Friday Talking Points -- In The Darkest Depths of Mordor

If I were a hobbit, right about now I would be wondering just how the heck I wound up at the center of this Washington intraparty political fight, personally.
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If I were a hobbit, right about now I would be wondering just how the heck I wound up at the center of this Washington intraparty political fight, personally. What (I would ponder in my metaphorical hobbit hole) had I done to any of these folks to deserve being dragged into this fracas?

It all started with a Wall Street Journal editorial, believe it or not. That's how far into Fantasyland we've traveled -- the most eminent conservative newspaper in the country had to reach back to J.R.R. Tolkien to explain what is currently going on in Washington:

But what none of these [conservative] critics have is an alternative strategy for achieving anything nearly as fiscally or politically beneficial as Mr. Boehner's plan. The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against... Barack Obama. The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.

This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell into GOP Senate nominees. The reality is that the debt limit will be raised one way or another, and the only issue now is with how much fiscal reform and what political fallout.

Since then, the hobbit moniker has been tossed around within Republican circles (and on the floor of the Senate, from none other than John McCain) with abandon.

But you know what? I'm going to take a pass. Because mixing the Wonderland "Tea Party" metaphor with a Middle Earth "Hobbit/Mordor" metaphor is just a bridge (to La-La Land) too far for me.

And, from my limited knowledge of Tolkien, aren't there a few things wrong with the editorial's cute throwaway line? Isn't Mordor a place, for starters? Shouldn't the Wall Street Journal have said "... having defeated Sauron" in order to be more precise? Now that I think about it, isn't Mordor actually a part of Middle Earth? Shouldn't they really have said "...Hobbits could travel the length of Middle Earth to return to the Shire, having defeated Sauron in the land of Mordor"?

Sigh. You see what troubles you get into, when mixing potent metaphors? It's enough to turn anyone into a Mad Hatter.

Two Democrats were instrumental in the fracas that was the past week. One was more prominent in the media, admittedly.

President Barack Obama, two-and-a-half years into his term, has discovered the power of the presidential "bully pulpit." Now, you can argue that he's not making the best use of it for one reason or another, but the public onslaught by the president is simply unprecedented in his time in office. He's appeared at so many press conferences, impromptu addresses in the press room, and even a primetime television speech in the past few weeks, that it's hard to keep track of them all. For finally realizing the lesson of Ronald Reagan ("I'm going to go over the heads of the press -- to the American people"), Barack Obama deserves an Honorable Mention this week.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also deserves an Honorable Mention this week, for the dog that didn't bark in the night (to get all Sherlock-Holmes-ey here, for a moment). The high drama we all witnessed last night in John Boehner's continuing soap opera "As The House Turns (On Me)" simply would not have happened if Pelosi hadn't held the House Democratic caucus together. If a handful of "Blue Dog" Democrats had crossed the aisle to support Boehner's debt ceiling plan, then the game would have been over right there -- with the added benefit of allowing Boehner to proclaim he had "bi-partisan support."

But, as we said, that Blue Dog didn't bark. Some of the reason why can be traced to the fact that there are a lot fewer Blue Dogs left in the House after the 2010 election. But most of it was Nancy Pelosi holding her caucus firmly together, while the Republican caucus had their own intra-party dogfight (hobbit fight?). Well done, Leader Pelosi, well done.

When your opponents are in their own destructive internecine knife fight, the best thing to do is offer to hold their coats, and stand by the sidelines and watch. Which Pelosi did perfectly this week.

But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week goes out to each and every Democratic voter who called (or emailed, or tweeted) Congress this week. Obama's call to flood Capitol Hill with complaints from angry constituents worked not just once, but twice this week. The day after Obama's primetime address (in which he called upon Americans to contact Congress), the Capitol Hill switchboard was overloaded and their web page servers froze because of the high traffic. Today, a similar thing is happening, after Obama once again urged everyone to call their elected representatives in Washington.

Anyone who did so this week is symbolically awarded their very own MIDOTW this week. It has to be symbolically, because we just don't have enough of the little "golden backbone" statuettes normally awarded to let everyone who called Washington this week have their own. Our apologies.

But also, our praise. Congressmen actually do pay attention to the volume of calls and emails, and which way their constituents' sentiment is running. Even if you're in a Republican district, make that call! Keep their switchboards overloaded until this whole circus is over! By doing so, you'll earn your own Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, as well.

[Go to either the main Senate web page or the House directory page (where you can just enter your zip code), to find the phone number or email address of your own elected members of Congress.]

Unrelated to the debt ceiling follies, one Democrat stood out last week in the "Disappointing" category. Representative David Wu of Oregon was accused of unwanted sexual behavior with an 18-year-old daughter of one of his friends. This is the same man who won a MDDOTW back in FTP [156]. Back then, we wrote:

First there were rumors that Wu had some sort of mental breakdown just before the election. His own staff reportedly confronted him days before the voters were to go to the polls, and tried to get Wu to check himself into a psychiatric hospital. As if that weren't bad enough, it was recently revealed that Wu sent a few "unprofessional" emails to his staff including this photo of him, in a tiger suit, from Hallowe'en ("Rowr!"). The photo looks Photoshopped, but sadly, it is not. Later, Wu also admitted that he took a few unprescribed Oxycodone pills which a donor had given him last year during the campaign. The Washington Post blog "The Fix" has all the sordid details (and links), for the curious.

Back then, we fell short of calling for his resignation (with the ominously prescient line: "David Wu was not caught in some sexual scandal..."). Perhaps we should have. The only mitigation against behavior that goes far beyond merely being "disappointing" is the fact that Wu did announce his resignation this week, only days after the story broke. He'll be stepping down right after the debt ceiling problem is resolved. But even doing the right thing politically isn't enough for Wu to avoid being this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Bizarre behavior on the campaign trail is one thing, but sexual aggression with a teenage daughter of a friend is quite another. Good riddance, Representative Wu, and good bye.

[Contact Representative David Wu on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions. But you'd better hurry, that link won't be good for much longer.]

Volume 175 (7/29/11)

This week has been so gravid with metaphors from world of fantasy, that I just couldn't find room for the one which has been running through my head all week long. Not from Middle Earth, not from Wonderland, not even from 221B Baker Street, but rather from Arrakis (the desert planet in Frank Herbert's Dune) comes the brutal truth:

The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it.

In some ways, the book (especially the end) could be read as a Tea Party primer this week. The power to destroy the American economy is the absolute control over it, after all. That's the leverage that's been used all along in this debate.

But, as I said, I just couldn't fit it in anywhere else, so it's a discussion that'll have to remain for another time, I guess.

In fact, I only have a brief amount of time here to pat myself on the back for how many people picked up on last week's headline "What Would Ronald Reagan Do?" Even Nancy Pelosi was asking the question by mid-week. Heh. But we're not here for such self-serving blather, are we?

Instead, we bring you your weekly ration of seven talking points Democrats can use (whether on national television or just gathered 'round the water cooler) this weekend. Events are overtaking us so fast that they'll probably be out of date by Monday (for instance, I just noticed while editing this article that Boehner had managed to pass some laughable joke of a bill through the House, which won't be covered here at all). Anyway, enjoy responsibly, as always.

Is Boehner still Speaker?

This one is just pure snark. Rumors are flying around Washington that John Boehner may face a leadership challenge, after the debt ceiling debate, from the Tea Party Republicans in the House. Now, it's easy to casually mention this in an interview, but it's even more fun to just twist the knife by assuming he's already gone.

"Oh, wait... is John Boehner still Speaker of the House? Sorry, I haven't checked the news in a while...."

Gang that couldn't shoot straight

Astonishingly, the main "story" this weekend is not going to center on the debt ceiling debate, but on how badly the Republican Party is fractured. Once again, snarkiness is more than called for.

"John Boehner's debt ceiling plan was supposed to be a show of Republican strength -- how the Republican House was standing together against the other option, Harry Reid's plan. Instead, all it showed was how weak Speaker Boehner's hold on his own caucus is. This infighting among Republicans wasted a whole lot of time this week that we simply can't afford to waste. Instead of a show of Republican strength, we got a Wild West show instead -- complete with the gang who couldn't shoot straight."

Reap the whirlwind

This was the week in Washington where all the Republican Party bigwigs who thought co-opting the Tea Party movement for their own ends was such a dandy idea finally had to face the (quite predictable) results of doing so.

"It is now plain to see that the Republican dog is being wagged by the Tea Party tail. The Republican Party is now completely in thrall to their Tea Party faction. If Speaker Boehner doesn't survive, then we will have Speaker Eric Cantor leading the extremist Republican House further and further away from what the American public actually want Congress to do. Does anyone think that the American people want Congress to hold up the F.A.A. budget so that the federal government loses millions of dollars of taxes, just to prove a political point? In the end, I don't think the House Tea Partiers will be satisfied until they start impeachment proceedings against the president. There's an old saying from the Bible which the Republican Party apparently forgot -- when you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind. That's exactly the position they find themselves in now."

Snatching defeat from victory's jaws

Republicans seem to be acting more and more like... well, I hate to say it, but... Democrats. This wasn't supposed to happen, right?

"Republicans could have had a much better budget-cutting deal. They chose to be purist instead. They chose 'the perfect,' and made 'the good' their enemy, as the saying goes. Republicans could have had three or four trillion dollars in budget cuts, but they proved to America this week that protecting tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and jet-setting corporate executives was far more important to them than cutting the budget. Their priorities are shown in crystal-clear fashion right now, and America is paying attention. Somehow, after gaining nearly everything the Republican Party could ever have hoped for, they walked away from the deal to protect obscene tax breaks for the wealthy. The Republicans seem to have successfully snatched defeat from the jaws of victory."

14th nervous breakdown

More and more Democrats are publicly calling on Obama to do the right thing, and end this debate for all time.

"Let's just review where we are, shall we? Congress passed a law which states that the federal government must pay for a lot of things -- the budgetary agreement worked out earlier this spring. This law is in direct conflict with another federal law, the limit Congress put on the debt ceiling. No matter what the president does after next Tuesday -- if Congress doesn't act -- he's going to have to fall afoul of one of these laws or the other. If he stops the federal government paying its bills, then he's not following the clear budget law Congress already approved, which already incurred those debts. If he continues to issue new debt, then he's not following the debt ceiling law. Thankfully, the clear text of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution solves the problem for the president -- because even Congress itself is prohibited from 'questioning the debt' of the United States of America. Meaning the debt ceiling itself is unconstitutional. I call on President Obama to move the country past this entirely fictional crisis, and keep the oath he swore to uphold the clear and plain text of the Constitution. I don't care if... to misquote Mick Jagger... the Republicans have a 'fourteenth nervous breakdown' or not. The president's number one job is to uphold the Constitution, and I join Bill Clinton and the Democratic leaders of Congress who are calling upon President Obama to do so, and end this debt ceiling charade."


You can read further about this effort in a recent Washington Post article, or in an opinion piece written by one of the folks behind the effort.

"There are a group of prominent religious leaders who are asking a very simple question right now that I think should be asked of many Republicans, at this point. The question's an easy one: 'What would Jesus cut?' Would Jesus cut support for the sick, or the elderly? Would Jesus cut out a child's education? Would Jesus cut funds for 'the least among us' so that rich men wouldn't have to pay more in taxes? Seriously, I think this question should come up in every single Republican town hall next month: What exactly do you think Jesus would cut?"

Let's name a post office after Boehner!

I'm going to leave this last one as an exercise for the reader. Put together your own talking point -- it's so easy to do with this kind of set up.

From Dana Milbank at the Washington Post comes the following (the whole article is worth reading, actually):

In bringing the "Boehner Plan" to the floor, the speaker abandoned the reforms he promised when he took over the House. In the minority, he complained that Democrats rushed bills without sufficient notice and wasted time on trivial items. "With all the challenges facing our nation, it is absurd that Congress spends so much time on naming post offices," he complained in September 2010.

But Republicans rushed this bill to the floor without the promised notice, and, after hours of debate, the presiding officer announced just before the scheduled vote that the House would instead take up: post-office namings. They went from Peoria, Ill., to Guam before recessing.

OK, everyone... pencils ready? One... two... three... create your own talking point now! Bonus points will be awarded for working in some version of the phrase: "Will it play in Peoria?"

Heh. See you all next week.

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