[Welcome back to the weekly Friday Democratic Talking Points column (I'm still looking for a snappier title, by the way). This week, I've decided to start numbering these columns, so I can keep track of them easier. Previous columns will be numbered [ 1 ] (9/14/07), [ 2 ] (9/21/07), and [ 3 ] (9/28/07) for future reference. OK, enough of that, here we go...]
I think I'm going to have to introduce a feature for this column of "Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week." I really wish I didn't have to do this, and sincerely look forward to a week where there are just no candidates for such an award. Until that happens, we're going to have to shine a spotlight of shame on the most embarrassing cave-in of the week.
This week's award goes to Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He released a letter this week where he rolled over (once again) on his eminently reasonable demands for documents to find out just what was going on in the Justice Department under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Leahy has decided to throw away his biggest leverage -- refusing to hold hearings on the new AG candidate -- in return for absolutely nothing. The White House didn't work out a compromise with Leahy, he just decided it was risky politics to make good on his demands. To his further embarrassment, the New York Times apparently has better information than Leahy's committee on just how far the Bush administration is willing to go in its re-definition of "torture." The Times article broke just as the story of Leahy caving broke -- that's got to be embarrassing.
Now, on the whole, I like and respect Patrick Leahy. His heart is in the right place, but time and again he seems to back down from playing political hardball when it matters. You can argue that he's behaving like a gentleman Senator should, working towards compromise and all that, but he seems not to have learned that President Bush is not interested in compromising anything. Bush is much more interested in defending his warped view of an Imperial Presidency and in scoring political points off Democrats than he is in any form of compromise (which he sees as a weakness). Given this, Leahy's tactics will equate to Bush successfully stalling all these investigations until he's long gone from the White House. Which earns Leahy the very first "Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week" award.
Of course, we all know who would win that award on the Republican side of the aisle this week. But here's where I would caution using restraint, and taking the moral high ground. Any Democrat interviewed this weekend, if asked about Senator Larry Craig, should respond with, "I will defer to the Republican leadership on the question of whether Senator Craig should resign or not." Just as with the Mark Foley case, this is a time to stand back, watch the Republicans form a circular firing squad, and perhaps mutter "tsk, tsk." But it's not seemly for Democrats to kick Craig while he's down -- since the Republicans are doing a fine job of that already. So take the high road on this one.
Most of this week's talking points deal with the children's health bill which President Bush vetoed last week. This is good offense when it comes to politics (we're in football season now, so it's time to put away the baseball metaphors for the year and dust off the football metaphors). There are big Big BIG budget battles brewing in the next few weeks, and (for once) Democrats did the right thing tactically and strategically -- lead with your best shot. The SCHIP bill polls at over 70% of the public in favor, Bush has staked out an almost irrational position on it, and House Democrats are within 10-15 votes of being able to overturn Bush's veto in the House. While Democrats already have a 67-vote veto-stomping majority in the Senate, the House will vote to overturn first.
The last item on last week's list was "Show the Republicans the knife" -- warn the GOP that this will be used in the elections. This week there is a wonderful ad already up on YouTube put out by the Campaign For America's Future site. This is the sort of thing Republicans should expect while trying to hold onto the House next year. Moderate GOP-held House districts are being targeted even as we speak, and Nancy Pelosi has given everyone two weeks to hear from their constituents back home on the issue. So there's a decent shot for an override at this point, but the vote's going to be close either way it goes.
In any case, most of the items on this week's list refer to the SCHIP debate. Last week I devoted the entire column to the issue, and most of those are still valid as well. Without further delay, onward to this week's list.
Democratic Talking Points, Volume 4 (10/5/07)
(1) This one's easy:
Ebenezer Bush and/or George W. Scrooge
I can't claim originality on this one. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying: "This has got to be up there with motherhood and apple pie. This is Tiny Tim. And who is against Tiny Tim? The only person in all of literature was Ebenezer Scrooge." Democrats obviously need to assign Congressman Cooper permanent duty naming future Democratic legislation. How much easier would this whole argument be if every media talking head had to say "The Tiny Tim Act" instead of "the proposed expansion of the S-CHIP legislation"? This is brilliant, and deserves to be on everyone's lips this weekend. Combine Bush's name, and you don't even need to explain yourself the way Cooper did -- the label is self-explanatory: Ebenezer Bush. Or George W. Scrooge.
(2) Measure everything using the Iraq War Yardstick:
"X" months of Bush's Iraq war
While several Democrats have been using this successfully in the SCHIP debate so far, it needs to become a universal measuring stick for the entire budget debate. President Bush is actually relishing the opportunity to veto something like three-fourths of the budget bills which will be coming his way, in a pathetic effort to play to the "fiscal conservatives" in his party. After the Republican Congress abetted by the Republican Bush racked up enormous spending increases in the federal budget during the past six years, now all of a sudden Bush has seen the light of fiscal conservatism. But the total difference between what Bush is demanding for the entire budget and what Democrats will likely pass is about $20 billion or so.
So use it for SCHIP, of course, but use this universally throughout the budget debates to come: "The difference in the bipartisan budget we passed in Congress and what Bush is demanding is less than two months' worth of the war in Iraq." Bring this up again and again. Remind everyone of the priorities involved.
(3) Strongly challenge President Bush's nonsense:
President Bush obviously hasn't read the bill he vetoed.
Whenever a strawman argument from the White House is offered up, shoot it down right away. Bush has been trying to create a number of false impressions about this bill, so point out the falsehoods as they arise. SCHIP is not "federal-run" health care, it's not socialism, and it does not cover people up to $80,000 in income. So don't let him get away with saying so. Rather than refuting Bush point by point, just repeat: "Well, our bill doesn't say that. I guess the President George W. Scrooge didn't read that part before he vetoed it, because that's not what it says."
(4) Frame children's health as a moral issue:
The least among us
That's all you have to use -- just that one phrase. This reminds everyone subtly of the Bible and the Golden Rule and all of that sort of thing, without having to get specific. "President Bush calls his education bill 'No Child Left Behind' and then turns around and leaves behind millions of little children. We consider this to be immoral, and we wish President Bush were more compassionate to the sufferings of the least among us."
(5) Teddy's challenge:
Refuse your government-funded health care if you don't think children should get the same thing
Senator Ted Kennedy wrote a brilliant and eloquent defense of the Democratic position on SCHIP this week here at Huffington Post. It is well worth reading if you care about the issue at all, or even if you just want a rip-snortin' good piece of Democratic red meat. He ends by tossing down a pretty heavy gauntlet to Republicans:
So I ask President Bush and the Members in Congress who support his veto:
Would you deny your own family what you'll be denying to millions of other families if this bill is vetoed? If you don't believe the federal government should support children's health care, how can you in good conscience accept it for your own families?
(6) Yet another in our continuing series of "throw it back in their faces":
The Rule of Law
"I'm actually kind of nostalgic for when Republicans stood up for the 'Rule of Law.' We had to pass a bill in the House this week to force our State Department to put their own security contractors under any law whatsoever. They have had four or five years to get this right, and they have ignored it completely. Democrats had to come along once again and clean up a Republican mess, so that we can show the entire world America means it when we say 'Rule of Law.' Interesting enough, President Bush has been lobbying against this law -- but then, that's no real surprise. We call on all Republican Senators to pass this law immediately and put it on Bush's desk."
(7) Rule of Law II:
If it happened to one of our soldiers, would we consider it torture?
"There's a reason we oppose torture as a country. It's because it is morally wrong. But there are many supporting reasons as well, and the biggest of these is: If we set the standard for the world to use, it will be used against us at some future date. And when -- "when," not "if" -- it is used against your son or daughter serving in the uniform of the United States, how are we going to condemn it as "torturing our soldiers" on the world stage, if we do the same things ourselves?"
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com