Friday Talking Points -- Professional Edition

Well, we've been away for two weeks, and those two weeks were just chock-full of political news, so we've got a lot to cover. The reason for the interruption in columns was, of course, our attending Netroots Nation, the yearly conclave of bloggers, Progressives, and all and sundry who like hanging out with them. Which brings us to this week's unusual title -- today's Friday Talking Points, for the first time ever, are going to be professionally-produced and focus-group-tested. More on this later.

We've got a lot to cover, so we're going to do it very quickly here, but I have to begin by pointing out, once again, what a helium-brain David Gregory truly is. The moderator of Meet The Press is a journalistic lightweight on his best of days -- even when some interviewee breaks some real news on his show, Gregory can be counted on to not realize such news has been made, at least until someone else informs him of the fact. The man couldn't think his way out of a paper bag, although he does have that boyish grin and good hair going for him -- which is all that really matters to NBC.

Last Sunday, Gregory interviewed Glenn Greenwald (the reporter at the center of the Edward Snowden leak story), and asked him a classic "Have you stopped beating your wife, Senator?" question. Here is what Gregory thought it'd be a good idea to ask Greenwald, without a shred of evidence or fact to back it up:

To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?

Since then, Gregory has gotten nothing but scorn heaped upon him, by the mainstream media, by Salon and the Huffington Post, and even by Fox News. That last one is pretty stunning, because Fox had to choose between what they would normally see as a "liberal mainstream media type" and a "Lefty media type" -- and they actually sided with the Lefty, describing Gregory's question as "absolutely insane" and charging that Gregory was "carrying water" for the White House.

I'm sorry, but this is giving Gregory entirely too much credit. If Gregory was capable of carrying water for anyone, it would be at the rate of a single eyedropper at a time, and not some replay of the sorcerer's apprentice (see: Mickey Mouse, Fantasia). Since so many others have piled on, though, it's enough to merely pose one question of my own to David Gregory:

"To the extent that you are so obviously incapable of asking an intelligent journalistic question, even if your life depended on it, why shouldn't you, Mr. Gregory, be immediately replaced by just about anyone -- down to and including the guy who gets your coffee -- as moderator of Meet The Press?"


OK, we've got to get these a lot shorter, or we're never going to get through them at all. Snowden, of course, led the world's media on a chase all week, which led to a whole lot of meaningless speculation in the media. If you've been living under a rock for the past week, here's the best wrapup I've seen, mostly because it includes the phrase: "Any man who gets former Vice President Cheney quacking like an indignant duck is on to something." Can't argue with that. Oh, also, some celebrity chef is watching her empire collapse, which also distracted the media's attention notably this week. The media got the news this week that the entire I.R.S. conspiracy theory from Darrell Issa was actually wrong, as the I.R.S. was also using words like "occupy" and "medical marijuana" and "progressive" in its criteria for which groups to scrutinize -- but since reporting this story would have meant admitting wrongfully buying into Issa's story in the first place, the media largely ignored it.

The immigration bill passed the Senate late this week, but the talking points portion of the program will address this subject in full, so I merely mention the win in passing. But the Senate doesn't deserve an unqualified pat on the back, as although it did get the immigration bill done, it was shirking other duties at the same time. A while back, right after the Snowden story broke, the N.S.A. gave a confidential briefing to the entire Senate on the secret programs. Guess what? Because it was after the beginning of their weekend -- noon on Thursday (and no, I am not exaggerating one tiny bit) -- over one-half of the Senate didn't even bother to show up. They were all on flights home for the weekend. On Thursday afternoon. Think about this as you ponder the related news that the Senate is going home for a week off for Independence Day without passing a bill to keep student loan rates low. Student loan rates will double on the first of July, but the Senate couldn't be bothered to fix it. They swear they'll fix it later, really. So chew on that, all you college students filling out loan applications for next year. And, no, don't bother asking -- you will never find a job where you get to start your weekend at noon on Thursday, sorry (unless, of course, you run for Congress).

There was another national security leak story, but since it involved a retired four-star Marine Corps general, I guess we won't get quite the circus that the Snowden story is enjoying. Anyone want to guess if "Hoss" Cartwright will be treated the same as Snowden by either the media or politicians? The safe money is on "no."

But of course the biggest political news this week was the Supreme Court's end-of-session rulings. The Voting Rights Act decision was a major disappointment, but the marriage equality decisions were indeed a positive note. The best commentary all week came from none other than George Takei, famous for portraying "Mr. Sulu" on the original Star Trek television series. Not only does he relate his own personal story, he also takes the time to remind people what prejudice sounded like in the past. Most notably, he quotes a judge upholding an interracial marriage ban -- the "Racial Integrity Act" -- at the start of the Loving v. Virginia case:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

It's always those who think they can read God's mind who come up with such logic. Which brings us to our final item of the week, before we move on to the awards. In Pennsylvania this week, a state representative was blocked by conservatives from giving his reaction on the statehouse floor to the Supreme Court's marriage equality rulings. Brian Sims is gay, you see. Which means, according to Republican Daryl Metcalfe:

I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God's law.

Got that? If conservative Republicans don't think whatever you've got to say is in keeping with their interpretation of God's law, then tough cookies, you just don't get to speak. Welcome to the Republican vision of theocracy, folks!


First, we've got to at least give a nod in the direction of the "Gang of 8" (or the "DC-8" as we prefer to call them) who successfully got their immigration bill through the Senate with a whopping 68 votes (including 14 Republicans). Well done!

Also, an Honorable Mention goes to a man whose victory was absolutely buried in an avalanche of other political news this week. But whether anyone outside the state noticed or not, Ed Markey will be the next senator from Massachusetts, regaining the seat John Kerry gave up when he joined the cabinet. Markey won a special election this week by a solid ten points, thus keeping the current 54-46 Senate split intact.

But there truly can be only one Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week: Texas state senator Wendy Davis (pink shoes and all). Don't ask me why the pink shoes were some sort of enormous deal in the media, because I have no explanation, sorry.

Whatever she had on her feet, though, Davis rode a wave of social media to gain national attention for her filibuster -- a real, old-school, Mr. Smith-style filibuster, mind you -- to block the passage of yet another anti-abortion law in the continuing Republican War On Women. Davis spoke for more than ten hours without bathroom breaks or even being allowed to sit or lean on anything, which is a pretty impressive feat right there.

Ultimately, the victory Wendy Davis scored this week will be crushed, when the Texas senate returns and passes the bill anyway; but the bigger picture shows that Davis has energized Democrats (and women) in Texas more than any single event, at least since a bunch of Texas legislators fled the state to prevent a quorum.

During the debate leading up to Davis' filibuster, Republicans proved once again that they are simply incompetent when it comes to any shred of basic understanding of the medical procedures they are legislating on, when one of them (a woman, no less) stated that a rape kit was essentially the same as getting an abortion. Stay classy (and ill-informed), GOP!

For fighting back against such ignorance, for standing and delivering until the wee hours, for energizing and motivating Texas Democrats and women everywhere (and, yes, for her pink shoes, although this focus still mystifies us), Wendy Davis is hands-down the obvious choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. We can't think of a recent winner of our "Golden Backbone Award" who deserves it more, in fact. Well done, Wendy, and keep up the good work! Texas can indeed change to blue, and it is people like you who will make it happen.

[Congratulate Texas State Senator Wendy Davis on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


The good news this week is that we can't come up with anyone who truly deserves the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Jon Corzine was about as close as we could get, but since he's not really a politician anymore and since he's just been charged and not convicted, we can't really see awarding him the MDDOTW award yet.

If anyone has any suggestions for disappointing Democrats we overlooked, please (as always) let us know in the comments. I mean, the whole Senate was disappointing by not doing its job, but it'd be hard to single anyone out on that front (sadly).


Volume 263 (6/28/13)

Welcome to a rather unique edition of our Friday Talking Points. As even the casual reader of this column knows, for roughly the past 262 weeks, every Friday I sit down to compose the best talking points I can come up with for Democrats to use when speaking about current issues in politics. But readers also know that this has been -- from the very beginning -- an admittedly amateur attempt at "messaging" or "framing." This week, however, we are able to offer up professional talking points for your enjoyment. More on that in a moment.

I began this column out of sheer frustration at the "herding cats" nature of getting Democrats to read from the same page (or, if you're more musically-inclined, to "sing from the same songbook") -- especially professional politicians and officeholders who appear on nationally-televised interviews. To be quite honest, you could call this "conservative messaging envy," because the other team is so darn good at doing this sort of thing. One major conservative makes a statement to the press and for the next two weeks (at a minimum) every single Republican interviewed will repeat the same line, often word-for-word -- even if they aren't ever asked about the subject by the interviewer. That's message discipline, folks. Even without the ready-made platform of Fox News, they communicate the party's thinking in a clear and unambiguous way.

