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Friday Talking Points [124] -- How's That Libertarian Thingie Workin' Out For Ya?

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We certainly have a lot of ground to cover this week, so let's dig right in.

I'd like to start with a declaration, though: Bristol Palin is now fair game for public criticism. Bristol's mother, Sarah Palin, made much of how the media were launching such attacks at her children on the campaign trail (although she certainly left herself open to such attacks by using her children as political props at every possible opportunity). Then-candidate Barack Obama agreed with Sarah Palin, on the principled point that "politicians' children should be off limits" (he has kids of his own, of course). At the time, I agreed with both Palin and Obama, mostly because I saw what the media put Amy Carter through, way back when.

But Amy Carter herself graduated from "protected child of politician" status to "public figure open to criticism," when she very publicly joined the anti-apartheid cause in the 1980s, getting arrested for doing so on at least one occasion, if memory serves. She made a conscious decision to put herself out in the public's eye, to advance a political cause. Therefore, she also made herself fair game for public comment and criticism.

Bristol Palin is now officially also fair game, since it was revealed this week that she has now signed up with a speakers' agency which would charge $10,000 to $30,000 a speech for Bristol's appearance, assumably for pro-abstinence speeches. So, if she's pulling down a five-figure income for an hour's worth of work, telling children to "do as I say, and not as I did" (a perfect "bad example" for the cause, in other words), then she is officially fair game. Although it's hard not to wonder how exactly she'll be pitching her message now: "Don't do what I did, kids, or else you may be assured of $30,000 for a speech like this for years to come" is not exactly the most potent message, I would think, but then it's hard to fathom the minds of those to whom she'd be speaking, I have to admit.

News from Palins aside, though, it was a busy week on the political front. Starting the week off, we had an explosive round of primaries, in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Arkansas. I've already commented this week on the results of these primaries (and how the media will likely react), and on the Rand Paul civil rights gaffe situation in particular (and how his libertarianism is just bound to provide several more such entertaining episodes during the campaign), so check them out if you'd like, but for space reasons here, I won't be combing through everything again, simply because we've got so much to get through this week.

The new media narrative, which is exactly what the White House was pushing just before the primaries happened, coincidentally (for once, Democratic framing actually worked -- the media snapped it up like a cheese puff at cocktail hour) is now: "it's an anti-incumbent year." The White House was pushing this, because it is a lot better sounding than what the media was using previously, which was: "it's an anti-Democrat year," or even: "it's an anti-Obama-agenda year." Of course, even if it is just an "anti-incumbent" year, Democrats still have more incumbencies to defend, so it's not like the party's out of the woods yet in regards to November.

But things are certainly looking a lot better. While Pennsylvania (and possibly Arkansas -- check back June 8...) just said "no, thanks" to their sitting "Democratic" senator, this may just improve Democratic chances in November. This is the message almost sure to be lost by Democratic Party leaders -- sometimes a real Democrat is better than a fake Democrat. And, even though the Democratic candidate ran against some key Obama initiatives in a special election to replace Representative John Murtha, the Democratic win in PA-12 went a long way towards stopping the media narrative "Republicans are going to sweep everything this November," which is going to pay off dividends in terms of media coverage (and slant) for months to come.

After the election results were dying down (except for Rand Paul's insert-foot-in-mouth disease, of course), the media belatedly woke up and realize the Senate was actually doing something as groundbreaking as the health reform debate -- working all week towards a final vote on the Wall Street reform bill, which passed last night and now heads off to conference committee with House negotiators to hammer out the final language.

But, much like the final health reform bill, the Wall Street reform bill that just passed the Senate has led to a lot of head-scratching. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? Is it somewhere in-between? Opinions on the Left differ, depending on which amendments people saw as crucial to strengthening the final bill. Personally, I see the bill as a mishmash of good, bad, and sellout. Some very good parts of the bill (Blanche Lincoln's derivative reform language) survived intact. Some extremely good ideas (Tom Harkin's 50-cent cap on ATM fees) never even got a vote. And some very important amendments were absolutely quashed by Harry Reid, because he didn't want to force Democrats to have to vote on them, or because he was scared that they were going to actually pass (take your pick).

In other words, like most legislation, it could have been a lot better. But then again, things could be worse -- Harry Reid did indeed, when all is said and done, get the thing through. And it will likely be on President Obama's desk to sign "before July fourth," giving the president and the Democrats a large legislative and political victory, right in the midst of campaign season.

And, of course, there's always the conference committee, which could indeed actually come up with a stronger bill this time -- because public sentiment is overwhelmingly on the side of doing more, and not less, on this particular issue. One can only hope....

We had a wide array of nominees for this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week, I have to say.

If it weren't such a busy week this week, Senator Tom Harkin would have won the MIDOTW hands down, for fighting with Harry Reid over allowing his amendment to the Wall Street reform bill to even come to a vote. Harkin's idea was to limit all ATM fees to fifty cents per transaction.

This was politically brilliant, I have to say. Here we have this gigantic piece of legislation that is very tough for the average American to understand (one way or another), and Democrats want to rally public support behind what they're doing. Harkin's answer was perfect for this -- give the average Joe and Jane a concrete, tangible benefit from the bill, so that every time anyone went to an ATM across the country (which must happen billions of times every month), they would have a reason to thank Democrats.

Of course, the news that some sitting senators had never used an ATM in their lives certainly went a long way towards explaining what happened, but that's a side issue.

Because Reid blew it. More on this in a moment, in our next awards section.

Like I said, if this was a normal week, Harkin would've skated away with the MIDOTW award, so this week we're creating a special Most Honorable Mention award to thank Senator Harkin for his efforts, though they were in vain.

Also worth mentioning, and Honorable Mention-ing were Senators Maria Cantwell and Russ Feingold, who both wound up voting against the final bill, in an effort to make it even stronger. They did succeed in slowing Harry Reid down a bit on Thursday, which forced Reid to get Republican Scott Brown to jump the aisle (along with three other Republicans) to vote in favor of the bill. For sticking to their principles, we have to honor them here. And note their lack of support -- if one or two other liberal Democrats had joined them, it likely would have forced Reid to hold a vote on some very key provisions which didn't make the final bill -- which would have strengthened the bill.

From the primaries, we also have to award an Honorable Mention to Bill Halter, for forcing Senator Blanche Lincoln into a runoff election in Arkansas, as well as Mark Critz, who won the special election in PA-12 by nine points over his Republican challenger. This was a pivotal election in terms of media narrative, so Democrats everywhere are overlooking the fact that Critz ran against two key chunks of Obama's agenda (health reform and cap-and-trade), in the joy of seeing the "Republicans are inevitable" storyline go away.

But the unquestioned Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was none other than Congressman Joe Sestak, who mounted his white charger, picked up his lance, and tilted at the windmill known as Arlen Specter. When the dust settled, Sestak was still on his horse, still clutching his lance, and pieces of the windmill were strewn about the countryside.

Sestak's followed up his primary win against recent Democratic convert Specter by jumping into the lead in the polls against his Republican opponent. This was some tasty icing to a very tasty cake, indeed. Democrats everywhere are celebrating Sestak's primary victory, and we sincerely hope they'll all be celebrating this November, as well.

For running an impressive campaign, for being an impressive candidate, for an impressive vote margin, and -- last but in no way least -- for an absolutely brilliant campaign ad against Specter (seeing Specter creepily say "to get re-elected" over and over again is likely why Sestak won the margin he did) -- which will, by the way, be referenced in the pantheon of "greatest campaign ads of all time" from now on -- Joe Sestak is our obvious choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. Congratulations, Joe, and good luck in November!

[We do not, as a general rule, link to campaign sites here. So you'll have to congratulate Representative Joe Sestak on his official House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts -- unless you'd prefer to Google his name and find his campaign site on your own, that is.]

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got the Wall Street reform bill through the Senate this week. That's about the best thing that can be said for his performance this week. Now, in Reid's defense, he had a tight schedule to keep. The Senate has a lot of things on its plate that it has to get done before they all go off on vacation once again. Like funding our wars, for instance. So Reid really wanted to get the Wall Street reform bill done, and into conference committee, on schedule.

That being said, the way he did it was by sticking a knife in the back of several very good Democratic ideas on how to improve the bill. First, there was Tom Harkin's 50-cent ATM fee amendment. Reid's arrogance is quite obvious, chronicled for all to see by Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post. Grim's piece is just stunning to read, since Harkin was begging for just five minutes of floor debate on his amendment, and then a quick vote.

While Harkin's amendment may have been largely symbolic in the overall Wall Street reform big picture, once again it would have been a direct benefit to "the little guy" Democrats keep trying to convince us they're really on the side of, all evidence to the contrary. But there were several bedrock, non-symbolic amendments that Reid disposed of in a similar cavalier fashion, including the Volcker rule and returning to the rules of Glass-Steagall.

Reid did this for one of only two possible reasons. Because if the amendments were going to spectacularly fail, he would have just gone ahead and allowed them to be voted on. This, quite obviously, was not the case. Either they would almost have passed -- but would have been politically sticky for Democrats who were going to vote against them; or they would have actually succeeded. Either way, not allowing them to be voted on was sheer political cowardice on the part of Reid. There's just no other way to put it.

Maybe these things will be revived in conference committee. Maybe they won't. But Harry Reid, for the time being, has outright killed them. Thanks a lot, Harry. The only reason Reid isn't receiving the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is for the fact that he did actually get his (much weaker) bill passed, and it did actually have some strong stuff in it (although not nearly as much as it could have). This mitigating circumstance means Harry only gets a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week.

Also receiving a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week is President Barack Obama, for once again sitting on the sidelines during the Senate debate. Nary a peep was heard from the White House on any specifics of the Senate bill, except (for shame!) on the things they themselves were trying to weaken.

But the real MDDOTW award this week goes to, no surprises here, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, for forgetting exactly what he was doing during Vietnam. Blumenthal got five deferments, then a cushy reserves job, to avoid going to Vietnam. Fine and good, plenty of other people did so. But since then, he has not only become a wildly popular politician, but also taken up veterans' causes for his own. He's been a strong supporter of veterans, and likely in an effort to bond with them, has embellished his own war stories as a result. This landed him in the soup this week, as a Republican opponent from the world of professional wrestling (you just can't make this stuff up, folks) leaked it to the New York Times, which ran with it in a big way.

Now, the surprising thing to many of us outside of the Nutmeg State is that Blumenthal will likely survive this scandal. His approval ratings in the state were stratospheric before the scandal broke, and he will likely still win in November. At least, that's the way it looked to our Friday Talking Points correspondent-on-the-ground in Connecticut (yes, we actually do have one). The party seems to be rallying around Blumenthal, and the state's veterans don't seem too upset (yet) about the story -- Blumenthal even had a bunch of them on stage with him when he publicly responded to the story.

But for all his gaffes (all his gaffing?) past and present, what really decided things for us was the way he spoke about Vietnam in several of those clips. Because it shows a deep hypocrisy in the man, I have to say. Now, you can be a Vietnam draft-dodger and hold your head high today as a politician for standing on principle. Bill Clinton showed how this could be done. Or you can be a Vietnam veteran who came home and denounced the war, after serving honorably. John Kerry showed how this could be done. But to be, in essence, a draft dodger (positions in the reserves were almost impossible to get back then, we should point out) who later tries to make political hay out of his "patriotic service" is just downright horse manure. It doesn't matter to me whether the person attempting this is named "George W. Bush" or "Richard Blumenthal" either, I should point out. Blumenthal talking about how "we" returning veterans from Vietnam were spit upon and called ugly names is just fantasy -- he never came "home" from anywhere, since he never left the country. And to use this as a tear-jerker in a political speech is, as I said, just plain hypocrisy.

So, more for trying to repackage draft-dodging and paint it with broad patriotic stripes for your own political gain, than for misstating his actual Vietnam service (or lack thereof), Richard Blumenthal is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. Even if he does wind up winning, this is not the best way to start out a Senate career, I have to say.

[Contact Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (again, as a rule, we do not provide campaign links here) on his official Connecticut Attorney General contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]

Volume 124 (5/21/10)

There were two big issues this week we're going to concentrate on here -- the upcoming elections (and how this week's primaries will affect them), and Wall Street reform. Oh, and Rand Paul said something monumentally idiotic, but we're going to save that for last. At this point, Paul is such a juicy target for Democrats that I doubt anyone needs any help coming up with ways to make him into a joke, which even I couldn't resist, at the end. Actually, the last three or four of these are just gratuitous Republican-bashing, because I'm in such a good mood. Ahem.

So here are this week's offerings of how to frame issues, for Democrats everywhere to use in the upcoming week, and most especially for any politicians who are scheduled to appear in media interviews. Enjoy, as always, and please check out the special note with a plea for online voting at the end, if you haven't already done so.

Divide and conquer

When the opposition hands you a wedge, the political rule is that you should hit that wedge as hard as you can, with a sledgehammer, if need be. The name of this wedge is "Tea Party" and the name of the sledgehammer is "Republican Party fear." Or maybe I've got that backwards, it's hard to tell with this rampant metaphorizing. Ahem. In any case, this is a direct quote from Representative Chris Van Hollen, who is in charge of the group who is supposed to elect more Democrats to the House. And, I have to say, I cannot improve upon it one bit.

The Tea Party movement is right to be very suspicious of the Washington Republicans. The Washington Republicans would love to use the Tea Party movement to meet their electoral goals and then walk away from some of the issues that the Tea Party movement stands for.

Rub their faces in PA-12

The Democrats are going to benefit this year from the overinflated expectations of Republicans, because the Republicans have effectively lowered the bar for Democrats in terms of what can be called a "victory" this November. For instance, all of the current Republican crowing about how "they're going to take the House back" means that if they don't meet that standard in November, then it's going to be seen as a failure for the Republicans, even if they win a bunch of seats. The first of (hopefully) many of these races was none other than John Murtha's PA-12 House district. Here is Van Hollen, again, putting it oh-so-subtly, using Republican talking points against them in the aftermath of the Democratic win.

What we clearly saw was Republican hype ran into a brick wall of reality. I mean, what I would say -- look, this remains a very challenging political environment, but their claim of somehow running the table just met reality and I think it's exposed a lot of the Republican hype with respect to 'This is going to be 1994 all over again.' And as Tom Davis, the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee has pointed out in his comments today -- I'll quote from him because, in that sense, you can hear it from the Republicans themselves. He said: "If you can't win a seat like this, then where's the wave?" So, when we say it, it sounds self-serving, so I'm going to let him.

Democrats are fighting Wall Street, Republicans are fighting for Wall Street

This needs to be hammered upon, whether you think the Senate bill needs improvement or not. Because this is the basic theme of this year's campaign, which needs to be driven home again and again with the public. This should keep building, right up until Obama signs the bill into law, and then it should be used repeatedly on the campaign trail. Define yourselves! Define your opponents! You will not get a better chance to do so this year, so use it!

"As we saw this week, the Democratic Party is fighting for the strongest possible Wall Street reform we can get. Republicans, except for the four who crossed party lines to vote with most Democrats, are fighting to prevent any reform of Wall Street. This is one of those issues that voters see in crystal-clear fashion: Democrats are fighting Wall Street, while Republicans are fighting for Wall Street."

Saint Ronald of Reagan lied about his military service

OK, this is weak, I have to admit. Pointing the finger back and saying "you guys do it too!" always is. But it's about the best defense possible of Richard Blumenthal, so it's worth trying the old fight-fire-with-fire tactic, I suppose.

"Overstating your military service is not something to be admired, but I notice that the same Republicans who are calling for Blumenthal to get out of the race are also quite silent on Senator Lindsey Graham, who did the same thing (with the Gulf War) when he was trying to get elected. And none other than Ronald Reagan himself misstated, to put it politely, his military service in World War II. Politicians of both parties seem to be prone to this type of misstatement, and while I don't condone it, I certainly think it needs some perspective on whether it is a career-killer for a politician or not. I don't remember Reagan paying much of a political price for doing so, and I notice Lindsey Graham is still in the Senate."

The big difference in sex scandals

There are, it is true, sex scandals on both sides of the aisle. But there's usually a big difference in sex scandals from the Republicans, and this needs to be pointed out in a big way, once again.

"Indiana Republican Mark Souder joins the long list of Republicans who were not only cheating on their spouses, but had also set themselves up as moral arbiters of how everyone else's sexual relations should be run. The supreme irony of Souder sleeping with a staffer who appeared with him on video discussing abstinence education for children also hits the absolute heights of hypocrisy. Why is it that the Republicans who are cheating always seem to be the ones telling everyone else how to morally run their sex lives? Perhaps they should spend some more time working on their own so-called family values, instead of spending so much time pointing the finger elsewhere."

We proudly endorse the cheater and drunk driver

This one's even more mindblowing than the last one, I have to admit.

"The Republican Party officially just endorsed a man running for Congress from New York, a man who had to previously step down from the very seat he is now running for in shame. This shame came from the fact that he was not only pulled over for drunk driving in Virginia, but he also then tried to explain to the cop that it was because he was on his way to see his secret second family. I guess the Republican Party figured that with Vito Fossella, he's already gotten his scandal out of the way before he gets elected. Kind of a novel approach to that whole family values thing, wouldn't you say?"

Sarah Palin and Rand Paul

I saved this one for last, just because. Here's the best possible way to address Republicans on the subject of Rand Paul:

"So, I see your Tea Party guy Rand Paul seems to be in some trouble. To paraphrase Tea Partier Sarah Palin -- how's that libertarian-ey, no-civil-rights-thingie workin' out for ya, now?"

[Note: A good friend of this column, fellow Huffington Post blogger Matt Osborne (a.k.a. "Osborne Ink"), is in the running to win sponsorship to the upcoming Netroots Nation blogging convention, and he needs your vote! It only takes a few seconds to vote for him at the Democracy For America site. Voting ends Sunday, and he needs a big show of support, so I urge everyone to click on over there, and register a vote for him. Do it now! Matt is in fourth place -- out of 115 entries -- and needs less than 80 votes to hit third place, which will guarantee him a scholarship. Help send Matt to Netroots Nation!]

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