Welcome back to your weekly Friday Talking Points roundup. This week will be a bit unusual, as instead of the normal list of talking points Democrats everywhere should be using this weekend in conversations (especially with the media), I'm devoting the entire talking points segment to one single issue -- why what President Obama is doing on the situation in Iran is exactly the right thing to do, and why his hands are tied (by the ropes of American history) so that saying anything more enthusiastic than he's already said would actually be counterproductive if you support the Iranians currently marching in the streets. Because there is a giant elephant in the room of the discussion of American/Iranian relations that nobody wants to discuss, and nobody (other than Obama himself) is even admitting exists -- an elephant with the year "1953" painted on its side. But more about that later, let's take care of the weekly chores first.
In the "silly story" category for the week, we now have video proof that President Obama, if annoyed sufficiently, would indeed hurt a fly. And not just hurt, but swat to kill. PETA immediately weighed in on "Flygate" (of course), but most Americans will see that video and merely marvel at the quick hands of our president.
Other silly news revolved around Barbara "Call Me Senator" Boxer, who told a military gentlemen appearing before her in committee to please call her "Senator" rather than "ma'am." Those not aware of Washington protocol may find this strange (reactions were harsh from some corners), but the reality is that any official in Washington, elected or appointed, should be respectfully addressed by their official title. It's a sign of disrespect not to. Even ex officials still get their last (or highest) title used with their name (which is why it is still "President George Bush" and "President Bill Clinton" even though they aren't, anymore). If Boxer were male, nobody would have even noticed if she had chastised someone for not calling her "Senator," so I smell a whiff of sexism about the issue even being raised, personally. But then I like Boxer, as she's the best Senator California currently has, so I may be a bit biased on the issue, I admit.
In more serious news, the healthcare battles rage on. I've been writing about this for weeks now, which is one reason I'm taking the day off from the subject. If you need a review, you can check out last week's talking points (devoted entirely to healthcare reform talking points), my suggested ad script for Senator Kennedy, highlighting the idiocy of courting Republican votes with a tax hike, and a call for the public's voice to be heard on the issue.
On that last issue, I do have some news. While the mainstream media has ignored it (unlike, say, the teabag protests), there will be a huge rally in Washington, D.C. on June 25 (next Thursday) for healthcare reform, which is being staged by healthcare09.org, and supported by a variety of organizations pushing for real healthcare reform (such as the AFL/CIO). If you can make it to the D.C. area next Thursday, and want to show your support, please check out the information for the rally and consider attending. Watch the healthcare09.org site for all the details.
One other interesting development in the healthcare struggle is the emergence of Senator Chris Dodd as Teddy Kennedy's official stand-in. Dodd is the second-most senior member of Kennedy's committee, and although he was a little late to the battle (Senator Max Baucus, who chairs the other Senate committee healthcare reform has to make it through, jumped in earlier to the fray and has been receiving more attention as a result), Dodd now seems to be stepping up to the plate. Dodd wrote an interesting piece recently, which is fairly strongly behind the public option, at least as I read it. But no matter how Dodd works out as Teddy's heir as champion of healthcare reform, at least he's now entered the fray.
Howard Dean, who it should be noted is a medical doctor, has been trying to champion a much stronger position on healthcare, but he is being mostly ignored by the media, so his voice isn't getting through as loudly as one would have liked. But you've got to give him credit for trying. Dean doesn't control the media, so the fact that they're ignoring him isn't really his fault.
But, as I said, I've already kind of exhausted the subject of healthcare for the week, so let's move on to the awards before I weigh in on Obama and Iran.
While President Obama was indeed impressive on handling the aftermath of the Iranian elections this week (no matter what Republicans are saying), I'm devoting the whole talking points segment to this, so I'm arbitrarily disqualifying him for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. He certainly rates an Honorable Mention, though.
Likewise, I have been conflicted after awarding a MIDOTW award last week to an organization (Change Congress) who ran an ad exposing a Democratic senator for accepting millions in healthcare industry dollars and then fighting reform on their behalf. But we here at Friday Talking Points are wondering about the propriety of handing out MIDOTW awards to organizations that are not, technically at least, Democrats. Is this fair? Is it proper? I throw it open to the commenters to weigh in on this subject.
Because there were a few organizations which would have clearly qualified this week for the MIDOTW award. Sam Stein at the Huffington Post has the story, and the new ads. So, should Health Care for America Now (HCAN), MoveOn.org, and Americans United for Change be eligible for the weekly awards, or not? Go see the videos, even if you think they shouldn't be in the running for the MIDOTW. And don't be shy about weighing in on the issue in the comments.
The Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, however, is a four-way tie. This was due to the late entry of three House committee chairmen, who (finally!) came out strongly for the public option in the healthcare reform debate. Congressmen Henry Waxman, Charlie Rangel, and George Miller held a united press conference for their healthcare reform proposal, which includes a strong public option Rangel described as "the best of Medicaid, best of Medicare, then kick it up a notch." If you've been wringing your hands, wondering "when are the Democrats going to fight for the public option?" (as have I), then you will enjoy reading the whole story, which breathes some Democratic fire into the fight -- which has been sorely lacking up until now. So for all three committee chairmen, congratulations on winning Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, and here's hoping you win a few more during this fight.
And finally, before this afternoon's announcement, we had already decided to award this week's MIDOTW to Congressman Barney Frank. Frank sponsored a bill which would move marijuana from being a "Schedule I" dangerous controlled substance to "Schedule II." While this sounds esoteric, the result of this move would be to let the states experiment with medical marijuana without the fear that the federal government would overrule their efforts in federal court. Schedule II drugs have medical benefits and can be prescribed by doctors, while Schedule I drugs cannot (under any circumstances). I called for this exact action from President Obama a few months ago, and will have more to say on this bill next week (you can look it up under the number "HR 2835" to see if your representative has co-sponsored it... right before you pick up the phone and urge him or her to do so, of course, if they're not on the list), but wanted to acknowledge Congressman Frank's efforts to interject some sanity to federal drug policy as it relates to medical marijuana at the state level.
So to all four recipients of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, congratulations, and keep up the good work!
[Congratulate Representative Barney Frank on his House contact page, Representative George Miller on his House contact page, Representative Charlie Rangel on his House contact page, and Representative Henry Waxman on his House contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
This week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is none other than former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Daschle, along with his new buddies Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, and Trent Lott (I wish that were hyperbole, but Daschle himself cites these three), introduced the mother of all compromises as a "bipartisan" healthcare reform plan, which conveniently left out the public option. Reaction was swift, and two Huffington Post headlines sum up the depth of the feeling: "Daschle, Dole Release Health Care Plan, Forget To Mention They Are Health Care Lobbyists," and the more direct "Go Away, Tom Daschle."
So, for proving that it wasn't just the free limousines (which he forgot to put on his taxes), but for Daschle's prime example of how Washington often defines "bipartisanship" -- as "Democrats caving in to Republican wishes" -- Daschle is hereby awarded this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Let's all be thankful he is not now the Secretary of Health and Human Services, since we all so obviously dodged a bullet on that one.
[Since Daschle is out of public office, I have no official contact information for him, sorry. I guess if you'd like to contact him, you could pony up a few hundred thousand dollars and pretend to be a healthcare company, as that seems to get his attention.]
Volume 82 (6/19/09)
Most of the time, we present seven discrete (but never discreet) talking points for Democrats to consider using when being interviewed by the media (or, for the rank and file, for use around the company watercooler). But this week, we are presenting one enormous talking point instead, since Republicans are making such a big deal out of it (because they sense political weakness).
But there's a reason that President Obama and Henry Kissinger are both on the side of saying less (and not more) about the situation in Iran right now, and why Congress (led by Republicans) and some Democrats within Obama's own administration are on the other side of the debate. It involves the history of our two countries, which nobody seems to bother pointing out, but which is the key issue involved within Iran itself.
Americans have two severely limiting traits, which must cause the rest of the world to scratch their heads trying to figure us out at times. The first is an absolute inability to see things as anyone anywhere else in the world sees them. And the second is a highly selective and whitewashed view of our own history.
If we didn't have these two traits, nobody in their right mind would be pressuring President Obama to do or say anything more than he's already said on the situation in Iran right now. Because if these voices crying out for Obama to publicly support the Iranian protesters took into account how it would be seen in Iran itself, they would realize that any support from America is the absolute kiss of death for any street demonstration in Iran. Maybe in a generation or two this won't be the case, but for now any eager words from the President would spell doom for any uprising within Iran. Obama is smart enough to know this. Republicans in Congress, many in the news media, and even some members of Obama's own administration apparently are not this smart.
They need a history lesson, in other words. Because there is a large elephant's corpse in the room whenever any pundits pontificate about "what we should do about Iran" which is not even mentioned. Again, this is utterly stunning to the rest of the world. "Don't they know their own history?" you can almost hear them asking. In a word -- no. No, we don't. And I'm not even talking about the man-on-the-street typical American citizen, I am talking about people who are paid to have an intelligent opinion on world events and American foreign policy.
Let's work on that "inability to see things from another point of view" problem. Let's say that, right after World War II, the United States of America was invaded by Martians. But this was no armadas-of-flying-saucers military invasion, but rather a covert operation run by the Central Martian Intelligence Agency (CMIA). The CMIA infiltrated Washington, paid mobs of people to run riot, and, by doing so, caused us to change our government overnight and install a puppet government who took his orders from Mars. This Vichy-type puppet ruled America ruthlessly for the next quarter-century, suppressing dissent with secret police, and generally acting like a tyrant. Then, in 1976, instead of celebrating our Bicentennial, we instead had the Second American Revolution, and restored the type of government we wanted. This would mean that when your father was a boy, he knew the "old" United States of America, and then he saw Mars take over. Your parents lived through the tyranny of Martian puppet rule for a generation. But then just when you were born, the country was freed and a new system of government was installed by the American people themselves.
Stipulating this alternate history, I have one question for you: How would you feel about Martians and Mars today? Might you harbor a little resentment? And perhaps a whole lot of suspicion of Martian motives?
Because, with very few changes, that is exactly the position the Iranians find themselves in today with respect to the United States of America. And that is why some of them hate us (and chant: "Death to America!"), why most of them distrust us, and why any accusation that anyone in Iran is acting at the behest of the American government is (literally, at times) the kiss of death to them. Because of what we did to them in 1953. Which they have not forgotten (even though we, for the most part, have -- if we ever learned about it in the first place).
How ridiculous is any discussion of Iran/American relations that does not at least acknowledge this central fact? How divorced is it from reality for us to speak of "how Iranians view the United States," without bringing up the fact that we overthrew their government fifty-six years ago, and then supported a dictator for another twenty-six years afterwards?
And yet, listening to even very intelligent commentators in the American media, 1953 has gone down the Memory Hole. No mention is made of why Iranians bear America ill will. No historical context whatsoever is given. Even though these events did not take place hundreds of years ago, but rather in living memory under President Eisenhower.
People on the news do speak of recent history in Iran. And, if they wax historic, they hearken back to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and the Hostage Crisis. Rarely is the Shah even mentioned. And 1953 is virtually never mentioned. In America. But this doesn't mean the Iranians have forgotten.
The whole episode started when the Iranian prime minister decided, in 1951, to kick the British out and nationalize their oil industry. The British had been raking in the lion's share of the oil (and the profits) from Iran since roughly World War I. And the Iranians had finally had enough. So they kicked the Brits out.
The British were not (to coin a phrase) amused. They begged their American cousins to help them out. President Truman refused. But when Eisenhower took over, they (according to some reports) laid down a quid pro quo -- the U.K. would pull out of supporting American in the Korean War, unless we helped them out by overthrowing the government of Iran. The CIA convinced Eisenhower to go along with the British, and we ran the operation from that point on.
The pitch was made (as it would be made over and over again for various countries during the Cold War) that the Soviets were going to take over Iran, and that all the world's dominos would soon be falling as a direct result. It was a matter of American national security, in other words, which meant we had to do what we had to do to keep it from happening.
The whole operation was run by Teddy Roosevelt's grandson (and F.D.R.'s cousin) Kermit "Kim" Roosevelt. It almost turned into a fiasco, but in the end achieved the result intended -- prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq was overthrown, and the Shah of Iran was installed firmly as the head of the country -- who then took his orders for the next 26 years not from the American Ambassador, but from the CIA station chief in Tehran. In other words, it wasn't much of a secret who was pulling the strings.
But even though this history is hard enough for Americans to face up to, what is even more relevant to today's situation is the mechanics of how it happened. To be blunt, we hired thugs to form mobs in the streets of Tehran, and incite riots. With cold, hard American taxpayer dollars.
Here's how the seminal book Legacy Of Ashes: The History of the CIA, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tim Weiner, describes the chaos (the CIA's grand plans almost completely fell apart several times, and the actual coup in the end was a decidedly ad hoc operation):
August 12 ... [Kermit] Roosevelt's Iranian agents cascaded into the streets of Tehran. Newspapermen and printing presses spewed propaganda: [Prime Minister] Mossadeq was a communist, Mossadeq was a Jew. The CIA's street thugs, posing as [communist] Tudeh Party members attacked mullahs and defiled a mosque.
August 16 ... Radio Tehran announc[es] that the coup had failed.
So the CIA began improvising. They decided to sell the story that the coup itself had been staged by Mossadeq. The Shah (who had fled to Baghdad, and then on to Rome, much as he would later flee the 1979 Revolution) was recorded for radio broadcast selling this propaganda. So the mobs in the streets had a new script to follow. Which they did:
[August 17] ... hundreds of paid agitators flooded the streets of Tehran, looting, burning, and smashing the symbols of government. Actual members of the Tudeh Party joined them, but they soon realized "that a covert action was being staged," as the CIA station reported, "and tried to argue demonstrators into going home."
By August 19, the CIA-hired crowds had their final script. They were now "pro-Shah" demonstrations:
They began shouting anti-Mossadeq, pro-Shah slogans and proceeded to march through the streets ... they seized ranking members of the government, burned four newspaper offices, and sacked the political headquarters of a pro-Mossadeq party.
This culminated with some actual military fighting, as the CIA had finally convinced some of the Iranian military to back the Shah. Mossadeq was, after a short standoff, arrested. He was later tried, sentenced, and died over a decade later, still under house arrest.
Now, after reading all of that, compare it to what you've seen on your television screens for the past week. Is there anything which could discredit the brave Iranians of today more than if the President of the United States suddenly was their friend? The Iranians in power have already floated the idea that America is involved with the demonstrations, but so far it is seen as a baseless charge. So far. That could change overnight. Because it is not exactly a far-fetched idea that America could ever do such a thing when we have already done so in this country.
High-flown rhetoric is one thing, but historical facts are another. Consider this presidential quote, from a speech titled "A Chance For Peace":
"[A]ny nation's right to form a government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable ... any nation's attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible."
Obama in Cairo, reacting to President George W. Bush's foreign policy mistakes? Although it could be, it is not. That quote was from President Eisenhower, in March of 1953, a few months before he allowed the CIA to overthrow Iran's government. You can see why Iranians don't exactly have a reservoir of trust for fancy presidential pronouncements.
Because they remember history. We, quite simply, do not.
Except, thankfully, for President Obama. Two weeks ago in Cairo, Obama gave a speech where he -- for the first time for an American president (as far as I am aware) -- actually admitted our role in the 1953 overthrow in Iran:
For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known.
Well, you'd think it would be well known. But, sadly, in this country, it is not. So while Congress feels free to pass strongly-worded proclamations, President Obama is doing exactly the right thing by keeping out of the situation. An administration official was quoted today summing up exactly why this is, and why people screaming for Obama to say or do something differently have it exactly wrong: "The administration's view is that a measured U.S. response gives the protesters and their quest for greater freedoms a larger -- rather than smaller -- chance of succeeding."
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground