What a week! With Congress back in session, with the excitement of newly-elected members being sworn in (or barred at the door, as the case may be), and with the ever-increasing anticipation of the inauguration, Washington was in a tizzy all week. Larry Flynt apparently asked Congress for a $5 billion bailout of the porn industry and it barely made the news, because there was so much else going on. That's the kind of week it was.
This week's Talking Points segment is a special one, for all the incoming Democratic members of Congress. I've called it Democratic assertiveness training, but it could also be called "how to talk like you are in power" as well. It's a new dawn, and Democrats should reflect this in how they speak of just about any issue under the sun.
Without further introduction, we'll quickly cover the usual suspects for the weekly awards, and then get right to it.
Believe it or not, Rod Blagojevich made the short list for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Think about it: the man's political career is in ruins, he's about to be chucked out of his job as Illinois governor, the vote to impeach him was 114-1, and he is about as radioactive as a politician can get. And yet, this past week, he outmaneuvered Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats to get his appointee Roland Burris seated as the replacement for Barack Obama's Senate seat. He called the Senate Democrats' bluff, and they folded after a ten-ton race card was played. That's a pretty astonishing political coup for someone in such disgrace, you've got to admit. But the award isn't given just for chutzpah or masterstroke politics, but for being impressive. Blaggy tried yet again to reach that height with his press conference after he was impeached, and earns impressive points for quoting Tennyson during his defiant "I did it for the kids" speech. But in the end, he fell short -- although I think I'm going to start referring to Burris (assuming he does get seated) as "Burris [D-Blago]" since he starts with a constituency of one.
Because I am changing the rules (as I am wont to do) for the award, this week we are pleased to hand out a special Most Impressive Democrat Of The Past Four Years award, for past service to the cause. Outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean's term started this time, four years ago. Right after George W. Bush got re-elected. And he leaves after showing Democrats how to raise money on the internet, how to run an effective "get out the vote" ground game, and how to spend money on a 50-state strategy instead of just targeting one or two swing state races. And when you look at the results of the 2006 and 2008 elections, you can see how all three of those things paid off. Now, some are saying Obama snubbed Dean by not inviting him to the official announcement of Dean's successor, and (most egregiously) for mentioning Rahm Emanuel in the same sentence as Dean's efforts in 2006. Dean and Emanuel, to put it nicely, did not agree on strategy. Dean was right. Emanuel was wrong. But Emanuel is going to be Obama's new Chief of Staff, so they gave the announcement while Dean was in American Samoa.
Whether it was a slight, or just a scheduling problem, Howard Dean deserves recognition for what he accomplished. I wrote about this in more detail yesterday, but Dean has earned a special MIDOTPFY award this week, and the hearty thanks of Democrats everywhere.
[Congratulate Howard Dean on the DNC's contact page to let him (and them) know you appreciated his efforts.]
Sadly, there were quite a few entries for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Our week began with the withdrawal of Bill Richardson from consideration for Secretary of Commerce in Obama's cabinet. If what is alleged is true, then Richardson may qualify for a MDDOTW in the future.
Harry Reid was disappointing last week, as usual. Blagojevich played him like a fiddle this past week, and it wasn't pretty to watch. I suggest we rename Michael Jackson's "moonwalk" dance move -- where you look like you're walking forward, but in reality are moving backwards -- after Majority Leader Reid from now on, just to make it easier to tally how many times it happens. "Harry Reid pulled another moonwalk move last week..." will be so much easier to say from now on.
But not even ol' Moonwalk Harry made the final cut this week. Because we have a tie for the past week's MDDOTW award. First up was Representative Bobby Rush. Now, Bobby Rush is a former Black Panther leader who is now in the House of Representatives from a Chicago district. One would assume he has a pretty safe seat. But the race card that Bobby Rush played in favor of Burris' appointment was just so over-the-top as to defy description. Even though Rush had said the governor "has forfeited his right to appoint someone" before Blagojevich named Burris, afterwards Rush changed his tune. He warned "not to hang and lynch" Burris, and basically accused any senator who wouldn't seat Burris as being a racist. He called the Senate "the last bastion of plantation politics," and warned senators that keeping Burris out would put them in the same position as Orval Faubus, George Wallace, and "Bull" Connor. Earlier this week, I wrote about Rush's words by saying:
This, it should be noted, is not just "playing the race card." This is a new level of such political cardsharpery, and should be referred to as "throwing the entire race deck in the air, in a game of 52-Race-Card-Pickup."
To be fair, I have to admit that it worked. Rush and Blagojevich and Burris himself achieved their objective, and it looks as if Burris will indeed enjoy at least two years in Obama's Senate seat. But although it's possible I just haven't been exposed to Chicago politics all that much, I still have to say the methodology was pretty downright disappointing.
But Bobby Rush will have to share this week's award with Senator Dianne Feinstein. DiFi, as we in California endearingly call her, was all over the place last week. All over the place in the news, and all over the place on her positions. First she threw a hissy fit because she didn't get a phone call before Leon Panetta's appointment to head the CIA was leaked to the press (Feinstein is incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee). She later backed down a bit, which meant the entire exercise was reminiscent of Newt Gingrich throwing a snit for not exiting the airplane sooner when traveling with President Clinton. Not to be outdone, she made headlines again by being the first senator to publicly cave over the Burris appointment. Just last week DiFi signed a letter from every Senate Democrat saying they wouldn't seat Burris, and then she apparently had a change of heart. And, while it didn't make the headlines as much, she also showed an astonishing level of hypocrisy as the chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee by reintroducing a bill to make selling an inaugural ticket a federal offense punishable by a year in jail and a $100,000 fine -- even though you can buy tickets for $50,000 from the inauguration folks themselves. DiFi reintroduced a bill she unsuccessfully pushed last year -- except this time, she specifically exempted the $50,000 ticket sales, saying: "Unlike unscrupulous Web sites and ticket scalpers, there is no 'profit' made by presidential inaugural committees in giving these tickets to people in return for inaugural donations." That's just great. DiFi is on the record against "profit," while supporting "pay-to-play" politics. Rarely is raw hypocrisy on such open display in the political world.
And for all of that, Dianne Feinstein shares the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award with Bobby Rush. For shame, both of you!
Volume 60 (1/9/09)
This week's talking points are a bit unusual, because they are so generic. This is to welcome the new freshman class of recently-elected Democrats to Congress. Our Friday Talking Points are here every week (same bat time, same bat channel) to aid you in how to frame vital issues for the press and public. Framing the issue is half the battle, and some just don't seem to know how to do it very well. So, for any Democrat facing a media interview over the weekend (and especially for those appearing on the Sunday morning talk shows), we offer up our own version of talking points for your consideration.
And this week, we have to address a broad issue: how to talk like winners. How to talk like the "in" group. Democrats are firmly in power now. After winning ever-bigger majorities in both houses of Congress this year (as well as the White House), Democrats are in a position of strength not seen in Washington, D.C. in decades.
But you wouldn't know this from the way some Democrats (cough, cough... Harry Reid... cough) are still talking. So here are a few things for all Democrats to remember for the next two years. You are in power. So, please, talk like you know it.
Mandate for change
This one's easy, and hinges on repeating the word "mandate" as many times as possible. Two or three times per sentence is acceptible. OK, I'm kidding, but you need to frame the current power structure in Washington every single time by reminding everyone that you have a "mandate" from the voters. Democrats won big. So beat your own drum a little.
"The 2006 and 2008 elections show that Democrats have a mandate for change from the voters. The people have given us a mandate to get some things done in Washington, and we fully intend to respect that mandate. The enormous mandate we arrive with is a signal for truly changing how our government works, for the better. We will live up to that mandate."
The American people
This is another way of saying the same thing, and reminds the idiots interviewing you that you've got the voters on your side.
"The American people have spoken, and what they have said is that Democrats should get some things done for them. We will fight every day to pass a solid Democratic agenda because that is exactly what the American people want and deserve. The people overwhelmingly elected us because they want change, and we intend to deliver. Republicans can either get on board with the American people, or get out of the way."
This is an important one. By putting the words "Democratic" and "principles" together as often as possible, you will slay the dragon of Republicans acting like they are they only ones with any principles whatsoever (which, to be honest, has worked for them for about thirty years now). This needs to be counteracted, and now is the best possible time to do so. Do not surrender the rhetorical "principles" field any longer! Take it back!
"We think the current bill shows good solid Democratic principles, and we will not back down on those core principles at all. Republicans are fighting for [insert baddies here: Big Business, oil companies, etc.], while Democrats are fighting for the principles American families run their lives by. Democratic principles are Main Street American principles, and we will fight Wall Street fatcat principles to get this bill passed. Because the biggest Democratic principle of all is to fight for American families against special interests who would do them harm."
Both parties play this game when they're in power. I just wanted to mention it as a reminder to Democrats who have been acting like they had no power for the previous two years. If you get a minimum of one Republican to vote for your bill, then you are allowed to call it "bipartisan." If you get five or more (in the House), or two (or more) Republican senators to vote for it, then you are further allowed to call it "truly bipartisan." This rewards Republicans for voting with you, and is very important to entice aisle-jumpers. It also paints opponents into a corner by implying that they're not just against Democrats, they're even against their own party. Like I said, it's a cheap trick and has been around forever, but it's an effective one, so use it often.
"This bill sailed through the House with a truly bipartisan vote, and we expect a similar bipartisan effort in the Senate. This is a bipartisan issue, with support from both sides of the aisle. The opponents of this bill are going against the wishes of the American people who truly desire such bipartisan efforts in Congress. We reach out to all Republicans in the spirit of bipartisanship and ask them to support this legislation."
I stand with President Obama
Barack Obama's popularity numbers are at an all-time high, and he hasn't even taken office yet. This, and the fact that he has shown a brilliant ability to speak to the people without the usual distortions by the media, shows that his coattails will be large indeed. Democrats need to ally themselves with Obama (and his popularity) as often as possible. People genuinely like Obama (at least for now), and by reminding them that you are standing by him, you do yourself a lot of good and show the opposition for what it is -- trying to block the president's agenda.
"I stand with President Obama on the issue of [insert current issue here]. President Obama has shown that he respects the mandate the American people have given him to do the right thing, and I fully support the president's efforts. President Obama has called on all of us -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- to stand with him to get this important issue passed. I, for one, will be standing by his side, and I invite all my colleagues to do the same, in the spirit of bipartisanship."
Penultimately, Democrats need to show an edge in all of this. Republicans, especially in the Senate, have enough power to still block things. But their power is as thin as the Democrats' Senate majority has been for the past two years -- it hangs by the thread of one vote. If only one Republican senator defects, then they are powerless to stop things from getting done. Meaning every single Republican senator could wind up being the "weakest link." After watching their party get slaughtered in two elections for doing nothing but obstruct, some Republicans may just be willing to try a new tactic. Remind them of all this by using the term "obstructionist" whenever necessary.
"The Republicans in the Senate have shown time and time again that the only thing they know how to do is to obstruct good laws. Obstructionist Republicans have no new ideas, they just don't want anybody else's ideas to pass. That's all they have left. I call on them instead to respect President Obama's mandate from the people, and join in a bipartisan effort to pass this bill. Obstructionism hasn't done much good for the Republican Party in the past two elections, and if they want to avoid shrinking their numbers even further, I would advise them to join with President Obama and the Democrats on this issue.
You will answer to the voters
And finally, the naked threat. All politicians fear one thing above all others -- losing. Republicans who are smart enough to see which way the wind is blowing (and has blown for the past two elections) need to be reminded that there are almost no moderates left in their party. America is headed in a different direction, and the only way they may save their precious seat is by working with Democrats on some issues. This one is particularly effective against people such as Arlen Specter, who faces tough re-election prospects in 2010.
"If the Republicans continue to block commonsense bills, then they will ultimately answer to the voters. This issue has 72% (or whatever) support from the American people, and even 64% approval in Senator [insert worried Republican here]'s own state. He needs to do the right thing for America, for his state, and for his own chances of getting re-elected. Because I promise you, if he continues to block this bill, he will answer to the voters in his own state."
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground