Friday Talking Points [170] -- Newt Loses Two, Huntsman Gains An "H"

Well, it's certainly been an eventful couple of weeks, hasn't it?

We're back on our regular weekly schedule here after returning home from our second trip this month (this one to Netroots Nation), after which I can firmly conclude that flying, these days, sucks. Big time. Sigh.

Personal travel observations aside, though, plenty has been happening elsewhere in the political world while all the Lefties were having fun in Minneapolis. So much has been happening that I'm bound to miss at least one or two of them, for which I apologize in advance. By next week, we'll be back up to our usual fighting trim here, and promise that not so many things will be falling through the cracks.

Speaking of fighting trim, the president made news on two of our wars in the past few weeks. Oh, excuse me, Libya is now officially not a "war" or even "hostilities" anymore, according to the White House. Um, OK. More on this in a bit, of course. This news was soon overshadowed by Obama's announcement of his withdrawal schedule for Afghanistan. Out of roughly 100,000 American troops currently in the country, 10,000 will be out before the end of this year and another 23,000 will come home by next September. This equation did not please the anti-war crowd or the pro-war crowd, it should be mentioned, but the jury's still out on what the public at large thinks of it. Again, much more on this subject in a bit.

Obama's Afghanistan withdrawal plan was denounced as some sort of political ploy by some Republicans, who noted that the schedule conveniently pulls these troops out right before next year's election. But the real purely political move Obama made this week didn't cause quite as much grumbling, mostly due to the fact that it will likely be wildly popular with the public, as the White House moved to bring down the price of gasoline for the summer driving season by releasing millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This is already serving to drive speculators out of the oil market, and since oil prices were already dropping from the spike they hit a few months ago, it will hopefully hasten the downward trend in gas prices all summer long.

It should be noted that it is very hard (if not almost impossible) for any American politician to make any sort of political hay over the fact that consumers are paying less at the pump. Which Republicans quickly realized, and immediately muted their complaints. They would be right to call the move by the president a purely political gambit deployed to increase the chances of Barack Obama getting re-elected, but when the public is overwhelmingly for the action it's hard to get any political traction against it.

In other presidential news, Republicans are forcing Obama himself to get involved in the talks to raise the debt ceiling. Eric Cantor decided he wasn't going to participate in the discussions with Vice President Biden any more, and now the word is that Obama will be meeting directly with Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to hash out a deal. We'll see what sort of fruit this movement will bear in the weeks to come (if any).

Gay rights groups are apparently not happy with the president again, this time because he's doing nothing to support the effort in the New York state legislature to pass a gay marriage bill. But this time around, as the 2012 election approaches, it seems the gay rights folks aren't quite as annoyed with Obama as they have been in years past. As one participant told The Huffington Post after a gay rights fundraiser this week, "[Obama] has done a lot. ... As every constituent group, we want 100 percent of what we can get. But getting 70 to 80 percent is better than anyone else has gotten. Look at the Hispanic groups, which are still waiting for a breakthrough on immigration reform." This seems to me to be a much more realistic assessment of President Obama's record on gay rights, especially as "President Bachmann" is now a real possibility out there on the horizon. Obama may not toe the perfect line on gay rights, but he's going to be a lot better than the alternative.

This, to be blunt, is going to be the choice many former supporters of Barack Obama face in the upcoming election: to offer their support, however begrudgingly, or be faced with an alternative which will definitely be worse for their own important issues. It's not exactly a great campaign slogan or anything ("Consider the alternative!") but it will be the choice many will be making in the months to come.

Luckily for Obama, the Republican field isn't anything much to worry about, at least for now. John Huntsman... whoops, took that from their own campaign materials passed out to reporters, sorry... let's just start over... Jon Huntsman announced he was running for president, to a giant collective yawn outside the Beltway and to cheers and celebration within the Washington punditry. Hey, at least Newt's people spelled his name right in his disastrous campaign launch! Speaking of Newt Gingrich, his two top fundraisers just quit, following the 16 other high-level staffers who bailed out a while back. So it goes, in the Republican primary contest, I guess.

But enough of this meandering, let's get on with the awards and the talking points, shall we?


Knowing full well this is going to annoy some people, we're going to give President Obama an Honorable Mention this week for his Afghanistan pullout plan. It is not as fast as some would have liked, and it is much too fast for others. But it seems Obama has chosen a fairly good middle road in his decision to pull out 10,000 troops by the end of the year, and the remainder of his second "surge" by the end of next summer. This was a tricky needle to thread for the president, because so many objectives had to be weighed. If he had done what the public overwhelmingly wanted him to do (pull the troops out much faster), then he would have sparked enormous pushback from the Pentagon. If he had listened to those counseling pulling out just enough troops so he could politically say "I'm withdrawing our troops" without actually doing so (the Pentagon wanted only 3,000-5,000 troops out, for instance), the public would have rejected the plan, and Congress would have gotten a lot more aggressive in challenging the president.

No plan is going to please everyone, in other words. But Obama has chosen a route which has a little bit of good news for everyone, and not enough bad news to enrage any particular faction too severely. The troops are coming home faster than was expected before Obama gave his speech (especially next year), but slower (especially this year) than many had hoped for. Obama, it bears pointing out, campaigned on ramping up the war in Afghanistan, so none of this is all that surprising.

Obama has chosen a route which could allow the main objective to work -- put pressure on the Afghan government and military to take over the problem themselves -- without too high a risk of letting the Taliban retake the initiative the surge has denied them.

So while we know Obama's plan isn't perfect, it is decisive and it fulfills the promise he made when he announced his second surge -- the troops will start coming home next month. This wasn't enough to win Obama the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, but it certainly was enough to win him an Honorable Mention, in our opinion.

Also deserving of an Honorable Mention this week was Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, whom we had a chance to sit down with during Netroots Nation and discuss Social Security. Senator Whitehouse is a powerful voice for fixing Social Security's shortfalls by "scrapping the cap" on payroll deductions (which I will be writing about in detail in future columns). For his strong support of Social Security, for his insistence that benefits not be cut nor retirement ages hiked, and for being a founding member of the "Defend Social Security Caucus" in the Senate, Senator Whitehouse deserves an Honorable Mention this week. [If you'd like, you can sign on to a petition agreeing with Whitehouse's Social Security and Medicare stance on his official House website.]

But the real winner of the MIDOTW award this week is none other than Barney Frank. Frank teamed up with fellow House member (and Republican presidential candidate) Ron Paul to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana on a federal level. From the press release:

The legislation would limit the federal government's role in marijuana enforcement to cross-border or inter-state smuggling, allowing people to legally grow, use or sell marijuana in states where it is legal. The legislation is the first bill ever introduced in Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition.

Now all they need to do is get the House to vote on it. Maybe Ron Paul will get the media interested in the bill, since he is running for president. Regardless of the bill's chances, though, we simply have to honor Barney Frank for calling for an end to the federal War On Marijuana -- the most ineffective social "war" experiment in United States history.

Someone's got to take that first step, and Barney Frank is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week for doing so. Well done, Congressman Frank!

[Congratulate Congressman Barney Frank on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


To be scrupulously fair, in addition to honoring President Obama in the "impressive" category, we also have to award him a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week as well, on the same subject (war) but in regards to a different country (Libya).

No matter what you think of America's military efforts in Libya (and the thinking is all over the map, and not constrained to political party, I should point out), President Obama's declaration last week that the War Powers Act simply did not apply to what was going on in Libya because it "wasn't a war" was just pathetic.

This is the worst hair-splitting to come out of a Democratic White House since "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is." Now, the War Powers Act is a serious bone of contention between Congress and the White House, and it always has been -- no matter who is running which end of Pennsylvania Avenue at the time. Congress passed the law after Vietnam, to restrain the ability of the president to order American troops anywhere he wanted to for as long as he felt like keeping them there. But all successive presidents have, in essence, declared that they feel the law is an unconstitutional power grab by the legislative branch. All successive Congresses have, in essence, replied: "No, we're rectifying unconstitutional behavior by the executive branch, since we're the ones who are supposed to declare war." The issue has never been tested in the courts. So it's basically a standoff -- a very long and protracted example of "checks and balances" (which, incidentally, does not refer to political parties, the way some would have you believe).

Previous presidents (again, of both parties) have waffled and fudged on keeping to the letter of the War Powers Act. But President Obama's declaration that Libya doesn't even constitute "hostilities" (much less a "war") is impossible to defend. It was nothing more than a lazy way out of giving lip service to the War Powers Act, in order to completely ignore it. Now, other presidents have ignored the law in other creative ways, but Obama's explanation of why it doesn't apply to Libya simply strains believability. Which is why Obama gets a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week. I realize the campaign is starting and everything, but couldn't the folks at the White House have come up with something a little better than this?

But the real Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is a woman named Sammie Spades. Spades is giving new salacious meaning to the phrase "former Clinton intern," although -- believe it or not -- Bill was not even involved!

Spades apparently took a convoluted career path through life. She was a summer intern for Hillary Clinton in Buffalo, New York, back in 2006 (when Hillary was just a senator). These days, Sammie is appearing in adult movies, according to TMZ. But the really disappointing thing about the situation was the following quote:

Sammie says, "I was planning on becoming an attorney and then going into public office" -- however, a couple years later she ran into money problems, abandoned politics ... and claims having sex on tape was the best way to pay the bills.

She is also quoted saying: "I don't think Hillary would be too happy, but I have nothing but respect for Mrs. Clinton."

[While normally political interns are not considered public figures, actors (of any type) most definitely are. However, we're not even going to attempt to find contact information for Sammie Spades, sorry about that.]


Volume 170 (6/24/11)

These are kind of all over the map, this time around. But then, it's been a busy few weeks!

As always, these talking points are provided for the benefit of Democrats everywhere, from those getting interviewed on the Sunday political chatfests to those who get into political discussions around the water cooler, in an attempt to better frame the discussions.


   Don't throw Grandma out of her nursing home

I defer to the professionals in the Democratic Party who are testing their messaging for the first of our talking points this week. The brunt of this talking point was taken from a recent article on Democratic framing research.

"The Republican Ryan budget would cut $750 billion from Medicaid, including funding for 80 percent of nursing home residents, forcing many seniors to be kicked out of their nursing homes. That's right away, folks, not in ten years. Democrats think this is unacceptable. Join us in telling Republicans in Congress: Don't throw Grandma out of her nursing home!"


   Some needed perspective on Afghanistan

No matter whether Democrats agree with the president's Afghanistan pullout plan or not, they should at the very least be pushing back against the pro-war Republican faction's wild claims. Agree with the president, or think his pullout is too slow -- either way, you should be able to say some version of the following.

"Let's just put things in some perspective, here, shall we? When the president finished withdrawing the second of his troop surges -- the second surge, mind you -- over a time period of not three months, not six months, but over the course of fifteen months, then America will still have approximately twice as many troops in Afghanistan than George W. Bush ever sent there in the seven years he had to conduct the war. How can anyone in their right mind say that Barack Obama is somehow leaving Afghanistan to its fate, given those hard facts?"


   The jobs bill clock is ticking...

Nancy Pelosi's on to something. Start the clock! Update and repeat this figure every time you face a member of the media, especially on television. The following is how Minority Leader Pelosi opened her press conference this week:

As you know, I like temporal markers. Here we are, 170 days into the Republican majority in the Congress, and still not a jobs bill in sight.


   Stop the speculators!

This one is already pretty popular, but it needs to get cemented in people's minds as something which Barack Obama did to make their lives better. If you're going to make political hay, then you've got to draw attention to these things.

"President Obama has made a decisive move to get the speculators out of the oil market. It has been estimated that up to a dollar of the price Americans have recently been paying at the pump can be laid at the feet of these Wall Street speculators. By signaling that America is betting on the price coming down over the summer, the president has made the oil market extremely unattractive to such speculation. Since the upshot of all of this is the American consumer paying a much more fair price for gasoline -- without having to line the pockets of speculators -- it's pretty hard to see this as anything but a good idea."


   Cut federal programs which are expensive and a failure!

Democrats could quite brilliantly turn the stock Republican argument in their favor on this particular issue.

"If Republicans want to slash some federal budget money by ending a program that has been nothing short of a gigantic failure and an enormous waste of money, they should allow Barney Frank and Ron Paul's bill ending the federal War On Marijuana to come to a vote on the House floor. Their bill would allow states to make their own mind up when it comes to how to treat marijuana -- in keeping with another supposed Republican tenet these days, that of returning power to the states. The federal War On Marijuana has failed. The highest members of America's government -- Democrats and Republicans -- have at this point admitted to smoking a little pot at some point in their lives. Supreme Court nominees, members of Congress, and even presidents have owned up to smoking marijuana. It's time to end this expensive farce. We just can't afford wasting money like this anymore."


   Poor Newt

This one is just pure, Grade-A snark.

"I see Newt Gingrich is having a major unemployment problem of his own -- within his campaign staff."


   "John"? Really?

Actually, this one's pretty snarky, too.

"I hope that as the Republican presidential primary campaign develops, that eventually everyone's campaign -- even Jon Huntsman's -- will learn how to spell their own candidate's name correctly."


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