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Friday Talking Points [131] -- Democratic Campaign Advice

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This week, Congress -- moving with its usual less-than-blinding speed -- passed a Wall Street reform bill, a mere two years after the crisis hit. Wall Street responded by pulling a secret lever which caused the biggest earthquake Washington has ever felt.

Well, actually, that's not strictly accurate. The D.C. area did experience a mild (by Californian standards) 3.6 earthquake, but I would pin its cause on the fact that the Nationals baseball team now has a hot pitcher. Anyone who laughs at the possibility of baseball influencing plate tectonics obviously wasn't in the San Francisco Bay area for the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which happened at the exact time the third game of the World Series was about to begin -- between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics. It was obvious to anyone who felt the quake that fault-line tension among baseball fans across the bay was the reason the stresses in the earth were triggered.

But, silliness aside... oh, wait, we have some more silliness to attend to first! Robert Gibbs, the official press voice of the White House, made what is called properly a "Washington gaffe" last week on a Sunday morning talk show, by admitting what pretty much everyone's been saying for about a year now -- the Democrats are in danger of losing control of the House of Representatives in the upcoming midterm elections. This is not exactly news, as I mentioned. What was considered news was that an official spokesman admitted the truth in an inconvenient manner, politically (the definition of a "Washington gaffe"). House Democrats wailed, and "Democratic rift!" stories began appearing in the media.

But maybe this is exactly the sort of wake-up call Democrats need right now, and maybe Gibbs deliberately was trying to shock them out of their somnolence.

Democrats really do need to wake up and defend their political position strongly, or they are going to get wiped out this year, and we will be talking about Speaker Boehner next January. Astonishingly, they don't seem to realize this and continue "bringing a knife to a gun fight" -- from the president on down.

Last week, this column pointed out the fact that Obama has been making some campaign-style speeches of late (pushing his "green jobs" agenda, mostly), but he shies away from identifying the opposition. He seems curiously incapable of saying the word "Republican" to define the Democrats' opposition. This week, noticed the same thing in a different speech.

This is just pathetic. We are in a political campaign, folks. It is time for some partisan political rhetoric from Democrats. Republicans certainly show no fear of pinning blame for everything under the sun on Democrats, but Democrats timidly cower in a corner and can't seem to make an opposing argument. Even the prospect of losing their cushy political jobs hasn't seemed to motivate them yet.

Case in point -- Wall Street reform. The mainstream media largely yawned about this bill, unlike the healthcare three-ring circus earlier. Perhaps this is due to who owns the large media outlets? Perhaps... perhaps....

But in any case, if the media won't do the job of informing the American public that Democrats just managed to pass the most widespread regulations on banks since the Great Depression -- while Republicans stood firmly on the side of the plutocrats -- then it is up to Democrats to make this case, and tell this story pretty much every chance they get. This could be the central issue in the upcoming election, if Democrats play their hand right.

Of course, that's a mighty big "if," I have to admit.

But we'll get to such fiery rhetoric later, in the talking points, so let's get the awards out of the way first.

Before we hand out our first award, the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, we have to at least acknowledge a feat of sheer impressiveness outside the world of politics. The "Barefoot Bandit" was finally caught last week, in the Bahamas. But the impressive thing is how long this kid evaded the authorities, all the while living it up and breaking into various vacant homes and businesses and stealing the occasional boat, car, or airplane. This crime spree spread across numerous states and lasted years. That's pretty impressive for any criminal, especially one who was being actively sought by police who must have been seriously annoyed at how the kid kept slipping their clutches (and taunting them while doing so). In any case, while we here certainly don't condone crime in any way, at the same time we think it's a safe bet that the movie which will inevitably follow, telling the Barefoot Bandit's story, will be enormously popular with the public.

But since we have no idea what the kid's politics may be, he simply doesn't qualify for the MIDOTW award.

Instead, we're giving the award to failed Senate candidate Bill Halter of Arkansas. Halter's campaign was the motivation for Senator Blanche Lincoln to begin fighting for very strong derivatives reforms to be included in the Wall Street reform bill. This was initially met with some skepticism and derision, since Lincoln's not exactly known for taking on Big Business (quite the opposite, in fact). Lefty pundits argued that (1) the whole thing was a stunt by Lincoln to win her primary, and she would immediately drop it afterwards, (2) derivatives reform was simply not going to make it out of the Senate, (3) the House/Senate conference committee would strip it out and weaken the overall bill, and (4) it was a gimmick, and would never survive the process and make it to Obama's desk. These pundits were wrong. The measure was slightly weakened, but made it largely intact into the final bill the Senate just approved.

And we have Bill Halter to thank for it. If Halter hadn't mounted his primary challenge to Blanche Lincoln (and come so close to unseating her), she never would have even brought the subject up, much less have fought for it. Even though Halter did fail in his campaign, the silver lining for all of us is that it lit a fire under Lincoln, and forced her into the awkward (for her) position of attempting to be some sort of populist, and forced her not just to introduce derivatives reform, but also to follow through on it, lest she be seen as a naked opportunist and a crass politician.

None of which would have happened without Bill Halter's campaign. So, while it is small consolation for losing a Senate primary race, we simply must award Halter the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, for the secondary effects his campaign had on this important piece of legislation.

[Congratulate Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter on his official state contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

Senator Russ Feingold disappointed many Democrats this week, since he was the only Democratic senator to vote with the Republicans against the Wall Street reform bill. He says he voted against the bill because it wasn't strong enough -- making a stand, in other words, against craven incrementalism.

But the net result of his proud stance was to weaken the final bill. If Feingold had been on board for the final vote, then Democrats would have had to dicker with one fewer Republican in order to get it passed. The Republicans who voted for the bill exacted their pound of flesh before doing so -- mostly in the form of watering down when the bill would take effect, and with other loopholes here and there for Wall Street to exploit.

So while some may say Feingold was taking a stand for what he believed in, the actual outcome of his brave stance was to move the bill even further away from where he wanted it to be. It backfired, in other words, because no other Democrats were convinced to join Feingold's position. But at least Feingold had a moral stance to explain his vote, which is why he is only awarded a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week.

Instead, this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is none other than Nebraska's Senator Ben Nelson, who voted with Republicans to block extending unemployment benefits to millions of Americans in the midst of the Great Recession. Next week this impasse will be resolved, as Democrats pick up the final remaining vote to pass this extension (as West Virginia replaces the late Senator Byrd). Nelson will likely vote against it next week, as well, but it won't matter because Democrats will by then have enough votes to put it over the top, bringing relief to millions.

Exactly why is this man a Democrat, anyone?

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

Volume 131 (7/16/10)

Before I begin, I have to point out a new hilarious Tom Toles cartoon in the Washington Post today, which compares Republican attitudes on unemployment and their own employment as politicians, and is well worth checking out, if you want a laugh.

This week, we're going to approach the talking points slightly differently. The first talking point is going to be the overall campaign theme Democrats should really be out there screaming from the rooftops. The rest of the talking points will break this first statement down into a few component parts.

Politicians and candidates always run the risk of losing. But here's a big secret that Democrats really need to pass around: if you fight for your views, you run less of a chance of losing than if you refuse to even define the fight in voters' minds.

There may be other good ways for Democrats to enter this campaign season. There may be other good ways to get their message across. But, at this point, I would welcome any cohesive overall campaign strategy from Democrats, because right now there is nothing but an enormous vacuum resonating out there. Democrats can either fill this void with their narrative about why voters should send them back to Washington, or else they will not be sent back to Washington next year.

It's time to stand up and fight, folks. Here are my ideas on the best ways to do so. Please share your own in the comments.

The overview

Let's start with the overview, and then move on to individual points.

"Republicans wrecked the American economy, and Democrats are busy cleaning up the mess they left behind. Democrats are on the side of Main Street, standing up to Wall Street, while Republicans fight for big bankers and against the American consumer. In fact, Republicans are fighting to keep the George W. Bush policies which caused this disaster in the first place. They have no ideas on how to move America forward, and are instead for repealing what Democrats have managed to accomplish in order to move us right back to where we were under Bush. The only idea they have come up with is to say 'No!' And now they're trying to convince voters that they should be the ones to lead America straight back to the Bush economy. Because make no mistake -- that is what they intend to do, and that is what they will try to do if you vote for them. Democrats want to move this country forward, and the only thing the Republicans have to offer is moving us backward. We think the country deserves better than that."

Wall Street versus Main Street

I've been saying this for months now, and I still haven't heard this phrase coming out of many Democratic politicians' mouths. This is political negligence of the first order. This issue is hand-tailored to the anger and frustration out there in the country, Democrats are on the side of the angels, and it is downright astonishing that Democrats have so far refused to make this case.

"All voters need to do to figure out who is fighting for them in Washington, and who is fighting for the billionaires on Wall Street is to take a look at who voted for the biggest bill to rein in the bankers since the Great Depression. Democrats fought hard for tough new regulations. Democrats got this bill through Congress. Democrats fought to protect consumers. Democrats fought on the side of Main Street. Republicans fought against all of this -- against rules to prevent another financial meltdown, against even allowing the issue an up-or-down vote, and against consumers. Republicans fought hard on the side of Wall Street, against Main Street. It's pretty obvious which party cares about American consumers, and which party cares about obscene profits for big bankers while they ruin the economy. If your values are closer to Main Street than Wall Street, then it's a pretty easy choice -- vote Democratic this November."

Deregulation discredited

This is another basic bedrock issue that Democrats never even try to defend, even though it is quite easy to do so. For the second week in a row, I am providing a link to a new column by the incomparable George Lakoff, which delves into this subject even deeper (from a slightly different perspective), and I encourage everyone to read his article.

"Republicans have been worshipping at the altar of 'deregulation' for decades now. What they never tell you, though, is that most of those regulations were put in place for a damn good reason -- to prevent disaster. Republicans have been letting industry write its own laws and write its own rules for a long time now -- which leads straight to preventable disasters like what just happened in the Gulf of Mexico. Because what Republicans really want is for Big Business to be able to do anything it wants, and then for the federal government to come in and clean up any disasters which follow. We saw this with the Wall Street meltdown, and we saw it in the Gulf. The word 'regulations' is just a fancy way of saying 'rules.' Republicans want there to be no rules. Democrats want common-sense rules to prevent foreseeable disasters. When Republicans say they're for 'deregulation' they are saying they don't want there to be any rules to the game. When Democrats re-regulate Wall Street to avoid future disasters, Republicans fight us every step of the way. But just imagine if Republicans had their way in your life -- say they 'deregulated' traffic laws, for instance. I know I wouldn't want to drive to the store and back in a world with no rules of the road, because I'd be taking my life in my own hands to do so. But that is exactly what Republicans mean -- when they champion 'deregulation,' they are saying there should be no rules of the road for anyone. Democrats strongly disagree."

George W. Bush

This one is likely to cause some howls. But the case can be made, easily.

"Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to tie them to George W. Bush, and they dismiss this as some sort of political trick. But we Democrats would much prefer not to even bring Bush's name up ever again. Unfortunately, this is impossible, because the entire Republican platform right now is to go back to the way things were under Bush. We honestly do wish Republicans would come up with some new ideas which we could then debate. So far, they have not. Pretty much every position they hold is exactly the same position they held under President Bush. They simply do not have any new ideas, and are left screaming 'No!' and 'Repeal!' every time Democrats want to move forward. By doing this, Republicans are standing firmly with Bush and the status quo under Bush. They apparently think that things were fine and dandy when Bush was running the show, and that the answer for America's future is to return to this idyllic time. Democrats remember things differently, though, and are much more optimistic about America's future than Republicans appear to be. So, please, Republicans, if you'd like to move the political conversation away from George W. Bush, we're quite willing to do so -- as soon as you come up with some ideas that are in any way different than Bush's policies. Once you do so, we'll promise never to mention Bush again, how's that?"

Forward versus backward

This is such a basic thing, but (once again) I still have yet to hear any Democrat make this case.

"Democrats want to move this country forward. Republicans want to move us backward. It's really as simple as that. Democrats are proposing ideas and passing laws to guarantee a bright future for this country. Republicans keep trying to drag us back to the failed policies of yesteryear. It all boils down to whether you see the future optimistically or pessimistically. Democrats are betting on America's future in a big way. The only idea Republicans are trying to sell the voters is to move backwards, instead. The choice for the voter is an easy one. Democrats will take us into the future, Republicans will march us swiftly in retreat, to the doomed policies of the past."

Repeal means moving backward

In fact, that last one needs to be further spelled out.

"Republicans, every time Democrats pass a bill to ensure a bright future for America, immediately vow that they're going to run their campaign on calling for its repeal. They are fighting for the status quo America faced when George W. Bush left office. They are fighting against change -- any change. But I've noticed a curious thing. Republicans quickly come out for repeal, but after a period of time, they talk about it less and less -- because the American public figures out for itself what to think about the new Democratic policies. And, over time, the public turns against the knee-jerk 'repeal' position of the Republicans. So while it is amusing to hear Republicans denouncing the Wall Street reforms just passed now, my bet is that over time they'll talk about it less and less on the campaign trail, because fighting hard for Wall Street's profits (and against consumer protections for Main Street) isn't really the crowd-pleaser Republicans may now think it is. Make no mistake, when a Republican runs on 'repeal,' they are running on the concept of moving this country right back to where we were under the Bush administration."

Just say "Yes!"

Turn Nancy Reagan's signature phrase around. If the Republicans are the party of "no," then (by default) the Democrats become the party of "yes." So use it!

"Republicans are now proud that their party is seen by most Americans as the party of 'no.' They are actually proud that they have refused to consider any new idea for the past two years. If President Obama announced he had personally found a cure for cancer, Republicans would immediately scream that it was 'a job-killer for oncologists' -- that's how knee-jerk they've become. In fact, Obama spent much of his first year reaching his hand out to Republicans, in the hopes that they would work with him, only to have his hand slapped aside every single time, as the Republicans screamed 'No!' to anything he proposed. Well, I don't know about you, but if Republicans want to carry the brand of being the party of 'no,' I think I'd take a look at Democrats, since by elimination that makes them the party of 'yes.' I guess we're just a little more positive about America's future than Republicans. We'd like to encourage all voters to join us in saying 'yes' this November."

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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