Friday Talking Points [139] -- Three Years Of FTP

Last week was a busy one, and also a pretty good one for Democrats, all around. But we'll get to all of that in a moment.

First, though, we simply must wish ourselves a happy third anniversary. Woo hoo! Three years of FTP columns!

The first of these weekly columns (before we even began numbering the volumes) ran on September 14, 2007, and was a bit crude in comparison to the finely-tuned punditry you read today (ahem). On our first anniversary, we handed out the MIDOTW award to Craig Ferguson, for delivering a rant on his late-night show that was so amazing I had to transcribe it as a public service to all. The second anniversary last year found us suggesting what President Obama should say after the "gaffe" of calling Kanye West exactly what he should have been called (Talking Point Number Five):

"Well, that was supposed to be off the record, but you're right, I did call Kanye West a jackass. I apologize if my language offended anyone, but I think I spoke for most of the country on that matter, and I stand behind what I said. Don't you think he was a jackass?"

The more astute among you will notice that 52 times three equals somewhat more than 139 columns. This is so these anniversaries will sneak up on you, unexpectedly. Well, no. It's actually due to a combination of laziness and pre-emption. Occasionally I take a break from writing, and run repeat columns. Also, occasionally I run other columns on Friday, such as my year-end wrapup where I hand out awards left, right, and center (which is so long it takes two columns to cover). All of this adds up to less than 52 columns per year (last year we clocked in at only 45 FTP columns, for instance). But enough of this self-congratulation, as we've got a lot to cover this week, so let's get on with it, shall we?

As I said, it was a pretty good week for the White House and Democrats in general. A signature foreign policy objective of President Obama's moved forward in the Senate, the treaty with Russia to reduce our nuclear stockpile. The federal budget deficit was down 13 percent last month, not that the media noticed or anything. And a small business tax cut and aid package made it through the Senate, even though all but two Republicans voted against it. It is expected to pass the House easily and be on Obama's desk for signature next week.

Other than voting against tax cuts (that Obama suggests), Republicans also kept busy during the week. A Republican leader in South Carolina posed for a monumentally insensitive photograph. In other jaw-dropping news, the Republicans in the Senate released their plan to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. This plan has $300 billion in budgetary spending cuts, which sounds like a lot, until you realize that the tax cuts they're proposing would cost thirteen times as much money as they saved -- a whopping $3.9 trillion-with-a-T. Meaning their plan would add $3.6 trillion to the deficit and the debt. Way to get all fiscally responsible, Republicans! But we'll have much more on this later, never fear.

So, nothing much else happened in the political week, did it? Hah! Surely we jest! There were two big news stories we saved for last, just because. The first was the last big day of primary season, where the Tea Party scored another upset win over establishment Republicans, nominating Christine O'Donnell as the GOP Senate candidate from Delaware. Ever since, all sorts of amusing things have been unearthed about her past (see: the entire Lefty blogosphere for the past few days). Beau Biden sustained minor injuries from kicking himself after the results were in (just kidding), for not running as the Democratic candidate. Delaware was supposed to be an easy Republican pickup seat in the Senate, and they had a great candidate groomed and ready to go who likely would have cruised to victory. Now, they've got a train wreck. The most delicious aspect of all of this was watching Republicans savage each other the day afterwards (thanks for the memories, Karl Rove et al!).

Now, I'm not totally writing O'Donnell's chances off here, I should point out. That's because, more than a day after her victory, I had that lightbulb-over-the-head moment of saying: "Oh... she's that Christine O'Donnell?!?" Because I remember her well from her many Politically Incorrect appearances from roughly a decade ago. Bill Maher had her on his show for a number of reasons, not least of which she was cute in that wholesome girl-next-door kind of way. But the main two reasons she was invited on the show so much, defending and proselytizing her religious views to a very unresponsive audience, was that she was entertaining, and she never backed down -- and managed to stay mostly cheerful while doing so. Maher's views on religion are well known, and his other guests were equally relentless in their criticism of O'Donnell's unbending views on God (and sex). But she just kept smiling and being adorable throughout it all.

In other words, the media world has it wrong when they label O'Donnell "the next Sarah Palin" or "Palin East" -- O'Donnell was actually the pre-Palin (or "proto-Palin," perhaps).

Which is why I'm not totally writing her chances off yet. She's been media savvy for a lot longer than Palin, and she seems to have moderated her views slightly (or she has learned to appear this way in order to appeal to a wider audience, take your pick). So we'll see what the Delawareans think of her schtick, now that she's in the center ring (so to speak). Having said all of that, though, her primary victory certainly is the best news Democrats have gotten since Sharron Angle won in Nevada, and could even deny Republicans control of the Senate next year.

Speaking of other news to make Democrats smile, Elizabeth Warren was just named as Barack Obama's first economic advisor to truly put the little guy first. For reasons I laid out yesterday, I refuse to see this as anything other than good news. Now, some on the Left are grumbling a bit about her appointment, but seriously some of these people can't take "yes" for an answer. They say they "don't want half a loaf," but they probably wouldn't be happy unless they got the whole loaf, the entire bakery, the grist mill down the street, and the wheat farms producing the grain.

Warren's appointment was an olive branch offered by Obama to the fervent Democratic base (in other words, just about anyone who recognizes her name without having to be told who she is). Because of the way she was given the job, she can start work right away instead of having to wait for the Senate to confirm her. Confirmation would not have been a sure thing, and it likely wouldn't have even taken place until (at the very earliest) the lame duck session -- if at all. Her new title theoretically gives her full access to the Oval Office (it's the same official "rank" as Rahm Emanuel has), and Obama will -- finally! -- have an economic advisor who considers what people who don't work on Wall Street have to say about things.

As I said, for the life of me, I can't see how this has any downside. Of course, your mileage may vary, as they say.

But this intro is running way too long as it is, so let's get on with the awards.


Before we get to the main event, we've got a few Honorable Mention awards to hand out. Chris Coons gets one, by default. He's the Democratic candidate who will now be taking on Christine O'Donnell for Joe Biden's old Senate seat in Delaware. Few politicians ever see such a stunning turn of fortune -- and fewer still due to the other party's missteps, rather than their own words or actions. Charlie Rangel also gets a nod this week, for winning his own primary even though large ethical thunderclouds hang over his head. In his district, winning the Democratic primary is pretty much "winning the entire election," so he will hang on to his House seat as a result.

Two Honorable Mention group awards were also earned last week. The first goes to the Democratic National Committee, for putting out a new ad entitled "BoehnerLand" (which is pretty self-explanatory). Nicely done, guys! And the second group award goes to One Nation Working Together, who is putting together a march on Washington slated to take place early next month (on the catchy date: 10/2/10). Check out their website at to see all the details.

But the real winner of the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week can be no other than Elizabeth Warren. The whole concept of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was her idea initially, she fought hard to make it as strong as possible in the bill that passed (mostly by fighting timid Senate Democrats, it should be pointed out), and now she gets to set the whole thing up and has full access to President Obama while doing so. That is indeed impressive. Of course, we fully expect she'll win a few more of these awards, but we'd like to congratulate her on her first MIDOTW award, as well as her new job.

Best headline of the week, which describes far more than the accompanying photo, was from Salon: "To the Left of Obama, Elizabeth Warren." Whatever editor came up with that one deserves a raise.

[Since the C.F.P.B. is not yet up and running, you'll have to congratulate Elizabeth Warren via the White House contact page, to let them all know you appreciate her appointment.]


There were a whole lot of disappointing Blue Dog Democrats up for the award this week, for proving once and for all their inherent Republican nature. A bunch of them signed a letter in support of extending the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, to pressure Nancy Pelosi and the White House on the issue before it comes to a vote. By doing so, they have shown without a shadow of a doubt that they are incredible hypocrites when they use fears of "the deficit" to vote against Democratic proposals. Because now their list of priorities is clear:

(1.) Tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.

(Some number far down the list from number 1.) Solving the deficit.

Thanks for clearing that up, guys. The White House -- astonishingly enough -- pushed back on this hypocrisy. For all the Blue Dogs lining up now to prove how fiscally irresponsible they are, we simply have to hand out (Dis-)Honorable Mention awards all around.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, shadow member of the House of Representatives for Washington, D.C., left a voice mail with a lobbyist nakedly begging for money. The transcript is pretty eyebrow-raising:

I'm simply candidly calling to ask for a contribution. As the senior member of the committee and a subcommittee chair, we have (chuckles) obligations to raise funds. And, I think it must have been me who hasn't, frankly done my homework to ask for a contribution earlier. So I'm trying to make up for it by asking for one now, when we particularly need contributions, particularly those of us who have the seniority and chairmanships and are in a position to raise the funds.

This used to be known as "selling your vote" or "trading on your influence," but we have to admit that this is the normal way of doing business in Washington these days, by members of both parties. The only difference in Norton's case is that she left a recording of it, which was then leaked to the "media." So we really can't give her more than a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, since she's right in defending her words with the "everyone does it" excuse.

Chuckles, indeed.

This week, however, our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is none other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Immediately after Chris Coons' surprising good news in the Delaware primary, Reid opened his mouth wide and inserted his foot to approximately mid-shin. Here's what Harry had to say:

I'm going to be very honest with you -- Chris Coons, everybody knows him in the Democratic caucus. He's my pet. He's my favorite candidate. Let me tell you about him: A graduate of Yale Divinity School. Yale Law School. A two-time national debate champion. He represents two-thirds of the state now, in an elected capacity. I don't know if you've ever seen him or heard him speak, but he is a dynamic speaker. I don't mean loud or long; he's a communicator. So that's how I feel about Delaware. I've always thought Chris Coons is going to win. I told him that and I tried to get him to run. I'm glad he's running. I just think the world of him. He's my pet."

Seriously, Harry, "He's my pet"?!? How, exactly, did you think that was going to help his chances of getting elected? I mean, maybe if you were a beloved elder Democratic statesman (think Teddy Kennedy, for instance) known for his wit, you might have gotten away with saying something like that. But you just aren't. On either count, really.

Now, it is likely that nobody in Delaware is going to change their vote because of what Harry said. But if O'Donnell's smart, she's already splicing this into her next television ad, which would run something along the lines of: "Coons... lap dog for Harry Reid..." or possibly some play on the cat breed named "Maine Coon."

For this awkward "endorsement," Harry Reid wins our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

Next time, Harry, please take brain out of neutral before engaging mouth, OK?


[Contact Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 139 (9/17/10)

Well, this is an eclectic list this week. Not all of them even really fit into our normal template of "talking points for Democrats everywhere to start using this weekend." But that's OK, it's our anniversary so we get to do what we want today. Because we said so, so there.

I have fun here each week doing what I suppose (since it is "football metaphor season") you could call "Friday afternoon quarterbacking" -- attempting to suggest how to frame Democratic points in ways pleasant to the listener's ear. To be fair, though, I have to give you all a chance to hear how I perform when I get the chance to do so myself.

This morning, I was interviewed on the East Village Radio podcast show "Shock and Awesome" by the dynamic duo T.J. and the Tux. While most of what I talked about was election analysis, I felt it would only be fair to blatantly plug... ahem... what I meant to say was, "give others a chance to see how I do at this sort of thing." So listen to today's show (it's a two-hour show, I come on about an hour-and-a-half into it), or if that link doesn't work, go to the show's site and click on today's date to hear.

Shameless self-promotion out of the way, let's move right along to the talking points.


   Tax cuts increase the deficit

This is such a basic, basic thing. But Democrats need to hammer on it, with every chance they get, because the media certainly hasn't figured this basic, basic thing out yet. I mean, even the Republicans have, for the most part, given up on trying to sell the snake oil of "tax cuts pay for themselves," because it has so obviously been proven false, over and over again, every single time they try it. But just because Republicans have quietly conceded this point doesn't mean Democrats shouldn't take the field and hammer away at it. Because it's such a basic thing, it is easily understandable to just about everyone. If, that is, you make the effort.

"Well, before I answer your question, I have to point out a basic economic fact: tax cuts raise the deficit. They just do. That is the way the world works. If you cut taxes, the government takes in less money. As long as we're all agreed upon this basic fact. Because the same people fighting hard for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires right now are the ones who have been tearing their hair out over the deficit for the past year or so. But now, apparently, the deficit doesn't matter so much as giving millionaires an extra $100,000 a year, does it?"


   Which is your highest priority? Cutting taxes, or cutting the deficit?

Which leads straight in to the next point.

"You can't have it both ways. It's just flat-out hypocrisy to do so. You can either have as your number one priority reducing the deficit, or you can have as your number one priority cutting taxes on millionaires. You cannot have both. So which is it to be? Tax cuts? Or the deficit? Which is the most important, and which can be sacrificed to achieve your highest priority? The voters deserve to know, because the two are mutually exclusive. And as for all of that 'we've got to give millionaires tax cuts to create jobs' nonsense -- where are the jobs? The Bush tax cuts are a decade old, and I don't notice them producing many jobs. So why continue an already failed policy, in the hopes that a few jobs might appear in another decade or so? It makes no sense."


   Biggest deficit hike in all of American history

As mentioned previously, the Republicans just announced their tax-and-spending-cuts plan, and the numbers simply don't add up (as everyone who doesn't need their fingers to count could have predicted). In fact, they add up to adding $3.9 trillion to the deficit and debt.

Because he did a great job on this subject already, I'm turning this talking point over to Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, for pointing out in stark terms what this means. Take it away, Ezra (most of his article is excerpted here, but it's worth checking the link out to see the accompanying graph):

There is no policy that President Obama has passed or proposed that added as much to the deficit as the Republican Party's $3.9 trillion extension of the Bush tax cuts. In fact, if you put aside Obama's plan to extend most, but not all, of the Bush tax cuts, there is no policy he has passed or proposed that would do half as much damage to the deficit. There is not even a policy that would do a quarter as much damage to the deficit.

The stimulus bill, at $787 billion, would do about a fifth as much damage. But that's actually misleading: The stimulus bill was a temporary expense (not to mention a response to an unexpected emergency). Once it's done, it's done. An indefinite extension of the Bush tax cuts is, well, indefinite. It will cost $3.9 trillion in the first 10 years. And then it will cost more than that in the second 10 years. Call that number Y. And then it will cost more than Y in the third 10 years. And so on and on into eternity. Comparatively, the stimulus bill is a tiny fraction of that. The bank bailouts, which were passed by George W. Bush and the Democrats in 2006, will end up costing the government only $66 billion. The health-care bill improves the deficit outlook.

Republicans and tea party candidates are both running campaigns based around concern for the deficit. But both, to my knowledge, support the single-largest increase in the deficit that anyone of either party has proposed in memory.


   Don't back down! Fight!

President Obama is surprising many by holding strong (so far) on the issue of extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. He seems to be ready for this fight. And he doesn't sound like he's backing down.

Now, he may eventually have to -- let's just admit that up front. But that's immaterial right now. Because right now what is important is fighting for what you believe in. You don't enter negotiations by giving up your strongest bargaining position (see: healthcare reform). You don't begin the fight by waffling on what you're fighting about. You may not win everything you want, but the stronger you are entering the battle, the better a deal you will likely strike. Nancy Pelosi has done a fairly good job of understanding this for the past few years. Harry Reid, not so much. And Barack Obama hasn't even entered the early fray at all. Which makes it all the more notable his doing so on the Bush tax cuts battle. Maybe we're seeing Obama in "campaign mode" again, or maybe he's made a fundamental change in strategy (or, at the very least, tactics). Either way, it is refreshing to hear, for a change. Here's what Obama said to the press the other day, for instance:

Right now, we could decide to extend tax relief for the middle class. But once again, the leaders across the aisle are saying no. They want to hold these middle class tax cuts hostage.

. . .

If we can't get an agreement with the Republicans that's what will happen. Everyone's taxes will go up.


   End the secret hold!

Senators Claire McCaskill and Sheldon Whitehouse make an eloquent plea this week for everyone to pressure their senator to support ending an insidious Senate practice -- the "secret hold." While filibusters (cloture votes) are noticed publicly, the secret hold (no surprise, given its name) are not. A single senator can hold up any bill for any reason, and the public doesn't even get to know who is grinding things to a halt.

As they put it:

The use of "anonymous holds," the arcane procedure that allows a single senator to secretly torpedo any piece of legislation, has skyrocketed in the last few years. And with its rise, our ability to pass strong legislation -- and hold senators accountable for their actions -- has nosedived.

. . .

In politics, your record is the report card voters use to choose their representatives. If senators are allowed to continue to avoid public scrutiny, we can't hold them accountable. And without accountability, democracy fails.


   Political cartoon worth 1,000 words

Every so often, a political cartoon speaks louder than mere words. This is one of those times. I wish I could display it here, but being mindful of copyright laws I will instead direct you to this gem from Tom Toles of the Washington Post. For those of you too lazy to follow this link, here is my poor attempt at saying the same thing in a non-image-based way (what is technically called "using just words"), with full apologies to Toles for diminishing his work in such a fashion:

"The only thing the Tea Party seems to be throwing overboard is the establishment Republican Party, since they were the only ones on board with them in the first place."


   Diverse Tea

Speaking of words, Republicans are demonstrably terrified of ever using the word "minority," in any context whatsoever. Case in point, Mitch McConnell, whose official leadership title is "Senate Minority Leader." You will not find this title on his official web page, though. Instead, he is listed everywhere as "Senate Republican Leader."

Second case in point, a new (and, so far, desperate) effort to prove that there are indeed minorities in the Tea Party. This effort, led by Tea Party group Freedom Works has been titled "Diverse Tea" (Um... oh, wait, I get it -- "divers-i-ty"? Really? That's the best you could come up with? Wow.), and also shies away from the word "minority," much like a little girl would shrink in horror from a perceived monster in her closet. Seriously, they ask on the site: "Are you a Diverse Tea Partier?" Um, well, no. I don't think it's possible for one single human being to be "diverse," personally, but then I guess I'm one of those "elitists" who know what words mean and stuff.

Dana Milbank, after quite obviously after eating his full breakfast bowl of Snark-O's, has the full story. His article states that "As of Tuesday afternoon, the list of "Diverse Tea Partiers" on the site had reached a grand total of five." As of this writing on Friday, it's up to a very underwhelming nine entries.

"I noticed the Tea Party folks are trying to highlight minority participants, without a whole lot of success so far. Here's a suggestion: if you're trying to court minorities, don't be scared of actually using the term 'minority.' It even has that 'Tea' thing on the end there to make it easy."


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