Friday Talking Points -- Back to the 1960s

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a forum on race and economic opportunity at Patri
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a forum on race and economic opportunity at Patrick Henry High School, on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, in Minneapolis, Minn. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

For those readers who weren't alive (or old enough) to experience the 1960s, this week we had somewhat of a history lesson, packaged as a Democratic debate. Now, part of why this happened is that the Democratic presidential campaign has entered into a "convince the minority voters" phase, since the upcoming two states to vote have a lot of Latino (Nevada) and African-American (South Carolina) voters. So there was quite a bit of attention spent on the Civil Rights era, which will continue right up to Super Tuesday, at the very least. We keep waiting for Bernie Sanders (or a moderator, for that matter) to bring up the term "Goldwater Girl" in a Hillary Clinton question, and last night would have been a dandy opportunity. But PBS held a much more "polite" debate, meaning lots of softball questions and ignoring any unseemly discomfort for the candidates (at least, for the most part).

Think about it: In the time that has passed since the last Democratic debate, there have been a number of interesting stories from the campaign trail, but almost none of them were brought up last night. The Clinton Foundation got subpoenaed over the whole Hillary email investigation. Her Goldman Sachs speech transcripts (which she promised, at the last debate, that she'd "look into" releasing) were not mentioned -- even though Politico ran an article this week quoting someone who was in the audience at one of those speeches saying:

It was pretty glowing about us. It's so far from what she sounds like as a candidate now. It was like a rah-rah speech. She sounded more like a Goldman Sachs managing director.

Bernie wasn't questioned about an apparent dirty trick in Nevada by some of his campaign supporters. Neither candidate was questioned at all about Nevada (we don't even think the word was used, the entire night), even though it will be the next state to vote. Nevada politics is interesting for both candidates (they both have strengths and weaknesses there) but you have to check the local press to even hear this discussion. We saw the debate as somewhat of a draw. Bernie made some good points, but so did Hillary. Both attacked sharply here and there, and both stammered through a few answers.

But the real blast from the past in the debate made us wonder if Team Bernie reads this column. Last week, when we reviewed the previous debate, we said: "Sanders could also have called Clinton on the carpet about that Kissinger praise, as well." This week, Sanders took that advice, in a big way.

There's a reason why this was so easy a criticism for Bernie to make, but again it's one that anyone under the age of 50 (or so) might miss. For those who don't really know who Henry Kissinger was, here's an easy way to explain it. First, how do you now feel about Dick Cheney? Or Donald Rumsfeld? Have you ever used the term "war criminal" to describe either of these men? Do you have a positive impression of them in any way? OK, now imagine yourself, decades in the future, watching two Democrats debate. If one of them said: "I was very flattered when Dick Cheney said I ran the State Department better -- better than anybody had run it in a long time," what would your reaction be? This is pretty close to how Democrats who remember Kissinger reacted to Clinton's praise (of Kissinger's praise of her).

Bernie Sanders remembers the awfulness of Henry Kissinger, obviously. He hit Clinton hard on the issue last night, which was entirely the right thing to do. For those still unclear, try searching the web for subjects like "secret bombing of Cambodia" or "Augusto Pinochet." That secret bombing was in fact what is technically known as "carpet bombing" and "bombing civilians without regard to their innocence." America dropped more tonnage of bombs on Cambodia -- a country we weren't even officially at war with -- than we dropped in all of World War II. Anyone still unsure about Kissinger's record can read a deep dive into that record at Salon, or an even-deeper dive over at the Washington Post.

As we noted, the entire debate was somewhat of a trip back in time to the 1960s, and the Kissinger slam was just one part of it. But again, we think both candidates did what they set out to do in this debate, which was to make themselves as appealing as possible to both black and Latino voters. Since there is a dearth of polling in Nevada (I wrote an article about how Nevada "don't get no respect" earlier this week, exploring why the media and pollsters almost completely ignore the state's caucuses), we'll all have to wait until next weekend to see how each of them did, at least with Latinos.

Republicans also had a debate last week, but the less said about that the better. Missed it? Here's a quick recap: "Fear! Be afraid! Of everything and everyone, because they're coming to get you -- and in fact they're already in your house! Run!!!"

Ahem. Well, that's what it sounded like to us, at any rate. The most notable takedown of the night was Chris Christie finding a bug in Marco Rubio's software, which caused an audio loop of a single nonsensical talking point. The Rubio-bot (or Marco-bot, if you prefer) is going to be a continuing thing for the rest of his run, that's for sure. What will not be continuing for the rest of the campaign, though, is Chris Christie -- so at least he had a final moment of debate glory before his exit. And, of course, we're also all thanking our lucky stars that the only way Carly Fiorina is going to get into the White House is to take the public tour.

New Hampshire seriously shook up the Republican field, as Donald Trump scored his first big win and John Kasich leapt into relevancy with his second-place finish. Jeb! Bush has spent tens of millions of dollars by now, but all this spending only got him fourth place -- if we were Bush investors, we'd be pretty annoyed about that return-on-investment thing, right about now.

The Republican race is so chaotic heading out of New Hampshire that we began to contemplate a rather bizarre concept -- establishment Republicans may, in the end, have no choice to throw all their support behind Trump. This might be the only way they will have to defeat Ted Cruz, whom they hate with a white-hot passion. But then, we spent a whole article on this yesterday, so you can read more of our thoughts on this fascinating subject, if you're interested.

Salon noticed a discrepancy nobody else seems to be bringing up -- the top three Republican presidential candidates have not yet publicly released their tax returns. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio have yet to take this step, which (as Salon points out) is more usual before the primaries even begin. It'll be up to the media to make a stink about this, but perhaps they're too busy reporting Trump gaffes for now. Don't hold your breath, in other words.

And finally, the governor of Maine (a Tea Partier who long ago easily claimed the "most embarrassing governor in the country" title) clarified what he really meant in his previous comments about the scourge of drug dealers: "I had to go scream at the top of my lungs about black dealers coming in and doing the things that they're doing to our state." Previously, he had denied any sort of racial context, so it's good to see that he's now just admitting what everyone suspected all along.


This one's pretty easy this week, because the results of New Hampshire's primary were clear for all to see. Bernie Sanders won such an impressive victory that he was easily the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

Granted, this is just one state, and a small an non-representative one at that. In fact, this could be the high point of the entire Bernie Sanders campaign -- something Bernie supporters should be a little more aware of, in our humble opinion. But even with those caveats, Bernie's triumph in New Hampshire was impossible to ignore. He won every demographic except seniors. He won women voters -- by 11 points. His overall margin of victory was a whopping 22 points -- far greater than the single-digit realm Team Hillary was hoping for.

Sanders set a milestone this week, one that often gets lost in the coverage. He became the first Jewish candidate to win a presidential primary. This might not stack up against the "first woman" excitement for Hillary, but (to coin a phrase) it ain't chopped liver, either.

There are still very real questions whether Bernie can translate his New Hampshire success to many other states. From here on out, it becomes a chase for the delegates, and Hillary Clinton obviously has an edge (in fact, some are already getting worried about the superdelegate imbalance). But worries like these are for another time. Because nothing can take away a 22-point win in the first primary of the country.

Bernie didn't just have a good week this week, he had a great week. Want to hear the icing on the cake? The Secret Service has assigned Bernie a code name -- "Intrepid." Not a bad week, all around!

For his New Hampshire victory alone, Senator Sanders was easily the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

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


Sadly, we have quite a few candidates for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this time around, most of them campaign surrogates of one sort or another.

The Democratic National Committee earns a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week, for quietly rolling back rules President Obama put in place barring lobbyists and political action committees from direct donations. The raw cynicism and business-as-usual stench of such a move will likely soon be featured in a Bernie Sanders stump speech.

President Bill Clinton's anti-Bernie tirade was pretty disappointing, last weekend, but he did point out the "Bernie Bros" online can indeed be pretty sexist and dismissive of Hillary supporters. To his credit, Sanders strongly disavowed them in multiple interviews afterwards, saying:

Look, we don't want that crap.... Look, anybody who is supporting me that is doing the sexist things is -- we don't want them. I don't want them. That is not what this campaign is about.

Representative (and icon of the Civil Rights movement) John Lewis was also disappointing this week, dismissively saying he had never met Bernie back when he led a national Civil Rights group: "I never saw him, I never met him." This was during an endorsement announcement from a political action committee for Hillary Clinton, but Bernie's Civil Rights credentials are indeed real -- and implying he is somehow making them up was a pretty low blow.

Madeline Albright caught some heat (pun intended) this week for flat-out telling women in New Hampshire that didn't support Hillary not only that they were going to Hell, but to a very special section of Hell. It's a stock line for her, but the context it was delivered in created a backlash (as it rightly should have).

But one Hillary surrogate went beyond (Dis-)Honorable Mention territory this week, so we're giving Gloria Steinem the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Steinem was, like Albright, trying to shame young women into supporting the woman candidate, but she did so in absolute refutation of everything she's fought her entire life for. Think that's too strongly put? We don't. Here's what she said, on Bill Maher's show, speaking about young women:

They're going to get more activist as they get older. And when you're young, you're thinking: 'Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie.

What is this, a "Gidget" movie or something? [For those not old enough to recognize that reference, the word itself is objectionable, being a mashup of "girl" and "midget."] Steinem is calling young women engaged in activism for Bernie nothing short of "boy-crazy teens."

Bill Maher, not exactly noted for his feminist views, responded by pointing out: "Now if I said that -- 'Yeah, they're for Bernie 'cause that's where the boys are' -- you'd swat me." He was entirely right (again, he has some much-deserved experience getting swatted over this sort of thing) -- he would have been swatted by feminists all across America for uttering such a thought. Rightly so.

The very concept should offend feminists everywhere. In fact, when the women's liberation movement began back in the 1960s, one of the attitudes they were fighting was that girls and young women were brainless beings with no more concrete aspiration in life than finding a husband. Women back then, it was widely assumed, even went to college merely so they could shop the ranks of higher-class husband material. Today, this is so outdated and offensive a concept it's hard to picture anyone even trying to defend it. Even Bill Maher.

It's beyond disappointing to hear one of the true leaders of the feminist movement use such language, and reduce all female Bernie supporters to nothing more than boy-crazy idiots. This misogynistic horse manure is what feminists fought hard against, a half-century ago. Steinem, more than most, should remember that. Apparently she doesn't, which is why she is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Gloria Steinem is a private citizen, even though she is a Clinton surrogate, and our policy is not to provide contact information for such. You'll have to search out her Facebook page or her Twitter account on your own to let her know what you think of her statement.]


Volume 378 (2/12/16)

Before we begin, we have to issue an apology for running with a story last week about the coin tosses on caucus night in Iowa. We used the story as a hook into the entire article (it gave us a metaphor for the column's title, in other words), but as it turns out we cited an article which was an early report and did not have full data. There weren't just seven coin tosses in Iowa caucuses, and they didn't determine Hillary Clinton's win. Ironically, we used the Salon article because it was (when written) actually more complete than many others (which claimed Clinton won six out of six coin tosses -- the Salon article claimed she won six out of seven). But in any case, a big mea culpa maxima for the error from last week (which was pointed out by several commenters).

OK, enough old business, let's get on with this week's talking points. We have two to begin with which are suggestions for both Hillary and Bernie to use at the next Democratic debate, both points we think they should be making. Because of the previous paragraph, for penance we determined who would go first by flipping a coin. Hillary won, so our first talking point is for her. The other five talking points are more generic, praising what all good Democrats should be praising and deriding what needs a healthy heaping of derision. So buckle your seatbelts and hang on for the ride, as usual.


   You think this is hard? Just wait.

This is an excellent point that Hillary Clinton really should be making. For all the fears from the Democratic National Committee over the debate schedule, Hillary is actually pretty damn good at them. She can take punches, she can be forceful defending herself, and (unlike Bernie) she does so in a variety of ways rather than just falling back on a handful of campaign rhetoric. At some point in a future debate, when Bernie complains about a jab she threw at him, Hillary Clinton should respond thusly:

"You think this is hard, debating me? You think I'm being unfair and taking cheap shots? Facing me in a debate is going to be a picnic compared to facing whatever blowhard the Republicans choose. Democratic voters aren't just watching us tonight to see how we measure up against each other -- they're also wondering which of us will be the best to take a progressive stance and defend it well, when on stage with a Republican candidate. Forget the 'electability' arguments -- this is all about how hard we can fight, how intelligently we can make our case, and how thick our skins are when the inevitable falsehoods come at us from the Republican candidate. I ask all Democrats -- who do you want to see on that stage in the general election debates? Me... or Bernie? Which of us do you think will be better at taking punches in the general election season? I'm ready not just to take on Senator Sanders, I'm ready to take on any Republican now running. In fact, I'll downright enjoy sparring with them, later this year."


   You said the same thing about Obama

OK, Bernie's turn. This one is much more specific, because it is designed to counter something that Hillary is making a centerpiece of her debate performances -- how much she supports Barack Obama. She has been hugging Obama as tightly as possible, and Bernie got in one good line on the subject last night ("One of us ran against Obama. I was not that candidate."). However, this was at the very end and for some bizarre reason (the debate actually ended seven minutes early) Bernie wasn't allowed to follow it up, because the moderators ruled it was time for closing statements. Here is how Bernie should respond the next time Hillary tries to paint herself as closer to the Obama agenda than Bernie.

"I want to read everyone a quote from Secretary Clinton:

I could stand up here and say, 'Let's just get everybody together, let's get unified. The sky will open. The light will come down. Celestial choirs will be singing. And everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.' Maybe I've just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be. You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear.

The thing about this quote is that she wasn't actually talking about me or my campaign. This is a quote from the 2008 campaign, and she was talking about Barack Obama. Back then, she ran against Obama as being naive for having bigger dreams than her. She thought he was naive. She thought he was some head-in-the-clouds idealist -- just check the record, there are plenty more quotes like this one. Now, she is running to continue Obama's legacy. President Obama got things done precisely because he did have big dreams. So why should America settle now for someone who didn't believe in him then, and only believes in minor changes to what he's accomplished? I believe the president made great strides because he was looking over the horizon -- not at his shoes or five feet in front of him. The American people elected someone like that eight years ago, which only goes to prove that sometimes you gotta dream big! Later on, others will praise your accomplishments, even if they can't manage to dream such big dreams themselves."


   Obama provides some irony out in the desert

These two events were largely coincidental, but the timing of them may not have been.

"This week, we saw the illegal occupation of public lands end peacefully out in Oregon, and Cliven Bundy himself arrested while getting off a plane. The protests -- both the original one at Bundy's ranch and the more recent one -- were nothing short of people demanding the right to freely take something that belongs to us all. They want to graze their cattle for free on public land, which is nothing short of demanding something for nothing. In the same week that saw the end to this lunacy, President Obama declared thousands of acres of the Mojave Desert will be preserved forever. Not only did the revolution never materialize, by the end of the week more public land had been created out West. That's a good week for the American public, all around."


   Idiotic Drug War policy may soon end

This one never made sense in the first place, so it's good to see a bipartisan effort to end such a counterproductive policy.

"In the frenzy of anti-drug laws passed a few decades ago was one policy that made no sense. If youthful offenders had ever gotten caught with drugs, they were barred from receiving federal student aid. Got that? You screw up as a kid and get caught with a joint -- you can't go to college. Shouldn't we be encouraging people to turn their lives around? Shouldn't we be standing behind people who are trying to make their lives better? Instead of slamming the doors of college in the face of a teenager caught with their stash, we should be trying to convince them that college will lead to a better life and -- in some cases -- perhaps turn them away from a crime-ridden future. I fully support the bill introduced by Senators Bob Casey, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Orrin Hatch titled the 'Stopping Unfair Collateral Consequences from Ending Student Success Act' -- or 'SUCCESS Act' -- and I strongly urge all Democrats to do the same. It is the right thing to do, and it is time to scrap a policy which was so counterproductive in the first place."


   Porn stars for Cruz!

For some reason, Ted Cruz gets two talking points this week. Well, on the bright side, Donald Trump gets none, so at least there's that.

"I see that Ted Cruz released an ad featuring a soft-core pornography actress. That's a little strange, because I didn't really think Cruz was fighting for the porn vote. It doesn't really fit in with the rest of his holier-than-thou campaign, does it? I mean... 'Porn starts for Ted!'... really?"


   Should've called Jindal

Thought that last one was bizarre? Things actually got even weirder for Cruz on the campaign trail this week.

"I see that a Ted Cruz rally was interrupted by an interesting group of people this week. Here's the headline: 'Retching hecklers attempt to perform an exorcism on Ted Cruz.' One was quoted as saying: 'He's possessed by a demon!' This is the point where I have to note that perhaps Bobby Jindal dropped out too early -- since we all know he took part in an exorcism while in college. The protesters really should have called Jindal in, for some expert advice on driving demons out of people. Maybe then, they'd have had more success."


   Be still, my beating heart

Every so often, we get the urge to write about some crazy idea for political reform. It's fun, and it doesn't hurt anybody. But once in a blue moon, the crazy idea actually takes baby steps towards becoming reality. So it is with great excitement (we live in California, we should mention) that we present this last talking point -- in the hopes we'll get to vote on it this November. We should add that we first brought up the idea (which we certainly don't claim originality for) way back in 2011, in FTP 189 (also as talking point number seven).

"A group in California has already collected 40,000 signatures for a ballot initiative which would force state legislators to wear the names of their top sponsors while on the floor of their respective chambers. The official name is 'California Is Not For Sale,' but it's really nothing more than a 'NASCAR jacket law.' Since our elected officials are bought and paid for by big donors, the people deserve to see who owns whom. The more money they take, the bigger the logo should be on their jackets. I don't even care if this law is eventually found unconstitutional, because passing it with an overwhelming margin will send a message to elected officials everywhere how fed up the public has gotten over the corrosive influence of money in politics. I urge every state with a ballot initiative process to copy this effort -- because we all know it'd be a cold day in Hell before any legislature passes such a law for themselves."


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