Friday Talking Points -- Lucifer or a Joe McCarthy-Dracula Love Child?

In this April 26, 2016, photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a rally at the Hoosier
In this April 26, 2016, photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a rally at the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, Ind. Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are having a tough time attracting establishment Republican donors even as they intensify their efforts to derail the nomination of billionaire Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Boy, it isn't every day you get to write a headline like that! But those are the kinds of feelings Ted Cruz seems to bring out in everyone -- left, right, and center.

On the right, doesn't John Boehner sound a lot looser and more relaxed now that he isn't responsible for herding a bunch of hyperactive cats in the House? He certainly seemed like it this week, in what was supposed to be an unrecorded talk. Of course, these days, everyone in politics should just automatically assume that everything they say will be recorded, because the chances are it will be. When asked what he personally thought about Ted Cruz, Boehner responded: "Lucifer in the flesh." In case anyone thought he was kidding, he followed this up with: "I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life." C'mon, tell us what you really think, John!

Not to be outdone, Representative Peter King (who, earlier, said he'd drink cyanide if Cruz were to become his party's nominee) piled on to Boehner's comment by responding: "Maybe he gives Lucifer a bad name by comparing him to Ted Cruz." This is likely the first time that Peter King and actual Satanists have agreed on anything, it should be noted. We're not sure if this is any sort of sign of the impending apocalypse, but then we're not the theological (demonic?) experts that King and Boehner seem to be. And, please remember, this is what fellow Republicans are saying about the man who is supposed to somehow be "saving the party" from Donald Trump!

Over on the left, Al Franken is starting to be confident enough that people take him seriously as a senator to actually give himself permission to be funny once again. Franken, in excerpts from a roast in Minnesota, does a hilarious impression of Paul Ryan as an 18th-century fop denying he has any presidential ambitions ("No, no, I shan't run"), and he also took the time to share his own impression of what, exactly, Ted Cruz really is: "the love child of Joe McCarthy and Dracula."

Perhaps this outbreak of levity was due to Washington currently being in its giddy run-up to the granddaddy of political roasts, the White House Correspondents' Dinner. The White House itself got in on the fun today, and turned over the briefing podium to fictional character C. J. Cregg (press secretary on The West Wing, played by Allison Janney). Since this will be President Obama's last official roast, it'll be interesting to see what jokes he's been holding back until now.

But we're getting distracted. Back to the presidential campaign trail. Ted Cruz, realizing that time is fast running out on any chance he's going to have of winning the Republican nomination (his entire candidacy may actually expire next Tuesday, in Indiana), made a desperation move -- what's being called his "Hail Carly" play. He announced his (non-existent) running mate will be none other than Carly Fiorina.

This is a naked move to grab some California delegates, of course. Carly originally hailed from the Golden State, but what Ted Cruz seems to have missed is that she hasn't exactly been a success out here. But we have to defer to Senator Barbara Boxer, since Boxer was the one Fiorina lost to by 10 points after spending a whopping amount of money (on "demon sheep" ads, no less). Boxer's reaction to Fiorina being named by Cruz was priceless:

[Fiorina] hasn't held office, any office, be it Senate, House, state legislature, local government, not a minute's worth, and her claim to fame is running a large corporation which she practically destroyed, Hewlett-Packard, the pride of California. I think it just shows Ted Cruz has no judgment whatsoever by choosing her. I think if Carly Fiorina is on a national ticket, that would be really good for the Democrats because... in the worst year for Democrats, and I mean it, I beat her by one million votes. We just showed her record when she was at HP and how selfish she is as a human being.

Boxer followed this skewering up with a tweet, in case anyone still had any doubts how she felt: "I predict that the latest @CarlyFiorina merger will be as successful as her last one."

The real irony is that this all might be meaningless, if Ted Cruz loses Indiana next Tuesday. Cruz didn't do himself any good in the basketball-crazy Hoosier State by talking about the "basketball ring" to a crowd. Hoo boy. Basketball ring? Really? Donald Trump then made things worse for Cruz by announcing the endorsement of infamous hometown coach (and chair-hurler) Bobby Knight. Knight, of course, had the best response to the Cruz gaffe: "A guy that would come into this state and think that we play with rings instead of baskets is not a guy that's very well prepared to do a hell of a lot."

We stand on the brink of both parties' nomination races being essentially over, in fact. This was due to Trump sweeping all five states last Tuesday night, and Hillary Clinton winning four out of five. As Hillary begins her pivot (long-awaited, by her) to a general election campaign strategy, she is already going out of her way to attempt to woo Bernie voters over to her camp. George "Mr. Sulu" Takei even helped this effort out, in a video he posted on Facebook taking exception with the "Bernie or Bust" folks.

Tuesday was also a good night for the establishment wing of the Democratic Party in general, as two Senate primaries were won (in Maryland and Pennsylvania) by the party insiders' favored candidates.

In other election news, the citizens of Maine will get the chance to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana this November. Nevada has already qualified a ballot measure, and California will also likely be voting on the issue. Watch for the number of states with outright legalization measures on the ballot to increase, in the coming months. Currently, four states and the Nation's Capital have already legalized recreational adult use, and the sky hasn't noticeably fallen in any of them.

Even with such progress, we've still got a long way to go, though. The Washington Post deserves kudos for shining a spotlight on the worst abuses of the War On Drugs in the past months, in a series of articles they've run on the legal highway robbery known as "asset forfeiture." This week, they published a story about a church group from Burma who were pulled over in Oklahoma for a broken taillight. No drugs or paraphernalia were found in their vehicle, but the cops just went ahead and confiscated over $50,000 because these people had the temerity to carry it around with them in cash.

Mere days later, a followup story ran, because local district attorney Orvil Loge decided to drop all charges and return the money in full. His reason?

"I looked at the case and met with the officers and determined that we would not be able to meet the burden of proof in the criminal case and in the civil case," Loge said in an interview. He also cited the press coverage of the story and said that his office has heard from "a lot of citizens" who were upset about the details of the case.

That is what is known as the mainstream media being a force for good (for once). This happens every day in America -- cops just confiscate money from hapless drivers, and then the legal burden of proof is on the driver, to prove in court that the money wasn't illegal drug proceeds or from anything nefarious. This turns our entire "innocent until proven guilty" legal system on its head, and the practice (which is, sadly, all too common) needs to be stopped. The Post is to be applauded for bringing public opinion to bear on these excesses, which obviously worked wonders in this particular case.


There was really only one candidate for this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week, mostly because his action took place as we were writing last week's column. Everyone else had his high bar to match, all week long, and nobody really came close.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe last week restored the voting rights of over 200,000 convicted felons. As the state's executive, his pardon powers are pretty much absolute, and he used them in a muscular way. Beyond his action, he then did the rounds of television interviews to justify what he had just done in exemplary fashion.

His argument was a simple one. First, lifetime voting bans have an ugly history in Virginia, being one of the original Jim Crow laws specifically designed to suppress the African-American vote. Second, and more importantly, there is an excellent moral reason for not banning ex-prisoners from voting forever. As McAuliffe explained multiple times last weekend, when you commit a crime you are tried for that crime by a judge and jury. If found guilty, you are given a sentence. That should be your entire punishment -- what is handed down by judge and jury. When you have served your prison time, your parole, or your probation, you are supposed to have paid your full debt to society. After you have done so, the best possible outcome is that you fully integrate back into law-abiding society and become a productive citizen once again. Part of that is having a voice in your government. Screwing up when you are 20 should not mean you never get to vote again for the rest of your life, unless you are actually given a life sentence in prison.

This is a very basic concept and a very moral argument to make, and McAuliffe did so quite convincingly last week. Of course, he was hit by Republicans for doing so, because (in their opinion) McAuliffe is just trying to create lots of new Democratic voters who will vote for Hillary Clinton in November. This ignores the fact that McAuliffe campaigned on the issue to get where he is today, and it also presupposes that every ex-felon will automatically vote Democratic. What, after all, is stopping the Republican Party from vying for their votes? Nobody's going to force these people to vote, and nobody's going to force them to vote for one candidate over another.

Not every state even has such laws to overturn. Banning ex-felons from voting isn't a universal concept, in other words. In fact, it is nothing more than a Jim Crow era holdover -- one that needs to be thrown on the ash heap of history along with all the rest of the ugliness that era produced.

Terry McAuliffe made a bold stand by doing what was right. No matter when it might have happened, the Republicans were bound to moan about "politics" influencing the decision. But by doing so, they are fully admitting that the policy is designed to suppress Democratic votes. That, right there, is enough of a reason to scrap the policy, in fact. Politics was part of the law all along, and getting rid of it means returning to the constitutional ideal of only being legally punished by the sentence a judge and jury hands down. If some serial voter fraudster is ever prosecuted in the future, then perhaps part of that punishment could be a lifetime ban from voting -- but only if it is part of the actual court sentence.

For doing the right thing, and for standing up to the naysayers with a very cogent and well-delivered moral argument, Terry McAuliffe is indeed this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.

[Congratulate Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


President Obama is trying to implement a change in the way Medicare compensates doctors for expensive drugs. Rather than raking off a percentage of the drug's cost (which gives an incentive to doctors to prescribe the absolute most-expensive drug in the marketplace), instead change much of the compensation to a fixed amount. Remove the big cash incentive, and doctors can prescribe the best available medicine -- even if it's cheaper.

However, the drug lobby is pretty powerful on Capitol Hill, which has led to not only the expected Republican balking at the new initiative but also Democrats shamefully pushing back on the White House as well.

This isn't even the most drastic idea for bringing down prescription drug costs -- that would be allowing the federal government to bargain with the drugmakers over the prices themselves (something the prescription drug law passed under George W. Bush specifically prohibits). This is just slightly changing the way doctors rake in what is essentially a kickback for prescribing the most expensive drug they can possibly prescribe.

So we're handing out a group Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week, for any Democrat who has so far signed one of the letters pushing back on this Obama initiative, and certainly for any who ultimately wind up voting against the president. This is precisely what Bernie Sanders is talking about when he rails against the pernicious influence campaign donations have on our political system. The drug industry has one of the most powerful lobbying efforts in Washington, and this is precisely what their money buys them.

[Since this is a group award, you'll have to contact your own members of Congress to ask what their positions are on the issue, sorry.]


Volume 389 (4/29/16)

This week, we start out with three positive talking points for Democrats, and then (just because) four negative talking points about the insanity that is passing for the Republican nomination race. Enjoy, as always, and use responsibly.


   Automatic registration

This sort of thing needs to happen everywhere.

"Vermont just became the fourth state -- joining Oregon, California, and West Virginia -- in making voter registration automatic when visiting the state's department of motor vehicles to get a driver's license. Unless you specifically opt out, you are automatically registered to vote as you register to drive. This is nothing short of common sense, and streamlines government paperwork. In fact, how anyone could be against such a good idea is beyond me. After Oregon became the first state to implement the idea this January, voter registration rates there have quadrupled. The only reason to be against such a plan is if you think your political party is incapable of convincing new voters to vote for you -- there is no other reason why voter registration shouldn't be as easy as possible for everyone. This is an idea whose time has come, and I look forward to many other states following Vermont in passing such laws as soon as possible."


   Brand New Congress

This is heartening to see, because it would be a real shame if all the energy and momentum behind Bernie Sanders dissipated into thin air afterwards. The revolution should continue.

"Former Bernie Sanders staff and volunteers announced the creation of Brand New Congress, which will look ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, in order to 'replace Congress all at once.' Although they're likely to fall far short of that lofty ambition, it is good to see that an effort is being made to translate the enormous wave of support Bernie has gotten into a positive movement for change at the congressional level. They plan to set up local search committees to recruit strong progressive candidates for the House and Senate -- whether they be a Republican or a Democrat. Now that nobody sneers at grassroots campaigns any more (and the millions they can bring in, with very small individual donations), it will be interesting to see if Brand New Congress can make an impact in the next midterm elections. Progressives need to continue the fight that Bernie has been fighting, all up and down the ticket. This is how real political change actually happens"


   Fourth Amendment should apply to all email

Not many people were even aware of this quirky loophole in the law, but that vote count certainly seems promising.

"The House just voted unanimously -- 419 to 0 -- to close a gaping loophole in the laws concerning searching emails. Due to a law passed long before most people even used email, all emails six months old or older have not required a warrant for police to search. Yes, you heard that right -- only the last six months of your emails are protected from random government searches. Any older than that, and the government could force Gmail or whatever provider to hand over all your data with no warrant at all. This law obviously needs updating, to fit the modern world. Emails should be just as protected by the Fourth Amendment as any other personal records. It was indeed heartening to see the House vote unanimously to do exactly that. It certainly gives hope that the Senate will now act and close this loophole forever."


   Hand me a 9-bludgeon...

OK, you just knew this one was going to be here, right?

"I hear that Ted Cruz recently referred to a, quote, basketball ring, unquote. Wow. That's just... wow. I look forward to more sports-related observations from Ted, such as his thoughts on: 'the U-shaped poles' on a football field, swinging a 'baseball stick' and hitting 'a tour of the cornerbags,' returning a tennis serve with your 'netswatter' across the 'mesh fence,' or hitting a golf ball with the 'bludgeons' in your bag. Seriously, has Ted Cruz ever even come into contact with the world of sports? Surely he must have been in a bar when a game was on television, or something."


   Just wait five minutes...

Trump gave a big foreign policy speech this week. He read off a TelePrompTer and everything! Only problem was, as John Soltz masterfully pointed out, he contradicted himself on pretty much everything he said.

"Did you catch Donald Trump's foreign policy speech? It didn't matter whether you agreed with him or not, all you had to do was wait five minutes and he would wind up contradicting what he had just finished saying. America 'must be prepared to let [NATO] countries defend themselves' if they won't pay more... but also America is 'going to be a great and reliable ally again.' America's foreign policy goals need to be defined, because since the Cold War ended 'we've lacked a coherent foreign policy'... but then 'we must as a nation be more unpredictable,' because 'we are totally predictable.' On issue after issue, Trump would state one position and then state precisely the opposite moments later. The whole thing was downright incoherent -- if you didn't like what you heard, all you had to do was hit yourself in the head with a hammer to forget it, and two minutes later Trump would say the opposite. Is that really how America wants to conduct foreign policy?"


   Most votes against, too!

Thanks to the Washington Post for pointing this one out.

"Donald Trump has been making a big deal out of the fact that he may get the 'most Republican votes ever' for any presidential candidate. Well, that's true, he is within reach of breaking George W. Bush's record. But what he fails to mention is that he's already set a record when it comes to counting GOP voters. More Republicans have voted against Trump than have ever voted against any other nominee in history. The biggest turnout in Republican primary history isn't for Trump -- it is, in fact, against Trump."


   Carly's nails on a chalkboard

We absolutely must put a warning on this one. Don't follow this link and watch the video if you have just eaten, because you will be in danger of losing your lunch. Don't say we didn't warn you!

"We seriously thought we had seen the last of Carly Fiorina, but then Ted Cruz went ahead and named her his hypothetical running mate. As if it wasn't bad enough to see Fiorina gnashing her teeth on television again, what was truly frightening was when she -- for some unfathomable reason -- decided to woo the audience with her singing. Or, more accurately, her 'alleged singing.' What made it even worse (if that's even possible, which we doubt) was that she says she's been doing this sort of thing in front of children. Now, being the child of Ted Cruz is horrific enough to contemplate without also being frightened by the likes of Carly Fiorina attempting a lullaby. Oh, the humanity!"


Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Full archives of FTP columns:

All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank