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Friday Talking Points [118] -- Cold War Jumps Shark

Previous arms-control treaties were big news. Take all the coverage we just had over the health reform debate, and multiply that by about 10, and that's something like how big the news of this sort of thing used to be. Now, not so much.
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The Cold War has officially jumped the shark.

Yesterday, President Obama signed a strategic arms reduction treaty (the "New START") with the president of Russia. This is the first nuclear warhead treaty with Russia in 20 years. It will reduce both countries' stockpiles of nuclear warheads by one-third. And, as far as the network news in America was concerned, it was a very ho-hum story.

To me, this marks a low point in television "journalism" -- and, these days, that's hard to do, since they're all in a rush to bottom-feeding anyway. Last night, the lead story on every network should have been the treaty signing. It wasn't. Leading the news was the story of a monumentally stupid diplomat sneaking a smoke in an airplane bathroom, which was played for all the terrorism fear the networks could manage. Following this was the continuing story of the mine disaster in West Virginia, where nothing much happened (which didn't stop the networks from in-depth reporting on the nothing which had happened). Following this -- you simply cannot make this stuff up -- was Tiger Woods' return to professional golf.

As an afterthought, the two nations with over 90 percent of the nuclear weapons on the planet agreed to get rid of a substantial number of them, which would bring the nuclear arms race back to levels the world has not seen since the 1960s. Obviously, for news program directors, not that big a deal (I do have to give credit to PBS' News Hour for not only running it as the lead story, but for taking 20 minutes out of the hour to discuss it -- but then PBS is always better at this sort of thing).

Which is why I say that the Cold War has now officially jumped the shark. Now, this term itself is becoming a relic of the Cold War, so (for my younger readers), allow me to explain (wait a minute... I think I may just have declared that "jumped the shark" has itself jumped the shark, which truly causes the mind to boggle... but I digress). There was a television show in the 1970s which was comprised of soft-focus nostalgia for the decade when the Cold War truly got going: the 1950s (and which itself was a blatant ripoff of the excellent movie American Graffiti, but that's beside the point, and yet another annoying digression). The show was funny and popular when it first came on the airwaves. Then, after a few seasons, and a few notable spinoffs (Laverne and Shirley, and -- believe it or not -- Mork and Mindy), the show began to flounder a bit and become so formulaic that its ratings slid (and its spinoffs got worse and less popular as well, if anyone remembers Joanie Loves Chachi or Blansky's Beauties). To combat this, they had a two part cliff-hanger episode -- which was meant to cash in on another popular movie (Jaws) -- where a main character waterski-jumped over a penned-up shark. While wearing a leather jacket, by the way. Again, you simply cannot make this stuff up. Much later, after the show went off the air, the phrase "jumping the shark" entered the lexicon to signify the exact moment when something no longer was popular, or even relevant to most folks.

Which is where we are today. Previous arms-control treaties were big news. Not big news, even, but enormous news. Take all the coverage we just had over the health reform debate, and multiply that by about 10, and that's something like how big the news of this sort of thing used to be. The future of the planet hung in the balance, and the story was treated appropriately.

Now, not so much. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons have faded in importance for the public. This, it should be pointed out, was not always the case. In the 1980s, "No Nukes!" rallies were the biggest political take-to-the-streets events in Washington. Other than perhaps apartheid, it was the biggest "cause" of the day. Now, again, not so much.

I guess it's a positive thing, in a way, that we can afford to pay so little attention, as a country, to these things any more. The fear of World War III is, indeed, is now thought of as quaint and a bit nostalgic, when thought of at all.

But still, the fact that a professional golfer's marital problems rate higher among network news directors than reducing world nuclear stockpiles by a whopping one-third signifies this shift more than anything else I've ever seen. Which is why I say, once again, that the Cold War has indeed jumped the shark.

While President Obama certainly signed an impressive treaty this week, we feel we have to give credit where credit is due, instead. Which is why, this week, we are awarding the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to none other than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Because this treaty is not only a stunning achievement for the president, it is also an enormous accomplishment for Clinton, who now joins the ranks of our most effective Secretaries of State in modern times. Hillary Clinton's job description is to do this sort of thing, remember. And she produced a treaty for her boss to sign, showing she was indeed the right person chosen for this job. Clinton (and the State Department as a whole) produced an impressive accomplishment that her husband never even managed, when he was president.

Clinton's role in the process was largely in the background. This is another reason why she wins the MIDOTW award -- because, ever since she started her job, she has never made herself "the story" in any international issue. And, it must be acknowledged, she has kept her husband on a very tight leash (when it comes to the media) as well -- something which was seen as a worrisome issue when her nomination was announced.

Some Secretaries of State tend to hog the limelight, and (by doing so) upstage their bosses. Hillary Clinton has not taken this route. Instead, she has worked at her job much like she worked at her first Senate term -- grinding out impressive work, while keeping her head down in the media spotlight.

For all of this, and for producing the treaty the president just signed (which is a welcome step back from the insanity of the Cold War arms race), Hillary Clinton was indeed the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Well done, Secretary Clinton!

[In keeping with her low profile, one assumes, the State Department has no public contact page for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Congratulate her instead on the White House contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

While President Obama has recently made some disturbing moves on the national security front, he misses out this week on the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week as well.

Because, in keeping with our "nuclear" theme this week, we have to hand out the MDDOTW for an incident which actually happened last week (but then, we skipped writing this column last week, so he's still fair game in our book).

New Hampshire state Representative Nick Levasseur, who apparently didn't watch Speed Racer as a kid, has a seething rage against "anime" (Japanese or Japanese-style cartoons). And he's one of those "modern" politicians who uses Facebook, without realizing that people can, you know, actually read what you post there. Here's what he reportedly posted:

Anime is a prime example of why two nukes just wasn't enough.

Got that? We should have turned Japan into a nuclear wasteland at the end of World War II, just so that they couldn't come back decades later and corrupt American with their animated cartoons. He later apologized, saying he thought it would be a private joke among his friends.

Sometimes, politicians say things which are so monumentally stupid that they leave even us utterly speechless and at a loss for words. This, sadly, is one of those times.

Nick Levasseur wins not only this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, he also wins a special Stupidest Comment We've Heard In A Long, Long Time raspberry as well. Because, when words fail, sometimes a Bronx cheer is the only intelligent response.

[Contact New Hampshire Representative Nick Levasseur via the official N.H. House member contact page (select his name from the list, although he seems to have recently scrubbed most of his contact info, no surprise), to let him know what you think of his "joke."]

Volume 118 (4/9/10)

It's been rather a strange week for us here. Last week, we pre-empted this column so we could instead present you with an old episode of Happy Days. No wait, that can't be right.... Ahem. But because we (speaking of comic books) attempted a "crossover" to shamelessly plug our monthly Obama poll column, we subsequently went through a sort of "spin withdrawal" all weekend long, and (as a result) devoted all of Monday's column to one particular talking point (which I'm going to repeat below, never fear).

The weirdest part of the week, though, was yesterday, when I felt compelled (for some strange reason) to post a column entitled "In (Partial) Defense Of Michele Bachmann," which is not the usual thing, shall we say, in this column space.

But enough of all this shameless plugapalooza-ing. Let's get to this week's talking points instead!

Politics stops at the water's edge

Unlike the mainstream broadcast news editors, I am putting this one up front. Because while Republicans really haven't worked up their usual high sense of dudgeon at a Democratic president daring to do something positive for the country (and the world, in this case), they undoubtedly will before this debate is over. Meaning Democrats need to revive a Cold War talking point, and start using it whenever the subject comes up, to paint Republicans as being willing to "play politics" with any issue under the sun (which voters aren't too fond of at the moment). Take the high road -- and welcome all the Republicans to take the high road with you! When asked about the chances the new nuclear arms reduction treaty has for passage in the Senate, the first response of any Democrat being interviewed should be a variation on the following:

"You know there's an old saying that 'politics stops at the water's edge,' which was coined for exactly this situation. There are some things that are simply more important than whether you're a Democrat or Republican. Foreign policy should be debated on the merits of this treaty, and not become some sort of political tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans. I feel confident that the Republicans will join President Obama, and ratify this significant nuclear arms reduction treaty, because it is the right thing to do. Any Republican who tries to somehow make some sort of political hay out of the issue is going to show the world that playing politics is somehow more important to them. But I truly believe that this won't happen, because I believe Republicans agree that politics should stop at the water's edge."

Supreme Court nominee will not change the balance of power

This news just broke today, to the ecstatic joy of political reporters everywhere, who are gleefully inking in the confirmation hearings for Obama's second Supreme Court pick on their calendars, for sometime this summer. After all, it will be a field day for punditizing, as it always is. But Democrats need to tamp down this irrational exuberance from the media, and remind everyone of the particulars of the situation -- that nothing much is going to change. This is not to lower expectations for the nominee, when he or she is named by the president, but rather to lower expectations that this is going to significantly change the court's makeup in any way whatsoever. Obama will get a chance to put his stamp on the high court when -- and not until -- a conservative justice steps down. If this happens before Obama leaves office, then we will have a ideological nominee battle which could significantly change the country's future. But this nominee will not be that battle -- which bears pointing out.

"The news of John Paul Stevens' retirement from the Supreme Court is going to be a boom season for political chat shows and the like, I realize, but whomever the nominee turns out to be, the fact remains that the court's makeup isn't going to significantly change as a result of Stevens stepping down. Obama may nominate someone slightly more conservative or liberal, but on the real scale of these things, the court's makeup is going to stay pretty close to where it is. Obama now has his second chance to shape the court, but in both instances the justices he is replacing were already from the liberal side of the court. Obama won't get a real chance to change the court in any significant way until a conservative justice steps down. Which I think we should all keep in mind throughout the upcoming debate."

Wall Street reform

As I mentioned, I wrote a whole article on this one, on Monday. The White House has come up with a decent job of framing the upcoming debate on financial reform -- call it "Wall Street reform." As I went into this in detail earlier, I'll just suggest you read the article if interested, and move quickly on to the talking point itself. Except to briefly mention that the Unions are organizing a march on Wall Street soon, so if you're in New York on April 29, join in the fun!

This one is actually easy, because it is intended to be used as a forceful correction. Any time any interviewer uses a phrase like "financial sector reform" or "comprehensive financial regulatory reform" or any of the other snooze-inducing labels so far being used, quickly interject the following:

"You mean 'Wall Street reform,' of course."

Bikini bottom ain't just where SpongeBob lives

SpongeBob SquarePants, as everybody knows, makes his home in Bikini Bottom. But this saccharine joke of a name is taking on a new meaning. And it's an important one for Democrats this fall, because it should be the center of the Democrats' midterm election strategy -- "The economy's getting better because of Democrats."

Now, there are two ways this could play out. Either the economy noticeably improves by November, or it doesn't. In the latter case, Democrats are going to be slaughtered at the polls anyway, so it doesn't much matter what they attempt to run on. But if the former happens -- if things are looking up economically in November -- then Democrats have got to drive the point home: "we turned things around."

The reason Democrats are so shy of doing so is likely due to what happens when politicians over-promise what they don't end up delivering (see: Obama's prediction unemployment would stay below eight percent if the stimulus package passed). But, at this point, Democrats really have nothing to lose by this strategy, because as I mentioned, they're going to get routed out if the economy looks bad in November.

But, to do this, Democrats have to do something they're not very good at, which is claiming credit for their own accomplishments. Maybe they need a self-esteem class or something. Ahem. But, luckily for them, there are some graphics which will help them out with the overriding theme: "Democrats are turning things around for America -- why would we ever want to go back?"

First and foremost of these is the "bikini bottom" chart (so named, because that's kind of what it looks like, if you have a fervid imagination), which shows in stark relief the difference in jobs lost or gained between the final year of the Bush administration, and what has happened since under Obama. No real explanation of this chart is necessary. Just put up a giant poster of it behind every Democrat out on the campaign trail, and introduce it with some version of:

"What you see behind me is a chart of America's monthly job loss figures. The part on the left in red is what happened under President Bush. The blue parts are what has happened since President Obama took office. This is what putting Democrats in charge has done -- turned this around so dramatically that we're now adding more than 100,000 jobs per month, instead of losing 750,000 jobs per month, as we were when Bush left office. Democrats are turning things around, after a Republican economic disaster. Which is why you should vote for a Democrat this November if you want to see it continue."

How about that Dow?

The second graph which Democrats should be bragging about is the one which shows the Dow Jones Industrial Average since President Obama took office. Today, the Dow briefly broke through the 11,000 mark, which hasn't happened since the slide began under Bush. Democrats need to point this out, whenever possible. As well as other helpful economic charts (here's a few from Ezra Klein over at the Washington Post) which show similar rising economic indicators.

"Just this week, the Dow Jones topped 11,000 for the first time in over a year. Now, this may not sound like a big deal to folks who are still looking for work, but the Dow is what's called a 'leading indicator' which, when it rises, usually signifies the people who know are betting that the economy is going to get better soon. Jobs are what's known as a 'lagging indicator,' which recovers at a slower rate than the Dow. But I am optimistic, seeing the Dow regain the ground it lost, because it means that things are going to continue to improve under the Democrats' stewardship of the economy. The jobs numbers are improving as well, and we've got some work to do to see that these gains continue, but I remain positive about future job growth, personally."

The Civil War is over, guys

Virginia, after having a Democratic governor for a while, is now back in Republican hands. Meaning that it's time to revel (if not Rebel) in glorifying the Confederacy once again. You just can't make this stuff up, folks.

"I see that Virginia's governor had to recently apologize for his proclamation of April as Confederate History Month within the Commonwealth, since he somehow forgot to mention slavery. The governor later exacerbated this slap in the face to African-Americans by suggesting that he was only interested in 'significant' bits of Civil War history. You know, what astonishes me about this whole sordid affair is that Republicans, every time they do something like this, don't connect it to the fact that their party is seen as so hostile to minorities. If you're looking for the reason why African-Americans vote so reliably for Democrats, you needn't look further than incidents like this one. It's sad, really, what the Party of Lincoln has come to these days."

Replying to the Census means you love Obama -- spread the word!

And finally, here's a game all Democrats who happen to live in "red" states can play for fun. The farthest-right conspiracy theory currently running loose is that the Census Bureau is going to somehow extrapolate from your name and address the fact that you're a Republican, and the guys from the black helicopters are soon going to be at your door, forcing you into concentration camps to be re-educated as to why Obama is wonderful. Or something, it's hard to pin down. But that's no reason Democrats can't tap into this free-floating anxiety and urge their Republican neighbors not to fill in their Census forms. Because, remember, if enough people don't get counted from these red states, they will lose out when it comes time to divvy up the House of Representatives. Which would be ironic in the extreme -- protesters who scream loudly about "taxation without representation" actually losing representation due to their Big Gummint fears. Heh. [Legal Note: This talking point is provided solely for humor, as I certainly wouldn't encourage dissemination of conspiracy theories, or encourage anyone to encourage anyone else to break the law by not filling out their Census forms. Ahem.]

"You know what I heard? I heard that there are special inks on the Census form which can tell from your sweat how you voted in the last election. And that when you return your form, if you didn't vote for Obama your name will be put on The List. I certainly wouldn't want you or your family on The List, so I just wanted to warn you before you sent your form in. Because you really, really don't want to be on The List... do you?"

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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground