Friday Talking Points [125] -- Ask! Tell!

Our headline today quite obviously references the legislative progress this week on banning the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (of not allowing gay people to openly serve their country)... but we've got another asking-and-telling issue which we simply must deal with first, before we get to any of that.

You see, the Republicans are asking you -- that's right, you, Mr. and Mrs. America -- to tell them exactly what they should be doing in Congress. Over the Intertubes. And so far, it's not been going exactly as planned. In fact, it could adequately be described (in youngster-of-today vernacular) as an "epic fail."

The idea itself was a simple one. Put up a website, let ordinary people suggest things Republicans should be doing in Congress, and let them vote on all the wonderful ideas. The problem is, well... those Intertubes have some awfully wacky folks on them, don't they?

Now, of course I don't mean to imply that anyone reading this column is wacky -- in any way, shape, or form. My readers, of course, are all above-average in every possible way. Brilliant minds, I would warrant. Simply outstanding folks.

The problem with this is that everyone who puts anything public up in cyberspace naturally assumes the same thing. And the Republicans fell into this trap. The most annoying thing about the whole fiasco is that somehow the Republicans are paying for this site with our tax dollars, even though it is clearly only for the benefit of Republicans in Congress -- it's even got a ".com" suffix, instead of an official governmental ".gov" (whoops). Their main page admits this, right up front:

America Speaking Out is your opportunity to change the way Congress works by proposing ideas for a new policy agenda. Republicans have offered solutions, and we have our principles, but this is a new venue for us to listen to you. So Speak Out.

What they've gotten, in response, is all kinds of crazy. Such craziness, in fact, that it's hard to tell whether the ideas submitted are (1) from a gen-yoo-wine crazy-ass right-winger, or (2) from someone spoofing the site by suggesting ever-more outrageous ideas. In other words, you're never quite sure if you're in on the joke, or if such lunacy actually exists out there.

The voting is interesting, too, since some awfully progressive ideas ("Government funds should not go towards religious organizations... repeal the law about faith based initiatives," for instance) seem to be polling rather well among the site's users (as well as far more radical Lefty ideas).

It should be noted that this isn't the first time the Republicans have had such an "epic fail" on the "listening to America" front. The first was a well-publicized "listening tour" of America that never made it beyond a suburban pizza parlor near Washington, D.C. But I don't recall the Republicans footing the bill for that disaster by using taxpayer money.

So, because we're all paying for it, I heartily encourage everyone to head on over to, and add a few choice ideas of your own to the list. Because after a week or so of the "signal to noise" ratio tipping heavily towards "noise," my guess is that the Republican Party will abandon this effort about as fast as, say, a random governor (just any Republican governor, mind you) quits her job in a state you can see Russia from. Ahem.

To help inspire you, here are some of what other people have already posted on the site so far. As I said, it's hard to tell the crazy from the spoofer, at times. At other times, it is quite easy, actually. I'm not even going to attempt parsing these with [sic] marks, either, as it would simply take too much time and effort. Besides, it might detract from your reading experience. [WARNING: Your reading experience may involve loud and prolonged belly laughter -- if reading this at work, you may wish to print these out for later, if your coworkers are going to look at you funny for bursting out laughing. Consider yourselves duly warned.]

"End Child Labor Laws. We coddle children too much. They need to spend their youth in the factories."

"A 'teacher' told my child in class that dolphins were mammals and not fish! And the same thing about whales! We need TRADITIONAL VALUES in all areas of education. If it swims in the water, it is a FISH. Period! End of Story."

"Build a castle-style wall along the border, there is plenty of stone laying around about there."

"Legalize Marijuana, cause, like, alcohol is legal. Man. Also."

"What dope came up with the idea of criminalizing a parent's right to administer corporal punishment?"

"build the city of the future somewhere in a non-inhabit part of the United States, preferably the desert."

"English is are official language. Anybody who ain't speak it the RIGHT way should kicked out."

"You guys need to create a bill that would make Kevin Smith important again. He used to be funny, thought provoking, and creative, a great story-teller and an example of American ingenuity. He made a great flick relying on nothing but his bootstraps. But now he is fat and unimportant. I used to be kind of cool and popular back when Kevin was, but now im just fat and stupid. Kind of like Kevin and America. If you pass legislation that mandates Mr. Smith to be funny again, maybe it would give our stock market a rocket in the butty. You never know. As goes silent bob, as goes the nation."

"We should create jobs by taxing the expulsion of bodily fluids: So for every citizen there is someone who watches them all the time and counts how many times they use the restroom, vomit etc. This will create roughly 300 million new jobs, and to pay for them we can use the revenue generated by taxing the fluids that we are paying people to count. If you disagree you are wrong."

"Please put an end to the liberal elite trampling my rights to be free in a country founded on freedom. This only applies to me and other white people who were born here, though, nobody else."

"Americans die in hurricanes and tornadoes. It's time to declare a War on Weather."

"Only REAL Christians should be allowed to vote and hold property."

"Stop 'teaching' our children the atheist doctrine of heliocentrism. It contradicts the Bible."

"Belgium looked as us funny. Let's bomb them."

"Instead of selling the shuttles send them to the moon to harvest cheese. The government could sell the moon cheese to France and use the profits to pay down the national debt."

"I think everybody who gleefully chanted "drill baby drill" should have to go to the Gulf and clean up the oil spill...using their own hair."

"I demand that construction of the Death Star be completed immediately. No star system will dare oppose us."

Every solution, however, may raise its own problem, as demonstrated by the following two posts:

"We need to train an army of Ninja Cats. Cats are natural born hunters and predators, and it is known that they indeed have 9 lives, many more than the typical human life (being one). They are also excellent at hiding themselves and would be ideal for sneaking into countries and assassinating communist leaders to lessen the ever growing threat of communism, finding key terrorist leaders and shattering the global terrorist network. In fact they could be potentially useful in the current Korean crisis. Loyal to their trainers, the cats could rain destruction and fear throughout the world, and if ever captured would never tell who they are serving. Finally, after they have solved the worlds problems, they could serve as border patrol and show unflinching resolve at keeping illegals where they belong, anywhere but here."

"I think all americans should bathe in Nuclear Waste. This has been shown to be an effective tactic in the past of transforming the human body into something more powerful and superhuman. With a nation of powerful mutants, not only would we prevent ourselves from being invaded, we would have a wildly powerful offense with millions able to fly, shoot lasers from their eyes and take bullets. Ninja Cats would still prove to be a problem."

There was a heavy "make everyone speak English" theme to some posts:

"We should pass a law making everyone in the world speak English. Then we could understand them. When I go to Europe it's like they are speaking in tongues."

"we should make english the official language of the US and stop spending tax dollars on translations for mexicans! if english is good enough for baby jesus, its good enough for americans."

Genetic engineering seems to be a real favorite. As well as the dolphins-are-fish idea.

"America needs a crack team of genetically engineered velociraptors who constantly patrol the skies in robot spyplanes. Terrorism threat? BAM! Robot controlled spyplane drops raptors from the sky. THESE COLORS NEVER RUN!"

"BP is creating a new race of faster dolphins. These fish are unable to compete against the fish of other countries, but now their increased lubrication will allow them to fly through the water. Faster fish = good."

Perhaps the Republicans are just trying to fight the comedic recession. They figure the best use of your tax dollars is a site dedicated to making us all have a good laugh. Well, since that seems to be the case, I heartily encourage everyone to head on over there, and have some fun.

After all, we've already paid for it, so we might as well enjoy it. As one succinct poster put it: "There needs to be more yelling." So have at it -- go give the Republicans something to think about!


America got a lot closer to relegating "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) to the dustbin of history this week. The fact that it happened this particular week, and not much later (or never) is due to two men in Congress. It is not, it should be pointed out, due to President Obama or the White House.

Obama favored a "go slow" approach to overturning the military's ban on gay people serving openly. To his credit, he has followed through on the issue, slowly and steadily. There's zero chance that this week's activity in Congress would even have been able to happen politically, without Obama laying the groundwork with the Pentagon. So he does deserve some credit overall. But Obama's schedule was looking more and more unworkable, given the political realities involved. Obama tasked the Pentagon to study the issue, and report back by the beginning of December. Once this report was in hand, Obama would have then pushed Congress to repeal the ban. The problem with this is that the next Congress (which will be seated in January) may be a lot less Democratic, meaning chances for such action have to be seen as less than they are now. Of course, he could have hustled it through in a "lame duck" session of Congress during December, but this would have given Republicans a political weapon against voting for it -- "the voters have spoken, let's let the next Congress deal with it" would be their talking point.

What all of this means is that the chances of it passing Congress are higher now than they would likely be, if Congress kept to Obama's schedule. But the White House continued to advocate patience, and had begged Congress to hold off on the issue until after the election.

Two Democrats in Congress said no. Well, at least one of them was a real Democrat. These two, with the help of prominent gay rights advocates, instead convinced the White House that now was the right time to act. They compromised on the language a bit, so that nothing will happen before the Pentagon report comes out. This gave a lot of Democrats political cover to vote for it, and it allowed the White House to save face.

And it worked. The House voted 234 to 194 to end the DADT ban. That's a pretty healthy margin. The Senate also acted, voting the measure out of committee by a 16 to 12 vote. The Senate will take up the measure next month (after yet another one of their week-long vacations, of course), and if the measure can avoid a filibuster, it stands a good chance of passing.

These are historic votes. Even more so when you consider that it's an election year -- when traditionally nothing much gets done, due to timorous legislators quaking in their boots about the upcoming election. Democrats are actually doing something bold less than six months before a midterm election -- which is notable in and of itself.

All of this simply would not have been possible without the efforts of Representative Patrick Murphy and Senator Joe Lieberman, this week's joint winners of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Yes, you heard that right -- Joe Lieberman has finally won his first ever much-coveted MIDOTW award. To tell you the truth, we're kind of surprised ourselves (here at FTP headquarters), but we always give credit where credit is due, and Joe certainly deserves some praise this week. Patrick Murphy is a first-time MIDOTW award winner, too, and without his efforts in the House this likely would never have even gotten started. Well done, gentlemen!

[Congratulate Senator Joe Lieberman on his Senate contact page, and Representative Patrick Murphy on his House contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


We're going to stick to the same issue this week for both awards.

While there were 26 votes in the House against overturning DADT (check out the official roll call to see how your Representative voted), we simply don't have enough statuettes to mail out over two dozen of them in one week. These things cost money! Well, actually not, but typing all their names out would be boring both for us and for you, so there. We'll award them all a virtual (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week, and wash our hands of the whole lot of them.

Instead, this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award goes to Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, the lone Democrat on the Senate committee to vote against repealing DADT (Republican Senator Susan Collins voted for ending the ban, negating Webb's defection).

This is disappointing because, in general, it is always disappointing to see Democrats break ranks (especially in the Senate, where every single vote counts more), but mostly because Webb has emerged as a very strong voice on military matters in the Democratic Party. In other words, his support would have meant a lot, and carried a lot of weight.

Which makes his "No" vote all the more disappointing. The real question Democrats need to ask Webb at this point is -- no matter how he votes on the final measure -- will he vote with Republicans if they attempt to filibuster it? That's a question Webb really needs to be asked right about now.

For being on the wrong side of this issue, and for voting against his party, Senator Webb has earned this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact Senator Jim Webb on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 125 (5/28/10)

Since the intro section ran a wee bit long, I'm going to try to be brief here to make up for it. Here are this week's crop of talking points, for Democrats everywhere to use in the coming week (especially those being interviewed on television).

One note, though, before we begin. I haven't included the Sestak news in the talking points, since it deserves nothing more than to be dismissed outright. I did write about it yesterday, from the perspective of the public relations damage the White House was doing to itself by not confronting it, but by the time this article is posted, they'll likely have rectified this. The only answer any question on the Sestak affair deserves (as a bonus eighth talking point this week) is: "Calling for an investigation into the White House and Joe Sestak for doing something which every president in this country's history has done before would be like accusing a baseball player of grand theft for stealing second base."


   It's actually ending a social experiment in the military

Republicans are circling their wagons around a talking point of their own on the DADT repeal. Throw this right back in their faces.

"You complain that Democrats are performing a so-called 'social experiment' with the military, but in actual reality, we are doing the opposite. In what other part of American life are citizens required to hide who they are, I ask you? 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was the social experiment with the military, and we are ending it. It has been proven to impact the military in a negative way, by denying America the talents of a certain number of people otherwise willing to serve in key areas, while we are fighting two wars. I think we should have the strongest military possible in such circumstances, and therefore I support ending the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' social experiment, and bring the concept of equal rights for all to the American military, the same way the military integrated its ranks over a half-century ago."


   Pandering to three-fourths of America

The word "pandering" is likely to come up in the debate as well, as in "Democrats are pandering to their Lefty base." Luckily, this is easily disproven, by showing the shrinking minority on the Republicans' side.

"Excuse me, did you say 'pandering'? Really? Poll after poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support getting rid of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The latest two polls I've seen put support among the public at 70 and 75 percent. That is not some sort of "lefty fringe," or merely "Democratic base voters." Polls also show that people of military age are even more overwhelmingly tolerant, and that it is mostly older Americans who have not changed their views on letting all serve equally, if they want to. The only 'pandering' going on here is the Republicans pandering to their ever-shrinking base. Democrats have the country on their side on this, three-to-one. That's called 'being in the mainstream of public opinion,' and not 'pandering to the base,' by a long shot."


   Split by their own wedge issue

The delicious, delicious irony of all this is that Republicans are kind of stunned by the fact that this issue -- which they've used quite successfully to rally their own base for almost two decades now -- is no longer a winner for them with the public at large. What Republicans used to delight in using as a "wedge issue" to the consternation of Democrats is now exactly the opposite. Many Republicans haven't yet figured out that this particular shoe is now on the other foot, but some have.

"Republicans are saying that Democrats are repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' for 'political reasons,' or as a 'wedge issue' of some sort. This ignores completely the fact that Republicans are the ones who have used gay rights as a wedge issue for the past two decades, but we'll skip over that for the moment. If the idea is, as Republicans claim, only supported by some sort of fringe base of the Democratic Party, then why wouldn't they welcome this hot-button issue in the middle of an election season? They are not doing so -- and instead are loudly complaining -- because of one simple fact: America has changed since Republicans started using gay issues as political wedges. Republicans have not changed. Republicans used to have the majority of Americans behind their position. They no longer do, and they never will again on this particular issue, and they know it. If Republicans truly thought they had the public on their side, then they would be the ones pushing the issue, and not us. It is simply ludicrous to think otherwise -- the Republican Party has hoisted itself on its own wedge, it seems."


   Here's a shovel...

The best thing to do on the entire DADT issue, though, is to just let Republicans dig their own holes of intolerance, mostly because they're so good at it. Point at the ground, stand back, and hand them a shovel, in other words.

"Chris Matthews had an extraordinary letter on his site the other day from a gay serviceman in the war zone, and I'd like to quote from it. 'A week ago, two of my friends were killed in a bombing. The days since then have bled into each other. It is usually not until the evening that I allow myself to think about these things. I will risk my life; I ask to be treated simply like anyone else in the service -- nothing more and nothing less.' I'd like to ask my Republican colleague why this fine American shouldn't be able to do his duty for his country, if I may."


   Televise the conference committee

Don't tell the mainstream media or anything, but there's an actual bipartisan effort going on behind the scenes on Capitol Hill which could lead to a very good idea indeed, as it is exactly the sort of thing where transparency would force Washington to change the way it does business.

"I welcome the effort to televise the conference committee between the House and the Senate to hammer out the final language on the Wall Street reform bills. I am not alone in calling for this committee to be put on C-SPAN, either, as none other than House Minority Leader John Boehner agrees with me. Republicans and Democrats should agree to put the entire process on public television, to make it impossible for the big bankers and other Wall Street denizens to kill reform at the last second. By televising the conference, we could see exactly who is for protecting Wall Street, and who has been bought and paid for by the plague of lobbyists Wall Street has hired to gut this bill. I have nothing to hide, John Boehner says he's got nothing to hide, so why not have the discussion in full view of the public? Anyone against such an idea should obviously be seen as being for backroom deals and lobbyists weakening the bill."


   How about some fiscal responsibility?

This one is so easy, it would be criminal for Democrats not to use it properly.

"The Republicans in Congress have decided it is a good use of tax dollars to create a website so Americans can share their thoughts with congressional Republicans. Of course, this site quickly proved to be a joke -- just like the Republicans' lack of an agenda. Republicans keep telling us they're all for 'fiscal responsibility' and then they go and spend everyone's tax dollars on what should be a party expense, since it is so obviously political in nature. I guess Republicans spent all their party's money on sex clubs, and had to dip into tax dollars in order to create a website for Americans to offer them a clue. Here's an idea for Republicans, which I offer for free -- not one thin taxpayer dime is necessary -- stop spending taxpayer money on cheap political stunts!"


   So do you agree with the following...

This one is pathetically easy, for any Democrat being interviewed together with a Republican counterpart. All it takes is about five minutes' time on the Republicans' "idea site" to come up with a dandy quote to insert into the following. Don't use the more-obviously insane ideas, pick one that at least sounds somewhat like a Republican could have written it, but that is obviously abhorrent to the mainstream voter. This paints Republicans into a corner -- either they denounce the idea as crackpot, denounce it as Democrats ruining their website, or they agree with a crackpot idea. No matter what they pick, Republicans are going to come off as either insulting to some of their base, paranoid, or absolutely nutso. In other words, a win-win situation for Democrats.

"I would like to ask you about something that is getting a lot of votes on the new Republican 'please give us an agenda' website. The idea is, and I quote [insert slightly wacky idea here], unquote. So, does the Republican Party support this idea or not? Do you personally support this idea?"


[Note: Last week here, we asked our readers to vote in Democracy For America's contest to send fellow Huffington Post blogger Matt Osborne to the Netroots Nation blogging convention, but we got the date voting ended wrong. We apologize for the error, and while last week we were able to help boost Matt into third place (which would have guaranteed his win), since then he has slipped back to fifth place (only the top three automatically win scholarships). So we humbly ask once again, if you haven't yet voted, please vote for Matt! You can see his ranking on this page, as well. Voting ends in less than 48 hours, so take a minute or two and help send Matt to Netroots Nation!]


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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground