Friday Talking Points -- Every Sulfurous Belch

OK, I fully admit I stole that title. Well, maybe not "stole," since I'm about to give it proper credit, but it certainly wasn't my own original idea. The line comes from George Will, and (of course) refers to Donald Trump. Part of the fun for Democrats this summer has been watching the angst of serious-minded conservative columnists as they realize how large a portion of the Republican base doesn't really care what serious-minded conservatives inside the Beltway think about much of anything. Will was the best (but by no means only) example of this last week, as he started his column off with a real humdinger of an opening paragraph:

Every sulfurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon injures the chances of a Republican presidency. After Donald Trump finishes plastering a snarling face on conservatism, any Republican nominee will face a dauntingly steep climb to reach even the paltry numbers that doomed Mitt Romney.

Ah, c'mon George... tell us how you really feel about Trump! Heh.

The entire Trump phenomenon reminds me of a basic rule from the world of magical/fantasy fiction. It's not quite Asimov's "three laws of robotics," but it's still been used my many authors who write about wizards casting dangerous spells. The rule of thumb among wizards? "Do not call up that which you cannot put down." Don't summon demons or otherworldly forces if you're not strong enough to defeat them, in other words.

You can probably see where I'm going with this, in relation to Donald Trump. The Republican Party has called up a force of nature that it is, quite obviously, completely incapable of controlling or defeating. Hey, couldn't have happened to a nicer political party! All those decades of dog-whistle language, coded references, and wink-wink-nudge-nudge that the Republican Party has benefited from are now coming home to roost.

George Will isn't the only one freaking out by this new reality. Bill Kristol, who is famously always wrong about pretty much everything, wrote a column this week proposing eight or nine new candidates for the Republican presidential race (the most absurd: Samuel Alito). Because, obviously, seventeen is not enough. Frank Luntz, famous Republican pollster and spin doctor, held a focus group of Trump supporters which left him (according to his own statement) weak in the knees, with his legs all a-tremble.

Of course, not everyone is horrified at Trump's success. He just picked up the endorsement of David Duke, for whatever that's worth. Trump also tossed out Jorge Ramos from a press conference, and called two of his supporters "passionate" after they beat a homeless man with metal pipes, in support of Trump's position on immigrants. All the while, Trump's numbers continue to improve in the polls, where he's now edging towards 30 percent of all Republican primary voters. If he manages to top 35 percent, then he may become absolutely unstoppable (much to serious-minded conservatives' collective dismay).

Some Republicans are now even contemplating rigging the primary so Trump's name doesn't appear on their state's ballots. As usual, when Republicans can't win at the polls, their fallback position is to cheat. State-level party bigwigs in Virginia and North Carolina are considering taking this route, and South Carolina already has the rule the others are contemplating -- every Republican candidate must sign a "loyalty oath" to support the party's eventual nominee and not run as an independent in the general election, or their name doesn't appear on the primary election ballot. Obviously, these sorts of pledges are utterly unenforceable, so it'll be interesting to see how Trump plays it. But the mere fact that the state-level party honchos are even considering this sort of thing is an accurate measure of the desperation which exists among establishment Republicans right now.

Trump continues to roil the Republican waters on the immigration issue. The other GOP candidates are being exposed as complete cowards when it comes to reacting to Trump's grand "ship them all home" plan. Scott Walker probably stumbled the worst, as he floundered around for days trying to figure out his stance on the Fourteenth Amendment. He was for changing it, against changing it, and tried to brush the entire question off; none of which made him seem even one tiny iota presidential.

Jeb! Bush thought he might tap into some of the Trump anger by tossing around the term "anchor babies," which was almost as spectacular a failure as Walker's vacillation. Jeb! then tried to explain that anchor babies were really more of an Asian problem, thereby offending two minority demographics at once. Boy, it's fun to watch the Republican "minority outreach" effort in action, isn't it? As George Will so accurately predicted (most especially on Latino and Asian vote percentages), Republicans "face a dauntingly steep climb to reach even the paltry numbers that doomed Mitt Romney." Jeb! also (you just cannot make this stuff up, folks!) marked the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by releasing a new ad this week showing Jeb! standing right next to Mike "Heckuva Job" Brown, the disgraced former head of FEMA who fiddled while New Orleans drowned. As the image is shown, Bush intones: "We have the best emergency response team on the ground, in the country, and in the world." Heckuva job, Brownie!

Over on the Democratic side of the race, there was an explosion of interest in a new candidate that might be labeled "Bidenpalooza." Joe's obviously seriously considering a run, and the Wall Street Journal even reported he is currently leaning towards throwing his hat in the ring. Don't expect an announcement any time soon, though, as Biden says he'll make a decision by the end of next month.

Bernie Sanders got a front-page story in the New York Times this week. Of course, being the mainstream media and all, it was a total hit piece full of the snarkiest language possible. It absolutely ignored Bernie's entire message and platform (of course), and absolutely refused to analyze why so many people are flocking to support him. Cornel West just endorsed Bernie's candidacy this week, but very few political reporters noticed, since it doesn't fit in with their "only white liberals support Sanders" go-to storyline.

That's enough from the campaign trail for one week. In other fun news, the oldest message-in-a-bottle ever was returned to its sender recently, after a journey of more than a century. A British scientific group sent out a thousand postcards in bottles from 1904 through 1906, to study the currents in the North Sea. A couple just found one on a German island, and sent the postcard back to the group (which still exists). The Marine Biological Association made good on the century-old promise on the card, and sent a reward of one old shilling to the couple for returning the postcard. I don't really have any reason for including this story, but it did make me smile, in an otherwise Trump-filled week. Maybe Sting or The Police can write a song about it, or something!


We're changing the title of this award this week, because they're not technically Democrats. So we're handing out the Most Impressive Activist Group Of The Week to Neighborhood Legislature, for their amusing and entirely appropriate political theater in California. From the story:

A group of protesters in California took a stand against the influence of money in politics Wednesday by imagining what it would look like if lawmakers had to publicly advertise their campaign donors on their clothes à la professional stock car drivers.

The protesters placed cardboard cutouts of all 120 California state lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in front of the state capitol in Sacramento. Each legislator wore the logos of the corporations that back them in the style of NASCAR drivers' brand-filled uniforms.

The photos alone are worth clicking that link to see.

We've long been an advocate of this idea, although we certainly can't claim to have thought it up ourselves. As far back as FTP [189] (scroll down to Talking Point 7), we've been big fans of plastering donor logos on congresscritters and other politicians. If America is going to be run by bribery, the least we should be able to do is see who is forking over all that money to buy the politicians!

For taking this idea and running with it, and for an absolute brilliant piece of political theater, the Neighborhood Legislature is hereby awarded the Most Impressive Activist Group Of The Week. This is one of those ideas we truly wish would go viral, on a national level.

[Congratulate Neighborhood Legislature on their official webpage, to let them know you appreciate their excellent stunt.]


Before we get to the main award, we do have one (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week, for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for waging a silly war on boobies. Laws banning topless women from appearing in public were changed a while back in New York, and some enterprising women are using their newfound right to bare their breasts in Times Square. Among the people dressed in Elmo suits or dressed as Captain America, there are now women wearing nothing but a thong and body paint. All of these folks are there for the same reason: to separate the tourists from their money. Charging ten bucks (or whatever the traffic will bear) to appear in a photo has long been a tradition in Times Square, so this is really nothing new.

Now, Times Square does have an even older history of being a sex district with triple-X theaters and whatnot, which was all cleaned up (so as not to scare the tourists) a while back. In other words, Bill de Blasio wanting to ban topless women from Times Square isn't happening in a vacuum. He doesn't want a return to the "bad old days," but at the same time he seems to be overreacting to the perceived problem. If Hizzoner truly does want to end this practice, there's really only one acceptable way to do so: change the law back. Ban boobies everywhere. This, however, might be a political problem for him.

In fact, the whole fracas really nothing short of knee-jerk "Won't someone think of the children!!!" overreach. You know what? I bet children who see a painted lady's chest won't actually be as traumatized as all the pearl-clutchers think. Bill de Blasio should have stayed out of this fight, which is why he earns a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week.

But, for the second week in a row, Hillary Clinton is the recipient of our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. Clinton, like all presidential candidates these days, is struggling to be heard among the thousands of "Did you hear what Trump just said?" stories. So she apparently thought she'd use some shocking language of her own, and compared her political opponents to terrorists, because (by her logic) they both treat women badly.

Where to begin? First, there are hard lines in politics that should never be crossed. You don't call someone a traitor, for instance, under any circumstances short of them being legally accused of actually selling the country out. Another of these rules is that you don't call a political opponent a terrorist. Clinton crossed that line, almost flippantly.

Did Clinton have a point to make? Yes she did. Planned Parenthood and abortion are about to be the focus of an enormous political battle in Washington -- one that might even result in another government shutdown. The battle has already been joined, and it is going to get fierce next month. Clinton was jumping in to this fray in an admirable fashion, rather than waiting on the sidelines and mouthing vague platitudes. She's always been a champion for women's rights, so it is entirely within her wheelhouse.

Even so, Clinton went too far. This is American politics, folks, and terrorist groups aren't a part of it. The Taliban is not on any American ballot, to put it another way. While there are indeed many groups and countries around the world with horrendous records on women's rights, it really has no bearing on domestic politics.

A final point: almost all American politicians are gigantic flaming hypocrites on the issue of women's rights around the world, including not only Hillary Clinton but everyone else running for the presidency as well. If we really want to get up on our high horse about the way the Islamic State treats women, then it would require us (if we're not going to be gigantic flaming hypocrites) to immediately suspend all ties with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis execute people by publicly beheading them, after all, and women in their country are not even allowed to do simple things like driving on their own. They're about to have an election where -- for the first time ever -- women will be allowed to vote. If our gold standard for who America remains friends with is that women's rights be respected, then our relationship with Saudi Arabia would be the first to go. If Hillary Clinton -- or anyone else for that matter -- speaks disparagingly about how terrorists treat women, then we would really like to hear someone ask her what her Saudi policy would be.

So for multiple reasons, Hillary linking her political opponents with terrorists was more than a little disappointing. Just because Trump is sucking all the oxygen out of the room right now does not mean Democrats should be stooping to his level (or even lower). Clinton can fight for women's rights as fervently as possible without making such odious comparisons. She needs to back down on this one, but for now it has earned her another Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Hillary Clinton is a private citizen, and our longstanding policy is not to provide contact information for candidate websites, so you'll have to search her contact info out yourself, sorry.]


Volume 359 (8/28/15)

It's still the Silly Season in Washington, so we don't have a whole lot of substantive political talking points this week. When Congress returns, we're in for a number of high-profile fights, but until then we're just making do with what we've got. Just to warn everyone in advance.


   Making America Grate

Every so often, we are so struck by a clever turn of phrase that we have to give it a standalone talking point. This is one of those times, as Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post ran an article this week under the best headline we've yet seen to describe the Trump phenomenon -- a play on Trump's own campaign slogan. It's a cheap pun, but that doesn't make it any less funny:


   From denial to anger

This framing of the Trump situation is likely going to appear again and again, but Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post gets credit for being the first to point it out.

"The Republican Party seems to be destined to go through the classic 'five stages of grief' as they come to grips with Donald Trump's success. Most establishment Republicans are still in the first stage, denial. Some have already moved on to anger -- the second stage. I mean, did you read George Will's 'every sulfurous belch' column this week? The third stage is going to be problematic, since it is bargaining -- and Trump is a notoriously tough bargainer. This will inevitably lead to depression, and sooner or later to the final stage, acceptance. You might call it the grief of watching the Republican Party die, right in front of their eyes."


   Strong growth

This is one to hit Jeb! with, in particular.

"Jeb Bush is running on a promise to achieve four percent growth in America's economy. I wonder if he saw the most recent numbers, which showed the economy grew 3.7 percent in the second quarter of this year? Seems like President Obama's doing almost as well as what Bush is promising, which reminds me of Mitt Romney's promise to get unemployment down to six percent before 2016. Remember that one? Obama managed to achieve that in about half the time Romney promised. Seems like Republicans can't even promise they'll handle the American economy as well as Democrats routinely do in the real world."


   $200 million and counting

Data to use in other state-level legalization fights.

"Colorado and Washington have so far taken in over two hundred million dollars in marijuana tax revenue. We don't yet have data for Alaska and Oregon, but you can bet they're raking in millions as well. By legalizing recreational marijuana use, these states have turned a big drag on their state budgets -- policing, prisons, clogged courtrooms, and all the rest of it -- into a huge asset. I'm sure there are other state governments out there who are paying attention. The success of legalization continues to benefit the states which have implemented it. $200 million ain't exactly pocket change."


   President Barack Obama Highway

This is going to be lots of fun for Democrats, for years to come.

"I see that Riviera Beach, Florida just voted to change the name of a road from 'Old Dixie Highway' to 'President Barack Obama Highway.' Personally, I can't think of a better way to get rid of institutionalized racist memorials than to rename them after the first African-American president. In fact, I would bet that after Obama's term in office ends, there will be a lot more things named after him all across America. Call it the revenge of Democrats after the orgy of naming so many things after Ronald Reagan a few years back."


   Maybe Amazon will step in

This one is pretty funny.

"Among the many creative uses of drone aircraft we can now add their use to deliver banned things inside prison walls. An attempt was made in Maryland recently to fly in some drugs and pornography aboard a drone. While this attempt was foiled, it seems such an obvious use of new technology that we'll likely see more and more of these attempts in the near future. How exactly are the cops going to keep the skies over prisons clear of drones? Skeet shooting?"


   Jade Helm invasion a total flop

This qualifies as rubbing salt in the wound, really.

"I notice that the predicted invasion of Texas by the United States military seems not to have materialized. It wasn't so long ago that the Texas governor was issuing dire warnings of the nefarious intent of America's own military in carrying out an exercise called 'Jade Helm 15,' which did nothing but stoke paranoid delusions within the state. Well, the summer's drawing to a close and I still haven't seen one headline about the Army taking over Texas, or confiscating everyone's guns, or rounding up its citizens for concentration camps, or any of the rest of the nonsense the rightwingers were spouting not so long ago. If Jade Helm really was a planned invasion of Texas, I have to say it's been a total flop so far."


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