Friday Talking Points -- Beyond the Debate Stage

Something sneaking up on everyone in the political world is the surprising amount of GOP candidates who are open to ending a massive tax break for hedge fund managers. President Obama has noticed, and is pointing it out.
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Republican presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Jeb Bush speak during the Presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California on September 16, 2015. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump stepped into a campaign hornet's nest as his rivals collectively turned their sights on the billionaire in the party's second debate of the 2015. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Jeb Bush speak during the Presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California on September 16, 2015. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump stepped into a campaign hornet's nest as his rivals collectively turned their sights on the billionaire in the party's second debate of the 2015. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

This was one of those weeks when one event overshadowed pretty much everything else that was going on in the political world. The event, of course, was the second round of Republican presidential debates, which lasted for a grueling five-plus hours.

I've already written two columns on the debates, one composed of my snap reactions just after the conclusion and the second one pointing out how far the discussion of marijuana legal reform has come, since an actual serious discussion of marijuana policy broke out late in the second debate between Rand Paul, Jeb! Bush, and Chris Christie. Or you can always find fact-checking articles pointing out some of the hogwash being touted as fact during the debates. If you really have a lot of time on your hands, you can even read the full transcript of what was said. But for the most part, we're going to focus here on stuff that happened outside the debate hall (known to Republicans as "The Shrine of Saint Ronald of Reagan's Magic Airplane").

Something sneaking up on everyone in the political world is the surprising amount of GOP candidates who are open to ending a massive tax break for hedge fund managers. President Obama has noticed, and is pointing it out. This won't happen overnight, but it cuts to the core of Republican orthodoxy ("no tax hikes ever on anyone for any reason"), so it certainly is an interesting political shift to watch.

In non-debate Republican presidential campaign news, Bobby Jindal wrote an extraordinary opinion piece for CNN, which begins:

President Trump today announced that the first season of "The Apprentice: White House Edition" will air on CBS this fall. Contestants, including Gary Busey, Ted Cruz and Kanye West, will vie for Cabinet positions. The announcement came as the newly renamed "Hair Force One" touched down in South Dakota for the unveiling of President Trump's face on Mount Rushmore. Meanwhile, first lady Melania had reason to celebrate as her White House-branded perfume, Trump, by Trump, hit Macy's shelves...

No, this is not a story from The Onion. It's a vision of our future. The only people who would enjoy a Trump presidency are Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert. The jokes write themselves.

But this is no laughing matter. Our country is slipping away. The liberalism and incompetence of the Obama administration have pushed us to the edge of a socialist abyss.

Oh no! Not the dreaded socialist abyss! Ahhhh! Jindal's tone is either apoplectic or apocalyptic (take your choice) throughout the entire piece. He minces no words when it comes to the threat of The Donald, warning darkly:

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz is clinging to Trump like a limpet to an oil tanker, hoping to suck up his votes when Trump eventually sinks.

Conservatives need to say what we are thinking: Donald Trump is a madman who must be stopped. Failure to speak out against Trump is an endorsement of Clinton.

C'mon, Bobby, tell us what you really think! Jindal's getting pretty desperate these days, and in normal times we'd be speculating about when he'll be exiting the race. However, these are not exactly normal times, so maybe he'll stick around to be the Trump attack dog for a while longer. "A madman who must be stopped" -- wonder what Jindal will do if Trump gets the nomination. Think he'll stick to that R.N.C. pledge to support the eventual nominee?

Speaking of people possibly about to exit the race, Scott Walker has just pulled all his forces back to Iowa. He can't afford to concentrate on any other states, and his donors are reportedly getting pretty nervous. He's banking on a big win in Iowa, which doesn't appear very likely to happen, so he may become the second Republican to exit the race (leaving us with "only" 15 candidates).

Bad news for Carly Fiorina (if anybody actually notices, that is): Hewlett-Packard is about to lay off another 30,000 employees. It's bad for Carly because it reminds people of that time that she was in charge and also laid off 30,000 people. Which might just appear in some ads, if Fiorina climbs in the polls after her first "big table" debate. The ironic thing is that while Carly isn't leading HP anymore (after being fired, of course), the woman who is currently leading it was also trounced in the same California election that Carly lost: Meg Whitman.

But the weirdest news of the week was the breaking story (watch for this video on tonight's news!) of a Marco Rubio top aide sucker-punching a Rand Paul top aide in the face in a barroom. Seriously, no matter how much Democrats squabble, at least they're not engaging in fisticuffs in public.

Speaking of Democrats squabbling, it seems that with his recent rise in the polling, Bernie Sanders is starting to appear to be a threat to the Hillary coronation process. This week alone, Sanders was the target of a hit piece in the New York Times and a bizarre throwback to the days of "red-baiting" from a Hillary Clinton political action committee (more on this last one in the awards section). The Washington Post ran a pretty good rebuttal of the Times piece, which points out the gaping flaws in the story, for anyone truly interested.

Meanwhile, Bernie gave a speech this week to the ultra-conservative Liberty University. The speech was praised by many for opening a dialog with people progressives normally don't even bother talking to. Bernie's argument was a moral one, pointing out that while the audience might disagree with him on hot-button issues like abortion, "family values" should also have an economic component to it. The Bible actually has plenty to say about how we should treat the poor and less fortunate than ourselves, which the Pope is also about to remind America of, in his upcoming visit.

Hillary's team is swearing that they're sticking to her original campaign plan, which is rather unbelievable since this was the first week of dramatic changes in her campaign style. I guess we're supposed to believe that she planned this all along, or something. Hillary's been everywhere this week, on Ellen's show, on the Tonight Show, and this Sunday she'll do her first sit-down interview of her entire campaign on a Sunday-morning political show (Face The Nation on CBS). Hillary is making herself much more accessible to the press of late, and trying to show a more human side as well. We personally don't watch daytime television (although we heard Clinton danced on Ellen's show), but we do think that Hillary was pretty funny and relaxed on her appearance on Jimmy Fallon's show. Hillary Clinton could never have a second career as a stand-up comic (we still cringe when we recall how she blew the "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night" line, the last time she ran), but she is indeed making a concerted effort to appear much more human and much less scripted these days -- which is a welcome change and should be encouraged.

Let's see, what else is going on? Dee Snider reminded us all of the farce that was the "P.M.R.C." -- which happened 30 years ago and still stands out as one of the stupidest wastes of time Congress has ever been involved in (right up there with the 50's demonization of comic books). I wrote about this many years ago, and included Frank Zappa's entire written condemnation of the proceedings, but Dee Snider also testified next to Zappa, so his take is also an excellent one to read. Remember, without eternal vigilance, senators' wives get up to all sorts of nonsense!

Speaking of poking government noses where they don't belong, the F.B.I. abruptly yanked a "wax-like, life-size figure of J. Edgar Hoover" from a historical display. It seems the agency is finally realizing that Hoover is not a figure worth looking up to. From the article:

Current FBI Director James B. Comey has invoked Hoover's toxic legacy to warn new agents about the exercise of their powers.

In a speech at Georgetown University in February, Comey said he makes new agents and analysts study the F.B.I.'s relationship with [Martin Luther] King and visit his memorial so they can ponder the mistakes of the past. Comey also said that he keeps a letter on his desk from then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy approving Hoover's baseless request to wiretap King's telephone calls.

"The reason I do those things is to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them," Comey said. "So we must talk about our history. It is a hard truth that lives on."

F.B.I. officials said that sending the Hoover figure to New York seemed to be a harmless idea at first. The figure -- a jowly, stern-faced Hoover dressed in a dark suit -- was originally on display in Washington at the F.B.I. headquarters building, which is named after Hoover, but the figure had been in storage for years.

To completely end the legacy, that last bit needs addressing as well -- the part about the headquarters "named after Hoover." When the building is renamed, we'll believe the F.B.I. is serious about disavowing Hoover's legacy.

In marijuana news, Colorado heard the actual discussion about federal marijuana policy during the Republican debate, and immediately declared a one-day "tax holiday" on marijuana sales. Well, no, that's not really how it happened (the truth is far more mundane), but it sure would have been amusing if it had been a celebration of Rand Paul speaking sense to millions of Republican voters.

And a warning is necessary to introduce our final introductory paragraph, because it contains some unseemly language. If that sort of thing offends you, then just quickly skip to the awards section. Fair warning. A man in New York was just vindicated on First Amendment grounds for insulting a town. He got a speeding ticket, and while attempting to pay the ticket by mail, wrote his own political opinion of the town on it, thus exercising his right to free political speech. He crossed out the town's name (ironically enough, "Liberty, New York") and wrote in "Tyranny" instead. Then he went free-form, expressing the opinion: "Fuck your shitty town bitches" on the form, before mailing it in with his guilty plea and payment. The town then refused his payment and forced him to appear before a judge, where he was promptly arrested for "aggravated harassment." A federal judge just agreed with his case that his First Amendment rights were violated, leaving us all free to express whatever opinion we wish -- no matter how profane -- on any speeding tickets we get in the future. Another win for free speech!

Before we get to the main prize, we've got two Honorable Mentions to hand out. The first goes to Hillary Clinton. For months now, we've seen a tightly-controlled campaign from a tightly-wound candidate. Press access to her was severely restricted, and she seemed to be reinforcing the image of an over-calculating, over-cautious campaigner. This week, the floodgates were opened. Hillary's now appearing on television, giving serious sit-down interviews, and working hard to put the email questions to rest. She's also attempting to get outside her own comfort zone and show off her human side better. Her appearance on Jimmy Fallon's show was pretty well done all around (it appeared the night of the debate, so it wasn't noticed by everyone), and it should boost her confidence for making these sorts of appearances in the future. She'll be appearing on CBS Sunday morning, which was another noticeable hole in her campaign strategy (she hasn't done any Sunday morning shows yet). For attempting to steer her campaign in a new and better direction, Clinton gets some credit.

Our second Honorable Mention goes this week to Senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren just introduced a bill to ban prospective employers from performing credit checks on job applicants for most jobs. There is no evidence that having something bad on your credit history (oftentimes, erroneously) has anything to do with job performance at all. Having such a bad mark is like a modern-day scarlet letter, because it perpetuates a vicious cycle (can't pay your bills, but can't get a good job so that you can pay your bills). The bill probably won't pass right away, but this is precisely the reason so many progressives love Warren -- for identifying issues that need fixing, and then pushing changes to fix the problems.

But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders introduced a bill of his own this week, already fulfilling a campaign promise, which would ban private prisons. The private prison industry has completely skewed the way governments view incarceration, and it is rather sickening to think about people making millions of dollars off of keeping people locked up. This was all the fallout of the Republican-led "privatization" frenzy, decades ago, and it's great to see Sanders attacking the root of the problem.

But this would have earned him no more than an Honorable Mention (the bill hasn't been passed or anything, in other words). Instead, this week Bernie gets his twelfth MIDOTW (passing up Hillary Clinton's 11) for immediately raising over a million dollars off the Clinton camp's pathetic red-baiting attack. Bernie correctly pointed out that it "was the kind of onslaught I expected to see from the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson."

But we've covered all that below in the next section, so we'll just move right along to explain what happened.

[Congratulate Senator Bernie Sanders on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

We're not going to give the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to Hillary Clinton, tempting though it may be. Instead, we're awarding it to the "Correct The Record" super PAC, which is supporting Clinton's campaign. This hair-splitting is necessary to preserve the fiction that PACs never "coordinate" with the campaigns, meaning the entire mess can't directly be laid at Hillary's door.

Huffington Post broke the story, when Correct The Record sent them an email which they tried to place "off the record" (in other words, filed under "anonymous rumors to report on"). The reporter hadn't agreed to this, so the email's contents were reported on.

The case is downright bizarre, because it is such a flimsy and ham-fisted attempt at politically smearing Bernie Sanders. This is a case study in innuendo and red-baiting (and what might be called terrorism-baiting). Here's the tortured logic of Correct The Record:

Jeremy Corbyn just became Britain's new Labour Party leader. Corbyn is a socialist (and not just the way the word is tossed around here across the pond -- he's the real thing). Sanders and Corbyn have said nice things about each other. Corbyn has also made some "extreme comments" about Osama Bin Laden, Hezbollah, NATO, Russia, and Hugo Chavez. Therefore, Bernie Sanders loves terrorists and communist leaders. Ergo, Sanders is probably a commie himself.

Think that's an exaggeration? Read the whole story for yourself and decide.

Sanders immediately used this smear attempt in fundraising, stating not only that this was reminiscent of the Koch brothers but also that Team Hillary "suggested I'd be friendly with Middle East terrorist organizations, and even tried to link me to a dead communist dictator." He's raised $1.2 million so far, which might just give Correct The Record a few second thoughts about trying such mudslinging again -- or at the very least, perhaps try to come up with a smear that's even remotely believable and doesn't involve such transparent attempts of calling Bernie a commie.

For bringing us all back to the red-baiting era, for trying to push a downright laughable "six degrees from Kevin Bacon" linkage, and for all-around incompetence, Correct The Record is indeed our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

The most amusing thing in this whole sorry episode is that Bernie faced smear attempts from the mainstream media this week as well as from Team Hillary. Sounds like some folks are getting just a wee bit worried about the success of Bernie's campaign, doesn't it?

[Correct The Record is part of a political campaign (whether they admit it to the I.R.S. or not), and we have a blanket policy of not linking to such sites, so you'll have to do your own web search to let them know what you think of their actions.]

Volume 362 (9/18/15)

We have some debate-themed talking points this week, and some from the rest of the political world. There's actually only one about Donald Trump this week, and it even comes from a Republican. As always, these talking points are provided for Democrats to use everywhere, from the Sunday morning chatfests to talking with coworkers around the water cooler.

More good Obamacare data is in

Democrats need to point out every single time good stats like these come in.

"Once again, I see new figures are out showing the success of the Affordable Care Act in getting more and more Americans insured. Last year alone, nine million more people had health insurance coverage than in 2013. The percentage of people uninsured dropped from 13.3 percent to 10.4 percent. Over and over again, the numbers prove that the sky has not fallen and Obamacare is doing precisely what it was intended to do. The naysayers don't want to even talk about Obamacare at all anymore -- I barely even heard it mentioned in the debates -- because all their horror stories simply have not come true. As the data show, over and over again."

Republicans coming to their senses on weed

A big tectonic shift just happened in the Republican Party. So point it out!

"I was fascinated to hear Republicans debate reforming federal laws on marijuana the other night. Things Republicans used to fight hard against are now actually being bragged about, as positive accomplishments! Republicans fought hard against the idea of drug courts -- and now they all seem to agree that the "tough on crime" and "mandatory minimums" policies they all pushed back in the 1980s have been proven to be disastrous. Drug courts are now something Republicans not only support but brag about! Likewise, the concept of medical marijuana was denounced by just about all Republicans just a few short years ago, and now even Chris Christie -- who promises to crack down on legal recreational use -- touts New Jersey's acceptance of medical marijuana as a political plus. After pushing policies that don't work ever since Nancy Reagan's time, Republicans are finally beginning to see the light on marijuana reform. It's about time, and I look forward to hearing what the Democratic candidates have to say on the issue as well."

Pope actually reads all of the Bible

The Pope's coming to town, and many Republicans are getting nervous.

"Pope Francis will be coming to America soon, and it seems that some Republicans are running away from the Pope in fear of what he'll say. It seems they want to use religious leaders' statements when politically convenient, but then ignore statements that they don't want to hear. Sounds like a pretty thin grasp of Christianity, to me. Unlike many of these religiously-choosy Republicans, the Pope has actually read all the Bible -- even those parts about being a good shepherd of the Earth and helping the poor whenever possible. There are in fact many things in the Bible that many politicians just conveniently omit, and the Pope's about to remind them of a few. Should be interesting!"

Shutdown ahead!

There isn't just one issue, there are actually many ways a shutdown could happen soon.

"Once again, America faces the consequences of John Boehner's absolute lack of the ability to lead or control his own party. Although Republicans control both houses of Congress, they have not done what they promised they would do -- pass a budget on time, the way it is supposed to happen. Because of this, we need a short-term extension while they do the job they should have been doing all year long. Everyone knows how this will end -- Republicans and Democrats will have to strike some sort of spending deal, since a bill can't pass the Senate without Democratic support. But over in the House, Boehner can't even manage to pass a bill with a clear majority of Republicans because the Tea Partiers want to throw another conniption fit and shut down the federal government. This shutdown will not gain them anything, and a deal will inevitably be struck in the end. But due to Boehner's weakness as a leader, we may see the shutdown happen anyway. As Ronald Reagan might have said, 'there they go again...'."

That leaves 47 percent, doesn't it?

Jeb! Bush wants to cut taxes on rich folks. Surprise, surprise!

"I see Jeb Bush released his tax plan this week. It calls for lots of tax cuts, but the proportions are guaranteed to increase income inequality in America. This is because a whopping 53 percent of these tax cuts would go to the top one percent of earners. That's Bush's idea of 'middle-class tax cuts,' I guess. What I found amusing is that if you do the math, that means the other 99 percent of workers would get 47 percent of the Bush tax cuts. Now where have I heard the figure '47 percent' on the campaign trail before? Hmmm...."

Republican-on-Republican violence

Don't even need to come up with a Trump talking point this week. Bobby Jindal already did a fine job of doing so!

"Right after the second debate, Bobby Jindal -- desperate for attention, obviously -- wrote an anti-Trump rant for CNN. It contains all sorts of hilarious bits, including Gary Busey as a Trump cabinet member, Trump's face on Mount Rushmore, and renaming his airplane 'Hair Force One.' Pretty funny stuff, and as Jindal points out, 'the jokes write themselves.' But later on, Jindal became almost unhinged in his Trump-hating, stating 'Donald Trump is a madman who must be stopped.' Think Jindal will be supporting Trump if he wins the GOP nomination? Hope Reince Priebus has Jindal's sworn loyalty oath on file, looks like he might need it!"

Still no occupation of Texas

Likely the last time we'll be using this one. One would like to hope, at any rate.

"As Salon just helpfully pointed out, the 'Jade Helm 15' military exercise just wrapped up, and Texas is still somehow not occupied by the American military. Instead of the wild-eyed expectation that troops would be 'marching through your town, implementing Obamacare, pardoning undocumented workers and replacing the Constitution with Sharia law,' absolutely nothing happened instead. I'm still waiting for Texas Governor Greg Abbott to admit he was 'horribly wrong about the whole thing,' but I'm not exactly holding my breath."

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