Friday Talking Points -- CPAC Follies and More

Ukraine erupted in crisis during the past week, as Russia's Vladimir Putin essentially grabbed Crimea in his own hissy fit. President Obama, of course, has very limited options for dealing with Russia.
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It's been a busy week in politics -- even without all the CPAC follies -- so let's get right to it.

In the House, Republican Darrell Issa, who chairs the Investigate Obama Until We Find Something To Impeach Him Over Committee (I think that's what it's called, at any rate...) held a hearing over the alleged abuses at the Internal Revenue Service.

Reportedly, he was recalling Lois Lerner to testify because she was going to answer questions. How do I know this? Because Issa himself told me, on one of last Sunday's political talk shows. But when she did appear, she took the Fifth again. Behind the scenes, her lawyer had been working on a deal with Issa in exchange for testimony, but the deal fell apart. This annoyed Issa no end, and after asking her question after question, he abruptly gaveled the hearing to a close and tried to walk out.

Representative Elijah Cummings tried to speak, but Issa continually cut off his microphone and tried to beat a hasty retreat from the room. Cummings kept on speaking, getting visibly more annoyed at being silenced in such a fashion. Watch the video, it's pretty cringe-worthy.

This is a new low in Congress, where Republicans now apparently feel that they are the only ones who will be allowed to speak. So much for all that "democracy" stuff, I guess. Issa reportedly apologized to Cummings after realizing what a bully he had been... but then described what Cummings did in an interview as a "hissy fit" -- so maybe he hasn't really seen the light quite yet.

In other news from the Republican House, Paul Ryan would like you to think that he cares about poor people. He's not going to do anything for them, of course, he just wants you to think he cares, that's all. In fact, if he had his way, he would make life much harder for poor people, to "free" them from what he calls a "poverty trap." Tough love, in other words. Or, in more-accurate terms, a giant "Tough luck!" to all poor people.

Ryan released a report which purported to show how spending federal money on poverty programs has been useless. The only problem is that Ryan cherry-picked his data to make his case so shamelessly that it was eviscerated by pretty much all and sundry (examples abound, from New York magazine, Salon and Salon again, while Huffington Post ran a very comprehensive wrapup of links to all others who performed brutal takedowns of Ryan's "facts.")

Ukraine erupted in crisis during the past week, as Russia's Vladimir Putin essentially grabbed Crimea in his own hissy fit. President Obama, of course, has very limited options for dealing with Russia over Crimea, in precisely the same way that President George W. Bush had very limited options to react to Russia moving troops into Georgia. Back then, nobody complained much about Bush's actions, because they knew there was little the United States could (or would) do to change the situation on the ground in any meaningful way.

Now, of course, with a Democrat in the White House, Republicans loudly criticize President Obama, essentially saying it is Obama's fault that Putin did what he did. Carping Republicans have no better answer for what to do now (other than insisting that Obama take actions which he's already taken, which doesn't really count), but that doesn't stop them from declaring that it's all Obama's fault anyway.

Here's a news flash for all these Republicans: the United States is not going to threaten Russia militarily. It's just not going to happen. Bush knew this, and Obama knows it. So what, exactly, is the big complaint?

Lindsey Graham (of course) took this to the extreme, laying the blame for the Crimea on (wait for it...) Benghazi. This was too much for Michelle Malkin, who chastised Graham publicly, tweeting: "UGH. @grahamblog, you are an embarrassment to all who truly care about Benghazi. Just stop."

Hillary Clinton got caught in a pushback of her own, by pointing out the similarities of Putin going into the Crimea "to protect the Russians there" and Hitler doing the same thing for the Germans in his land-grabs leading up to World War II. This comparison annoyed some, apparently.

This was also CPAC week, which is a big get-together of conservatives and their lunatic fringe, and is also a showcase for any Republican eyeing a 2016 presidential run. Call it the audition process for who gets to be in the clown car, next time around. Think I'm being too harsh? Hey, Donald Trump was a featured speaker (who mistakenly referred to Jimmy Carter as dead) -- that pretty much sums it up right there.

Several sites have amusing "best of" lists from CPAC, or have highlighted the most bizarre statements spoken there. My favorite is a photo of a session on minority outreach, which shows an absolute sea of empty chairs. Guess that minority outreach thing just isn't that popular among the conservative faithful, eh?

We've got two Honorable Mention awards to hand out this week. The first goes to Wendy Davis, who just chalked up an impressive win in the Texas Democratic primary for governor. She's got a tough race in front of her to win the general election, but it's impressive enough to have gotten this far. Our second goes to Steve Gallardo, state legislator in Arizona, who just came out publicly as gay right after the whole "Turn The Gays Away" bill fiasco happened.

But the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award (also known as the "Golden Backbone") goes to none other than Representative Elijah Cummings, for his outrage at being silenced by Darrell Issa. It's a rare day when I agree with someone using the label "anti-American," but that is precisely what it was, and Cummings did not shy away from saying so -- microphone or no microphone.

The only way to deal with bullying is to stand up to the bully and tell him his behavior is flat-out unacceptable. Cummings did so, and did so admirably. For this, he is awarded this week's MIDOTW. When Congress calls a hearing -- no matter which party is in the majority -- both sides get to speak. That's a basic rule of fairness. Issa called the hearing knowing his witness wasn't going to answer any questions, so the entire thing was a political stunt in the first place. But even in the midst of such a partisan political stunt, the other side still gets to have their say. That's the American way, folks.

For refusing to be silenced in the face of outrageous behavior, and for forcefully pointing out the outrageousness of the behavior, Cummings was indeed the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

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

There were a lot of disappointing candidates this week, sad to say.

Ten Senate Democrats voted against Kirsten Gillibrand's bill to remove prosecutions for sexual assaults from the military chain of command. The bill got 55 votes, and even got a few Republicans in support, but it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold in the end. This was a showdown of sorts between Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill, who has a competing bill on the subject (which leaves the chain of command in charge of decision-making). McCaskill's bill advanced, and will likely pass next week, but this bill doesn't make the fundamental changes in the military that Gillibrand's bill does. This fight isn't completely over -- Gillibrand's bill may get another chance, later on -- but it was indeed disappointing to see the Gillibrand bill fail. The Pentagon should be on notice: one more bad year of data on their handling of sexual assault cases, and things are likely going to change in a big way.

We've got two minor (Dis-)Honorable Mention awards, but before we get to them we have to mention that while we are vigilant here on the subject of castigating Democrats who don't respect women (this is crucial, we feel, in order for the party to take the high ground in the War On Women), we are not going to pass judgment on Representative Alan Grayson quite yet. Grayson's wife (they're in the midst of a divorce) made accusations against him this week, but Grayson not only swears he's innocent, he also swears there are plenty of witnesses to the alleged altercation and even a video which exonerates him. So we're going to take a "wait and see" approach, until the dust settles. If his wife is right, Grayson deserves condemnation. If, however, his wife is not right, then we'd have to just later rescind any award given, so we'll see how it all plays out, for now.

But two minor Democrats from Alabama certainly do deserve their (Dis-)Honorable Mention awards this week. If the MDDOTW vote hadn't happened (more on this in a second), either one of these would have easily won, in a normal week.

First up is Alabama legislator Alvin Holmes. During a debate over a strict new abortion limits bill, Holmes replied to a Republican (who had just compared the bill to Brown v. Board of Education):

Ninety-nine percent of all of the white people in here are going to raise their hand that they are against abortion. On the other hand, ninety-nine percent of the whites who are sitting in here now, if their daughter got pregnant by a black man, they are going to make their daughter have an abortion. You know, the truth sometimes hurts. All this stuff about abortion and this and that -- that's just a con game. That's for whites, it ain't for blacks.

While heartfelt, this is simply not the best way to "play the race card," even in Alabama (and even if true). Holmes may have thought he was pointing out hypocrisy, but in doing so he accused his opponents of actions that he had absolutely no proof of -- which is nothing short of character assassination. Holmes could have made the same point without leveling personal accusations, and it would have been just as strong.

Our second (Dis-)Honorable Mention goes to Erick Wright, who is running for Congress in Alabama. This is after he posted a video on YouTube titled "Politics on the Throne," which consisted of (are you ready for this?) two minutes of Wright sitting on the toilet shooting the breeze about politics.

Whew. Talk about "too much information."

Kidding aside, though, we have seven Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out, to the senators who voted against an Obama nominee to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Debo Adegbile was eminently qualified, but the reason these seven Democrats voted against him sets a horrible precedent for the future.

Adegbile, as director of the N.A.A.C.P.'s legal defense fund, had previously participated in an appeal of the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal for killing a Philadelphia police officer. But -- a key point -- lawyers are never supposed to be politically "tainted" by clients they advocate for. It's a basic and fundamental concept. Seven Democrats, however, cowardly caved in to the fears that such a vote would be used against them in the upcoming midterm campaign. That is bad enough, but what is even worse is the precedent set.

If this standard -- not defending convicted murderers, even politically-important murderers -- had been held to in the past, then it would have disqualified Chief Justice John Roberts from confirmation. If that's not a good enough example, we can go back further in history, to consider the fact that John Adams, a practicing lawyer, defended the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre in court. Even though politically radioactive at the time (much more so than Abu-Jamal), Adams felt it his duty to see that they got the best legal defense possible. And then he went on to become president.

So, for voting in a politically cowardly way, with no other reason than "this will look bad against me, in ads," the following seven senators are all awarded their own Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards: Bob Casey, Chris Coons, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Mark Pryor, and John Walsh. Collectively, they sent a clear message to young lawyers who might want to advance politically one day: don't take on any pro bono cases, ever, because they will harm you later politically (even though they shouldn't). Which, obviously, is a horrible message to send.

For shame.

[Contact Senator Bob Casey on his Senate contact page, Senator Chris Coons on his Senate contact page, Senator Joe Donnelly on his Senate contact page, Senator Heidi Heitkamp on her Senate contact page, Senator Joe Manchin on his Senate contact page, and Senator Mark Pryor on his Senate contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions. Senator John Walsh has apparently not set up an official contact page yet.]

Volume 294 (3/7/14)

A real mixed bag this week. As always, these talking points are offered up for Democrats everywhere to use, from the Sunday talk shows to the office watercooler. Let's get right to them, as we're already running insanely long this week.

Let's vote on voting rights

While I'm a fan of pushing a Voting Rights Amendment on a national scale, that doesn't mean that state efforts aren't important, too.

"I see that in Arizona, they've come up with a great idea that Democrats should work to emulate in every state where voting rights are under attack from the Republican Party. Instead of fighting battles in court over measures designed to keep people from voting, instead let's put voting rights right on the ballot. Let the people decide whether their states should expand or restrict access to the ballot box. After all, this affects every citizen, so let's let the people have their say. I think it'd be a great idea to put this on the ballot in every state -- let the voters decide to expand poll access!"

Jobs, jobs, jobs

This has a few parts to it, and could be expanded into several talking points.

"I see that this month's job report was more encouraging than had been expected. I also note that while Republicans make outlandish claims about how Obamacare is forcing everyone into part-time jobs, the actual data show that part-time employment has held pretty steady since Obamacare passed, while full-time jobs are steadily increasing. You can believe the facts, or you can listen to the Republican hype, folks. On a related subject, I see there's a new report out of Berkeley that shows the facts of raising the minimum wage, rather than the scare stories Republicans love to tell. San Francisco raised its minimum wage ten years ago. The counties surrounding it didn't. San Francisco then saw more employment growth than the other counties (5.6 percent growth, as opposed to a range of 3.0 percent growth to 4.4 percent shrinkage for the other counties). Even food service work was up far more than in the other Bay Area counties. This proves -- once again, I might add -- that raising the minimum wage is not a 'job-killer' in any way. Because it is just a lie -- real-world evidence shows that this does not happen."

Censorship in action


"Up in Alaska, I see a Republican official has successfully gotten Ms. magazine removed from the shelves of his local store, because he didn't like the subject matter it published. Funny, I'm still waiting to hear from all those on the right wing who love to cry 'Censorship!' at the drop of a hat. Here is some blatant censorship, from an elected official -- the worst kind. Denying the public a choice of reading material just because its content offends you is nothing short of un-American, folks. This isn't some corporate network cracking down on a paid spokesman, this isn't some television station pulling some celebrity for making odious remarks, this is nothing short of instituting a political test for what appears on the shelves of a store open to the public. It is despicable, and I am still waiting to hear one single conservative denounce such an action. But I'm not holding my breath, if you know what I mean."

GOP fails, once again, at Latino outreach

This is a good one to bring up if the subject of President Obama getting tough questions about deportation comes up.

"It is nothing short of a fantasy that Republicans are going to somehow gain because Latinos are upset with President Obama over deportation policy, as some have suggested. Just this week, the Republicans in the House voted to remove all funding for advocates who work with immigrants in detention. This is often the only way women in detention can fight back if they are sexually assaulted or raped while in custody. This is apparently not money well spent, as far as the Republicans are concerned. Removing the advocates means such things will be hushed up and never see the light of day, which is apparently just fine with Republicans. While Democratic immigration policy isn't perfect, at least Democrats aren't actively passing laws which remove all hope of humane treatment for those in the deportation system. Republicans ought to be ashamed of themselves, really. And they certainly are never going to improve their standing among Latino voters with policies like these."


Speaking of Obama....

"I've heard a lot of hot air about what President Obama should do over the situation in the Ukraine, but the funny thing is even those who are upset with the president only seem to be able to come up with suggestions that Obama is already currently doing. Also conveniently ignored in all the talk about how Putin invaded the Crimea 'because Obama is so weak' is the fact that a conservative exemplar of testicular fortitude already faced the same exact problem and did pretty much the same things Obama is doing now. Was Russia 'exploiting the weakness' of George W. Bush by invading Georgia? Was America so weak then? What is different, really, other than the name of the man in the White House? For every complainer about Obama's strategy in dealing with Russia, I challenge you to clearly state: What would Bush do? What did he do that was any different?"

Proof of GOP civil war

This one is pretty stunning, when you think about it.

"Republicans have been trying to push a talking point in the media that somehow Democrats are 'just as divided' as the Republican Party. This is nothing short of ridiculous. Want the facts? Here they are. One out of every five dollars spent by all super PACs was spent by conservative groups attacking Republicans running for Congress. Liberal groups spent zero dollars doing the same thing to Democrats. Conservative groups spent $2.3 million attacking Republicans, while spending only $2.1 million attacking Democrats. In other words, they're spending more money attacking their own party than they are attacking their opponents. That is nothing short of a civil war in the Republican Party, and there is nothing like it -- nothing -- on the other side of the aisle."

Nobody will shop there

This one's just for sheer amusement, I have to admit.

"When the Arizona 'Turn The Gays Away' bill was being debated, many on the right tried to make the case that any private organization which discriminated against customers (black, brown, gay) would not stay in business long. The public would recoil at such discrimination, and people would take their money elsewhere, we were told, leading to the business in question utterly failing. I was thinking of this logic when I read that the CPAC gathering of conservatives -- a private organization -- banned gay groups from participating in their conservative-fest. Gay groups weren't allowed to speak, and weren't even allowed to have a table in the hall to get their message out. Other conservative groups would have fallen over in a swoon if the gays were present, I guess. Now, by their own logic, there are only two possible conclusions. Either there are plenty of bigoted consumers out there, and businesses could indeed thrive while discriminating against whomever they chose (see, for instance, Jim Crow), or CPAC itself is going to wither on the vine and never be heard from again. You can only draw one conclusion or the other, really."

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