In today's main event we will discuss the idiocy of the most recent Republican talking point -- "Obama's trying to do too much, too fast" (which is weak, to be sure, but then they had to kind of scramble after their last talking point "Obama is killing the stock market" became inoperative due to a rally). But before we get to that, we have some housecleaning to do. Call it "old business" -- a few new developments in things that I've commented on previously.
Last week, this column went on a rant over health care, and the paralyzing fear conservatives seem to have over the government competing in the open marketplace with private insurance. From today's "White House Watch" column by the intrepid Dan Froomkin at Washingtonpost.com comes this quote from a CEO who just sat in a meeting where President Obama spoke to businessmen about health care:
Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg pushed for a more Bushian and less Obamaist approach to health care. "I think it's very important that we don't have a government plan competing with a private plan and finding out that our employees or the citizens in general could go to a plan that doesn't have the same incentives and requirements and behavioral characteristics to make sure that they do the right things long term," he said, adding: "We can do more with medical reform, medical liability reform."
Allow me to decode this Republican-speak. It's "important" that we don't have a government plan competing with the private-sector health insurance, because Americans could actually choose a plan that "doesn't have the same incentives and requirements and behavioral characteristics to make sure that they do the right things long term." That last bit is code for: "private health care charging consumers a lot of money for health care, so that they don't go crazy and try to actually use it, unless they're on their deathbeds." You may think I am overstating their case, but I am not. They want you to pay more for health care, so you use it less. Using your health care less is "the right things long term" he is talking about, not something like quitting smoking or exercising more. He is admitting that a government plan would likely be cheaper and better for the consumer, which is why it terrifies him that if it was offered, people would choose it freely.
Media Matters is jumping all over a piece of idiocy I forcefully pointed out yesterday (in a kind of mini-Friday-Talking-Points column... call it Thursday Preliminary Rant column if you wish) -- refuting the talking heads in the media who seem to somehow think it was Obama (and not McCain) who promised to veto every earmark. The Media Matters article has lots of details and links, and specifically targets Sean Hannity. So if you're into Hannity-bashing, give it a look.
My point was wider, but not as focused. I wrote (before I got to the long "talking point"):
I have been simply stunned this week at the way the media has been covering the passage of the 2009 omnibus budget bill, and of President Obama's signing the bill into law. If I knew nothing about the subject but what I've seen on network news shows (not even cable, mind you, just the "respected" nightly news shows), then I would believe the following about the 2009 budget: (1) most of it -- say a good 70 to 80 percent -- was earmarks, (2) those dastardly Democrats put all the earmarks in, and Republicans fought and fought for fiscal responsibility, but couldn't remove them in the end, because (3) there was no bipartisanship at all in passing this bill, (4) passing this bill in the midst of the flood of other important legislation was really no big deal, happens all the time, and (5) President Obama broke a big campaign pledge he made to veto every earmark and signed the bill anyway, thus disappointing the American public by breaking his word.
None of these things, I must point out, is even remotely true. But that's the spin that I get from Brian Williams and Katie Couric on a nightly basis. I can just imagine what the hotheads over on the cable channels are saying about it.
I'm not going to jump into the middle of the Clyburn-Sanford race card debate, but I can't help coming to the defense of one of the phrases used in this "playing the race card" duel. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford started this fracas off by comparing President Obama's economic plans to Zimbabwe's out-of-control inflation. House Minority Whip Jim Clyburn, also from South Carolina, and the highest-ranking black member of Congress, called Sanford's remarks a "slap in the face" and "beyond the pale." Then they both accused each other of racism.
Without refereeing this fight, I have to at least point out that "beyond the pale" is not a racist phrase. It's like the word "niggardly" -- it sounds racist, and it looks racist, but (historically, at least) it's not. Now, that doesn't mean that in our shared American ignorance it can't be used today with racist intent or racist feeling, but the root simply has nothing to do with race. "Pale" is from the same root as "palisade," and means nothing more than "a fence." It goes back to Roman times. In modern times, it was most defined in Ireland, where the fenced-in British enclave around Dublin was known as "the pale," which kept the "wyld Irysh" out. Both groups, it should be noted, are white. "Pale" is not used here in reference to a shade or color at all, it is referring to a fence. I went into this in more depth in an article before Obama's inauguration, where I asked whether Rick Warren was "beyond the pale" or not.
So while I certainly can't guarantee either man was -- or was not -- speaking with racial overtones, I have to at least say let's educate people as to what the phrase actually means -- and does not mean. If they want to meet at dawn and fling race cards at each other at ten paces, that's fine with me, but let's at least clear the air beforehand.
And finally, I just love it when college kids get involved with the lawmaking progress. No, seriously, I do. Anyone who knows the full story of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment to the Constitution knows exactly what I mean.
Two heterosexual college guys (Ali Shams and Kaelan Housewright) have qualified a ballot initiative in California called the "Domestic Partner Initiative." Here's what it would do:
Replaces the term "marriage" with the term "domestic partnership" throughout California law, but preserves the rights provided in marriage. Applies equally to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. Repeals the provision in California's Constitution that states only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
In other words, it would get The State out of the "marriage" business entirely. Since The State will not use the word "marriage," each religious institution is free to use it or not use for whomever they choose. It, to me, is an elegant answer that makes the entire gay marriage issue just fizzle. The San Jose Mercury News has the story, complete with details of the college guys who ponied up $200 to see whether anyone else liked their idea. Reportedly, everyone hates it, from gay rights groups to right-wing groups. I, on the other hand, support it (I have written about and supported this idea in passing before, but I'm too lazy to look up the links, sorry). The two students have a bare-bones website up (which, as the article says, should be improved soon) at www.dompar.org if you'd like to check it out.
OK, enough "old news." Let's get the awards out of the way, and then onward to the Friday Talking Points.
In my own personal "most impressive" nod this week, a big "thank you" goes out to Representative Bruce Braley from Iowa's first congressional district, for taking the time to grant me an interview this week. His staff was very friendly, and set the interview up quickly -- even though I am but a lowly blogger. Congressman Braley is the founder and chair of the newly-formed "Populist Caucus" in Congress, and his interview is worth a read if you missed it earlier. And, in a first, I now have an article linked to from a member of Congress' web page (woo hoo!).
But Braley will have to wait (until the Populist Caucus actually delivers) to get one of the coveted "Golden Backbone" statuettes, otherwise known as the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Because we're all about the results, here.
And speaking of results, this week, while President Obama was continuing to set the bar sky-high for general all-around impressiveness (impressitivity?) in Washington, I have to give the MIDOTW award to two people who have earned more than a little scorn from this column over the years. Because Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came through this week and wrapped up what they were supposed to finish last September -- the 2009 budget. Ahem. See what I mean about "more than a little scorn"?
But I have to give credit where credit is due, and both Pelosi and Reid got the 2009 omnibus budget through fairly quickly last week (by Washington standards, which is to say: "in the private sector you'd have been fired for this performance by now"). Double-ahem.
But as Obama says, we should look to the future and not the past, right? And both the House and the Senate pushed through this budget in the face of a pretty strong headwind. It made it through the House a week and a half ago, but the Senate balked, including some Democrats. It was supposed to be done last Friday, but Reid fumbled. They did make their second deadline, and it was passed and signed off before the government's checks would have started bouncing around mid-week. And (this is the key part) -- the Senate passed exactly the same thing the House passed, meaning it went directly to the president instead of into a "conference committee" for more tinkering and mischief-making. Now, rumors are that Pelosi and Reid had a "profanity-laden" screaming match about this last week -- that Pelosi was demanding that Reid pass the bill as-is, and Reid assumably asking if he could just add a few tiny amendments to it. Pelosi won this battle of the wills, but Reid deserves his award this week as well for getting a vote of 62-35 on the bill. He lost three Democrats, but he also (even though the media completely ignored the fact) picked up eight (count them, eight) Republican votes. This is around one in five Republican senators, and therefore earns the label "bipartisan."
As I said (in much more detail yesterday, as well), the media completely ignored this. But we here at FTP cannot, and therefore both Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid win this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Well done, party leaders!
You know what? Nobody disappointed me badly enough this week to garner an award. There were a few minor disappointments, but nothing rose to the level of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. Which means it's been a pretty good week.
Three Democratic senators voted against the 2009 budget -- Evan Bayh, Claire McCaskill, and Russ Feingold -- but they weren't deal-breaking votes, so they can be forgiven. Senator Charles Schumer was mildly annoying last week, but that's almost his normal state, so it too was forgiven. Senator Robert Menendez from New Jersey came closest to winning the award for his last-minute opposition during the budget debate (and his other Senate shenanigans), over some relatively small changes to our Cuba policy; but since his parents fled Castro's Cuba (and since he eventually voted for the bill), even this was forgiven.
Now, the last time I didn't hand out a MDDOTW award here, a Huffington Post commenter convinced me to hand it out (to Jack Murtha, for the curious) in response to the article. So if you've got anyone who seriously annoyed or disappointed you this week, I'm open to suggestions.
Volume 69 (3/13/09)
Which brings us to the actual Friday Talking Points.
I'd like to preface this with some Beatles lyrics:
It's all too much for me to take
The love that's shining all around you
Everywhere, it's what you make
For us to take, it's all too much
This seems to be the main complaint of Republicans these days. No, really. See, "it's all too much" what President Obama is trying to do. He should be doing things slower. Even though big things are flying through Congress at a speed unseen in Washington in decades, it's just somehow all too much for Republicans to take. Especially the fact that the American public is solidly behind Obama -- that would be the second line, there.
OK, to be fair, one of the other choruses would likely be more to Republicans' liking:
It's all too much for me to take
The love that's shining all around here
All the world is birthday cake,
So take a piece but not too much
They could easily work those last two lines into their tantrum over earmarks, I'm sure (40 percent of which were Republican earmarks, mind you). Ahem.
But all kidding (and the Fab Four) aside, this is seriously the new talking point du jour coming from the right: President Obama is somehow overreaching, he should spend every waking moment saving the bankers on Wall Street, and all of that other stuff that he promised he'd do on the campaign trail he can surely do at some later, more convenient time.
The media has lapped this up with silver spoons, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.
Even though it completely contradicts their obsession with Obama's "first hundred days," which reached a new level of absurdity this week when the media just couldn't wait and decided to review Obama's "first fifty days." Such is life with a 24-hour news cycle, run by people who wouldn't know journalism if it bit them on their first hundred noses.
This is completely and utterly ridiculous, a fact which escapes them entirely. Presidents are only "trying to do too much" when they are demonstrably failing at major parts of their job description. Obama is not. Again, last week (before the stock market rallied) these very same windbags were telling us that "Obama had failed because the market was down." When the market showed signs of bouncing back up a little bit, they couldn't use that line any more, so this is what they came up with: Obama is moving too fast.
But -- here's what proves the lie -- he is succeeding at what he is attempting to do. Even as fast as Obama is moving, so far Congress has done a spectacularly good job at keeping up with him. This isn't going to last forever. Eventually they will slow down. Just as, eventually, it will be election year again for the midterms, when (traditionally, at least) nothing whatsoever gets done in Washington. Obama is no fool. He knows this. And so why wouldn't he try to pass his agenda during the best possible time for him to do so politically?
Mostly, I think the Republicans are irate because they don't have time to adequately complain about whatever Obama is doing, since it's on his desk and signed before they even really warm up -- and by that point, Obama is off doing something else. Much to their consternation.
But anyway... is anyone still reading this? Man, this is going to be a long one this week. I apologize for wasting so many of the Interweb's electrons today.
Ahem. Anyway, as I was saying, it's on to the talking points, offered up each week for Democrats to use while talking to the media and the public, to explain why their ideas are so much better than the alternative.
Walk and chew gum
The whole "Obama's trying to do too much" theme has to be countered. And the best way to do this is to just laugh in its face.
"Excuse me? You think President Obama is trying to do too much? Well, I know after the last eight years it is a bit unusual to have a president who can walk and chew gum at the same time, but that is exactly what this country needs right now."
Out to lunch
If the interviewer or the Republican persists with this inane reasoning, simply rinse and repeat (as it were):
"I know that it's been so long since Washington saw leadership from the White House that they are shocked by it, but that's exactly what the voters elected, and exactly what they are looking for. Someone who can manage to lead this country on more than one issue at the same time. A president who does not take six weeks off in the middle of a crisis. A president who does not quit work at 5:00 in the evening. A president who is not, shall we say, out to lunch."
You think the voters want to wait?
Again, this is likely to be the theme of the week, brought to you by those rascals over in Republicanland, so be prepared with more than one argument, just to be on the safe side.
"So what you're saying is that Obama should focus on making the Wall Street bankers happy, and put off until later... what, exactly? You think he should just let the health care crisis get worse for a few more years? You think the voters really want that? You think they're willing to just let the education problem fester for a few years of their kids' lives? You think the voters didn't really believe that Obama meant what he said on the campaign trail, and that they'll be patient and let Obama play the Washington game of 'we'll get to that later, when it's more politically acceptible'? Well, I don't think the voters are willing to wait, President Obama obviously doesn't think the voters are willing to wait, and I think the voters are right in this case -- and conventional Washington wisdom is dead wrong."
No health care equals bankruptcy
Health care is one of those big issues Republicans are counseling taking a good long time to get to, because Obama "should be focused on the economy." This is horse manure. I'm sorry for being so blunt, but it just is.
"I read recently in a USA Today article that the percentage of Americans who are seriously struggling with medical costs or drug costs is up from 18 percent to 21 percent. People go bankrupt every single day in this country because of health care costs. I find that unacceptable, and so does President Obama. Republicans, apparently, do not. Republicans seem to think that it's your fault when you get sick, and you should therefore be on your own to deal with it. When millions of Americans go bankrupt, lose their houses, lose their life's savings, or even just struggle to pay for the cost of pills to keep them alive; then that affects our economy in an enormous fashion. If those families didn't have to file for bankruptcy to pay for an operation, then the American economy as a whole would do a lot better. If we can help American businesses regain their equal footing with the rest of the industrial world by solving the health care mess once and for all, that would be a huge boost to the economy. And that's why health care is just another face of the same coin that you're calling 'the economy.' To fix the economy, we've got to fix health care. It's actually pretty easy to understand. And voters 'get it,' while Republicans, quite obviously, do not."
If you hear the word "earmark" during any question, be sure to point out the following (with a blunt object, or maybe a blunt predicate):
"I'm sorry, but didn't you get the memo? John McCain lost the election. I'm surprised nobody told you. It was in all the papers, and everything. Remember? McCain was the one who ran on eliminating every earmark. Barack Obama never said anything more than he wanted to reform the process. You keep harping on about how Obama broke a promise that John McCain actually made, and people will begin to wonder if you have memory problems, or something. I'm just saying...."
NOBODY is leading the Republicans
OK, I actually think this tempest in a teapot is mostly over, but I just can't resist pointing out how the Republican official line on Rush Limbaugh is pretty funny. They wiggled free of the question: "is Rush the leader of the Republican Party?" by some flavor of: "there are many voices in the Republican Party, and we're big enough to hear from them all." But there's a better way to put their argument.
"You know, when Republicans are asked whether Rush Limbaugh is the, quote, leader of their party, unquote, they respond by saying there are many voices in the party. But isn't that the same thing as saying that nobody is leading their party right now? Usually Republicans have their talking points in better order, and I'm kind of surprised they didn't name someone else as the leader of the party. It just goes to show that they're admitting what most Americans have already figured out: their party does not have a leader, and is not leading in any particular direction as a result."
The Party Of No
And, once again, those jokers over at the Democratic National Committee are having some fun. They've put up a "Party of No" clock, which is supposed to track something or another about Republican obstructionism (Politico has the story). But I just like rolling the mouse over their faces to hear House Minority Leader John Boehner, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all squeak: "No!" Try it yourself!
Since this is supposed to be a talking point, Democrats should get used to just interjecting at any opportune moment:
"Republicans? You mean the 'Party of No,' right?"
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground