Friday Talking Points [119] -- Democrats, Sell Yourselves!

Democrats won't succeed in getting public opinion behind their Wall Street reform if they let their opponents define the bill. So far, they've been doing an excellent job defining it themselves, for once.
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There was an amusing story in the news recently about some folks who got word that a beer company had sent hundreds of cases of beer to the local dump, because it was past its expiration date. Finding this a shame, these enterprising folks "liberated" themselves 50 cases of free beer, presumably to drink it forthwith. The most amusing part was the closing quote in the article, from the beer company's president: "Beer is a popular product."

Well, yes. It is. One might almost say beer sells itself. Almost, until you remember the zillions of dollars beer companies spend on advertising (see: any random sports event on television), and the fact that the bottles and boxes those folks swiped were prominently marked with the brand name of the beer. The motto of the story (for our purposes here today) is: Beer itself is popular -- so popular it does indeed "sell itself" -- but you've got to sell the brand for it to do any good for your particular company.

Which brings us to the Democrats. Now, Democrats as a whole have actually had a pretty good week out there, since the battle is truly being joined on the Wall Street reform bill heading to the Senate floor. More on this in a bit. Republicans are squirming, because they are put in the position of doing Wall Street's bidding while they desperately try to convince people that they are actually against Wall Street's interest in the matter. In other words, they're (once again) peddling the Big Lie.

But this time, surprisingly, Democrats are fighting back. And Republicans are quickly painting themselves into a corner, and they haven't even realized it yet. The Republican party line is that they want "stronger" Wall Street reform than the Democrats. Of course, this is total hogwash -- what they really want to do is kill the bill altogether, and allow the financial system to continue running under the very rules which led it off a cliff (taking the American economy with them). But, in order to sell it to what is increasingly an angry populist Republican base -- anger directed at Wall Street itself, I should mention -- the Republicans are trying to say they're for strong reform, and the Democrats are offering up watered-down reform which will lead to "endless bailouts" and won't solve the problem of "too big to fail."

Democrats have leapt at this opportunity so far, and will likely do so on the floor of the Senate as well (if a filibuster is somehow avoided) -- "You want stronger reform? Fine! Let's strengthen the bill!" This is not exactly the desired Republican outcome, which is why Republicans really wish the whole issue would just go away.

Democrats, for once, appear to be itching to have this fight. So, as I said, it's been a pretty good week for Democrats. But, as we'll get to in the talking points part of the program, Democrats need to not only fight the good fight on current legislation, they've got to get a lot better about taking credit for good things they've already done. But before we get to that, let's single out a few Democrats for some praise, first.

I saw a headline this week that put a smile on my face: "Harry Reid Charging Ahead On Wall Street Reform" (OK, it was in the Huffington Post, but still...). I had to read it twice, just to make sure I really had seen "Harry Reid" and "Charging Ahead" next to each other.

All kidding aside, Reid is indeed showing some backbone here. This will become more evident next week, as the bill gets to the floor, but for refusing to back down (so far), Harry at least deserves an Honorable Mention this week. Give 'em hell, Harry!

Also deserving of an Honorable Mention is President Obama, who has (one really would like to hope) learned his lesson from the health reform effort. Obama is not only forcefully taking on the Republican nonsense on the issue, but he is also threatening to veto anything which comes before him which isn't strong enough -- a threat sorely missing in the health reform debate. In other words, Obama seems to be saying, "I'm not letting Rahm Emanuel cut a bunch of deals on this one, to water it down into nothingness." Again... one would sincerely like to hope. But so far, Obama has actually been drawing some pretty strong lines in the sand on Wall Street reform, and signaled that the White House is going to use the bully pulpit to fight hard for individual provisions of the bill. And that, at the very beginning of this Senate battle, is a good sign indeed. Keep up the good work!

But the real winner of this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award is Senator Chris Dodd. As chairman of the Senate committee responsible for financial reform, Dodd was the one who wrote the bill everyone's now talking about. He tried for months on end to get Republicans to agree, and incorporated many of their ideas in his bill. This fell apart a few weeks ago, when it was obvious that the Republicans wanted to endlessly dither and run the clock out on the bill. Quite predictably, the Republicans (led by Mitch McConnell) have been out there (with their Frank Luntz talking points in hand), trying to convince everyone that up is down, black is white, and wrong is right. As usual.

Faced by this onslaught, Dodd shot back. Everyone who cringed at the Democrats last August for not strongly countering Republican lies (see: "death panels") really needs to treat themselves to reading or watching Dodd's response, delivered on the floor of the Senate. Dodd does not mince words:

Mr. President, I rise today to set the record straight on some of the rhetoric I've heard over the past couple of days when it comes to financial reform.

Now, as I've said repeatedly during the many months we've been working on this important legislation, these are complex issues. There is room for disagreement and debate.

However, Mr. President, that debate -- critical as it is to the future of our economy and to the livelihoods of millions of middle class families across this country -- that debate should not be sullied by misinformation, or derailed by those who would try and make it just another partisan game.

Unfortunately, the talking points deployed by Wall Street Lobbyists in an effort to protect a status quo that leaves my constituents and all Americans vulnerable to another economic crisis -- those arguments are littered with falsehoods, outright falsehoods that I regret to say are now being repeated by people who should know better.

Do yourself a favor -- read the entire thing, as Dodd goes on to eviscerate every Republican argument to date.

Dodd will be leading the effort to pass Wall Street reform. And he doesn't appear to be shying away from fighting for it, either. The important thing here is that all of this is happening at the beginning of the fight. Democrats are not going to succeed in getting public opinion behind their bill if they let their opponents define it. And, so far, they've been doing an excellent job defining it themselves, for once.

I've always said this is a good fight to have in an election year, because defending Wall Street fatcats is just not going to be all that popular with the voters right now. Democrats appear engaged and feisty on the issue so far, which is heartening and impressive indeed. So we salute Chris Dodd for leading this fight with this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Well done, Senator Dodd! Keep fighting!

[Congratulate Senator Chris Dodd on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

No prominent Democrats sprang to mind when contemplating the past week. So, instead, we're going to award our first-ever Most Disappointing Progressive Corporation Of The Week. Since we can't exactly call a corporation a "Democrat" (well, maybe we can, not sure what the Supreme Court would say about that... ahem), we're changing the award this week to the MDPCOTW, and the "PC" in that should be seen as a subtle insult, as well.

Because this week, Apple Computers went a bit too far. They turned down a Pulitzer Prize-winner from registering his own iPhone app, to deliver his animations to Apple's customers. Mark Fiore was rejected by Apple because his content "ridicules public figures." Which makes me immediately wonder if there's an iPhone app to get The Onion or not, but that's beside the point. The point is that this is an online-only political cartoonist who won a freakin' Pulitzer Prize, guys!

Now, Apple is within its rights. It's their product, their App Store, so they get to set the standards. Which they do -- they have a clause in their developers' agreement that clearly states they can ban anything they find objectionable. And Fiore is already available to iPhone viewers (such as on his YouTube channel).

But the real point is that Apple -- who introduced the Macintosh by promising us all they were the reason why "1984 won't be like 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' " in a memorable Super Bowl ad -- should really reconsider this decision, because of the likely harm to their corporate image this story could bring them.

The Washington Post blog "Faster Forward" (written by Rob Pegoraro) is really taking on Apple over this issue, so anyone interested in the outcome should probably look to Pegoraro for any updates on the situation. For what Fiore aptly calls Apple's "un-Apple-like" behavior, we award the first-ever Most Disappointing Progressive Corporation Of The Week prize to Apple Computers. Ironically, we're giving this award in our weekly section which is dedicated to ridiculing public figures.

[Contact Apple on their company contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]

Volume 119 (4/16/10)

Yesterday, on tax day, thousands of people took to the streets to thank President Obama and the Democrats in Congress for passing the stimulus bill which gave them all an extra four hundred dollars back on their taxes this year, and for making the average tax burden this year the lowest in 60 years on American families. Right? Um....

Well, no. They didn't. Because most of them had never heard about any of that. Part of last year's stimulus package was a tax credit which just about any working family (making anything from a minimum wage to a middle-class wage) got this year -- but which very few people knew about. This is a massive communications failure on the part of Democrats, up to and including President Obama.

But this isn't the only issue which Democrats haven't been boasting about. There are quite a number of things which Democrats inexplicably seem to be keeping secret, instead of bragging about them. Which goes back to branding. Tax cuts may sell themselves to the public, but unless you brand it, you don't get the political credit for passing them. Do you think, if the Republicans had passed a tax credit of four hundred bucks (eight hundred for married couples), they wouldn't have been screaming about it to the skies for the past year? By now, they'd likely be calling it the "Ronald Reagan Memorial Tax Credit" or something. But -- here's a quick quiz -- how many people have heard about the "Making Work Pay Tax Credit" yet? If you answered "yes," how many of you heard about it when you filled your tax forms out, and happily discovered this free gift; and how many heard about it from Democratic politicians explaining the tax relief they had passed over the objections of Republicans?


But, to get back to the larger point, why the Democrats appear so willing to always hide their light under a barrel is beyond me. Democrats should have realized that the fact that they've successfully painted the Republicans as the "Party of No" (Republicans even embrace the term, now), doesn't mean that they shouldn't point out what, exactly, they've been saying "Yes" to in the meantime. Republicans have handed a silver lining (or a blessing in disguise) by being so united against anything President Obama wants to do. Republicans think the severe partisan split in Congress works to their advantage, but it can easily work to the Democrats advantage -- if they'd only get out there and proudly defend their actions. Brag a little, even! And don't forget, in every sentence, remind voters that "Democrats did this, while Republicans tried to stop us."

Anyway, enough ranting. Let's get on to our own talking points for Democrats everywhere to use this weekend, especially those who would like to get elected or re-elected this fall.

Obama cut your taxes

This one can be used either in a discussion about taxes, or whenever lazy journalists ask politicians questions about "what America believes" from some poll or another.

"Well, there's a real disconnect between public opinion and the reality of the situation. For instance, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress enacted some pretty serious tax cuts for 95 percent of American workers -- all but the extremely wealthy. But, in polling, the public seems to think their own taxes have gone up since Obama took office, by a wide margin. The fact remains -- Obama and the Democrats cut nearly everyone's taxes. Any American taxpayer who got their 'Making Work Pay' tax credit this year -- four hundred dollars per person, eight hundred for couples -- should thank the President and the Democrats for including this tax break for working families in last year's stimulus package. And they should thank Obama again next year, when they will get another four hundred dollar break on their taxes, too. President Obama and the Democrats have brought taxes on American families to the lowest point they've been in 60 years, with almost no support from Republicans."

The stimulus is working

This one is a tough case to make, since you're basically making the case that "things would have been worse" -- which, since they didn't, is more of a hypothetical to most voters. But that doesn't mean Democrats shouldn't be defending the stimulus a lot more than they have in the past.

"The stimulus package that passed last year is now working, as we see our economy slowly improving. This is exactly what it was designed to do. It front-loaded some money, which helped in the immediate crisis last year, and then it spread other money out over a two-year period, to help sustain the economic recovery over time. Democrats passed this stimulus with very little support from the Republicans, even though several Republican ideas were included in the bill. Without the stimulus, the economy would have been in a lot worse shape today, that's for sure. And you don't have to take my word for it, ask just about any economist that question, and they'll tell you -- the stimulus is working."

We're making a profit on the "bailouts"

This one just astonishes me, personally, because Democrats (from Treasury Secretary Geithner on down) have never even really attempted to counter the demonization of the word "bailout" by the Republicans (even though, remember, the bailouts themselves happened under a Republican president and with Republican support in Congress). The "Troubled Asset Relief Program" (TARP) money they passed back then was painted as Washington just shoveling tax dollars at Wall Street for free, with no strings attached. This is just flat-out wrong. Democrats need to start making this case, and redefine the issue's reality in the public mind.

"Everyone's against the word 'bailout' in Washington, and it's easy to understand why. The public is upset over the concept. But the public is missing a key part of the program, which is what I think has led to a lot of this anger. We didn't just hand Wall Street a bunch of money, we got something in return. Whether it was stock, or a loan, or whatever, the taxpayers got something of value in return for the money sent to Wall Street. Now that these companies are paying back their TARP funds, the taxpayers are actually making a profit on the money as it comes back in. Yes, you heard me right -- the taxpayers are making a profit. Now, not every bank has paid us back yet, and some institutions may not in the end if they collapse anyway, and the car companies are likely to pay back the funds a bit slower. So I can't predict whether we'll make a profit on the entire TARP amount or not at this point. But if you look at the overall picture, the public seems to think we just gave away seven hundred billion dollars to Wall Street, and that's just not true. That money is coming back steadily -- with interest in most cases. The taxpayers are making a profit on these repayments."

The deficit is going down

Here's another one the White House should be shouting from the mountaintops, but inexplicably isn't.

"Did anyone notice the story the other day that the projected deficit for this year is now three hundred billion dollars less than the original estimates? While the overall deficit is still very high, increased tax revenues are making the budget picture look a little better. Again, that's the effect the economic recovery is having on the federal budget. We still have a lot of work to do to get the budget back into balance, but we are definitely headed in the right direction on that front, as the news of the three hundred billion drop in this year's deficit shows."

Unemployment is steadily getting better

Once again, Democrats are nervous about even bringing this point up. The overall unemployment rate is still very high, and no politician wants to appear "out of touch" with their voters who are either looking for work or knows someone who has been laid off. But Democrats really shouldn't hesitate to point out how much improvement we've made on this front so far, and how the direction of the bikini bottom graph is improving over time. Because if things do get noticeably better by election day, Democrats really need to "brand" it as a victory for their economic policies.

"When President Obama took office, American lost around 750,000 jobs that month. Since the stimulus package passed, this number has gotten smaller and smaller, until last month we added over 100,000 jobs -- even without counting the Census jobs. This is still not good enough, but it shows that we are indeed heading in the right direction. In the meantime, all Republicans have to offer is trying to block extensions of unemployment payments to Americans who are still hurting. Democrats are fighting hard to bring jobs back to America, and the situation is getting noticeably better than where we were a year ago."

Democrats are taking on Wall Street, Republicans are defending Wall Street

Once again, I heartily encourage everyone to read Senator Chris Dodd's floor speech in response to Republicans on Wall Street reform. It's a doozy of a speech. And, even though he does badmouth the concept of talking points, we're going to include the end of his speech as well, here, in an effort to inspire other Democrats to reach Dodd's oratory standard of excellence (in our defense, we sincerely believe that our talking points do indeed bear a close relation to reality).

To review: Our bill imposes tougher standards on large, risky Wall Street firms. It eliminates the federal government's capacity to bail out individual companies. And it requires that financial firms write their own shutdown plans and then pay for the liquidation process if it's needed.

Here's what I will say to Wall Street. If you have a better idea, let's hear it. If you have other ideas, let's debate them.

But if all you have are up-is-down, black-is-white talking points that bear no relation to reality, then get out of the way and let the serious legislators work.

The outcome of this debate affects the economic security of every single American family. It's too important that we get this right. We can't afford to play politics on this one.

Glenn Beck says send the $800 back

And finally, in the "you just can't make this stuff up" department, we have Glenn Beck. This was brought to my attention in a recent Bob Cesca article, so I'll just turn the talking point over to him to explain:

For example, last week, a caller to Beck's radio show explained that she received an unexpected extra $800 in her IRS tax refund. The woman told Beck and his morning zoo crew that she suffered from poor health and intended to buy a treadmill with the money. Beck jumped in and inexplicably instructed her to send the money back to the IRS. He never really explained why. It turned out that the woman forgot to check off the "Making Work Pay" tax credit on her 1040EZ -- a tax cut that was included in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. So Glenn Beck convinced this obviously infirmed woman that it's better to refuse a tax cut because it came from "Marxist" Obama than to use the $800 tax cut to improve her health.

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