We've got quite a few awards to hand out this week, so we're going to just quickly note two events from the past week, and move right along. Oh, and as for this week's article title, well, it just felt appropriate, somehow. I promise, by the end, we'll have at least one blatant Alice in Wonderland reference to justify it, OK?
The week dawned with the exit of Herman Cain from the Republican nomination battle. Cain, love him or hate him, will be missed on the campaign trail because he had two qualities most of the other Republicans are sorely lacking: personality and cheerfulness. Cain was a character, you have to admit. And -- right up until he had to defend himself from the echoes of his social life -- he was almost always smiling and upbeat. After his sex life entered the discussion, he looked a lot more annoyed and a lot less cheerful, but while it lasted Cain was a bright spot in the Republican field of snoozers and the Uncles McGrumpy (and Aunt Shrill). So Cain will be missed, at least for that.
That wacky gang of Republicans running the House of Representatives acted swiftly and decisively this week -- to overturn a big, bad environmental rule that didn't actually exist. At some point, this morphs from sheer ridiculousness into downright Swiftian satire. Or, perhaps, "clinical paranoia" (but then I am no doctor and do not even play one on the Internet, so I'll leave such sweeping conclusions to others). Seriously, we pay these guys for this? Sigh.
You know, it strikes me that this week may be one politics-watchers look back on when proving the thesis: "Anything can happen in politics, and usually does." I can picture seeing some wise pundit a few years down the road making the historical reference: "Yeah, but remember when Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were leading the polls in the Iowa caucuses? Anything can happen... just anything..."
Enough silliness, let's get on with the awards.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made big news this week with her announcement that the United States will consider gay rights as basic human rights, when dealing with foreign policy and foreign aid around the world. She deserves an Honorable Mention for this announcement, at the very least.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wins an Honorable Mention this week, for letting his fellow senators know that they'll be working through the Christmas holiday, until they pass the payroll tax cut extension and the unemployment insurance extension. The Senate, in recent years, simply does not act on anything unless they are facing a deadline. Sometimes this deadline is externally imposed, such as the United States of America going into default. More often than not, though, it is the deadline of their precious, precious vacation time being possibly cut. Reid has a very good track record at moving legislation right before a holiday by holding this threat over the Senate, and an especially good track record of doing so right before Christmas. This is not an empty threat, and every senator knows it. They can either get it together and pass a bill, or they can spend two weeks farting around and then get it together and pass a bill -- while missing their flights home. Reid has made the choice clear, and it is very likely going to produce some action very soon now -- for which he deserves recognition.
President Obama gets an Honorable Mention this week, for also saying he'll stay in town until the bill is on his desk. Obama qualifies on two other issues, as well. The first was for issuing a veto threat against "poison pill" amendments the Republicans are trying to attach to the tax cut and unemployment bill. Veto threats from Obama are always good, because he hasn't flexed this executive muscle nearly enough, in our opinion. Obama also gave a wowzer of a good speech this week in Kansas, which the mainstream media noted was "defining" and "opened his re-election campaign." This is because the mainstream media and other inside-the-Beltway types are patently incapable of remembering things which happened only a few months ago, so you'll have to forgive them. This is (by my count) about the fourth or fifth time Obama has "defined his re-election campaign" since about mid-summer, and I'm sure I'll hear this hack phrase used at least ten times before April Fool's Day (to pick a random date... ahem).
But while Obama had a mostly-impressive week, he didn't quite make it to the level of Most Impressive Democrat of the Week this week, for reasons I will explain in the next section.
Instead, the coveted MIDOTW award goes to Elizabeth Warren, and her Senate campaign up in Massachusetts. Warren just posted a solid lead against Scott Brown in a recent poll, pulling in 49 percent to Brown's 42 percent. She's done so as Karl Rove and company attacked her with an absolutely ridiculous ad claiming that she's the candidate in the race closer to Wall Street. Maybe Karl's losing his touch, or something, because with every negative ad run, Warren's numbers seem to get stronger.
Warren's race is going to be the most important Senate race to watch for Democrats next year. This is probably the best chance Democrats have to pick up a seat from Republicans. Warren is also running as purely populist a campaign as can be imagined in today's world. Her campaign could become the template for other Democrats to use next year out on the campaign trail, to put it another way.
For her campaign getting stronger by the week, and for her strong reaction to the Rove ads (more on this in the talking points), Elizabeth Warren is our Most Impressive Democrat of the Week this week.
[Congratulate Elizabeth Warren on her campaign site. We are unable, due to journalistic ethical considerations, to provide a link to her site here... but you can always Google it easily enough yourselves.]
Sadly, there was a swarm of Democrats behaving badly this week. There were so many, in fact, that we had to leave out a few minor ones (at the state level).
First, let's quickly note the (Dis-)Honorable Mentions this week. Barack Obama earned one, but (once again) it will be explained a bit later.
Former head of the Federal Aviation Administration Randy Babbitt has also earned a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, for getting arrested and charged with driving drunk. He did the right thing and immediately stepped down, but still, this is just shameful for anyone in a position of trust on transportation. Babbitt was appointed by Presidents Clinton and Obama, so we're assuming he's a Democrat.
Also in the "too much holiday cheer" category are three staffers for Representative Rick Larson, who were not only drinking shots of whiskey at their desks at work, but Twittering about it as well. Larson deserves an Honorable Mention for -- within the hour he found out about it -- doing the right thing and firing all three staffers.
Speaking of the criminal justice system, we have a final (Dis-)Honorable Mention award for Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison this week -- which will make him not only the fourth ex-governor of Illinois to get sent to jail for corruption in the past few decades, but also Blaggy (as we've always called him) will actually be in jail at at the same time as the man he replaced as governor. Illinois has definitely moved to the top of the garbage heap when it comes to corruption in state government. Can't wait to see Blaggy in a prison haircut...
New Jersey's former governor (and former senator) was on the legal hot seat in Washington this week. Jon Corzine had one of those lapses of memory while testifying, stating that he had no idea where $1.2 billion of his customer's money went at the Wall Street firm he headed. "We looked under the couch cushions and in all our pockets, but we couldn't find it," he testified. Well, no, he didn't actually say that, but still... for this monumental lapse in memory skills, Corzine wins his own (Dis-)Honorable Mention. We'll try to remember to mail it to him.
Kidding aside, though, our real winner of the Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week this week is none other than Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. In an unprecedented move, she overturned the scientific conclusion of the Food and Drug Administration to allow sales of the "morning after" pill to everyone, over the counter. Her reasoning was that it would be harder for Barack Obama to get re-elected if this change in regulations went through. Well, no, she didn't actually admit that, or anything. Still, the conclusion is inescapable. She overruled science for purely political reasons.
This is also why Barack Obama gets his own (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week -- for backing Sebelius up. In an otherwise strong week for the president, this was yet another disavowal of a position Candidate Obama had taken -- making drug decisions based on science, and not on politics. Of course, medical marijuana advocates have been saying this for quite some time now, but this week's action made it a lot clearer, since it will affect a lot bigger slice of the American public.
Sebelius (and Obama) simply don't have a leg to stand on. Their explanations are laughably thin. Young girls are going to use Plan B every day? Please... the pill costs $40-$50. They're going to causally pick it up with the batteries at the drug store? See former comment on pill's cost. Now 16-year-old (and younger) girls will have to continue doing what I assume they've been doing for the past few years: convincing their older sister, friend, cousin, sister's friend, or schoolmate to go buy them a pill. This means delay in taking the pill, which means a loss of efficacy. All to improve a politician's chances of keeping his job.
For shame, Secretary Sebelius. For shame, President Obama. So much for making "science-based" decisions, eh? For this crass interjection of politics into the scientific decision-making process, Kathleen Sebelius is our Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week this week.
[Secretary Sebelius doesn't seem to have a contact page on the official H.H.S. webpage, so we suggest you contact her boss at the White House, to let President Obama know what you think of her actions.]
Volume 191 (12/9/11)
Kind of a mixed bag of talking points this week. Towards the end, we descend into ridiculousness, but hey, that's the political world we live in nowadays.
As always, these talking points are offered up in the hopes that Democrats everywhere will start using them to frame the political argument. President Obama did a good job this week of laying out his priorities, and we could easily have pulled seven talking points from the transcript of his speech. But, due to the end-of-the-year deadline, we thought it'd be better to concentrate on what's going on in Congress this week instead.
Democrats are for consumers, not Wall Street
This one is easy. Republicans filibustered a presidential appointment this week, just as they promised they were going to do. This wasn't because they don't think the candidate is qualified, but rather because they are in an extended hissy fit that the bureau was even created. This needs pointing out, in no uncertain terms.
Democrats passed a bill creating a federal bureau whose sole responsibility is looking out for the little guy -- the consumer -- and forcing Wall Street and the banks to play by a few commonsense rules. Republicans still can't get over the fact that we did so, and they have sworn they'll filibuster any candidate to run the bureau. This is disgusting. Republicans are standing firmly with their Wall Street buddies on this one. They are doing their Wall Street masters' bidding -- there's just no other way to put it. It's a very simple equation. Democrats are standing up for consumers, Republicans are standing up for Wall Street. That's what it boils down to, in the end, and that's what the voters should be aware of.
Republicans have been abusing a clause in the Constitution (Article I, Section 5) to keep Congress in session over their breaks -- to prevent the president from being able to "recess appoint" his choice to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But what they may not have realized is that this isn't the final constitutional word on the subject. Because Obama has a clause (Article II, Section 3) he can use to override these games, and in this case he would be fully justified in doing so.
If the House of Representatives does not agree to recess Congress over the end-of-year break, I will fully support the president acting to appoint a head for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. When the two houses of Congress do not agree to adjourn, the Constitution states that 'in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment' the president 'may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper.' The president doesn't need either house of Congress' approval, he can singlehandedly adjourn them. I strongly advise President Obama to do so over the holiday break, and make any recess appointments he sees fit to fill important federal positions which Senate Republicans have been unreasonably blocking with filibusters.
Two million checks will stop
Moving along to the legislative logjam, it is important to frame the two issues clearly and in simple enough terms that every American realizes what is at stake in the next few weeks. Democrats, to date, haven't done a great job of explaining -- in very plain language -- what it is they're fighting for. These next two talking points show how to do so.
If Republicans have their way, beginning in January, two million unemployment checks will stop. Two million American families will get cut off from the safety net, right after Christmas. That is what Democrats are fighting to avoid -- two million families having their last resort cut out from under them.
The second one is just as important, and it is frustrating listening to Democrats get all wonky about this issue, when it really is quite simple. Imagine a Democrat being interviewed on a Sunday political chat show, and putting it like this:
If Republicans have their way and we don't extend the payroll tax holiday [turn to speak into camera], YOUR paycheck WILL be smaller -- in JANUARY. Your taxes will go up, and they won't go up at the end of the year when you fill out your 1040 form -- they will go up in a few weeks' time. All of a sudden, money will start disappearing from every workers' paycheck-- to the tune of over a thousand dollars a year. Do the math. A thousand bucks divided by the number of paychecks you get -- that is what will disappear from your own paycheck next month. That is what we're talking about here, Mr. and Mrs. America.
GOP's answer: throw more people out of work
Republicans will attempt to counter that they're trying to pass these ideas, but the Democrats won't let them pay for it by slashing federal payrolls. So put it another way, for the listener at home.
Democrats want to pay for this bill by taxing millionaires at less than two cents on the dollar. Republicans, on the other hand, want to pay for this by throwing a bunch of federal employees out of work. Does that really make sense in our economy? We've already given a pink slip to over half a million government workers, and the Republicans' only answer is to chuck more of them out on the street? Democrats think that's a travesty, and we think it'd be a lot easier for billionaires to pay a tiny bit more on their taxes, than to force tens of thousands more people our of work
It leaves you speechless
OK, this is where we go back to getting silly. Two quotes, this week, sum the season up. The first is from Elizabeth Warren herself, expressing her amazement at the fact that Karl Rove and his buddies in PAC-Land have run (1.) an ad against her saying she's with the Occupy Wall Street crowd, which was closely followed by (2.) an ad against her implying she has a much-too-cozy relationship with Wall Street. Really -- you just can't make this stuff up, folks. Here is her brilliant response (quoted in the "Plum Line" blog over at the Washington Post):
Their strategy now is the kitchen sink strategy. Throw everything you can at her and let's see what happens. Let's keep in mind what was going on just a little over three years ago. Karl Rove was part of the inner circle while George W. Bush is telling Congress and the nation, 'we've gotta bail out the big financial institutions.' His Secretary of the Treasury is handing out money to the largest financial institutions -- no strings attached. I go down to Washington and I'm calling them out for it. I'm calling them out on executive bonuses. I'm calling them out on the fact that they're giving this money, no strings attached. And I get attacked for it. Okay. Then we roll forward three years. Now Karl Rove takes money from Wall Street, in order to attack Elizabeth Warren for being cozy with Wall Street? This one goes beyond anything I've ever imagined. I'm just amazed. It leaves you speechless.
We're all mad here!
I saved this one for last, just because. From the story on the House tilting at the windmill of non-existent E.P.A. regulations comes the following excellent quote to close on, from Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado:
This session of Congress has felt to many of us like a trip into Alice's Wonderland. While our nation struggles with a devastating economy, we do nothing about jobs or getting Americans back to work. Instead, we repeatedly fall down the rabbit hole of extreme legislation, and now with this [bill] ... it seems that we're even having tea with the Cheshire Cat. To paraphrase our friend the Cheshire Cat, "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad. You must be mad, or you wouldn't have come here." ... [The bill] is a mad solution to an imaginary problem.
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