the other. Even if Jones surprises everyone and wins, the situation isn't all that likely to repeat itself next November in many other parts of the country. The only real lesson Republicans will learn, should Moore lose, is perhaps to spend a bit more time vetting the candidates. But that only goes so far -- Moore, after all, did win his primary even though President Donald Trump actually endorsed his well-vetted GOP rival. If Steve Bannon truly does try to flood all the Republican primaries next year with his favored candidates, a few more might win nominations even while carrying some rather heavy baggage. But that, at this point, cannot be counted on by Democrats.

I've spent a little bit of time examining the breakdowns of the polling from the recent Virginia election, which not only gave the Democratic gubernatorial candidate almost twice the margin of victory that Hillary Clinton won the year before, but also swept into office a resounding number of Democratic state legislators. It was a mini-wave election, in one state -- one that Democrats are hoping to replicate next year in a lot of other states.

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Thankfully, 2017 Is Almost Over

[ Posted Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017 – 18:08 PST ]

As a rule, I don't generally write touchy-feely columns where I talk about my own life or my personal feelings. This isn't that kind of blog, after all. I may give my personal impressions about politics in the midst of commenting on the issues of the day, but almost never spend a whole column navel-gazing. Today I'm departing from this general rule, and would like to offer up the following as a very personal Thanksgiving Day message to my readers. So if you're not into that sort of thing, I'd advise you to stop reading right now.

First, a few major program notes to attend to. This will be the final column for this week, as I'm taking the whole Thanksgiving weekend off. So there will be no Friday Talking Points this week, and I wish all of you (and your families; even that pro-Trump uncle you can't stand) a very happy holiday weekend. Also, there may not be any new columns for all of next week (at best, I may be able to run some repeats), because I may be required to perform my civic duty on a jury. Where I live, this is a day-by-day thing, so I may not know until next Thursday night whether I'll be able to write a column next Friday, either. I may be gone one day, followed by an absence of a week (or even more), or I may be gone one day and return the next, after having been dismissed. It's all a crap shoot, so I'll try to at least post some "Program Note" updates on what my schedule will be next week, but it could be just about anything. Just to warn everyone in advance.

With that out of the way, I'd like to address a few things that have weighed on my mind for the past year.

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Busy December Ahead For Congress

[ Posted Tuesday, November 21st, 2017 – 18:19 PST ]

Congress is currently tightly focused on the Republican tax-cutting bill, which is likely to consume most of their time when they return from the Thanksgiving break. But what is remarkable is how many other pressing issues they are currently all but ignoring which will have to be resolved before the end of the year. It's looking like a busy legislative December, in other words.

Both Congress and the political media always seem to have somewhat of a problem focusing on more than one issue at a time. Consider how much time was wasted on the GOP "repeal and replace Obamacare" failure earlier this year, when nothing much of anything got done outside the boundaries of that one issue. They had months and months where they could have been preparing other bills for votes, but didn't.

This has resulted in quite a few things getting shoved up against end-of-the-year deadlines. Next month, in addition to whatever happens on the tax bill, Congress will be required to: pass an omnibus budget deal, raise the debt ceiling, pass a DACA immigration fix, and pass a bipartisan bill to tweak the Obamacare subsidy programs. Each one of those would normally result in weeks of debate and lots of jockeying for position and dealmaking, but they may all have to happen at once. The budget will be the big fight, and may just subsume all the rest of the issues into one giant bill (if the past is any indication of how these things eventually happen). And the so-far-unfought budget battles are going to be fierce, even within the Republican caucus. Congress hasn't moved before now because there simply hasn't been any consensus, even among the majority Republicans. So all the spending fights are going to kick off the rest of the unfinished issues, most likely.

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Who Will Be Next?

[ Posted Monday, November 20th, 2017 – 19:18 PST ]

Who will be next? That's the point we've all gotten to, it seems, on sexual misconduct charges made about powerful men pretty much across the spectrum of fame, journalism, and politics. Just today the news contained eight women accusing television journalist Charlie Rose of what can only be called workplace harassment and sexually predatory behavior. Also today, new accusations were made against New York Times political reporter Glenn Thrush, and a second woman accused Al Franken of groping her. That's merely one day's worth of news, and it follows months of such revelations going back to Harvey Weinstein, who was really the start of this cycle of accusations.

The only consistency among all these allegations is that powerful men -- only some of them, to be sure, but still far too many -- act like pigs, especially when they think they can get away with such swinish behavior. That really dates me, I know, because "pigs" immediately leaps to my mind from the phrase "male chauvinist pigs" which was often used in the 1960s and 1970s to describe patriarchic attitudes -- which were even more prevalent (and more blatant) back then. At some point, this phrase kind of fell out of favor among feminists, but perhaps it's time to start calling a pig a pig again?

Porcine semantics aside, though, at this point it certainly seems like we're in for a lot more weeks like the previous one, where there were so many accusations flying it was hard to keep them straight, at times. Personally, I've even stopped paying attention to the scandals hitting those in the world of entertainment (music, film, television, etc.). There are just too many of them, and I've never been all that big a fan of many of the men accused (although George Takei certainly made an impression, due to me being a longtime Star Trek fan). But the other real reason I've started ignoring the entertainer scandals is that I write about and concentrate on politics and journalism much more than any sports icon or rap star or television personality. This is why I mentioned Charlie Rose, Glenn Thrush, and Al Franken but failed to mention any of the Hollywood idols also currently (and recently) put on the hot seat.

Even limiting the focus to journalism and politics still provides a wide array of sexual misconduct accusations, though. There was the pig sty known as Fox News, for instance. The fall of Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly should have been a wake-up call but kind of got lost in political tribalism -- those on the right either ignored it or defended Fox and O'Reilly, and those on the left were so caught up in the schadenfreude that they failed to consider whether they had any pigs within their own ranks of favorite journalists. Then came the fall of Mark Halperin, but few rose to defend him (perhaps because he more than anyone else was the absolute personification of the inside-the-Beltway cocktail party crowd's group-think conventional-wisdom attitudes, which has few actual fans outside of Washington).

Charlie Rose's downfall, however, is going to hit liberals a bit harder. Rose seems to be everywhere on television, from appearing on CBS at 8:00 in the morning to the Charlie Rose show, which airs in my PBS market at midnight. Rose was brought in to CBS in a valiant effort to fight back against the fluffiness of most morning news shows, showing that CBS had a commitment to hard reporting over feel-good nonsense. Rose's self-titled PBS show was a mixture of interviews with journalists, politicians, authors, celebrities, and artists. I personally always found Rose more than a little pompous and a wee bit too willing to parrot political slogans without digging in to the truth or falsehood of such slogans, but maybe that's just me. Rose at least interviewed people for 20 minutes or more on his show, and the "long-format interview" has almost completely disappeared from any other forum on television (for instance, 20-minute-long interviews used to be the bedrock of the Sunday morning political shows, but the interviews have gotten shorter and shorter until now they are no more than the same type of quickie, drive-by interview that cable news is notorious for -- you get less than five minutes to make your point, and that's it, gotta move on to yet another commercial break). So Rose's PBS show was usually worth watching for the sole reason that you got more than just a few soundbites out of whomever was sitting across the table from Charlie.

As I write this, there has been no corporate reaction yet. Charlie was noticeably absent from CBS this morning, because both he and the network had to have known what the Washington Post was going to report this morning. But at this point it seems doubtful that Rose will be on the air much longer, either on CBS or on PBS. The allegations made against him are so severe -- harassing women who worked for him, walking around naked after a shower in front of them as if it were no big deal, and what can only be described as continuing predatory behavior -- that at this point in time it seems impossible for Rose to recover. He'll likely just decide to retire (he is in his 70s, after all, so this was going to happen sooner or later anyway).

Turning to the political world, the second accusation made against Al Franken may be the final nail in his political coffin. This is saddening for many Democrats to admit, but as I said last week if they're going to take the moral high road then Franken may be required to sacrifice himself to continue the purity of the Democratic position. If you're going to set the standard of zero tolerance, then you've got to apply that same standard to one of your own, in other words, in order not to be seen as total hypocrites. Introduction of "gray area explanations" merely weakens your overall cause, obviously.

Personally, what I find depressing about the current atmosphere -- that of "we've reached a turning point" on sexual accusations -- is that we've been here so many times before. Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas was supposed to be such a turning point. Bill Clinton fought back, so it was seen as less of a turning point. But since Clinton's been president, it'd be hard to even tally up how many politicians have been disgraced and run out of office over sexual misconduct. Anthony Weiner's wiener was actually a significant factor in the 2016 presidential election, just to give one example. There are far too many others to even fully list: Larry Craig, Elliot Spitzer, Newt Gingrich, Robert Livingston, Gary Condit, Strom Thurmond, Mark Foley, David Vitter, John Edwards, Herman Cain, Dennis Hastert... the list just goes on and on. And that is not even close to being a complete list, even for the past few decades. It also doesn't even mention our current president, who still has yet to face the music to over a dozen women who have made sexual accusations against him (and were not taken as seriously even a year ago as what we're seeing now).

Of course, not all of those scandals involved sexually predatory behavior, or workplace harassment, or child molestation. Some were just run-of-the-mill affairs with adults the politician didn't happen to be married to at the time. But even winnowing down the list to serious sexual misbehavior (conduct that is clearly illegal, in other words), there are still a lot of names to choose from. Each time we were told that it would be a real turning point in public attitude, but each time as the story faded so did the public outrage.

This time feels different, I will admit. This time around the sheer volume and the breadth of public personalities accused seems to show a real rising tide of public opinion to treat such things differently in the future. Also the swiftness of the consequences seems to be different. Just to use one example, everyone knew that Bill O'Reilly was disgusting and predatory a full decade before he was forced off the air. There were transcripts of phone calls he made (the "loofah/falafel tapes") which left no doubt as to what a pig O'Reilly truly was. But he kept his job for another decade, and Fox News continued to pay out millions of dollars in settlements to cover up his piggishness. Now, though, he is no longer on the air even though his show was the highest-rated on cable television. That is a monumental shift in consequences. I have no idea how soon Charlie Rose will disappear from my television screen, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least to hear that, after having a couple hours to think it over, PBS and CBS have decided to pull the plug on him starting today.

I don't really have any sweeping conclusions to offer on the current situation, I have to confess. Other than to express a certain numbness about the volume of accusations that shows no signs of abating. I'm not the only one, either -- even just tracking the Roy Moore story, there was a big splash when the first four accusers hit the news, and then a further cycle of outrage after the Gloria Allred press conference with the fifth accuser. But since then, four other women have come forward but have received much less attention. It's like the situation with Bill Cosby -- at some point, the only really newsworthy part of the story was the total number of accusers ("the number of women making such accusations against Cosby hit X today...").

Which is why, at this point, the only question we may all be asking for months and months to come is: "Who will be next on the chopping block?" Which icon of politics, journalism, or entertainment will be the next to face public shaming for past misbehavior? And at this point, it really could be anyone. We're fast approaching the point -- if we're not already there -- where none of these accusations is going to generate any surprise. Loathing, shame, outrage, disgust, and denunciation -- all of those will be felt for each and every new name added to the list. But little, if any, surprise. The one consistent aspect to the ongoing scandalpalooza is that powerful men everywhere are being exposed for who they truly are. Not just members of your own political "tribe," not just entertainers you love or hate, not just sleazy television executives and personalities, but people you used to respect and cheer for. The only common denominator is that this tidal wave of scandal is going to hit everywhere -- right, left, and center -- and that we have in no way reached the crest of that wave.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

Friday Talking Points [462] -- Speaking Out Causes A Sea-Change In Attitudes

[ Posted Friday, November 17th, 2017 – 18:24 PST ]

America is in the midst of a gigantic sea-change on how accusations of sexual misconduct are viewed. That much seems certain. You could say it began with the Access Hollywood tape during Donald Trump's campaign, or you could argue it began with the end of Harvey Weinstein's Hollywood career. Notably, the "Me Too" movement has actually been around for a decade, but it really caught fire this year in a big way. But no matter the origins of the shift, America now views accusations of sexual misconduct in a much different light than before.

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Moral Relativism Versus The Moral High Road

[ Posted Thursday, November 16th, 2017 – 19:33 PST ]

After writing two columns on sexual misconduct and politics within the past seven days, I never thought I'd be writing about it again so soon. But today's breaking news pretty much precludes any other political discussion, even on a day when the House passed a real stinkeroo of a tax bill. Because on a purely political level, things just got a lot more complicated for Democrats with today's accusation against Senator Al Franken.

Before I get to Franken's case, I'd like to make some wider observations about where we as a country find ourselves right now. The #MeToo movement seems to be spreading like wildfire, which is really going to require us all to decide what sort of rules we should have going forward when it comes to allegations of sexual harassment, sexual attempts at humor, outright sexual misconduct, and clear-cut crimes such as sexual assault or even rape. America is already having this conversation, which really started with the Harvey Weinstein accusations, but sooner or later we're going to have to agree on some basic rules for how such accusations should be considered.

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