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Friday Talking Points [94] -- Two Years Of FTP

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How time flies. This column marks its second anniversary today, by the calendar if not the Volume number. For the second straight year, we only produced 47 columns, but by the calendar we've gone two full years and a few odd days. Actually, now that I think of it, more than just a few odd days. Ahem.

For those wishing to see the humble origins of this column, check out Friday Talking Points, Volume 1, from September 14, 2007 (it was called "Memo To Democrats: Talking Points," and then for a while, "Friday Democratic Talking Points," until it finally settled into the FTP format). At the time, President Bush had just addressed the nation on the ongoing wars, and a battle was shaping up in Congress over war funding. Last year's anniversary column, Friday Talking Points, Volume 47 was written in the heat of the general election campaign, and contained advice for how to talk about John McCain.

But enough of this patting ourselves on the back. On with the show!

That "thump" you heard last week was ACORN being thrown under the bus. Now, ACORN has been a favorite target of Republicans for years, because their whole purpose in life is to help poor people. The Republicans look like they're finally going to get their wish and stop federal funding from going to what they consider a scurrilous group.

Let's put it in a wee bit of perspective, though. ACORN has gotten something like 50 million dollars in federal money over the past fifteen years. That works out to three or four million per year. Which, in Washington, is known as "a rounding error." It's peanuts. The federal budget is three trillion dollars. Meaning ACORN funding is one one-millionth of the federal budget. It's gratifying to see Congress work so fast on de-funding what they consider scurrilous organizations, but one wonders why they managed to move this fast on ACORN and not, say, Blackwater. We paid Blackwater hundreds of millions per year to do the jobs U.S. Marines used to do, and when they became an embarrassment, we didn't de-fund them, we kept on paying them hundreds of millions. Taxpayers still pay "Xe" (their new name, which they had to change out of sheer embarrassment) lots of money. To say nothing of the nine billion dollars that went "missing" in Baghdad in the early days of the war -- for which nobody has ever been fired, been jailed, been de-funded, or otherwise taken responsibility.

So de-funding ACORN is not exactly going to wipe out the national debt tomorrow, while plenty of other mischief paid for by our tax dollars keeps merrily rolling along. The whole foofaroo may eventually wind up helping ACORN, because now that they'll be off the federal teat, they won't have to have their strings pulled by the government any more (moral of the story: all government money comes with strings attached, and sometimes those strings can garrote you).

And if Congress is really concerned about keeping federal tax dollars out of the hands of prostitutes and pimps, perhaps they should consider cutting off Republican Senator David Vitter's salary. I'm just saying.

But I keep thinking about the core mission of ACORN, which (again) is to help poor people. Scapegoating poor people has been a favorite pastime of Republicans, pretty much since I was born. I first saw it in Ronald Reagan's (fictional, but that never stopped Ronnie) "welfare queens driving Cadillacs." Unwed mothers were singled out for scorn at one point during this period as well. Then it was everyone on welfare. More recently, it has focused on immigrants -- a favorite of political scapegoating for over a century in America.

And it all brought back a song which appeared over a decade ago. I dug the lyrics out, and was surprised to find how relevant they were today. The satirical genius of the Austin Lounge Lizards simply cannot be denied (no, they're not serious -- yes, this is satire). So we close our introduction today with the immortal "Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers On Drugs" from this fine Texas band.

It's been five years since we had a raise in pay

And they disallowed my business lunches today

Somebody must have changed the rules of the game

So we've found a convenient scapegoat we can blame

It's those teenage immigrant welfare mothers on drugs

(They're too lazy to work)

Teenage immigrant welfare mothers on drugs

(They're stealing our jobs)

Somebody ran this country deep into debt

I called up Congress, but nobody's called back yet

Sometimes I get so mad I can't think straight

We're looking for relief and it feels so great to hate

All those teenage immigrant welfare mothers on drugs

(They're on the dole)

Teenage immigrant welfare mothers on drugs

(They're speaking Español)

Who's to blame for the things we're so angry about?

Who's to blame for uprisings, downsizings, and the drought?

Who's to blame for the end of the good old days?

Who's to blame for that backwards-cap-wearing craze?

It's those teenage immigrant welfare mothers on drugs

(Let's build a thousand-mile fence)

Teenage immigrant welfare mothers on drugs

(It's just common sense)

Teenage immigrant welfare mothers on drugs

(Like the Berlin Wall)

Teenage immigrant welfare mothers on drugs

(Land mines and all!)

Teenage immigrant welfare mothers on drugs

There were a few things going on in the background this week which escaped the media's notice, for the most part. Vice President Biden was over in Iraq, doing the job he was hired to do, as a foreign policy expert. He didn't make any ground-breaking news, but is continuing our patient diplomacy by telling the Iraqis to get their act together politically, or else the whole house of cards is going to collapse when U.S. forces leave. So he gets at least a nod this week.

Senator Jay "John D." Rockefeller the IVth, or (as we like to call him) "Rocky IV," is usually a recipient of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week here, for his toadying to his corporate donors (most egregiously on telecommunications). He's won six MDDOTW awards over the past two years, more than anyone outside of Harry Reid (who has 12 to his name). But this week, we've got to hand Rocky IV has very first Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, for immediately coming out against Max Baucus' healthcare reform bill. Rocky IV's voice in this debate carries more weight than most, since he also sits on Baucus' committee. Meaning his vote may be necessary to move the bill to the Senate floor. So, for standing up for people over corporate interests (for once), Senator Rockefeller is awarded his first MIDOTW award.

Also winning a MIDOTW this week is Representatives Jerrold Nadler, from New York. Nadler introduced a bill this week called the "Respect For Marriage Act," which will completely overturn the "Defense Of Marriage Act" (DOMA) which bars the federal government from ever recognizing a gay marriage, and was signed into law by President Clinton. Nadler's new bill would toss out DOMA in its entirety, and currently has 94 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. Do a THOMAS search on bill number HR3567 to see if your representative is on this list (and call them up and ask why, if not).

Chances for passage this year are fairly uncertain at this point. But even getting a House floor vote would be a big step in the right direction. And to have such a vote, you've got to have a bill. So congratulations to Representative Nadler for producing such legislation. And congratulations to the other 94 co-sponsors as well, for doing the right thing. President Obama is letting Congress lead on this issue, and this is definitely the way to do it.

[Congratulate Senator Jay Rockefeller IV on his Senate contact page and Representative Jerrold Nadler at (202) 225-5635 (his email contact page is for constituents only), to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]

I would say "Kanye West" here, but I don't even know if he's a Democrat.


Seriously, though, our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than Senator Max Baucus. Baucus and his Gang made us all wait an extra two months or so -- and for what? The bill he just announced could have been announced in August. Nothing much has changed since then, in terms of the ideas the Gang was supposed to come up with. No magical solutions appeared in Baucus' bill this week. His Gang didn't even stand up with him, in the end, and he was left on his own in front of the cameras trying to explain why we had to wait so long for what he produced.

So, for the sheer waste of time this bill took, Max Baucus is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, his fourth award in this category. Thanks for wasting two months of everyone's time, Max.

[Contact Senator Max Baucus on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his actions.]

Volume 94 (9/18/09)

Normally the Friday Talking Points are written for the benefit of Democrats who are going to be interviewed over the weekend. Of course, these are mandatory reading (ahem) for any Democrats who are going to be appearing on the nationally-televised Sunday political chatfests. But this week, there is but one Democrat appearing, in a blitz maneuver. President Barack Obama will be appearing on five of these shows this Sunday, so we've simply got to address the president here today.

Now, Obama has improved noticeably in the past few weeks in his public presence. After watching his poll numbers sink in July and August and essentially doing nothing about it, he is back on center stage and taking on all comers. Naturally, his approval ratings are bending back upwards again.

Today's advice to President Obama is kind of "around the edges," since he's already got his main talking points on the biggest issues of the day pretty well worked out. So we'd like to offer some peripheral advice this week. Some of these are pro-active, and some are in response to questions which you just know are going to be asked. Without further ado, let's get to it.


This question is going to come up at least once, if not "at least once in each show." The media has been pushing this story for over a year now, even though there's not a shred of evidence to back it up. The evidence shows almost exactly the opposite, in fact. When Obama shuns the bully pulpit (as in July and August), his ratings go down. So Obama should attack this notion head-on.

"Overexposed? Why is it that I am the only president who this story keeps being told about? Did the media ever call Ronald Reagan 'overexposed' at the time? Did they ever use this label for Bill Clinton or George Bush? And yet, when I go out and talk to the American people about the issues of the day, somehow I'm 'overexposed.' It is a part of my job to talk to the American people about what is going on in the federal government, and I intend to keep doing that part of my job. I am not 'overexposed' -- the only true meaning of that word is in photography. I admit that I'm both black and white, but I'm definitely not a photograph. Next question."

Human stories, please

On healthcare reform, Obama needs to do a much better job of using human examples of why the system is broken, and what he is trying to fix. He does this occasionally in local speeches, but he should do it more when national audiences are watching. Putting a human face on the problem goes a long way toward convincing people that you are morally outraged about the system we have now, and how it destroys lives. Let this emotion come through.

"It's awfully easy for the two of us to sit here and banter about this stuff, because I would be willing to bet that your employer probably provides you with pretty decent health insurance. Mine does too, and I thank the American people for that, because they're the ones that pay for it. But how many people have you interviewed during the last six months who don't have health insurance? How many interviews have you done with the people who write me letters and tell me their heart-breaking stories about not being able to afford insurance, being turned down by health insurers, and losing their insurance when they need it most? If you need some names of people to interview, I've got thousands of them for you. More of these letters arrive addressed to me every single day. But it's funny, I never seem to hear about them on the news. Why is that?"

45,000 die each year

This is an easy one, because the study just came out. Beat this number like a drum, as well as the word "rationing."

"Did you see the new study which shows that 45,000 people in America die each year because they don't have health insurance? People who are treatable, people who would be alive today. Forty-five thousand. Every year. You know, people have been raising fears of 'rationing' healthcare, but what never seems to get talked about is the fact that healthcare is already being rationed. For 45,000 Americans to needlessly die every year because of the health system we have today is a national disgrace. It is an absolute embarrassment. We will end this rationing of healthcare with our reforms."

Warn the Democrats in Congress: 1994, 1994, 1994...

This is an all-purpose answer designed to get under the skin of Democrats. It can be used in response to any sort of "why can't you get your own party together?" question.

"I agree that Democrats need to come together. I would remind them that the last time Democrats did nothing on healthcare reform, after getting everyone's hopes up, they lost control of Congress. Any Democrat who is considering obstructing our healthcare reform efforts needs to realize that the centrist Democrats who killed Clinton's plan were the ones, for the most part, who lost their elections the next year. They need to think about that long and hard. Democrats in the Senate who want to vote against the final bill is one thing, but Democrats joining with Republicans over procedural filibuster votes is quite another. And my guess is that Democrats who are perceived as standing in the way of healthcare reform are going to have awfully tough races next year, whether in the primaries or the general election. The American people have sent all of us here to get something done. All Congressional Democrats need to remember that. The easiest way to get re-elected is to get things done in Congress."

Well, don't you think he was?

The last three are somewhat frivolous, I admit, but you've simply got to be prepared for frivolous when you sit down with the likes of David Gregory. Ahem.

"Well, that was supposed to be off the record, but you're right, I did call Kanye West a jackass. I apologize if my language offended anyone, but I think I spoke for most of the country on that matter, and I stand behind what I said. Don't you think he was a jackass?"

Not racism, but lunacy and hatred

Obama's going to be asked about Joe Wilson and Jimmy Carter and racism and all the rest of it. But while demurring on his answer, Obama should also point out that there is a core group of absolute lunatics out there who will always hate anything Obama does or says no matter whether racism is a part of it or not.

"Look, I know what President Carter said, and we've put the Joe Wilson story behind us after he apologized to me. I'm not going to get into who is a racist and who isn't, because I don't think that's very productive. I think that any president will always have a core group of people who absolutely will not give him the benefit of any doubt whatsoever -- people who actually hate the president. That has always been true, whether the president's name was Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, or Bush. There is indeed a group of people who feel that way about me. I have no idea whether they are 'racists' or not, and I'm probably never going to convince them of anything. Did you see the poll last week where eight percent of people polled in New Jersey -- and 14 percent of Republicans in the state -- flat-out believe I'm the 'Anti-Christ'? The pollsters actually asked the question. Another 15 percent of Republicans 'weren't sure.' And this is in a state I won pretty handily -- I'm sure that percentage is even higher in other states. I'm willing to try to convince anyone of my position on any issue, but there are a group of people who are just never going to listen. The only difference, I think, is that in our 24-hour news cycle world, these people get a lot more prominence and attention than they ever used to get."

I'm no Sam Jackson

I guarantee that someone's going to ask Obama about being taught fencing, and the resulting photos of Obama wielding a light saber. Extra points for the interviewer who links it into Obama's killing George W. Bush's version of Reagan's "Star Wars" anti-missile fantasy. But the question is bound to come up.

"That was fun -- learning to fence a bit. They gave me a light saber so I wouldn't lop someone's ear off or anything, which is why you get the funny photos. I have to say, though, I'm no Luke Skywalker. I'm no Samuel L. Jackson either, for that matter. But, hey, may the Force be with you!"

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground

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