Friday Talking Points -- Don't Panic!

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump poses for a photo after an interview with Reuters in his office in Trump
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump poses for a photo after an interview with Reuters in his office in Trump Tower, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

This column was written from bottom to top today. The reason we started with the end and worked our way back up is that we were inspired to go off on a rant (rather than our usual talking points for Democrats). This was due to unusually high levels of panic in the media this week (actually it's not that rare that mainstream media panic causes us to go off on a rant, just in general). But because we started with this extended rant, we're going to have to summarize the week in lightning fashion here in this intro, because we are way behind schedule now. So without much extraneous commentary, here are the stories we noticed during the week.

The uninsured rate has now fallen to single digits, as the second year of final stats for Obamacare are in. This means seven million more people with healthcare, in 2015 alone. The uninsured rate stands at 9.1 percent, down 2.4 points last year alone. Oh, and the sky hasn't fallen yet, either.

One town in Mississippi's schools have finally been desegregated -- hey, what's 50 years of waiting, right?

Speaking of long waits, President Obama has finalized new federal overtime rules (we wrote about this effort in detail last January, when the process was getting underway). By doubling the threshold for being considered a "salaried" worker, Obama's new rule is going to boost the pay of millions of workers. Companies that put "managers" on pathetically low salaries and then work them 70 or 80 hours a week will not be able to do so any longer. They've either got to pay the employees time-and-a-half for any work over 40 hours, or they've got to hire enough people that nobody has to work 80 hours a week. Pretty simple idea. Pay people what they're worth. Obama didn't raise the cutoff limit as high as some Union groups wanted, but he did more than double it -- from $23,660 a year to $47,476 a year. Importantly, the new law has a provision in it to adjust the level every three years, so that workers won't have to wait decades for another change. The new rule goes into effect in December, so either a bigger paycheck or a lot of time off (for the same salary) will be Obama's parting gift to millions of American workers.

Let's see, what else happened? Joe Biden wrote a note to himself that was downright endearing.

There was a fracas at a political meeting last week, although not the one you think I'm talking about. Things got rather shouty on the floor of the House of Representatives, as Republicans had to hold a vote on gay rights open long enough for seven Republicans to change their vote to denying rights (after already voting for the bill). Cries of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" and "Regular order!" and booing can all be heard.

There was a lot of marijuana news, some of which we're saving for the awards section. A new study came out showing how much revenue states ($20.5 billion) and the federal government ($8 billion) are missing out on through refusing to legalize (and tax) marijuana.

One marijuana provider is fighting back against government interference in court, which they should have every right to do.

And finally, in the "what have they been smoking" department, we have the editors of USA Today (which bills itself as "America's Newspaper," we might mention), who created a scary map showing (gasp!) weed is moving out of Colorado to other states. Except that they couldn't find Colorado on the map -- which showed Wyoming instead. Whoops!


For all the state-level progress on marijuana legal reform, the bigger battle has always been with the federal government's outdated laws. While many large goals are still out of reach (descheduling marijuana, or outright federal legalization), smaller goals continue to be achieved.

This week, the House passed a bill that will open up the Veterans Affairs system to medical marijuana. Or at least force them to stop actively fighting against it. This is a step in the right direction. As Tom Angell, Chairman of Marijuana Majority put it:

It's looking like this could finally be the year the federal government stops making veterans jump through costly, time-consuming hoops just to get legal access to medical marijuana. Cannabis has shown great promise in helping veterans deal with PTSD and treat chronic pain, and it's an increasingly attractive alternative to opioids. There's absolutely no reason the V.A. should be preventing its doctors from helping veterans who served our country find relief with medical marijuana.

The bill was introduced by a regular champion of marijuana reform in the House, Representative Earl Blumenauer. Federal law is not going to change all at once -- it's going to require a lot of patient steps like the one that just passed the House. For taking the time and effort to legislate such steps, and for getting bipartisan support for his measure, Blumenauer is easily our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[Congratulate Representative Earl Blumenauer on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania, really stepped in it this week. When asked if Donald Trump could possibly siphon off Democratic voters given his crude comments about women, Rendell responded:

For every one [voter Trump gains] he'll lose one-and-a-half, two Republican women. Trump's comments like, 'You can't be a 10 if you're flat-chested,' that'll come back to haunt him. There are probably more ugly women in America than attractive women. People take that stuff personally. He demeans women. He demeans Mexican Americans, I think women are rightfully irritated by how he talks. Plus, you don't know where he stands. One day he's for Planned Parenthood, the next day he's against it.

Rendell personally wins not only a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award, but also the prize for "not recognizing irony when it comes out of your own mouth," since he apparently didn't link his own "ugly women" comment to his scolding Trump for demeaning women. Next time, engage brain before opening mouth!

But our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award goes to any supporter of Bernie Sanders who actually did engage in violence during last week's state party convention. We've got a lot more to say about this, below, I should mention.

Sure, the media hyped the fight. First-hand reports didn't sound anywhere near as bad as what happened was portrayed, in fact. But while speaking up is allowable (no matter how loud) in politics, violence is not. Chair-throwing is violence, whether it hits anyone or not. Death threats are violence. There is a bright line which has been crossed, to state the obvious.

So anyone who participated in any violence in Nevada, and certainly anyone who made threats either during or after the fracas is hereby awarded our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Violence in politics is always wrong. Always. And everyone should loudly condemn it no matter who does it or for what perceived reason. Period.


Volume 392 (5/20/16)

Every once in a while, instead of writing talking points, I feel the need to unleash a rant. Today is one of those times.

The past week has seen an explosion of panic in the media over Bernie Sanders and his campaign. We can probably expect a lot more of this, right up until the final primary contests early next month, in fact. So I felt it was time to offer up a countering opinion. To anyone else out there who is getting frustrated with the increasing levels of angst out there, I offer up the following advice:


Don't Panic!

Can we all just take a deep breath? I'm speaking to many Democratic voters as well as the bulk of the mainstream media, here, just to clarify. Because far too many seem to currently be going off the deep end -- due mostly to selective amnesia, one assumes. But from where I sit, this is an overreaction to a very short-term situation. So please, let's just take a deep breath and try to relax a little bit. Or, as Douglas Adams would say: "Don't panic!"

Last week there was a bit of a fracas at the Nevada Democratic state convention. Rules were bent or ignored, tempers ran high, and the outcome in question was over a grand total of two delegates to the national convention. Two. That's it. Obviously, the entire episode was way out of proportion from the start.

Then the media jumped in, and blew things stratospherically out of proportion. Goaded by this panic-mode reaction, some prominent Democrats began saying things they really shouldn't have. My own senator, Dianne Feinstein, wondered on camera whether the 2016 convention would resemble the riots in Chicago in 1968. Really, DiFi? You really think that's what will happen? Because I don't, nor should any sane person who knows a little history.

The history I'm talking about doesn't reach back to the days of the Vietnam War, either. I'm talking about the previous contested Democratic nomination race, in fact, which happened only eight years ago. I'm beginning to get the feeling I'm one of the few who does remember what happened then, because everyone else seems to be having too much fun freaking out right now. Well, not everyone, to be fair. There are a few other sane voices crying in the wilderness, such as MSNBC's Steve Kornacki, who recently tweeted:

Talking about the final days of the '08 primary season with some Dems now, I'm struck by how tame it all seems. "Oh, that was nothing compared to what Sanders is doing now!" I'll hear. But again, go back and find the commentary from Dems back then. There was a lot of panic that [Hillary Clinton] was undermining the party and doing all sorts of dark, devious things. I believe Dems now remember it as being tame because things all worked out for them. She dropped out in June, endorsed Obama and they won, then she joined the admin -- no harm done. So people now remember late May '08 very differently than they experienced it at the time. That happens a lot in life, and I think it's very possible the same will happen with Dems when it comes to this current moment.

He is exactly right. Memories are selective because we now know the outcome -- which we didn't, at the time. Exactly eight years ago, the Democratic Party was split down the middle, and feelings ran a lot higher than anything we've seen this year. Don't believe me? Do some research, if your own memories of the time has faded.

Back in 2008, the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was tighter than this year's race. Because of this, the Clinton camp was arguing very strenuously for the delegates from Michigan and Florida to be counted at the convention. But, by the rules, these delegates were disallowed. Forty-eight states followed the rules laid down by the party for the primary schedule. Two states ignored the rules, which plainly stated that any state not following the rules would not have its delegates seated at the convention. All the Democratic candidates -- in deference to the party rules -- refused to campaign in the two states. One candidate ignored this, however. Hillary Clinton encouraged these two states' rulebreaking by actively campaigning (and, unsurprisingly, winning) in Florida and Michigan. With the overall race so close, these votes might have mattered, so Clinton pushed very hard for the party rules to be changed -- after the fact.

Remember all that? Kind of puts Nevada squabbling over two delegates in some context, doesn't it? As for the contentiousness and politeness of the race (now versus then), nothing that's happened this year even comes close to how hard Barack and Hillary went after each other.

Almost to the day, exactly eight years ago Hillary Clinton made the most jaw-dropping casual reference I've ever heard any politician utter. Here's the story, in case you've forgotten:

Smart candidates don't invoke the possibility of their opponents being killed. This seems so obvious it shouldn't need to be said, but apparently, it needs to be said.

"We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California," Hillary Clinton said yesterday, referencing the fact that past nomination contests have stretched into June to explain why she hasn't heeded calls to exit the Democratic race. She was in an editorial board meeting with a South Dakota newspaper, and she didn't even seem to notice she'd just uttered the unutterable.

The nation's political science students, our future strategists and campaign managers, would do well to pay attention to this moment. There are taboos in presidential politics, and this is one of the biggest. To raise the specter of a rival's assassination, even unintentionally, is to make a truly terrible thing real. It sounds like one might be waiting for a terrible thing to happen, even if one isn't. It sounds almost like wishful thinking.

That was on May 23, 2008. Clinton was also speaking out about the Michigan and Florida fight, comparing it to fraudulent elections in Zimbabwe, the recount of the 2000 election, and even "the abolition of slavery." Hillary Clinton campaigned to the very end -- and even beyond. When the votes were counted in the final primary, Clinton gave a speech and refused to concede the race to Barack Obama. From that speech:

Now, the question is: Where do we go from here? And given how far we've come and where we need to go as a party, it's a question I don't take lightly. This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no decisions tonight.

She then went on to invite her supporters to "share their thoughts" at her campaign website, and to state that she would be in consultations "to determine how to move forward." This was after the last vote had been counted, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that she had lost the race. But she still had a plan for convincing a bunch of superdelegates to switch their support to her.

In fact, it took four days -- and a face-to-face meeting with Obama arranged by Dianne Feinstein -- before Clinton would concede she had lost.

That's where we all were, eight years ago.

Clinton supporters were even more fervent back then than the so-called "Bernie Bros" of today. Salon helpfully points this out (with links for all their points):

Back in 2008, we had Hillary Clinton supporters musing openly about Obama being a drug dealer, and her chief strategist went on TV and deliberately said "cocaine" as many times as he could in relation to Obama (who wrote in his memoir about blowing coke as a college student). Clinton herself aimed barbed personal attacks at Obama, calling him a vacant naïf who couldn't do anything beyond give a good speech. There were racially fraught swipes, scornful dismissals, and utterly bizarre insinuations that the race could be upended by anything, including an assassination. After Clinton conceded defeat, we had to tolerate the PUMAs -- remember those assholes? -- who made "Party Unity My Ass" their mantra and got a lot of media attention (primarily from Fox News) for employing incoherent racism as their chief weapon in a deluded quest to keep alive the Hillary-Obama division and make John McCain president.

Remember all that? I do. Which is why I'm not panicking now. Things worked out back then, and they are very likely going to work out now. For all the frenzied calls for Bernie Sanders to get out of the race, stop campaigning so hard, stop hitting Hillary, stop fighting for delegates, and to condemn the violence in Nevada for the umpteenth time, what is most likely is that the period from now until the final primary will not even be remembered by anyone this November. The party is not about to engage in civil war. Don't listen to the idiots in the media who are predicting this (or 1968 happening again, for that matter). They're going to be wrong.

Just reading the headlines in the Washington Post of late, you'd think Bernie Sanders was singlehandedly destroying the Democratic Party. After Nevada, Bernie put out a public statement which clearly showed his feelings towards what had happened (emphasis added, because apparently some people didn't read this part):

Within the last few days there have been a number of criticisms made against my campaign organization. Party leaders in Nevada, for example, claim that the Sanders campaign has a "penchant for violence." That is nonsense. Our campaign has held giant rallies all across this country, including in high-crime areas, and there have been zero reports of violence. Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals. But, when we speak of violence, I should add here that months ago, during the Nevada campaign, shots were fired into my campaign office in Nevada and apartment housing complex my campaign staff lived in was broken into and ransacked.

The Post ran this under the apocalyptic headline: "This Bernie Sanders Statement On The Nevada Convention Reads Like An Open Threat To The Democratic Establishment." There were zero threats in Bernie's statement. Zero. He didn't even mention the national convention, and yet soon most in the media were spinning it as: "Bernie's threatening violence in Philadelphia." Poppycock. Read the whole statement yourself, and see if anything in it even remotely constitutes any such "threat."

Bernie's statement wasn't enough for many in the media and in the Democratic Party. He was told he had to denounce the violence stronger and more unequivocally. He then began doing so, any time a television camera was on him. That's really the sum total of the story -- "Bernie denounces supporters' violence" -- but you wouldn't have known that from the panicky coverage all week long.

The Washington Post has, for months, pretty obviously been in the tank for Hillary Clinton. Back in early March, it was even pointed out that they ran 16 negative stories about Bernie Sanders in the space of 16 hours. But occasionally, you do hear some actual facts from someone at the Post, as in today's story comparing 2008 to 2016. Facts and figures plainly show that the Democratic Party is a lot more unified now than it was back then. The most striking data point comes from a comparison over the polled question: "Does a long primary race help or hurt the Democratic nominee?" In 2008, only 38 percent thought a tough race "helps the nominee," while a whopping 54 percent said it "hurts the nominee." And now? The numbers are reversed. Only 34 percent think a long race hurts the nominee, while 59 percent say it helps.

That really puts things in perspective. No matter what the media mavens think, Democratic voters are just fine with Bernie staying in the race until the end. Just like Hillary Clinton did back in 2008. Doing so will toughen Clinton up and put her in fighting form to face off against Donald Trump -- just like it sharpened Barack Obama up in 2008.

Bernie Sanders is going to lose the nomination race. I say this while fully intending to proudly cast my own primary vote for Sanders in a few weeks, I should point out. But he has certainly earned the right to stay in until California and New Jersey get a chance to vote. He is not some gadfly who won a single state or maybe two. He has run a campaign that has surprised everyone -- including him. He got farther than anyone expected, and tapped into an astonishing amount of discontent with the status quo. He deserves to have a lot of input in writing the party's platform this year, and hopefully his movement won't fizzle out after Clinton locks the nomination up. But he's far from being Ralph Nader or anything. Voting for John McCain seemed semi-reasonable for Clinton supporters angry with Barack Obama in 2008, but my guess is that voting for Donald Trump is just not going to be a conceivable option for the vast majority of Sanders supporters.

So my advice to Democrats is to just flat-out ignore the pearl-clutching frenzy in the media for the next few weeks. Primary season is almost over, and all of this will soon be forgotten. It will likely make not a dime's worth of difference if Bernie quit the race tomorrow versus staying in until the final votes are counted. The end result is going to be the same. My guess is that Bernie will accept defeat more graciously than Clinton did back in 2008, in fact. I bet he'll concede long before she did, back then. And I bet he won't demand a face-to-face meeting before he does so, too.

The Democratic Party is going to unite. Oh, sure, some disenchanted Bernie voters will either refuse to vote in November or vote for the Green Party (or maybe even write in Bernie's name). The majority of Bernie voters, however, will go through a period of disappointment and then realize that "President Trump" is so horrifying a concept that they'll vote for Hillary anyway (while holding their nose or not). Feelings always run high at the end of a close race. Tempers flare. But it's 2016, not a re-run of 1968 (sorry, DiFi). Heck, it's not even a re-run of 2008.

It'll all be over soon. Until then, keep calm. Don't panic.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Full archives of FTP columns:

All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank