Friday Talking Points -- To Insanity And Beyond!

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Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Sometimes, even when reading professional journalism, you have to connect the dots on your own. This week both the president and the vice-president interacted with NASA, and the results were... well... kind of spacey.

Donald Trump gave a speech at NASA and signed an executive order. While doing so, he praised the "three astronauts" in the room, which was rather strange since there were actually four astronauts in the room. The one not acknowledged was female, and the three who did get a presidential nod were all male. But the truly bizarre thing was when Buzz Aldrin actually quoted Buzz Lightyear (from Toy Story), while Trump signed the paper. Trump began, with: "I know what this is -- space!" Aldrin joined in with: "Infinity and beyond!" Trump, who has apparently never seen any of the Toy Story movies, responded:

This is infinity here. It could be infinity. We don't really don't know [sic]. But it could be. It has to be something -- but it could be infinity, right?

Ummm... OK. Sure. Later in the week, Mike Pence toured a NASA facility and was photographed touching a piece of hardware intended for space -- right under the prominent sign reading: "DO NOT TOUCH."

Then I saw an apparently-unrelated headline in the Washington Post which read: "It's Summer And Washington Smells Like Weed Everywhere, All The Time." Aha! Mystery solved -- the entire city is floating on a contact high! Infinity... like, wow, man. It's so dang infinite, y'know?

So maybe it's a good thing that Trump is out of town. He's off on his second big foreign trip, and just wrapped up a meeting with Vladimir Putin. But before he did so, Trump once again caused an epidemic of head-scratching within the Beltway with his bizarre tweet on John Podesta: "Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!"

Of course, this is laughable on its face, because "everyone" obviously means "that White House staffer guy I just talked to" (and not, you know, "the leaders of the G-20 I'm meeting with"). There are several other major flaws in Trump's tweet, as well. Podesta helpfully pointed them out, both on Twitter and in a hastily-penned rebuttal in the Washington Post.

Maybe we need a new feature in these Friday columns: "Trump's most outrageous tweet of the week" or something? Sigh. By our reckoning, the Podesta tweet is even more bizarre than that CNN wrestling video Trump tweeted out last weekend.

Whenever Trump's tweeting, you've always got to wonder what he's trying to deflect attention from, of course. The Putin meeting is the obvious answer, but there's another one as well -- how Trump hasn't seemed to cut a single deal since he became president. If you'll remember, Trump styles himself as a dealmaking king, but after almost six months in office, he has nothing to show for it other than pulling out of previous deals (T.P.P., the Paris accords, etc.). Where are all the fantastic new trade deals he promised? Where is all the "winning"?

Meanwhile, Europe and Japan are about to cut a rather large free-trade deal, as Europe now realizes that they're essentially on their own with such a stunning lack of American leadership on the world stage. Trump reportedly tried to get them all to sign on to a new trade war with China on steel, but they don't seem in the least interested. "If you want a trade war, by all means," you can almost hear them saying, "but please, leave us out of it."

A trade war with China would certainly impact the American economy, which so far has been chugging right along in the exact same fashion as it did for the past seven years under President Obama. Due to Trump's complete lack of deals, the economy has not really changed much for better or worse. But a protectionist battle with China certainly might end this period of coasting.

Turns out Obama wasn't just doing a good job on the economy, but also in the fight against the Islamic State. Hopefully, with the way things are going in Raqqa and Mosul, this will all become a moot point before Trump has a chance to mess things up, at least. The Daily Beast had this scoop last week:

Trump's changes to the campaign [against the Islamic State, or ISIS] so far have been tactical -- namely, giving the military more autonomy to strike, including special operators. But the effectiveness of the current Obama-era strategy of attacking ISIS via local forces together with allies calls into question whether there's a need for more dramatic revision. That's presented a dilemma for those working on the Trump anti-ISIS strategy and slowed its public unveiling, U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast. The White House has asked defense officials to come up with new ideas to help brand the Trump campaign as different from its predecessor, according to two U.S. officials and one senior administration official. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive debates. The senior administration official described Trump's plan as "relying even more" on special operations working together with local partner forces. "But that's nuanced, like most of the suggested changes" and doesn't easily translate to a talking point, he said. That could help explain why Trump has twice missed his own deadline for unveiling the new anti-ISIS strategy.

That emphasis was added, we should mention, to point out the shocking core of the story: Trump wants to change his Islamic State battle plan not to improve it or to achieve any military objective, but rather to play politics with the war effort. It's not about defeating the enemy, it's all about Trump's "brand." Just imagine what Republicans would say if a Democratic president had done such a thing!

Speaking of what Republicans would say, that's a pretty open question right now. Has anyone seen any Republican politicians recently? They sure don't seem to be eager to talk to the American people who elect them, that's for sure. While Democrats have scheduled more than 50 town hall meetings over this week's extended congressional holiday, Republicans have held fewer than 10 -- that's from all Republicans, mind you. It's almost like they know what the public is going to say about their healthcare bill disaster.

Quantitatively, it was revealed this week that the GOP "repeal and replace Obamacare" bill is the least popular legislation of the last 30 years. It's less popular than the original Obamacare bill, it's less popular than TARP, and it's less popular than the Clinton healthcare bill (which failed, back in the 1990s). Usually, when a bill is this massively unpopular, it is killed -- like George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, for instance. So we'll see what happens when they all come back to town.

Cracks in the GOP's facade are already beginning to appear. Senator Pat Toomey openly admitted that Republicans had no plan ready to go because nobody really expected Trump to win. One brave Republican actually held a townhall meeting, and for the entire 90 minutes a woman stood right behind him with a sign warning: "When you lose your healthcare remember who took it away," with images of several Republican leaders on it.

But the most ironic item of the week came when the Republican Party of Indiana attempted to collect stories from the public on Obamacare. They posted:

Did you lose a doctor that you liked? Have your premiums increased? Did your insurer leave the exchange? Are burdensome regulations hurting your small business?" the post says. "We were promised Obamacare would make health care cheaper, better, and more available, but in reality it's turned out to be the opposite. What's your Obamacare horror story? Let us know.

What they got, instead, was a flood of over 9,000 messages, overwhelmingly in favor of Obamacare. Here are just a few of these responses:

"Obamacare arrived just in time to cover my sister, who had recently lost her job, and who need unexpected emergency heart surgery. Thanks for asking!" "ACA saves live and Trumpcare will be the #1 killer of Americans makinging Cancer #2." "The horror of O'Care is that selfish, hateful pricks like you keep wanting to yank it from people that need it to fund tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans are the only Obamacare Horror."

By week's end, Mitch McConnell was desperately trying to convince his fellow Republicans to march off the cliff with him, warning that if they didn't, he would actually (gasp!) have to work with Democrats on some easy fixes for Obamacare. Oh, the horror!

North Korea celebrated the Fourth of July by launching their first successful intercontinental ballistic missile. I guess they didn't get Trump's earlier tweet: "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!" Or maybe being president means more than just randomly tweeting your thoughts to the world? Who knew! Obviously not Trump. After meeting with China's leader in April, Trump got a quick education on the history of Korea, and then admitted: "After listening for 10 minutes, I realized that it's not so easy." There were some pretty scary headlines this week on the North Korean issue, but none scarier than: "How President Trump Could Tweet His Way Into Nuclear War With North Korea." That kind of says it all, really.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was looking for some sympathy during the North Korean missile crisis, but instead got nothing but shaming and ridicule from the internet, after Haley complained via tweet: "Spending my 4th in meetings all day. #ThanksNorthKorea". Oh, boo hoo -- poor Nikki had to work on a holiday!

And we'll close with the other holiday news from outside Washington. Trump's big "find some election fraud, dammit!" committee tried to corral voter identification data from all the states this week, and the pushback was eye-opening. Even Republican-led states rebelled against the sweeping nature of the request:

The bluntest statement of all came from Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (R). Setting the tone for his counterparts, he announced before the commission's letter even arrived at his office that he wouldn't comply. "They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico," he said of Trump's panel. "Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our State's right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes."


Two Republican governors in particular were also in the news, and it's hard not to be a little bit sorry for both of them. They both, in their own unique way, tried to be Donald Trump. They were both doing a pretty good job of the whole schtick, right up until Trump himself swept them aside with his own bar-raising antics.

Chris Christie, for instance, was supposed to ride the wave of "tough-talking, take-no-crap, New York City kind of guy" all the way to the White House, only to see Trump beat him at his own game. Over the holiday, Christie saw his already-dismal approval sink lower in New Jersey, after he first shut down the government and then spent the day on a state beach that nobody else was allowed on (due to the shutdown). So now in addition to "Bridgegate," Christie's now also coined another scandal moniker: "Beachgate."

Up in Maine, Governor Paul LePage has been competing in the "craziest governor in America" contest for years, but he barely raises an eyebrow in the Age of Trump. LePage also shut his government down in a budget battle, and during the week also remarked that he loved lying to reporters just to see them write "stupid stories." In other words, creating fake news. But even this barely registered, because DID YOU SEE WHAT TRUMP JUST TWEETED...?!?

Like I said, it's a little hard not to feel sorry for these guys desperately trying to be Trump, to no real avail. Their antics would fill the airwaves for days in normal times, but these are anything but. In fact, Buzz Aldrin should have just gone ahead and changed the quote, to more accurately reflect the times we now live in: "To insanity and beyond!"

It was a pretty quiet week, since all the congresscritters had fled Washington. John Podesta's response to Trump's early-morning tweet was actually written while he was on a cross-country road trip, because everyone who could do so made tracks out of town.

But there was one particular tweet this week that we thought rose to the level of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, and it came from none other than Hillary Clinton.

Republicans seem to be in the midst of a shift in strategy on their massively-unpopular healthcare bill. They are now defending it with "at least we've got something," and are openly trolling Democrats for "not having a plan of their own." They've dug up quotes from prominent Democrats arguing that the Affordable Care Act needs some fixes, and are trying to score political points by claiming "at least we have a plan." This is essentially throwing in the towel on even pretending to defend their own plan on its merits (which is tough to do, because it doesn't have any), and are instead trying to claim some sort of virtue for coming up with a plan everyone hates. Or, in other words: "Yeah, our plan sucks, but at least we put it on paper."

How effective this will be remains to be seen, of course. To us, it sounds like a pretty hard concept to sell, but who knows? However, when they tweeted out: "Where's your plan @HillaryClinton?" it backfired badly. Here's what Clinton tweeted back, together with a link to her detailed healthcare plan from her campaign:

Right here. Includes radical provisions like how not to kick 23 mil ppl off their coverage. Feel free to run w/it

Now, Clinton obviously won this little Twitter battle, hands down. But it does bring up a good point. Up until now, Democrats have decided not to introduce their own plan to improve Obamacare, because it would just be a distraction from the trainwreck that is the Republican "repeal and replace" effort. But if Democrats get their way, eventually this effort will collapse of its own weight in Congress.

Which means that Democrats in the House and Senate really should be working diligently on their own plan right now, so that it is ready to publicly release when the political timing is right. It makes political sense not to distract from the GOP mess right now, but once that mess collapses, Democrats need to immediately start pushing their own solution. No time should be wasted, which means they'd better have something already drafted and ready to go when we get to that point. This needs to be a targeted and detailed plan, which doesn't overreach. Single-payer may be the ultimate goal, but we are just not going to get there with Republicans in charge of Congress -- what we need at this point is a short-term adjustment, not a sweeping change, in other words.

Democrats probably could just begin with Clinton's plan and tweak it here and there, in fact. She certainly gave it a lot of thought during her campaign, so while some details might need updating, it'd probably be a good place for Democrats to start from.

Which is the biggest reason why we're awarding Clinton this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week -- because she proved Republicans wrong, and because she showed Democrats that having a plan is a lot better in these political fights than not having a plan.

[Hillary Clinton is a private citizen, so you'll have to look up her contact info on your own to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

There was some disappointment on the state level this week, as California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon effectively punted on the single-payer healthcare bill that the state senate had sent him.

However, we covered all of this last week, and we haven't changed our minds on the subject. There's plenty of blame to go around here, but we still believe that the lion's share of the blame needs to go to the senate Democrats who left out the most important parts of the bill. There was nothing in it on how it would be paid for. That is not an honest attempt at lawmaking, that is mere political grandstanding. Which is what we pointed out, last week.

This week, our award goes to the messaging shop at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. This is the group in the House of Representatives with the goal of electing more Democrats to the House next year. And they pretty much shot themselves in the foot with a messaging exercise this week, coming up with such catchy slogans as (and this is sadly not a joke): "Democrats 2018 -- I mean, have you seen the other guys?"

We already had quite a few things to say about this yesterday, and we're going to address the messaging problem even further in the talking points, so there really isn't much that needs saying here, other than the person or persons responsible for such a laughable attempt at sloganeering now have their own Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. "We're not as bad as those guys" isn't going to win Democrats many elections, just to state the obvious.

[Contact the D.C.C.C. on their contact webpage, to let them know what you think of their weak attempts at crafting a winning Democratic message.]

Volume 444 (7/7/17)

Democrats are, in a rather unorganized fashion, attempting to put together a platform they can all run on in the 2018 midterm elections. Some of these efforts are better than others, as we just mentioned above. Of course, there are worse things than missing the mark on messaging -- such as, for instance, listening to any advice from Mark Penn (shudder).

Because the effort is still all over the map, though, we feel there is still a chance to help shape the message Democrats will use next year. The best effort so far (as, again, we wrote about yesterday) has been a brilliant rebranding of a very old (and very successful) political slogan. Democrats should indeed consider constructing a platform under the banner of "A Better Deal."

Being anti-Trump isn't going to do it. Being anti-Republican isn't going to do it. "Resist!" is a good street slogan, but to run for office means actually having better ideas for how to fix societal problems. Obstructionism is fine while in the minority, but to convince voters to give you back the majority in Congress again means coming up with a better deal for as many Americans as possible.

So far, there is no flesh on these bones, though. It's a great slogan if-and-only-if Democrats come up with a fully-formed better deal to brag about. Thankfully, there are all sorts of things they could attach to this slogan.

What follows are our ideas for how to flesh out a Democratic platform for 2018. It's not that tough, because it is similar to other Democratic ideas which have long been goals for the party. But these ideas need to be bold, and they need to be promises. Nancy Pelosi has already reportedly promised that if Democrats get the House back, she'll pass a $15-an-hour minimum wage bill within the first 100 days. That's the type of commitment we need right now. So, in no particular order, here are our top seven ideas for planks in the 2018 Democratic platform.

Raise it now!

Not every Democrat is going to get on board with $15-an-hour, but it should at the very least be a target worth attempting.

"The first thing Democrats will do if we win Congress back is to raise the minimum wage. Everyone deserves a wage they can live on. No one with a full-time job should have to rely on food stamps or take a second job just to survive. They deserve a better deal. With the dignity of work comes the responsibility to compensate such work at a reasonable level. The minimum wage has not risen for eight years, and we think it's time everyone gets a raise. Throughout the recovery, the stock market has boomed and corporations have done quite well, but wages have not gone up. By raising the lowest wage, this will put upward pressure on the mid-level wages as well, as the rising tide lifts all the boats. The biggest single thing we can do to improve the fairness of the American economy is to raise the minimum wage now!

Reopen factories

This will be especially relevant if all of Trump's promises on this front turn out to be largely false (like the one at the Carrier plant).

"Democrats want not just good education and worker training in hard-hit areas, we want to see actual, good jobs return to small-town America. There are plenty of opportunities for this to happen, in booming industries such as solar, wind, and other renewable power. We want to offer a big tax break to any company that reopens a plant in small-town America, so that people who used to assemble refrigerators can learn how to assemble giant wind turbines and solar panels. People in towns that have declined after a major factory closure should get not just more education, but actual jobs right where they live. They need a better deal, and they need it right away. High-tech jobs cannot only be offered in Silicon Valley and coastal metropolises. We need to get those left behind in the new economy up and working again, with generous enticements for companies to revitalize towns by reopening factories and development centers."

Two weeks' paid vacation for all

This seems obvious, even if we've personally never heard anyone (not even Bernie Sanders) champion this issue.

"There are two things Democrats can offer to the hardest-working Americans: money and time. We'll raise the minimum wage which will have a beneficial ripple effect on all wages, and we will also pass a bill mandating two weeks of paid vacation for all full-time workers. Just like with healthcare, the entire rest of the industrialized world is far ahead of us in what workers are guaranteed, and we think American workers deserve a better deal. Two vacation weeks is even far behind what workers in other countries are guaranteed, in fact. Some European countries guarantee five or six weeks off for all their workers -- even the ones working at the bottom of the economic ladder. So we don't feel it's too much to ask of American businesses to give workers two weeks off -- with pay -- every year. Part-time workers would accrue vacation time as well, on a pro-rated basis. Anyone willing to work 49 weeks out of the year deserves the other two weeks off, without taking a hit in the paycheck. Period."

Medicare for all (who want it)

We've written on this recently as well, because we think bringing back "the public option" is a dandy idea.

"Rather than destroy tens of millions of American lives to give the ultra-wealthy a tax cut they don't need, Democrats want to bring back the public option. We want everyone to have the choice of signing up for Medicare, along with their other health insurance options. We're not going to force anyone onto the system that doesn't want to be there, but we will fight hard to make this choice available for everyone. It's 'Medicare for all -- who want it,' in other words. If Republicans are truly upset about health care exchanges with limited or no choices, then they should join us in actually giving Americans a better deal."

Tuition-free college

Bernie was right on this one. It's a very big deal for millions of families.

"Democrats have the goal of offering state college to all, tuition-free. In today's world, a high school education just isn't enough, and we don't want to see one young adult being denied the opportunity for a higher education through lack of money to pay the tuition. They deserve a better deal than that. It will be a Democratic priority to provide funding for every state to offer their community and state colleges to all, tuition-free. It won't happen overnight, but we need to begin this process as soon as possible. Graduating with a mountain of debt is holding an entire generation back, and we want to make sure the next generation doesn't have this weight put upon them in the first place. How many more families could send their kids to college if they knew it was tuition-free?"

Comprehensive immigration reform

Democrats might be inclined to shy away from this issue next year, but that would be a mistake.

"America's immigration system is pathetically inadequate to do its job. Democrats want to see comprehensive immigration reform to fix all parts of the system, instead of just obsessing over our southern border. Republicans blithely tell immigrants: 'if you follow the rules, we will welcome you,' but few Republicans are actually aware of what this truly means. They see becoming a legal resident as something akin to a trip to the D.M.V. to get a driver's license. It is about 10,000 times worse than that, though. Some people waiting to become legal residents have to wait twenty years to even get an interview. Backlogs are so enormous that the system has all but ground to a halt. Democrats will give Republicans some more money for border security if they'll agree to devote enough money to fix the backlog once and for all. If the process actually worked, and if both temporary workers and permanent immigrants could have their paperwork processed in a reasonable amount of time, then people would follow the system like they're supposed to. Offering them a better deal than waiting decades needs to be a priority. Until Republicans even admit the scope of the problem, this will remain impossible. Democrats want to fix the whole system, which is why we need comprehensive immigration reform."

Repeal prohibition!

When, oh when are Democrats going to realize this is now a winning issue for them?

"Democrats will repeal the federal prohibition rules on marijuana. Period. We will move enforcement of marijuana regulations to the department that already deals with tobacco and alcohol, where it belongs. Pot is now legal on the streets of Washington D.C., and more and more states are deliberately ignoring federal laws by legalizing medical and even recreational use of marijuana. The federal War On Weed is perhaps the biggest waste of federal money in our entire history, and it has utterly, utterly failed. Taxpayers deserve a better deal than throwing more billions of dollars at this unsolvable problem. With our new attorney general making noises that he's ready to return to the days of Nancy Reagan, it becomes imperative to remove all temptation to revive a stupid and pointless 'war' on people for possessing a plant. Leave it to the states! Treat weed like alcohol! When Prohibition ended, each state created their own laws on alcohol's sale and use. Most American states are now already doing this with marijuana. The federal government needs to completely get out of the way of these states' efforts and experiments. Democrats will repeal the prohibition on marijuana. Democrats will end the federal War On Weed, once and for all."

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