Republicans, masters of chutzpah that they are, have launched a pre-emptive strike against "politicizing" Senator Edward Kennedy's funeral with unseemly Democratic ideals. This should be so ridiculous as to endanger Americans' health from side-splitting laughter, but (Democrats being Democrats) it might just work.
A quick recent history of political funerals is in order here. I was shocked, after Richard Nixon died, that the commentary was so respectful. Lots of "elder statesman" talk, very little talk of "only president to resign in disgrace." Watergate was glossed over, his red-baiting congressional career wasn't even mentioned, and certainly very few critical words were said about the man by the inside-the-Beltway "journalists." It's as if a different man was buried.
Now, some would cite "speak no ill of the dead" as the respectful reason. Hogwash. Or, more accurately, whitewash. If that wasn't political, I don't know what was.
Next up, we have the funeral of Ronald Reagan. This began the sanctification (if not outright deification) of the man within the Republican Party. Or "continued" it, at the very least. George W. Bush was urged to politicize the heck out of Reagan's funeral, as it happened during the 2004 campaign. By the exact same people who are now warning not to "politicize" Kennedy's funeral.
Republicans, to give their side of the story, point to the "politicization" of Senator Paul Wellstone's funeral, after he died 11 days before attempting to get re-elected in Minnesota. The best thing about Al Franken being a senator is that this seat has now been returned to the Democratic Party (or, to be more accurate, in Minnesota it is officially the "Democrat Farmer Labor Party").
As you can see, from both sides of the aisle, calling for some sort of decorous avoidance of politics during the speeches given at politicians' funerals is not only unreasonable, but downright ridiculous. It'd be like eulogizing Charles Lindbergh and not mentioning airplanes. Or speaking at John Wayne's funeral without mentioning the movie business. In other words, what else do you expect people to speak about at Teddy Kennedy's funeral? His love of sailing?
The whole concept is absurd. Teddy Kennedy called reforming healthcare in America his "life's work." The man is dead, are we to ignore his self-proclaimed life's work? Because Republicans might be offended by it? You have got to be kidding me.
I would be happy to see every single speaker at Kennedy's funeral expound on the theme of "the highest honor we could ever give Senator Kennedy's memory would be to pass healthcare reform in his name." Or, much more directly: "We've got to win this one, for Teddy."
And the only -- the only -- response to Republican whining about "politicizing" Kennedy's funeral should be: "Teddy would have wanted it this way." Or perhaps, the variation: "Teddy would have loved it." That's really all that needs be said to answer any critics.
This column, it must be admitted, recently showed an incredibly bad sense of timing, since last week we awarded the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to Teddy Kennedy. While this column still stands by what was said last week on the very specific issue we were discussing, at the same time (on a personal level) we feel terrible about the sequence of events.
To make up for this embarrassing situation, and because absolutely nobody could deny he has more than earned it; we award -- for the first time in 91 weeks -- a very special lifetime achievement award to Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Call it the Most Impressive Lifetime Democrat award.
Unfortunately, this award must be bestowed posthumously.
We're going to miss you, Teddy, that's for sure. We may not see your like again in the Senate, ever. A big piece of every liberal's heart in America will be buried with you in Arlington, under your brothers' eternal flame.
In the full tradition of the Irish wake, I offer one final toast to the Lion of the Senate:
Go raibh tú í Neamh, leathúair os comhair
a bhfuil a fhíos ag an diabhal atá tú bás.
("May you be in Heaven
a half-hour before the Devil knows you're dead."
-- traditional Irish toast)
It is with heavy heart that I am forced to hand out the MDDOTW award this week. My personal preference would have been to forego singling any Democrat out for being disappointing, in this sad week of all weeks, but Senate Majority "Leader" (or, as I have taken to calling him "Senate Majority Designated Milquetoast") Harry Reid has once again left me with no option.
Very quietly, among the Kennedy eulogizing (which Harry himself even joined in on The Huffington Post, where he was roundly and soundly criticized, in the comments section for not acting more like Teddy in his leadership), Reid announced the death of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) for this year in the Senate. This is the unions' number one priority, and is known as "card check." But it's not the issue itself which is the point here (as I said, the issue is dearly important to the unions, but it really could have been any progressive legislation Reid was announcing the death of). No, the point is that Reid reverts to form by his announcement: before the fight begins, immediately surrender.
One has to wonder if he chose this week to make such an announcement to largely bury the story in the midst of a media frenzy. But for whatever reason, against our better wishes, we simply must acknowledge this "Step One: Wave the white flag" cravenness from our so-called "leader" in the Senate.
But you know what? I bet the unions were paying attention. And Democratic union strength in Nevada is strong (all those hotel workers in Las Vegas, for instance). So I bet this one is going to come back to haunt Reid, during next year's election. As it well should.
So, Harry, while I would have much preferred not to speak ill of Democrats this week, you leave me no choice but to award you your record twelfth Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
[Contact Senator Harry Reid on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 91 (8/28/09)
I've been trying to pace myself on the healthcare reform front, and haven't addressed it for a while here. But this year's "silly season" in politics has turned into "absolute raving lunatic season" instead, so we simply must devote some time to countering the noise coming from the other side of the aisle.
As always, these talking points are provided for Democratic politicians to use when interviewed by the press, but are equally useful for rank-and-file watercooler conversations as well. So without further ado, let's get to it.
Win one for Teddy
This one is so obvious, others have already picked up on it. Since I already covered this in the preamble to today's article, it needs no further explanation.
"Win this one for Teddy. Pass healthcare reform for Senator Kennedy. In honor of Edward Kennedy, we need to get this done. Do it for Uncle Ted. Get it done -- win one for Teddy. And to anyone who objects to healthcare reform being brought up in Senator Kennedy's memory, I have to say -- you know what? Teddy would approve. So who are you to object?"
Cut to the chase
Democrats need to start cutting the opposition off at the knees -- without anesthesia. Democrats have spent this entire debate "on the ropes" and it's time to fight back with a little demagoguery of our own.
"Republicans seem to be advocating a rather bizarre idea -- that everyone who gets sick deserves their fate. I'd like them to please explain to me how a little girl who gets leukemia is somehow 'at fault' or 'deserves' it. They try to scare people with the boogeyman of 'death panels' so they don't have to address a very cold reality -- if you get cancer and don't have insurance, it is a virtual death sentence in America. Republicans are fond of saying 'anyone can get health care, you just go to an emergency room.' But you know what? Emergency rooms don't provide chemotherapy. A death sentence from bureaucrats in this country already exists -- it's called being sick and being uninsured. Democrats are fighting to get rid of this type of death sentence. Because we don't believe that people should be blamed for getting sick."
Up or down vote
As September 15 draws ever nearer, the Democrats are dusting off a very powerful weapon -- "budget reconciliation." This means that a bill in the Senate (1) has very limited debate and proposed amendments, and (2) can pass with only 50 senators (plus Joe Biden) voting for it. This is going to send Republicans into fits of apoplexy, while they conveniently forget all the times they've rammed though major legislation using the tactic. To counter this onslaught of whininess, Democrats need to steal a phrase Republicans were very fond of (when they were in the majority, fighting filibuster attempts).
"All we are asking for in the Senate is an up-or-down vote. I think most Americans understand that this is the fairest way to run a democracy -- the majority rules. Filibusters used to be extremely rare, but in the past few years Republicans have attempted filibusters on just about every significant piece of legislation to move through the Senate. They are abusing the process -- just compare how many cloture votes there were in the past three years with any time in the Senate's history, if you don't believe me. To fight this abuse, we are going to demand an up-or-down vote in the Senate on healthcare reform. Americans deserve this up-or-down vote, and we are going to make sure that they get it. Republicans used to be for this concept, so it's actually surprising that they have flip-flopped on demanding such up-or-down votes."
Public universities, not the post office
Senator Charles Schumer came up with a wonderful metaphor last week on one of the Sunday political shows. Republicans have been using some variation of "government can't run anything right" or "name me one thing government runs that works as well as the private sector" as a club to beat up the public option with for weeks now. At first, Democrats tried to counter this by bringing up the post office. Well, while the post office actually polls fairly high numbers in satisfaction from the general public, you wouldn't know it from the ridicule it gets.
So Schumer had a better idea. These are not his words, but an elaboration of his metaphor, I should note. The best time to use this is after some variation on the "government can't do anything right" theme.
"You ask me to give you an example of the government competing successfully with private institutions? How about public universities? We have higher education in this country in two flavors: public and private. Private is usually more expensive. Many times more expensive. And while the private universities would have you believe that they provide a more valuable education, or even a 'better' education, I know a few world-class universities who would disagree. Such as the University of California, Berkeley. Or UCLA, for that matter. Or the University of Michigan. Or Georgia Tech. Or any one of dozens and dozens of excellent state schools around this country. They are government-funded entities which compete directly with private schools. And you know what? The graduates of such schools would heartily agree with me that they got an excellent education for a lot cheaper than they would have paid going to a private school. But you know what else? Public universities have not killed off the private universities. The two coexist peacefully in the marketplace. Students have the choice of both. Since, as you said, 'government can't run anything right' then should we just close down the entire publicly-funded higher education industry in this country tomorrow, and leave the field only to the private universities? Because not everything government touches is bad. I resent, on behalf of the millions of students educated by a government-funded system, the suggestion that government money automatically spells failure."
Social Security is socialism, remember?
This is just straight out of Looney Toons Land. Republicans have taken to -- simultaneously -- arguing that government involvement in anything equals "socialism" (which, of course, equals "bad"); while also portraying themselves as valiant defenders of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (well, OK, not so much Medicaid...), and even healthcare for veterans. This is doublethink of the purest water, friends, and the contradiction needs pointing out. For any Democrat who thinks: "But that's obvious -- I don't need to point it out," I have to say: "Actually, some people are ignorant enough to believe both at the same time." Which is why you get loonies raving "Keep the government away from my Medicare!" As I said, this needs forcefully pointing out, since the media is just not up to the task.
"Republicans have been arguing against Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for a long time now -- in fact, since before these programs began. Their theory of government tells them that all three of these programs are evil, evil socialism. They have not been shy in making this claim. Read some history, if you don't believe me. You don't even have to go back that far in history for some quotes on how 'Social Security is socialism!' or 'Medicare is socialism!' from prominent Republicans. Their party has been warning the American people for decades now about the evils of these socialistic programs. But now we see the spectacle of Republicans beating their chests against the evil socialism of the Democrats, while at the same time saying they're the defenders of Social Security and Medicare, and will protect these programs from 'government takeovers' or other such nonsense. Let me clue you in, guys -- you can't have it both ways. Medicare is the government. Social Security is the government. You've been warning how evil these things are for around 70 years, and yet you now expect us to believe that you are protecting them from evil interference from Democratic government socialistic takeovers? I don't know how to break it to you, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson are not only spinning in their graves right now, but their ghosts are actually laughing in your face.
Republicans ought to be ashamed of themselves
The wackiness just keeps getting wackier. The Republicans have learned, in the past month, a valuable lesson -- the mainstream media is absolutely incapable of determining truth from wacky, wacky fiction. Instead of an "umpire who calls balls and strikes" on the Supreme Court, at this point I'd be happy for a few on national televised news. Hey, I can dream, can't I? But since they've learned this lesson, the Republicans have thrown away any shred of a sense of shame they once possessed. Because, they've learned recently, they can say absolutely anything and the media goes along for the ride, instead of labeling as insane these outright conspiracy theories.
"Republicans are now trying to scare voters into thinking that Democrats will withhold healthcare from Republican voters. This is absolute insanity, and yet the Republican Party is using this suggestion not only to fear-monger, but also to raise money. Let me put this craziness to rest before it gets a chance to get out the door -- Democrats want all Americans to have access to healthcare. It's the Republicans who want to pick and choose which Americans deserve health insurance, and which don't. Does that clear things up for you?"
Come over and have some chow-dah!
This isn't really a talking point, but nobody else seems to have remembered Teddy Kennedy in this fashion, so I had to stick it at the end here.
Teddy Kennedy was many things to many people. But to one very important demographic, he wasn't Teddy Kennedy at all. He was, instead, Mayor "Diamond Joe" Quimby. I speak, of course, of fans of The Simpsons.
When The Simpsons Movie was about to be released, the movie promotion was just about inescapable. You couldn't walk into a 7-Eleven without being inundated with movie plugs. But the best thing they did to promote the film was to hold a contest to see which of many different towns across America named "Springfield" would host the official premiere (complete, of course, with a yellow carpet).
Now, as an aside, hardcore Simpsons fans already know that the Simpson family does not live in Springfield at all, but rather in Simpsonville, Kentucky (look it up on a map, and then look at what the town next door is named). Troy McClure even admitted as much, during an early episode.
But that is neither here nor there, so to speak. The premiere contest was held by USA Today, and consisted of videos sent in by different Springfields around the country. Each short video explained, in their own fashion, why they thought they were the true Simpsons Springfield, and why the premiere needed to be held in their town (Springfield, Vermont, a late entry, actually won). But the Springfield, Massachusetts entry was the early favorite, when news leaked that Senator Ted Kennedy did a cameo for it. He invites the Simpson family -- and "Diamond Joe" Quimby -- over for some "chow-dah."
So, on this sad week, again in the spirit of the Irish wake, I leave you with a bit of fun from Teddy (go to the USA Today contest page, and click on "Massachusetts" to see the video).
Requiescat In Pace, Teddy.
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground