Friday Talking Points [120] -- Republicans Chicken Out

Democrats had a pretty good week last week. As attention shifts to the struggle in the Senate over Wall Street reform, the two parties almost seem to have changed their normal methods of playing the political game.
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Democrats had a pretty good week last week. As attention shifts away from unpronounceable volcanoes (more on them in a moment) to the struggle in the Senate over Wall Street reform, the two parties almost seem to have changed their normal methods of playing the political game. The Republicans are all over the map on the issue, and extremely worried about the impression by angry voters that they are doing Wall Street's bidding -- as well they should be. Republicans are, one day, loudly denouncing the reform bill, using their standard Big Lie technique... and then, the next day, saying a deal is very close, and even voting for strong reform in committees. Republicans (some of them, at least) are chickening out of the upcoming partisan battle the Republican leadership seems to want over the issue (more on chickens later on, too). Democrats have, so far, managed both to admirably stay on message and showed an amazing amount of backbone in countering specious Republican arguments. And, so far, polls show the voters are solidly on the Democrats' side on this one, and just not buying what Republicans are telling them. As I said, we seem to have entered BackwardsLand, or something.

What I think is happening in the Republican camp is that they woke up this week to the fact that they are truly painting themselves into a corner. Imagine yourself literally painting a floor, backing your way into a corner while the rest of the room glistens with fresh paint. At some point, you are going to raise your head, look around, and realize what a stupid mistake you've just made. I believe the Republicans just passed that point in time.

It's not a full Republican rout yet, but it is getting awfully close (such a rout may be scheduled for next week). And Democrats will have a few intra-party fights before this thing is done, as well (and "as usual"). But for now, Democrats are truly sitting in the catbird seat (I have never understood this metaphor, personally -- what the heck is a catbird, anyway? -- but it seemed awfully appropriate here, so you'll have to forgive me).

Cats and birds aside, here is the corner Republicans currently stand in, while paint slowly drips from their metaphorical brush -- on the one hand, Republicans really really don't want to hand President Obama any sort of major political victory, six months from a midterm election; but, on the other hand, they also really really don't want to be seen as the toadies of Wall Street, because that could hurt them among their own base. There's a lot of anger out there at Wall Street, and such anger is actually pretty bipartisan in nature. Republicans, it should be noted, certainly fed the flames of this anger about a year and a half ago, when TARP and "bailouts" were the big issues of the day. They are now reaping this particular whirlwind, as their own voters watch to see what they do on Wall Street reform.

Call it the death of the "Party of No," at least for the time being. Republicans have, of late, gotten so knee-jerk about opposing anything Obama or the Democrats propose, that they naturally assumed it would be a good thing to block the reform bills (or delay them endlessly). But now, they're not so sure. Which means that it's about time for them to trot out the canard: "We forced the Democrats to fix the bill, and now we can support it." Watch for this, appearing sometime next week. Because Democrats would like nothing more at this point than for Republicans to filibuster the bill and block it completely, because that would instantly become the main campaign theme Democrats use for the upcoming election. This is another facet of the Republicans becoming aware of their corner-painted status. They're starting to worry that their bluff may be called, which would be bad news for them out on the campaign trail.

I know it sounds wildly optimistic, and even downright laughable, but I can see a scenario where the Wall Street reform bill ultimately passes the Senate with an enormous majority -- perhaps even as high as 80 or 90 "aye" votes. True bipartisanship -- born of politicians' fears of facing an angry electorate! Hey, it could happen.

Speaking of fears of getting booted out of office, we've got to at least give a tip of the old hat to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week. Reid, fighting for his political life in Nevada, has been nothing short of amazing in the past week. He strongly and forcefully attacked Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's ridiculous "up is down" talking point that somehow the bill would lead to more "taxpayer bailouts," when nothing could be farther from the truth. Reid, not normally known for such ferocity, has actually done a pretty stellar job leading Senate Democrats for the past week. So Reid is worthy of at least an Honorable Mention. Give 'em Hell, Harry!

President Obama gave a good speech to the tycoons of Wall Street this week, as well. Good to see such coordinated Democratic leadership from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and at the beginning of the legislative battle, too! So we'll give Obama an Honorable Mention as well (and encourage everyone to read the full text of his speech, by the way).

But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week goes to none other than Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, for the derivatives reform bill she just got out of the Senate committee she chairs. Not only could this be one of the strongest reforms to make it into the final Senate bill, but Lincoln also managed to convince a Republican (Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa) to vote for it as well.

Lincoln wins this week not so much for her actual bill, as for her legislative fighting style. When Republicans tried to peddle the notion that somehow they were for "stronger" reform, Lincoln, in effect, answered back with: "You want strong reform? OK, let's pass some really strong reform!"

This, to be blunt, has not been the usual Democratic tactic so far. Normally, Democrats bargain as if they had a very weak position -- even when they, in fact, have a very strong position. This leads to watering down bills into legislative cotton candy -- bright and sugary, but with no real substance.

Lincoln is showing Democrats the way to go when Republicans balk (especially when they're trying to convince everyone they want "stronger" reform) is to immediately strengthen the bill -- and then dare Republicans to either back down and suddenly support the original bill, or keep their principles intact by voting for the stronger bill. "Put up or shut up," in other words.

Now, Blanche Lincoln is normally known more for her Blue Doggish ways, and her (at times) outright opposition to the Democrats' agenda. But she is facing a strong primary challenger from her left this time around, precisely because of this Blue Doggery (Blue Doggerel?). So, in an effort to placate her base (she's facing debates this weekend with her primary challengers), she's suddenly the champion of very strong Wall Street reform. Politicians do this all the time, and if nothing else, it shows how valuable it is to challenge entrenched politicians in primary races -- even if Lincoln wins her primary, she likely would not have been so strong on the issue if such a challenge had not existed from her left.

So, while Blanche Lincoln has previously won four MDDOTW awards here, we are happy to announce that this week, she has earned her first Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, and heartily wish she keep up the good work, and refuse to compromise on the strong derivatives reform bill she just got out of her committee, when the final Wall Street reform bill negotiations take place.

[Congratulate Senator Blanche Lincoln on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

On the down side of the week was the increasingly weird details of Eric Massa's meltdown becoming public. Massa, you'll remember, stepped down from the House of Representatives a while back because apparently he couldn't keep his hands off his male staffers (insert your own joke, there, if you wish).

But hey, we all figured, the guy at least did the right thing and immediately resigned... well, "immediately after the story was going to become public," but still, the way politicians measure these things, a fairly respectable ending to the story, right? Well, no. Now he and one of his top staffers are trading accusations about money paid to the staffer as Massa was resigning. Massa bizarrely maintains that the staffer somehow forged his signature to get a $40,000 payout from Massa's campaign. But the staffer's story is kind of odd as well, since nobody on the campaign staff seems to think he did anything at all for the campaign to earn the money. Now the F.B.I. has gotten involved, meaning the story is not going to quietly die away any time soon.

Which is just what Democrats don't need, heading into an election.

But, until someone determines who is lying and who isn't in the whole sordid affair, we'll have to pass on handing Massa any further Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards. For now. But we fully reserve the right to do so later, when the truth becomes known.

Instead, this week's real MDDOTW award has to go to Pennsylvania state Representative Babette Josephs this week. Because, in one of those "we're not in Kansas any more" moments, Josephs is accusing Democratic primary challenger Gregg Kravitz of "pretending to be gay" or perhaps "pretending to be bisexual." In other words, she's making the shocking accusation that the guy might (gasp!) not be gay.

As I said, the irony is so thick you can cut it up and serve it on toast, here. This has to be the first time in American politics that one politician attempts to smear another by "outing" them as a heterosexual. We've come a long way, haven't we?

Now, the district these two are fighting for is in Philadelphia, and has the charming nickname "the Gayborhood" -- the Castro Street of Philly, apparently. So the demographics aren't exactly, well... Kansas. Or Altoona, for that matter. Josephs was quoted saying:

"I outed him as a straight person... and now he goes around telling people, quote, 'I swing both ways.' That's quite a respectful way to talk about sexuality. This guy's a gem."

Um, well, no. You're the "gem" here, actually, Babette. She went on to accuse Kravitz of cheating in the election, driving the smear home:

"There will be cheating if he can get away with it, because he already has tried to lie to people about a whole bunch of stuff, including his sexuality."

For turning a smear on its head, and using it in an oh-so-modern way by accusing a political opponent of being (gasp!) straight, and for the personal nature of the attack, we hereby award the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to Babette Josephs.

[Contact Pennsylvania state Representative Babette Josephs on her official site, to let her know what you think of her actions.]

Volume 120 (4/23/10)

Kind of a mixed bag of handy talking points for Democrats everywhere this week. And most of them seem to be running a bit long, so I'll dispense with the introduction, after encouraging you to make it to the end, since the last one's a doozy (among some other real doozies) this week.

Have a happy government-regulated day!

At times, I have to turn one of these talking points over to someone who boldly writes a comment to a previous article I've written, just for the sheer talking-points-worthiness of the text of their commentary. This is indeed such a time. Wednesday, I wrote about a new (and very cool) map of where the registered Tea Party members are located in this country, and there was plenty of the usual back-and-forth in the comments which followed. But this particular comment stood out, because it is one of the best and most forceful explanations of what should be the core Democratic stance on "big government" versus the "small government" rhetoric which has (sadly) dominated our political discourse for so long. Democrats used to actually champion all this sort of stuff, on a regular basis, out there on the campaign trail. It is my firm belief that they can again learn to do so, particularly given such stellar examples as this, to emulate. You've got to counter the standard conservative "always shrink government" rhetoric, with an explanation of why you believe government has a rightful place and a rightful purpose in our capitalist society. And it's been a long time since I've read such an excellent example of how to so effectively do this. From Huffington Post commenter "DrCardio," here's how Democrats should be making this argument, so that everyone can understand how government can be seen as a force for good. Democrats everywhere need to make this point, whenever possible. "Regulation" is not a bad or even obscene word. Make this case! "More government" does not always equate to "less freedom" -- government is instead the referee who calls "Foul!" when capitalism starts to run roughshod over The People, and that is indeed a good thing:

I prefer having my government regulate my chicken breasts before I grill them, and then take them down into the government-regulated mines, where I can safely earn money to put away in a government-regulated bank, so that I can afford health insurance from a government-regulated market for my kids with pre-existing conditions, who attend government-regulated schools. Then, I will drive home in my government-regulated car, with government-regulated battery technology, down government-regulated roads, across government-regulated bridges, protected by government-regulated police officers. And the recent government-regulated tax break was awesome. I can now afford to paint my government-regulated house with government-regulated paint so that my children don't get lead poisoning overnight. I'm thirsty, time to drink some government-regulated water, brush my teeth with government-regulated toothpaste and sleep; as I have to wake up early for my government-regulated flight. I wish a safe return to our government-regulated troops abroad, and a great government-regulated day for the rest of us!

The war on volcanoes

Nobody else seems to be picking up on this, which is just a crying shame. Because Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal deserves all the ridicule we can all possibly heap on him, at this particular point in time. With all the cutting humor you can bring to bear, too. Heck, even drag the Democratic/Republican view of government (in general) into the mix, it's certainly fair game here.

[As a total "aside," it has been hilarious (I have to say) to watch American television "journalists" shy away from even attempting to pronounce the name of the volcano in Iceland which has been causing all the trouble. To be fair, the volcano's name is "Eyjafjallajokull," which seems to be missing a few crucial vowels (or something). Americans -- even those paid hefty salaries to spend twenty seconds practicing a foreign name like this so they can read it correctly on the television news (who have universally failed to even bother doing so, I might add) -- are so parochial at times, n'est pas?]

[As a second "aside," if you like the following talking point, you simply must check out the article "Now for the War on Volcanoes" which inspired it, by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, as it is the funniest article I have seen from the "mainstream media," in quite some time. Truth be told, it is actually hilarious, so please do check it out.]

But seriously, folks, I cannot believe I am the only one who has connected these two particular dots. It seems pretty obvious, to anyone who can remember as long as one year into the past. Oh, but I forgot, that leaves out television "journalists" pretty much across the board, doesn't it?

[Snerk, snerk... sorry... to quote the noted ethicist JarJar Binks: "How wude!"]

But enough of this nonsense, and irreverent tangential "asides;" let's get to the meat of the talking point itself:

"You know, last year after President Obama's first speech to a joint session of Congress, the governor of Louisiana gave the Republican response, and I think it points out something fundamentally different between Democrats and Republicans. Jindal, at the time, decried the stimulus plan for being "larded with wasteful spending,' including such shockers as '$140 million for something called volcano monitoring.' Jindal followed this Republican punchline up with the statement 'instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.' Now, in the past week, due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland, the worldwide airline business has lost perhaps two billion dollars. But it did not lose a single plane. And you know why that is? Because governments pay for such 'wasteful spending' as volcano monitoring. Even though two billion dollars sounds like a lot of money, imagine the catastrophe that might have happened if the airlines and the air traffic controllers had not had that data -- dozens, perhaps hundreds, of planes crashed, with thousands dead. That is exactly why Democrats defend such government spending -- because providing that safety net saves lives, whether it is through 'wasteful' volcano monitoring, or assuring parents that the lunches their children are served at school are not full of poison. I really do wonder why journalists such as yourself, [insert name of blow-dried cheerful idiot in front of you, at the time], don't pick up your phone and give Governor Jindal a call right now, to ask him how 'wasteful' he thinks government-sponsored volcano monitoring is, this particular week. Why haven't you called him up and asked him that very question?"

We all live on the slopes of this volcano

Since volcanoes are in the news (even those with unpronounceable names, as it were), make some political hay while the sun shines!

"This week we all saw how a volcano's eruption in Iceland had economic consequences far removed from the actual volcano itself. This is a good metaphor for what we're trying to do with Wall Street reform. Because while many Americans see the issue as something which only affects Wall Street itself, we have seen in the recent past how an 'eruption' on Wall Street devastates Main Streets which are thousands of miles away. We need to pass strong Wall Street reform because we simply cannot leave things as they were before the economic collapse. Because we are all living on the slopes of this particular volcano, if you will."

Call a lie a lie

President Obama gave a pretty good speech yesterday, castigating the movers and shakers on Wall Street. He said a few things which need pointing out here, although the whole speech is well worth reading, if you have the time.

The first of these was to pile on to Mitch McConnell's false talking point. Note to other Democrats: this is how to treat a lie. Call it a lie. Point it out, in no uncertain terms.

"Now, there is a legitimate debate taking place about how best to ensure taxpayers are held harmless in this process. But what is not legitimate is to suggest that we're enabling or encouraging future taxpayer bailouts, as some have claimed. That may make for a good sound bite, but it's not factually accurate. In fact, the system as it stands is what led to a series of massive, costly taxpayer bailouts. Only with reform can we avoid a similar outcome in the future. A vote for reform is a vote to put a stop to taxpayer-funded bailouts. That's the truth."

The absolute tyranny of the F.D.I.C.

Obama closed on a high note, as well. He reminds everyone that any change is always seen by some as radical and dangerous, but that most changes become not only accepted over time, but actual bedrocks of our system. Some might see the Time quote as a cheap trick, but I don't -- I see it as an effective way for Obama to lead in to his closing summary. Which is why I've included the whole thing here, as a talking point.

I read a report recently that I think fairly illustrates this point. It's from Time magazine. And I quote: "Through the great banking houses of Manhattan last week ran wild-eyed alarm. Big bankers stared at one another in anger and astonishment. A bill just passed... would rivet upon their institutions what they considered a monstrous system... Such a system, they felt, would not only rob them of their pride of profession but would reduce all U.S. banking to its lowest level." That appeared in Time magazine -- in June of 1933. The system that caused so much concern and consternation? The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation -- the F.D.I.C. -- an institution that has successfully secured the deposits of generations of Americans.

In the end, our system only works -- our markets are only free -- when there are basic safeguards that prevent abuse, that check excess, that ensure that it is more profitable to play by the rules than to game the system. And that is what these reforms are designed to achieve: no more, no less. Because that is how we will ensure that our economy works for consumers, that it works for investors, that it works for financial institutions -- that it works for all of us.

This is the central lesson not only of this crisis but of our history. It's what I said when I spoke here two years ago. Ultimately, there is no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street. We rise or we fall together as one nation. So I urge you to join me -- to join those who are seeking to pass these commonsense reforms. And I urge you to do so not only because it is in the interests of your industry, but because it is in the interests of our country.

Ending the Republican disenfranchisement, once and for all

Washington, D.C. is a rather odd place, legally. It exists in a sort of Limbo, or frozen netherworld located somewhere between federal law and local law. Since D.C. is not officially a part of any state, it is technically a "federal district," kind of like an urban National Park where lots of people and businesses live. This tension is long-standing, and stems from the fact that while D.C. has wrested the right to have their own city council, their budget (unlike any other American city) has to be approved by Congress. Which leaves the city open to all sorts of mischief-making by national politicians. And, for that matter, outright federal abuse. The most disgusting example of which was just recently effectively overturned. While it remains to be seen whether Republicans in Congress will raise a stink over this, the argument against them is so strong, it's a wonder more Democrats don't stand up for it... but then, since it has to do with medicinal marijuana (a subject where the depths of spinelessness of all national politicians -- of either party -- has yet to truly be plumbed), maybe it's not so hard to understand why more Democrats don't make this argument, when given the chance:

"You know what, the term 'disenfranchisement' is bandied about these days, mostly from the Tea Party branch of the Republican Party, and I'd like to shine a light on a real example of the dictionary definition of disenfranchisement -- which is, of course, 'taking voting rights away from citizens.' This happened back in 1998, and has just this week been effectively rectified, twelve years later. In 1998, the citizens of the District of Columbia were given the chance to vote on an initiative which would have legalized medical marijuana in D.C. The results of that election were blocked, by the power of the House of Representatives, following Bob Barr's lead. You heard me right -- an election happened in America, and the federal government barred the results from that election from even being counted. The A.C.L.U. later determined that the pro-legalization vote was on the order of 69 percent "for;" but, due to Bob Barr's intervention, that result was never officially counted. It took until the year 2009 for Congress to overturn Barr's enacted quasi-legal de facto disenfranchisement -- and the effort was (surprisingly enough) helped along by the very same Bob Barr who authored the offending law in the first place. Because recently, Bob Barr has actually started lobbying for marijuana rights, under the traditional conservative theme that the federal government has no place in private decisions such as these -- a position also echoed by the conservative icon Barry Goldwater, for that matter. This past week, the D.C. Council voted to approve medical marijuana, only twelve years after one of the grossest displays of federal overreach and unconstitutional disenfranchisement of American citizens as has ever happened in this great country. I rejoice that the votes of the citizens of the District are finally being honored, and that today's Republicans wouldn't dream of the extreme and un-American methods Bob Barr (who has now seen the error of his ways) used back then, and that this blatant disenfranchisement of D.C. voters has now finally come to an end."

Do you have change for a chicken?

This falls into the "you just can't make this stuff up" file. No, seriously.

One of Harry Reid's challengers is a Republican woman named Sue Lowden. And she's got a good idea how to fix America's health care system -- return it to bartering with your doctor, and offering him or her a chicken in payment for a checkup.

No, really, that's what she said -- and then later defended. I told you, you just can't make this stuff up. Meaning the talking point just writes itself. Add your own chicken joke at the end, if you wish ("Why did Sue Lowden cross the road?" maybe...). Ahem.

"The woman challenging Harry Reid for his Senate seat in Nevada just showed America exactly how Republicans want to change our health system in America -- take it back to the 1800s, and offer your doctor a chicken for his services. Seriously? This is the woman who wants to represent Nevada in the Senate? If you don't believe me, and think I'm somehow making this up, I encourage you to visit the new website the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has set up in response to this insanity -- Checkups for Chickens! Because this is apparently the Republican answer to health insurance -- don't carry a health insurance card in your wallet, just carry around a couple of chickens, in case you have a medical emergency."

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