Friday Talking Points -- Meet Brian Schweitzer

Today, we're going to have a special edition of the talking points, where we get to know a Montana politician who seems to be seriously considering taking on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. But before we do so, it was a busy week otherwise, so let's just dive right into it. First, a look at what's going with Republicans.

Three separate Republican scandals were in the news this week, as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was accused of running a criminal scheme out of his office, Congressman Don Young of Alaska was dinged by the House Ethics Committee for airplane rides he should have paid for himself, and prosecutors seem to be closing in on New Jersey governor Chris Christie. But even with all of that going on, the most shocking thing a Republican did wasn't actually a scandal per se, merely scandalous.

Thad Cochran faces a runoff election next week to be the Republican nominee for the Senate seat he now holds. It is expected to be a tight race. Cochran is out there fighting for every vote -- even the bestiality vote. Yes, you read that right. Here he is, addressing a rural Mississippi audience:

I grew up coming down here for Christmas. My father's family was here. My mother's family was from rural Hinds County in Utica. It was fun, it was an adventure to be out there in the country and to see what goes on. Picking up pecans -- from that to all kinds of indecent things with animals. And I know some of you know what that is.

Hoo boy. Not much more you can say about that one, is there?

There was news from the Washington Post this week, but not in the ordinary way. Two Post writers made some news of their own, as Dana Milbank annoyed righties by pointing out just how intolerant a recent righty gathering was. Meanwhile, George Will was yanked from a newspaper his column has been running in, for a column he wrote a few weeks ago where he took a rather bizarre position on campus sexual assault.

The news media (at least the televised portion) showed without a shadow of a doubt that they have not learned one single lesson from their coverage in the run-up to the Iraq war. I mean, even Glenn Beck (of all people) now admits that "liberals were right" about going in to Iraq, but the producers of teevee news have yet to realize this, it appears. Last Sunday morning, by my count, the broadcast political interview shows (on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) had a total of nine Republicans on, which was "balanced" by two Democrats. The likely reason for this is that people like John McCain can be reliably counted upon to rant and rave, which the producers feel makes for "good television."

This trend continued during the week, as pretty much everyone who got Iraq fundamentally and tragically wrong before we invaded was invited to share their views about what to do now. In what universe is this any way to run the news: "Let's see... who should we ask what to do now... Oh, hey, I know -- how about all the people who got it wrong last time around?"

At least Megyn Kelley (on Fox News, of all places) realized that interviewing Dick Cheney involved quite a bit of tossing reality down the memory hole, as she asked him, point-blank:

Time and time again, history has proven that you got it wrong as well in Iraq, sir. You said there was no doubt Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. You said we would be greeted as liberators, you said the Iraq insurgency was in the last throes, back in 2005, and you said that after our intervention extremists would have to 'rethink their strategy of jihad.' Now, with almost $1 trillion spent there, with almost 4,500 American lives lost there, what do you say to those who say you were so wrong about so much at the expense of so many?

Sadly, most of the rest of the media were unaware of the ironies involved. Why else would Paul Bremer be interviewed on CNN? Or Paul Wolfowitz invited on air to share his flawed worldview once again? Huffington Post had some fun with this, suggesting proper captioning for these guests, to inform the viewers. Hey, people who book guests for news shows, here's a crazy idea: why not invite on the air the people who were right about the desirability of invading Iraq to share their views of the current situation? I'd love to hear what Dennis Kucinich thinks about things, for instance. Or Vice President Biden (more on this in a moment), for that matter.

Let's see, what else? Hard data is coming in on Obamacare, and most of the numbers are good -- much better than the naysayers had predicted. The media largely ignored this news, however.

Approval ratings for Congress have sunk even lower, but as the Washington Post points out, that doesn't mean most of them won't get re-elected.

The Washington football team (which we have taken to calling the Washington Racist Slurs) lost their trademark in court because of its offensive nature, but the team expects to win on appeal (as it did the previous time it lost its trademark), so stay tuned. In a related item, Republican ex-congresscritter Joe Walsh (remember him?) lost his radio job when he had a hard time understanding which racism is acceptable and which isn't on the airwaves.

Democrats in the Senate are trying to expand overtime pay for millions of Americans, but the media largely ignored this development. President Obama got some judges confirmed, which made a bit of history, but the media also ignored this story as well.

In marijuana news, New York is poised to become the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana (although with serious restrictions). Just two more states and half the country will have gotten on board! The Senate is debating a few moves on drug laws, both considering changing the law which currently bars any marijuana user (even in a state where medical marijuana is legal) from owning guns, and also taking up the idea the House already passed which would zero out the Justice Department's budget for targeting any legal medical marijuana business or user (in states where it has been legalized). However, not everyone is cheering legal marijuana, as the Pope "just said no" (we just couldn't resist that one).

And finally, in the "you just can't make this stuff up, folks" department, it was revealed this week that the C.I.A. considered a propaganda effort to create a "demon toy" of Osama Bin Laden, to scare children in Muslim countries. The plan was ultimately nixed, but the photos are worth checking out. Your tax dollars at work!


Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia is fighting hard to get the Medicaid expansion to his state, and this week he used his line-item veto in this struggle, for which he deserves at least an Honorable Mention. He's got a long fight ahead of him, and victory is by no means assured -- but he might just go ahead and do it on his own, without getting the legislature to act. So stay tuned, this fight may become a bigger issue as we get closer to November's election.

But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is being awarded for actions taken in the past. Way back in 2006, two men created a plan for a political solution in Iraq. One of them was a senator, and he pushed the plan as hard as he could -- to no avail, unfortunately. But this week, with the developing situation in Iraq, a whole bunch of people began talking about this plan once again, because it might have avoided what is now happening. I wrote an entire article on the subject on Wednesday, and I titled it: "Biden Was Right."

Vice President Joe Biden certainly deserves some credit, even if it is eight years late, for championing the idea to divide Iraq into three federated states. This is happening right now in Iraq (in a de facto sort of way, rather than Biden's de jure plan), which is why so much attention is now being paid to what Biden was urging back then. If Biden's plan had been adopted, it might have avoided a whole lot of bloodshed and it certainly would have avoided wasting eight years in the meantime.

Which is why, belated though it is, Joe Biden deserves the attention his plan is now getting, and he certainly also deserves our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

[Congratulate Vice President Joe Biden via the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


This is going to sound a little rough, since we are about to turn over the talking points section to him, but the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week was former governor of Montana Brian Schweitzer.

Two of the quotes we're using below fall into the "not ready for prime time" category in politics. Schweitzer's public persona is one of "straight-talkin', rough-edged politician," which can indeed do wonders, especially for a man genuinely from cowboy country (unlike, say, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush). But at times this can slip very quickly into comments that sink candidacies, as others (mostly Tea Partiers, but not exclusively) have found in recent years. While neither one of the quotes below would absolutely disqualify Schweitzer from a run at the presidency, one has to wonder what else will pop out of his mouth out on the campaign trail.

So we're awarding this week's MDDOTW to Brian Schweitzer in a very cautionary manner. If he really is serious about a national campaign, he's got to learn to phrase things a little better.

[Brian Schweitzer is currently a private citizen and has not announced as a candidate, so our policy is not to provide contact information, sorry.]


Volume 309 (6/20/14)

Brian Schweitzer made a splash in the news this week, with two lengthy articles written about him and his obvious desire to challenge Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Like many, I hadn't seen or heard Schweitzer much, although I have been aware of his ambitions ever since he declined to run for Senate to replace Max Baucus (a race he would have likely won, and one which will also likely now fall to the Republicans since he didn't run).

Schweitzer could be called a "mountain state Democrat," meaning his views on subjects like guns are not going to be the same as coastal Democrats. But he's a savvy politician who knows the value of political theater. As governor, he once gave a news conference where he used hot irons to "brand" Republican bills (bills he called "bat-crap crazy") with the word "VETO," and he won his first campaign in part by busing senior citizens across the border to Canada to buy cheap prescription drugs.

But since Hillary Clinton has gotten a huge amount of press recently, we thought it was worth examining Brian Schweitzer, in his own words, to present another possible candidate for 2016. These quotes are all from a lengthy article in the National Journal and an interview Schweitzer recently gave to Salon. There were plenty of quotable moments in both articles (including some digs at fellow Democrat and fellow Montanan Max Baucus), so we suggest you read them in full to learn more about who Schweitzer is and what he thinks of the future. The excerpts below contain the two worst things he said, and what we felt were the five best things he said. The press reaction (what there was of it) mostly focused on the first two quotes, it should be mentioned.


   Maybe that's the wrong metaphor

Schweitzer was asked about the National Security Agency spying, and about what we should do with Edward Snowden. The gaffe came after Schweitzer talked in general on the subject:

If you believe that a politician wouldn't use information gained on citizens to their political benefit, then you are extremely naive. Because they always have, and they will now. Simply stated, we have liberties in this country that no other people on the planet have, individual liberties. What about the generals in the N.S.A. that knew that they were violating our civil rights? What are we doing about that?

What made the news, though, was his reaction to Senator Dianne Feinstein, who had just (when the National Journal interview took place) taken to the Senate floor to denounce N.S.A. spying on Senate staffers. Of Feinstein, Schweitzer said:

She was the woman who was standing under the streetlight with her dress pulled all the way up over her knees, and now she says "I'm a nun" when it comes to this spying! I mean, maybe that's the wrong metaphor -- but she was all in!


   How to write off the South

Democrats aren't exactly strong in the South these days, but this one quote may kill any chance of changing that (for Schweitzer, at least). This one also came from the National Journal article, as a non-sequitur added from a later interview, after the news of Eric Cantor's primary loss broke:

Don't hold this against me, but I'm going to blurt it out. How do I say this... men in the South, they are a little effeminate. They just have effeminate mannerisms. If you were just a regular person, you turned on the TV, and you saw Eric Cantor talking, I would say -- and I'm fine with gay people, that's all right -- but my gaydar is 60-70 percent. But he's not, I think, so I don't know. Again, I couldn't care less. I'm accepting.


   If a bus ran over a congressman...

Moving on to the positive things Schweitzer had to say, here is the reason he wasn't interested in running for Congress:

Congress is a miserable place. If a bus ran over a senator or a congressman tomorrow, we wouldn't even miss them. Because all they have is [one] vote [out of 100 or 435]. They don't get to run anything. They sit around and wait until the train starts leaving the station, and if it looks like the wheels are moving a little bit fast, they start moving quickly to get on the train and issue a press release: "I am now a cosponsor of the train that was heading east!"


   You were so wrong

Schweitzer is outspoken on the Iraq war, how we got into it, and the fact that the media is now fawning over the people who got it wrong back then.

I don't want to hear revision [sic] history from Lindsey Graham or George Bush people or Wolfowitz or Perle. I don't want to hear anybody who supported going into Iraq saying, "Oh, well, gee, if only we would've stayed there longer..." You've lost your right to give me an opinion because you were so wrong and so many people lost their lives.

I'm passionate about this. The second day I was governor of Montana, I got in a Blackhawk helicopter and I went to my first funeral for a young man who came back dead [from Iraq]. The day that I was sworn in, I had no idea that I would be governor during the longest period of war in the history of the state. I had no idea that I would go to more of these funerals than any governor in the history of Montana. And at every single one of them I seethed with anger -- anger at those people in Washington, D.C., who decided to send these people to their deaths, and maimed people. Because it was a false mission from the beginning... I looked around during these funerals, and I saw the grieving families, and I hugged the grieving mothers, and I did everything I could do to comfort them. I didn't see those [pro-war] senators. I didn't see those people at the Department of Defense who sent them [to Iraq]. I didn't see them at those funerals, helping those families get back on their feet.

. . .

To have been so wrong so recently about a thing and a place -- and now offering opinions on the same place -- I think you've lost your credibility. Here's the way I see it: If somebody lights fire to your barn and all your livestock get out, they don't get to complain because the livestock are eating their corn. They burned the barn down!


   Who cares?

Schweitzer can sound a lot like Rand Paul, when discussing foreign affairs. He draws on his own experience, since he spent a year working in Libya in 1980, and then more time doing his own contracting in Saudi Arabia (Schweitzer's first career was as a soil engineer).

I saw the world. You don't even know anybody else who lived in the Middle East for seven years. You don't know anybody else who went there without speaking a single word of Arabic and learned it and started his own business and did business in Arabic in the most closed society in the Middle East. I did business directly with princes, sheiks, royal family, and built huge, huge projects there.

This, according to the article, left him with the impression that the United States should not act as the world's police force. The following is an earlier quote, given to Dave Weigel for a Slate article. When asked about the future in Afghanistan, this was Schweitzer's reaction:

If it all goes to hell in a handbasket, that's fine. That happened after Alexander the Great left; that happened after the Russians left. Who cares? They live in the Stone Age.


   How to speak Republicanese

Schweitzer was also in the news recently because he attended an event put on by Mitt Romney, which featured mostly Republican presidential contenders. He explains how Democrats should have sold the single-payer idea, using language his audience can relate to:

I said to them, "As I look around the room, raise your hand if you are a director or a major shareholder of a corporation with more than $2 billion market cap." Lots and lots of hands went up.... From $2 billion and above, almost all of them are self-insured when it comes to health insurance. Nearly every state, including Montana and most every state that you come from, we are self-insured for our employees when it comes to healthcare. Since most of the corporations in America figured out that you don't want to give 15-20 percent of your healthcare dollars away to health insurance companies, and most of the states have figured that out, did it surprise you that when the federal government decided to expand healthcare to people who didn't already have it, that we turned to the insurance companies and gave them 20 percent? Didn't that strike you as odd, that all the corporations and states have figured it out but the federal government couldn't?


   Free trade, except for the drug companies

How to speak Republicanese, part two. Speaking further about the Romney gathering, Schweitzer rips into the prescription drug companies and the carve-out they got in all the free trade mania.

I don't think there was anybody in the room [at the Romney event] that voted for Democrats. But as I was explaining the single-payer system to them in that way, they were nodding their heads. And then I said to them, back in the '90s when most of you in the room thought it was a good idea to have free trade all over the world... I was in Montana and I was raising cattle and wheat and barley and other crops and [said,] "Oh, my God! If that border was going to open from Saskatchewan and Alberta and all that cheap grain and all those cheap cattle were going to flow across the border, I may lose my farm." But nobody was listening to me because I was told that I needed to become more efficient, that free trade would create efficiencies, and if you find that on your farm you can't grow wheat as inexpensively as they can in Alberta or Saskatchewan, then you would switch crops. You'll find something. That's the order. That's free trade. So you all clapped your hands and got free trade passed. But why did you allow the pharmaceutical industry to carve themselves out so that everything made in Canada and the United States could freely move back and forth except one thing: pharmaceuticals? So now in Canada, like the rest of the industrialized world, they pay a third or even 10 percent of what we do for medicine, and you did nothing about it....

As I looked around the room in the eyes of these people who wouldn't necessarily agree with me on anything, I [had] just described what we got wrong in the healthcare bill and how we can fix it, and I wasn't seeing people who were disagreeing with me. There was one. He worked for a pharmaceutical company.... He chewed my ass afterwards. But for the most part the rest of them didn't. I said to this guy as he was chewing my ass, "I thought you were a capitalist. I thought you, being a capitalist, you would agree with all those other people who told me that if I went out of business raising wheat because somebody could raise it cheaper, that that was just the way it works with free trade. Apparently you're not a capitalist, or you're just a crony capitalist. I'm not sure."


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