Democrats, on the other hand, usually fail miserably at this sort of thing. Which is why I felt frustrated enough to try to help. My thinking went: "Well, nobody else seems to be doing this, so I guess I should take a crack at it." One argument I've heard repeatedly over the years is that even the concept of "talking points" is somehow evil, Republican, and/or beneath Democrats. I reject that argument completely. Is a hammer an evil tool? Well, it depends what you do with it. If you bash someone over the head and kill them, then you have committed an evil act with it. If you build a house with it, you have done good. The tool itself is not inherently good or bad -- it's what you choose to do with it that can be defined morally. The hammer's just one tool in the toolbox. That is how I see talking points, or messaging, or framing, or creating the perfect soundbite. It's just a tool, and anyone who doubts the effectiveness of the tool must have been in a coma for the past three or four decades (at the least).

But, other than the occasional excerpt from authors such as George Lakoff or Drew Westen, everything in this column has been only my creative attempts to come up with some snappy ways to talk about what Democrats and Progressives should be highlighting. But today we are pleased to bring you some actual, professionally-produced, focus-group-tested talking points. Last week, I attended the Netroots Nation bloggerfest, and caught a presentation given by (as they put it) a collaboration of over 100 advocates from over 50 allied Labor, Progressive and immigration organizations. It was the best seminar I attended during the whole conference, in fact, and had an abundance of data, charts, and advice on crafting language to talk about the subject of immigration. This included basic terminology, such as not using "illegal aliens" or even "undocumented workers" in favor of better terms such as "aspiring citizens" or "new Americans."

This may sound overly nit-picky to some, but it cuts to the core of what messaging is: not just intellectually connecting with the audience, but emotionally connecting as well -- which leads to deeper cognitive connections than by just quoting a bunch of facts and figures. For instance, even saying "pathway to citizenship" brings up the mental image of a path. Animals walk on paths, through the forest. If you say "roadmap to citizenship" you bring up an entirely different image -- one that people can better relate to: driving around in a car.

The presentation didn't just include general advice, though, it also included several specific messages that tested very well with a range of audiences. Any political message has to resonate with the base (the people who already agree with you) as well as the "persuadables" in the middle. The following passages have been proven to do just that.

So, with the full approval of the group which produced these messages, today we present a very special Friday Talking Points. Below are slightly-condensed versions of four winning ways to talk about immigration. We present these without the usual introductory sentences, since we feel that the language stands on its own and needs no further comment. While the Senate impressively passed their bill this week, we're going to have a long summer conversation about the subject as the House dawdles, so these will come in handy for months to come.


   American values

"America is a nation of values, founded on an idea -- that all men and women are created equal. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all people have rights, no matter what they look like or where they came from. So how we treat new immigrants reflects our commitment to the values that define us as Americans. All Americans who love this country very much deserve a commonsense immigration process, one that includes a roadmap for people who aspire to be citizens."


   Work together

"America's strength is grounded in our ability to work together. From those who cook the food that we eat to those who create innovative businesses, new immigrants realize the value of working hard and doing your part in exchange for the blessings of liberty. Americans are all the better for having hardworking new immigrants as contributing members of our communities -- shopping in our stores, paying payroll taxes, and giving to local churches and charities. America works best when we all do our part and work together as one nation, indivisible and strong."


   Roadmap to citizenship

"America deserves a commonsense immigration process, one that includes a roadmap for New Americans who aspire to be citizens. For many of those now striving for citizenship, the current maze of regulations provides no light at the end of the tunnel, because there's often no line to get into for becoming a fully participating American. The essential rights of citizenship should be attainable by taking a test of our history and government, paying an appropriate fee, and pledging allegiance to our country. People move their families here to the land of freedom and opportunity, in order to provide a better life for their children and contribute to our culture in this country."


   People move

"The same is true today as it has been throughout history: people move to make life better for themselves and their families. It's hard to move -- to pack up everything and go to a new place takes courage -- but you do it in order to put food on the table, to provide for your family, or send your kids to a decent school. Immigrant Americans move here for the promise of freedom and opportunity in this country. One of the values we hold dear to our hearts is a deeply-rooted belief in the freedom to be who you want to be, say what you want to say, and go where you want to go. America is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave -- that's a good thing, so let's keep it that way."


Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Become a fan of Chris on Huffington Post

Full archives of FTP columns:

All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank