I will explain that silly subtitle in a moment, but first we've got to delve even deeper into rampant silliness. If such silliness and unseriousness does not appeal to you, then I strongly suggest you skip down and begin reading with this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Consider yourselves warned.
This column today celebrates a milestone -- triple digits on the odometer! That's right, as hard as it may seem to believe, this is the one hundredth volume of your weekly Friday Talking Points column. For a little over two years now, we've brought you our thoughts on "the week that was in politics," and for a little less time than that, we've announced our weekly winners of both the aforementioned MIDOTW as well as the ignominious Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. And we wrap it all up with some practical, good old-fashioned, home-brewed Democratic spin, our Talking Points for the week ahead.
Initially, this concept met with some scorn. To some, "spin" and "talking points" are ugly words, which proper ladies and gentlemen don't use. My feeling, however, is that Democrats are so woefully bad at getting their own message out -- especially in the short, easy-to-digest soundbites to which the mainstream media is addicted -- that I certainly couldn't do any harm by making such suggestions, and indeed might do some good. It's been enough to keep me going for 100 columns, and I see no sign of Democrats mastering the art of "framing" their subjects, so another 100 columns being necessary isn't entirely outside the realm of possibility.
But enough back-patting and self-congratulating. Oh, wait, one more -- if you'd like to hear what I sound like trying to talk politics at 8:30 in the morning, there's a program note at the end of this with a link to a podcast interview I did today. If that sort of thing interests you, then check it out.
But I promised you some silliness, so silliness I will now provide. Whenever "100 episodes" comes to my mind, I can't help but think of South Park. The war in Iraq began about three weeks before the 100th episode of South Park aired, and at the time there was virtually nothing but jingoistic pro-war opinions being voiced on television. South Park, known mostly for lowbrow (and, some say, conservative) political views, put their finger on the pulse of both the anti-war and pro-war positions at the time, and came up with a summation that seemed downright brilliant at the time, and still does.
I won't go into too much detail of the plotline of this episode (you can read a transcript of it, if you'd like). Suffice it to say it had half the town protesting against the war, and half the town protesting in favor of the war. The kids were assigned a report on how the Founding Fathers themselves would view the Iraq war, which Eric Cartman tried to weasel out of by attempting to send himself into a "flashback" to the past. He finally succeeds, and is on hand for the Founding Fathers debating the Declaration of Independence in the Continental Congress, and the question of whether to go to war with England or not. Here's the South Park take on how this debate went:
HANCOCK: Mr. Franklin, where do you stand on the war issue?
FRANKLIN: I believe that if we are to form a new country, we cannot be a country that appears war-hungry and violent to the rest of the world. However, we also cannot be a country that appears weak and unwilling to fight to the rest of the world. So, what if we form a country that appears to want both?
JEFFERSON: Yes. Yes of course. We go to war, and protest going to war at the same time.
DICKINSON: Right. If the people of our new country are allowed to do whatever they wish, then some will support the war and some will protest it.
FRANKLIN: And that means that as a nation, we could go to war with whomever we wished, but at the same time, act like we didn't want to. If we allow the people to protest what the government does, then the country will be forever blameless.
ADAMS: [Holding a slice of chocolate cake] It's like having your cake, and eating it, too.
CONGRESSMAN 2: Think of it: an entire nation founded on saying one thing and doing another.
HANCOCK: And we will call that country the United States of America.
Cartman returns from his flashback to find the town killing each other in a riot which happened because the mayor told the anti-war protesters and the pro-war protesters that they'd have to share the town park on the same day. Cartman, uncharacteristically, is the voice of reason which ends the town's fighting, as he gives his report from the stage:
I learned something today. This country was founded by some of the smartest thinkers the world has ever seen. And they knew one thing: that a truly great country can go to war, and at the same time, act like it doesn't want to. You people who are for the war, you need the protesters. Because they make the country look like it's made of sane, caring individuals. And you people who are anti-war, you need these flag-wavers, because, if our whole country was made up of nothing but soft [expletive deleted] protesters, we'd get taken down in a second. That's why the Founding Fathers decided we should have both. It's called "having your cake and eating it too."
But the true silliness is at the very end, when the two groups embrace each other and start singing Donny And Marie's "Little Bit of Country/Little Bit of Rock and Roll," and then get completely surreal. Which is a good way for us to open our column today.
EVERYBODY: We're a little bit country, and we're a little bit rock-n-roll!
STUART: We can be a nation that believe in war...
MR. MACKEY: And still tells the world that we don't.
EVERYBODY: Let the flag for hypocrisy fly high from every pole! We're a little bit country, and we're a little bit rock-n-roll!
RANDY: Well, goodnight everybody. It sure has been great bringing you a hundred episodes.
SKEETER: We want to thank our guests, the pro-war people. [Applause] And the anti-war people. [Applause]
STAN: [Mystified] What the Hell are they doing now?
KYLE: [Covers his nose and shuts his eyes tight] Ah, I don't know.
EVERYBODY: For the war, against, the war, WHO CARES?? One hundred episodes!
KYLE: I hate this town. Ah, I really, really do.
Now that we've got the silly and surreal out of our system, let's just move on, shall we?
While Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi certainly made a bid for winning the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week by scheduling a debate on the healthcare reform bill in the House, she has not yet delivered. She did try an interesting tactic to try to speed things up, though. After getting her bill "scored" by the Congressional Budget Office, she posted it online for 72 hours, making good on an earlier promise to do so (which, it should be noted, the Republicans never bothered to do when they were in charge). But that meant the debate and vote was pushed out to Saturday. Congress in session on a weekend! You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that.
But Pelosi accomplished this by being crafty. Next week, the House was planning to take half the week off for Veterans' Day -- so Pelosi told everyone that they could have the full week off if they voted on the healthcare reform bill first. This is why our legislators will be in the chambers this weekend -- to get extra vacation time next week! Which is fine, since (for once) they'll actually deserve a few days off. But this maneuver flew under most people's radar, which is also why it was a brilliant political tactic for Pelosi to employ. Now, rumors are flying today (including one which says the vote's not going to happen until next week), so we'll see what happens next week.
For this week, however, we've got to at least give Speaker Pelosi an Honorable Mention for moving things forward on healthcare reform.
But this week's uncontested Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is newly-minted Representative Bill Owens, of the twenty-third House district in the great state of New York. Owens captured NY-23 this Tuesday, winning a very strange race which was really an intra-Republican donnybrook. A moderate Republican was on the ticket, but so was an ultra-conservative backed by Sarah Palin and the rest of the usual suspects from the "Small Tent" faction of the Republican Party. The Republican dropped out of the race, and actually endorsed the Democrat, strangely enough. Who actually won -- even stranger.
Now, the mainstream media mostly ignored this race, because it didn't easily fit in their storyline of "Republican Revival!" But this district going Democratic is simply stunning. It also presages some interesting struggles for the direction of the Republican Party in next year's primaries, which I wrote about yesterday.
But the truly jaw-dropping part of the story is that over a third of the district (with reapportionment, the district has changed boundaries over the years) has been represented by a Republican in the House of Representatives since before the Civil War. Part of the district has had a Republican representative since 1856 -- when the Republican Party began. And in Franklin Country, the last non-Republican representing them in the House was named George Simmons... who was a member of the Whig Party.
The Swing State Project website has more details, if you're interested. There are no districts which have remained Democratic (even partially) since the Civil War -- there used to be a few in Texas, but Tom DeLay took care of that. There is still one district in Pennsylvania with as long a pedigree for the Republicans, but the news of NY-23 switching parties is truly groundshaking, one would think.
Unless one got their news from the mainstream media, of course. Sigh.
Anyway, we simply can't think of a more impressive Democrat this week, or indeed a more impressive Democratic feat in quite a while. So this week's MIDOTW voting wasn't even close. Our hands-down Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than Bill Owens. Well done!
[Unfortunately, Representative-Elect Bill Owens does not have an official House webpage yet, so you'll have to wait a week or so to congratulate him.]
But enough of Republicans "Whigging out," as it were (see, I told you I'd work that in...). Sadly, we must turn to our own disappointments this week. While the Democratic candidates for governor in New Jersey and Virginia were disappointing, this week we unfortunately have to return to an old standard for our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid really has got to go. I have said it before and I doubtlessly will say it again, but it is time for Senate Democrats to wake up and realize that the only thing Harry is "leading" them to is a possible disaster at the polls next year.
While activity and hopefulness was emanating from the House, with Pelosi moving healthcare reform one more step forward, Harry Reid may have killed the entire effort for the year over in the Senate. No, that's not an exaggeration. Harry seems to think he's got all the time in the world to get this done. In the summer, he attempted to talk tough about deadlines for Max Baucus, and deadlines for introducing the bill under budget reconciliation rules which only need 50 votes (instead of 60) -- but such talk has apparently been long forgotten by Reid.
Reid's office leaked this week that the Senate may not even bring a bill to the floor until December... or maybe not even this year. Perhaps next year, if they can find the time, who knows?
Reid clumsily attempted to walk this back later, by saying he shares Obama's goal of getting it done this year, but it was pretty weak medicine indeed after his earlier statements.
Somebody please tie Harry to a chair so I can throw this bucket of cold water in his face: "Harry -- if it doesn't get done this year, it is not going to get done in an election year. And Harry, you don't get the whole calendar to play around with. You have to schedule in some time for a conference committee between the houses after the Senate votes, or there will not be time to finish the bill."
December, I would like to strongly remind Democrats, is the traditional month when the caucus votes on their leadership. This is the month when they replace people in positions like... oh, I don't know... Senate Majority Leader, for instance. And any Senate Democrats frustrated by the pace of their leadership (which includes, by the way, committee chairs -- I'm just saying...) need to start a whispering campaign in the cloakrooms of the Capitol that if healthcare reform fails by this December, then they will be voting some new leaders in for next year. Because, at this point, we simply don't have time for the Nevada voters to chuck Reid out next year.
Maybe that'll wake Harry up. It's certainly worth a try.
For the record-shattering thirteenth time, we sadly must award Harry Reid the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[Contact Harry Reid on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 100 (11/6/09)
One hundred epsiodes! Woo hoo!
Sorry, I apologize, I dealt with that silliness earlier and it won't happen again, I promise. Ahem.
We now turn to our Friday Talking Points for this week. I had notions of digging through the last 99 columns and presenting some sort of "best of" section here today, but sadly, it has been too busy a week politically, so we must forego such pleasures and offer up some commonsensical ways for Democrats to speak of what's been going on of late. As always, the full archive of all 100 of these columns is available at fridaytalkingpoints.com (which I registered for those people who find it easier to spell than chrisweigant.com).
For those of you who are newcomers to this column and were drawn in by the number 100 beckoning you from the headline, welcome! The core of this column is presented weekly (some would say "weakly," but we cheerfully ignore them, as always) in the hopes of providing some snappy one-liners to Democrats for the upcoming week.
Originally, this was solely for the purposes of Democratic officeholders who are scheduled to appear on Sunday chat shows, but I have found over the months that they work just as well talking to your strange cousin or uncle, or to the conservative you have to share an office with.
In other words, anyone can use them! Feel free! Try it today!
This one is just odious, I have to admit. Because this sort of thing shows up at political demonstrations more and more, but this wasn't a rally or a demonstration, officially it was a "press conference" hosted by Representative Michele Bachmann, complete with lots and lots of Republicans standing on the stage and speaking from the podium. A photo of what I'm talking about is available at ThinkProgress, I should add. This should be used by any Democrat debating healthcare reform this weekend with any Republican, since even if they weren't there, it is just as useful.
"Before we begin, I would like to denounce -- and invite my colleague to equally denounce -- whoever it was at the Republican 'press conference' earlier this week who saw fit to wave giant signs equating our efforts to provide affordable healthcare coverage to all Americans with a photograph of a pile of naked, dead bodies taken at the Dachau concentration camp. I think this sort of thing is despicable, I think it is a slap in the face to all Jewish people in America, and I think it deserves the strongest sort of condemnation, no matter what party you are from. I noticed that while this enormous sign was fully visible from the stage, not one of the speakers addressed it in any way whatsoever. I think that is shameful, and I invite my colleague to join me in denouncing such tactics." (Turn to Republican you're being interviewed with, at this point, and watch them squirm....)
Good thing there was government healthcare available....
This one is a tightrope to walk, so as not to fall into a pit of glee over someone's misfortune -- but that should not stop anyone from pointing out the thick, thick irony of it all.
"You know, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post had a very interesting article the other day, where he pointed out the fact that during the Republican anti-government-healthcare rally someone suffered a heart attack and, quote, Medical personnel from the Capitol physician's office -- an entity that could, quite accurately, be labeled government-run health care -- rushed over, attaching electrodes to his chest and giving him oxygen and an IV drip, unquote. Now, if this crowd was so morally against the concept of government healthcare, then by all rights they should have waited for a private-sector ambulance to arrive, and let the victim die in the meantime. But I noticed -- just as I notice many in these crowds who seem to be Medicare-eligible -- that they're just fine with government healthcare for themselves, it is merely others they do not wish to extend the privilege to. I find this ironic, personally."
We need some stronger candidates
This week's election results are going to be a major subject this weekend. So Democrats have got to be ready to talk about the lessons learned.
"I think that what New Jersey and Virginia tell us is that Democrats simply have to do a better job at recruiting good candidates. Deeds, in Virginia, by all accounts didn't run a very good campaign, and Corzine was the wrong man at the wrong time, since Wall Street experience isn't exactly what people are looking for these days in their politicians. But I'm confident that next year, Democrats will do a much better job of lining up good candidates that know their districts and have a good chance at winning."
Poll the stay-at-homes
If I was in charge of the Democratic National Committee, I would hastily be putting a poll out in the field in New Jersey and Virginia with some seriously open-ended questions. Due to micro-targeting, I would aim this poll at two groups: registered Democrats who previously voted (including new voters from 2008), but didn't in this election; and independents who fit the same criteria. The single-most important question I would ask: "Why did you stay home this time around?" Followed up by the equally-important: "What could we do in the next year to get you back to the polls?"
"Democrats need to take one big lesson away from this week's results in New Jersey and Virginia -- the Republicans were more motivated. They had the momentum. And if we don't regain that momentum on our side, then 2010 is going to be pretty grim for Democrats. So I would tell my party's leaders to ask the citizens of Virginia and New Jersey who didn't vote this time around 'why did you stay home?' I would examine their answers very closely, and I would put out a memo to each and every Democratic member of Congress stating exactly where we are falling short in our voters' eyes. Because if we don't turn this around, next year is going to be devastating for us come election day."
Put up, or shut up
No matter what the answers are to the poll just mentioned, the follow-through is just as important. Democrats need to produce. Now. If they have any hope of holding on to their congressional majorities next year, they need to get busy and convince the voters they know what they're doing.
"I suspect if you did poll the stay-at-home voters, that they would tell you in various ways that they are disappointed with the Democratic Party. They expected some big changes, and all they've seen so far is smaller changes and a lot of arguing. On issue after issue, Democratic voters are becoming dispirited and disillusioned with the progress made so far. Now is not the time for the normal timidity of a midterm election year, now is the time to get some things done. Now is the time to produce. Now is the time to put up, or shut up. Because if we can't manage to do so in the next year, last week's election is going to look like a picnic to Democrats by comparison."
The Republicans splinter
However, those last few were pretty sobering, so let's end here with a gratuitous slap to the face of the Republicans, and then finally with the one thing Democrats can brag about from last week. This first one should send some chills down a few Republican spines, I would warrant.
"For all the talk of how the Democrats did last week, the media seems to be largely ignoring the absolute cage match happening over in Republicanland. Two party factions -- one who wants to get back to a 'big tent' concept, and one who wants only the purest of the pure -- are heading for some epic collisions next year. And the thing the Republicans should really worry about -- the thing that would keep me awake nights if I were a Republican -- is the specter of a third-party challenge from the right in next year's general elections. I see a real possibility of the Republican Party splintering off into two mutually-antagonistic sides over the question of 'party purity' next year. Which, I have to admit, fills me with delight as a Democrat."
Flip my Whig
OK, this one is just rubbing their faces in it, but since it was the only happy result from Tuesday, it should be kept handy if needed.
"For all this talk of a Republican Renaissance, did anybody notice that Democrats took a House seat last week in upstate New York? In some parts of this district, they have been represented by a Republican since before Abraham Lincoln was elected president. In particular, the last non-Republican to represent Franklin County was from the Whig Party. That seems like it's worth a mention, if we're talking about drawing sweeping conclusions from last week. Republicans lost a district they've held for over 150 years -- that doesn't happen every day in American politics, does it?"
[Program Note: Back in FTP  I was interviewed by "TJ and The Tux" for their podcast program on EastVillageRadio.com, to talk about Obama's first 100 days. Since then, they've renamed their program "Shock and Awesome," and they graciously had me back on again today to talk about Obama's "first year" and the recent elections. So if you'd like to hear me sipping caffeine and attempting to talk about politics (and my cat) at 8:30 in the morning, check it out. Click on the "Listen" button for Nov. 06, 2009 -- it's at about an hour-and-a-half in to the show.]
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground