Friday Talking Points [145] -- A Democratic Epitaph

Friday Talking Points [145] -- A Democratic Epitaph
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An interesting article caught my eye last week, but what with all the election hoopla, I haven't had a chance to write about it before now. But even if it went mostly unnoticed by the public at large, it was an important and downright scathing indictment of the Democrats' complete inability to get their message out, so it certainly fits in with our theme here on Fridays. Some may feel, perhaps, that the word "indictment" is too strong to use here. I disagree. In fact, I'll make the statement even stronger: this article is an absolute epitaph -- which should be carved into the gravestone laid on top of the corpse of the Democrats' efforts to communicate their virtues to the voters in the 2010 midterm elections.

Decide for yourself. The article is from Bloomberg, and it opens with:

The Obama administration cut taxes for middle-class Americans, expects to make a profit on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to rescue Wall Street banks and has overseen an economy that has grown for the past four quarters.

Most voters don't believe it.

A Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 24-26 finds that by a two-to-one margin, likely voters in the Nov. 2 midterm elections think taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won't be recovered.

"The public view of the economy is at odds with the facts, and the blame has to go to the Democrats," said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm that conducted the nationwide survey. "It does not matter much if you make change, if you do not communicate change."

That last quote is short enough to be carved onto a headstone, don't you think? I'm just saying....

After explaining that the Obama administration has actually cut middle-class taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars, the article continues with some damning poll results:

The view that taxes have gone up is shared by a majority of almost all demographic groups, including 50 percent of independent voters, among the linchpins of Obama's victory in the 2008 election.

Even a plurality of Democrats, 43 percent, holds this misperception. Overall, 63 percent of those who earn $25,000 to $49,999 say taxes have gone up, compared with 45 percent of those who earn $100,000 or more.

It then goes on to expose some interesting facts about the Troubled Asset Relief Program ("TARP") money:

In an October report to Congress, released as TARP turned two years old, the Treasury said it had recovered most of the $245 billion spent on the Wall Street bank part of the rescue, and expects to turn a $16 billion profit. In the Bloomberg poll, 60 percent of respondents say they believe most of the TARP money to the banks is lost and only 33 percent say most of the funds will be recovered.

Women (62%) are slightly more skeptical than men (59%) that the funds will be recovered. Independents (61%) and Republicans (73%) are overwhelmingly skeptical. Even Democrats are mostly doubtful, with 48 percent saying the money will be lost, compared with 41 percent who say it will be recovered.

The article ends with the most damning statements of all [emphasis added by me, I should admit]:

The poll reveals the failure of the Democrats to communicate their achievements even within their own party and the opposition's triumph in painting the Obama administration as a failure, particularly on economic issues.

"The administration has said for a long time that the best politics was doing the right thing," says Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist. "It requires a lot more. These numbers show that the best politics is selling what you're doing."

The full text of this article should be required reading for all Democrats everywhere, and most especially those who consider themselves "Democratic strategists." Because it shows the utter failure Democrats have had at getting their message out in the past two years. The blame for this failure starts at the top, with President Barack Obama himself, but there's plenty left over for the rest of the Executive Branch -- and pretty much every Democrat in Congress deserves their fair share as well.

You've failed, guys. Really. Badly. And that is being downright charitable and polite, to boot. You have utterly and completely failed to counter the blast-furnace heat from the Republican media machine with any sort of defense of what it is you are doing, or any of the good things that Democrats have managed to get done.

If I were the selfish type, I'd say this is good news for those of us out here outside the magic realm of the Beltway who continue to beat our heads against the solid brick wall of Democrats' inability to communicate -- because it certainly shows our educative efforts will be needed for a long time to come. Pundit job security, in other words.

But that would be far too cynical. I really would love to write myself out of the job of providing basic messaging and framing advice here on a weekly basis, if truth be known. I really would enjoy the heck out of waking up one Friday morning and saying to myself: "Gosh, self... Democrats have gotten so good at communicating that I think I'll just pack the whole Friday Talking Points thing in -- because it is simply no longer necessary for me to dispense such superfluous advice!"

But, so far (and quite sadly), this hasn't happened. Not even close, if truth be told. And, from Bloomberg's data, it certainly doesn't look like it's going to happen any time in the near future, either.

Sigh. I'm going to return to this theme, I should warn everyone, in the talking points section. But first, let's hand out our usual awards for the week.

After the "shellacking" (as President Obama so aptly put it) Democrats received this Tuesday, pretty much any Democratic politician who still has a job deserves some kind of award this week. Or maybe a medal. It should be shaped like a tiny metal life preserver, to prove that the politician survived the "tsunami" of 2010.


The folks who truly deserve to be called Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week were the Democratic candidates who actually ran as Democrats. There were a few of them out there, although they were all but ignored by the national media. Local media picked up on their campaigns, but not much mention was made of them by the big players. Some Democrats ran for tough House and Senate races by actually running on their record, rather than buying into the Republican framing of all the issues. Some of them won their races, and some of them lost, but the MIDOTW really should belong to those politicians who stayed true to their roots and actually made the case for why voters should cast their ballots for Democrats. Even in the face of (in some cases) massive ad buys against them by outside Republican groups, some Democrats managed to win by being honest with the voters about what they thought they had accomplished, and what they felt they still had on the "to do" list. It isn't possible to name them all or send them an award this week, but we thought they at least deserved a bit of group recognition here.

This week's actual awards (both this one and the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week) will not be handed out as a result of recent actions, though (as we normally do here), but this time for results at the ballot box. It wasn't that the winners of either award themselves did anything impressive or disappointing, in other words, but rather the vote totals they received were what qualified them. Some may feel this is changing the rules of the game a wee bit, to which we plead guilty as charged. But then, they're our awards to hand out as we see fit, aren't they?

With this qualification in mind, the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was none other than Harry Reid. The Senate Majority Leader won his race for re-election by a stunning five points -- much more than anyone predicted. The polling was drifting towards his opponent right before the race concluded, and Harry had been essentially neck-and-neck for months. Reid's approval rating from his home state's voters was dismal for the entire race, in fact -- a situation which usually spells disaster at the ballot box for any politician.

But Harry beat the odds. He did so for three reasons. The first was the stark difference between a rookie politician who didn't have much support from her own party, and an experienced politician who has built a formidable ground game of "get out the vote" volunteers over years and years. The second reason Harry won was the big swing in his favor by Latinos, after Sharron Angle bizarrely referred to an audience of Latinos she was speaking to as "Asians." Latinos comprise roughly one-fourth of Nevada's population -- not exactly a group you should annoy right before the election (as Angle found out, much to her chagrin). And the third reason was that Angle's Latino comment was par for the course for her -- just another odd comment in a campaign chock full of such oddities from her. She was just a bridge too far for many, many voters -- even voters who don't really approve of the job Harry's doing, and would likely have jumped at the chance to vote against him... if the Republicans had only nominated someone more reasonable, that is.

Harry's win was one of the biggest surprises of election night. Other Democrats beat the odds in other states, and there were a few surprise victories all over the country. But Harry was one of the biggest targets for Republicans this year (they really wanted to take Harry down), and even with this headwind he won his race so decisively that we simply must mark his victory by sending him this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

[Congratulate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his victory.]

Likewise, our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award goes out to three Democrats we are going to be very disappointed to see go. All three lost their elections this week, and all three will be missed in the halls of Congress by Lefties everywhere. So, ironically, while we normally hand out this award to those Democrats who have disappointed us in the past week, this week the award goes to Democrats who are truly impressive all-around, but who sadly will not be in office much longer.

If the media universe were fair and balanced (to steal a phrase), this would mean these three folks would be immediately snapped up as commentators on the "liberal network," and given opinion shows where they could continue to make the case to America for their positions and their favored policy ideas. Any one of these three would probably do a great job doing so -- much better than most of the people who are paid to opine on the airwaves (and breaking news seems to suggest at least one of these time slots may be opening up, coincidentally).

Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal media universe, we live with the one we have. Which means that there simply is no counterweight to Fox News on the Left. Sure, MS/NBC tries to fill this void somewhat, but they tend to hire people with no real background in holding political office to host their shows (not to disparage any of their hosts, mind you, just pointing out that none of them are ex-politicians in the mold of Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin over on Fox). You can call this a good thing or a bad thing, but it's hard to deny that Fox provides a giant megaphone for Republicans awaiting the next election cycle, while Democrats doing the same simply don't have this opportunity. Except for (possibly) Eliot Spitzer, but it's hard to see him running for any office ever again.

So if we were running the universe, we would immediately give Russ Feingold, Joe Sestak, and (most especially) Alan Grayson their own political commentary shows, so that they might (on a nightly basis) give America an earful of truly progressive viewpoints on key issues. Unfortunately, we are not running the universe -- a fact we bemoan in more instances than just this one, but that's the way the ball bounces, eh?

The most disappointing part of a disappointing election night was hearing the news that Feingold, Sestak, and Grayson lost their races. Sestak especially, since he got a lot closer to winning (the Pennsylvania race was called long after most of the East Coast states). Based solely on their election returns (and not, once again, for anything they personally did which was disappointing last week), we must sorrowfully award Senator Russ Feingold, and Representatives Joe Sestak and Alan Grayson the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact Senator Russ Feingold on his Senate contact page, Representative Joe Sestak on his Senate campaign contact page, and Representative Alan Grayson on his House contact page, to offer them your condolences.]

Volume 145 (11/5/10)

I first noticed the problem which Bloomberg quantified last week in their article (everyone really should read the whole thing, once again) way back on Tax Day this year (I always fill my taxes out at the last minute, I should mention). This is what I had to say about it, immediately after sending in my forms:

My wife and I got an eight hundred dollar tax break this year. In fact, almost everybody got this break -- four hundred bucks per person. Apparently, it was passed as part of the stimulus package last year. I do remember, at the time, hearing something about how Obama's stimulus changed people's take-home pay by readjusting the federal withholding figures, but I had no idea it would turn into eight hundred bucks back on my tax form.

. . .

This, to be blunt, is a massive failure of communication on the part of the Democrats. President Obama and all the Democrats in Congress couldn't even get the message out to me that there was a massive freebie in this year's taxes (and, I've heard rumored, next year's as well), just waiting to be claimed. And I watch these folks pretty closely. It made me wonder how many people had missed this juicy $400-a-person tax credit. ...

The point is, if politicians are going to bribe most of America by kicking back hundreds of dollars to them on tax day, it might be a good idea to tell people about it. "Democrats passed the stimulus last year, which will lower taxes on almost every working American by $400 per person or $800 per couple this year. Democrats did this. Democrats lowered your taxes, America. Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress stand for lower taxes." I mean, how hard is that to say? They've had a full year to brag about this, and yet I've heard nary a peep.

Seven months later, has anyone heard any Democrat say anything remotely like this? Anyone? We just had an election, for Pete's sake. Didn't any Democrat brag about this massive middle class tax cut? Anywhere?


When I sat down to write today's talking points, especially after deciding to base the whole column on the Bloomberg article, I thought to myself: "I'll just write down what the Democrats should have said in this election!" Seven talking points wouldn't be all that hard to come up with to extol Democratic accomplishments over the last two years, right?

But then when I searched my own archives for that post-tax-filing rant, I found that I had already written these exact talking points. Seven months ago! In FTP [119]. What is truly pathetic is that almost every single one of these talking points is still valid today as an example of what Democrats should have been talking about out there on the election trail. Some needed some slight updating, to add current information, but for the most part six of the seven points I offered up back in April were completely ignored by the Democratic Party, in the almost-infinite folly they regularly exhibit in totally ignoring such good advice (the seventh one was more poking fun at the Right than a serious talking point, and I've replaced it below with a generic talking point Democrats should all start using now, in order to get media types to start repeating it).

So, to continue the theme of an epitaph for the Democratic campaign effort, here is a slightly-updated version of what they should have run on. Maybe next time around, more of them will listen -- that's my hope, at any rate. Sooner or later, I do fervently hope, I will wake up one morning and declare my mission here on Fridays to be over, because Democrats have woken up to such basic political reality as well. But, to massively understate the situation, I am certainly not holding my breath waiting for such an occurrence in my lifetime.

Sigh. I guess I should look on the bright side. Job security is scarce these days, right?

Obama cut your taxes

I didn't have to change a word of this one. That right there says something, doesn't it? The Bloomberg article merely confirms that absolutely nothing has changed in public opinion in the intervening seven months.

"Well, there's a real disconnect between public opinion and the reality of the situation. For instance, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress enacted some pretty serious tax cuts for 95 percent of American workers -- all but the extremely wealthy. But, in polling, the public seems to think their own taxes have gone up since Obama took office, by a wide margin. The fact remains -- Obama and the Democrats cut nearly everyone's taxes. Any American taxpayer who got their 'Making Work Pay' tax credit this year -- four hundred dollars per person, eight hundred for couples -- should thank the President and the Democrats for including this tax break for working families in last year's stimulus package. And they should thank Obama again next year, when they will get another four hundred dollar break on their taxes, too. President Obama and the Democrats have brought taxes on American families to the lowest point they've been in 60 years, with almost no support from Republicans."

The stimulus did what it was designed to do

It's a tough argument to make -- "Things could have been worse." You're arguing that the present is better than what could have been, which takes more imagination than most people are willing to devote to such hypotheticals. But if you don't at least try to make this argument, then you are conceding the entire ideological field to your opponents, whose message is "the stimulus failed so miserably that we'd have been better off without it," which is just laughable (ask even a Republican economist -- they'll tell you, if they're honest).

"The stimulus package that passed last year helped pull our economy back from the absolute brink. In addition to lowering taxes on almost every working American last year and next year, infrastructure projects were funded which have created good jobs here at home. Democrats passed this stimulus with very little support from the Republicans, even though several Republican ideas were included in the bill. Without the stimulus, the economy would have been in a lot worse shape today, that's for sure. And you don't have to take my word for it, ask just about any economist that question, and they'll tell you -- the stimulus did what it was supposed to do. Without it, unemployment would be at 13 or 14 percent, and nobody wants to see that."

We're making a profit on the bank "bailouts"

This one didn't require much rewording, either, since the Obama administration has seen fit to treat this news as some sort of Top Secret, to be kept from the public at all costs. Which is, to be blunt, politically insane.

"Everyone's against the word 'bailout' in Washington, and it's easy to understand why. The public is upset over the concept. But the public is missing a key part of the program, which is what I think has led to a lot of this anger. We didn't just hand Wall Street a bunch of money, we got something in return. Whether it was stock, or a loan, or whatever -- the taxpayers got something of value in return for the money sent to Wall Street. Now that these companies are paying back their TARP funds, the taxpayers are actually making a profit on the money as it comes back in. Yes, you heard me right -- the taxpayers are making a profit. Now, not every bank has paid us back yet, and some institutions may not in the end if they collapse anyway, and the car companies are likely to pay back the funds a bit slower. So I can't predict whether we'll make a profit on the entire TARP amount or not at this point. But if you look at the overall picture, the public seems to think we just gave away seven hundred billion dollars to Wall Street, and that's just not true. That money is coming back steadily -- with interest in most cases. The taxpayers are making a profit on these repayments from the banks."

The deficit is going down

Once again, there is simply no excuse for not bringing this up during the election. The federal fiscal year closed about a month before the voting happened, and the federal budget finished the year with a still-large deficit of over a trillion dollars. But there was one piece of good news -- the deficit was around $100 billion lower than it was last year. This, coincidentally, is exactly the same amount Republicans had begun using as a campaign promise -- "elect us, and we'll cut $100 billion from next year's spending!" Democrats should have immediately shot back: "We cut the deficit by that exact amount last year, with absolutely no Republican help at all, so who are you going to believe?" For inexplicable reasons, Democrats said nothing at all on the subject.

"Did anyone notice that while Republicans came out on the campaign trail with a vague promise to bring the deficit down next year by 100 billion dollars, that this is exactly what Democrats have just achieved? The overall deficit is very high still, but we are now moving things in the right direction. Republicans refuse to say how they would accomplish these cuts, I should mention. But voters don't have to choose an empty promise with no details -- instead they should vote for those folks who have already proven they can shrink the deficit: Democrats."

Unemployment is steadily getting better

Democrats were afraid to even mention unemployment, since saying anything positive about the situation risks appearing "out of touch" by the voters. But, by avoiding the subject altogether, they merely accomplished appearing "out of touch" in a different way. Instead, Democrats should have pointed out that things aren't great, but at least they're heading in the right direction, as opposed to what was happening during the 2008 election when things were getting much, much worse. [This is the one talking point of them all that I have to admit Democrats (some of them, at any rate) tried to defend to a certain extent over the past few months. Just to be fair about things.]

"When President Obama took office, American lost around 750,000 jobs that month. Since the stimulus package passed, this number has gotten smaller and smaller, until at the beginning of this year we started adding jobs once again. Since that time, we have continued to add jobs. The pace of the recovery is way too slow, but at least things have turned around and are heading in the right direction. Unemployment appears to have peaked, and is down over half a point since this peak. It remains way too high, and that should be the first priority Washington needs to deal with after the election. But voters can see that although jobs aren't reappearing anywhere near fast enough, we're at least adding them now instead of losing three-quarters of a million of them per month."

Democrats are taking on Wall Street, Republicans are being funded by Wall Street

This was originally written during the debate around the Wall Street reform bill, which was wending its way through Congress at the time. Meaning the talking point needed a complete rewrite, but the theme is exactly the same.

"Are you still upset with Wall Street? Do you want people in Washington to stand up to Wall Street when they engage in risky and destructive behavior? Well, just take a look at who voted for strong new Wall Street regulations, and take a look at whose campaigns the Wall Street fat cats are pouring their money into right now. There's a direct relationship here -- Democrats are fighting for Main Street and against Wall Street; while Republicans are taking in millions in campaign money from Wall Street in the hopes that they can get elected so they can do Wall Street's bidding. It really is that simple."

Tea Party Republicans

The final talking point from FTP [119] was a cheap shot at Glenn Beck and his audience, which isn't worth repeating. Instead, it has been replaced with a new standalone talking point (actually, a phrase) that everyone needs to start using immediately.

"The 'Tea Party' isn't a real political party, and never was. It is a faction of the Republican Party, and always has been, no matter which way they'd like to spin this reality. So, much as we use a term like 'Blue Dog Democrats,' from this point on I will refer to this Republican faction as the 'Tea Party Republicans.' We're all going to be talking about this for a while, with the new Congress' makeup, so I think we should use a term that is accurate to describe the group. Instead of Blue Dog Democrats in the 111th Congress, we'll be keeping an eye on the Tea Party Republicans in the 112th."

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