Friday Talking Points -- White House Fumbles

Before we get to the week that was, politically-speaking (and, with it, our final football metaphors of the season), we've first got to call another state in the Republican primary season race. Last week, we almost forgot to predict Nevada's race, and this column went out without containing such a prediction to many readers, for which we apologize (we had to quickly paste in an "Update" at, which smacks of last-minute-ism, we fully admit).

While many haven't even noticed it, the state of Maine will wrap up its caucuses tomorrow. If there has been any polling out of the state, we certainly haven't been able to find it, so predicting the outcome is a true gut-feeling exercise. From conversations with the Mainers we know, nobody seems to have a clue what the results will be.

One interesting comment: virtually no television ads have run in the state, from any of the candidates. Which just adds to the free-for-all nature of the race.

Based on absolutely nothing more than tossing a mental dart at the wall, I think Mitt Romney's going to win the Maine caucus. Mitt could certainly use some good news right about now, especially since the only contest in the next two-and-a-half weeks is the Northern Marianas (which I will predict right now will generate almost zero interest in the media). But folks in Maine are in Massachusetts' back yard (fun Maine trivia fact number one: the state used to be part of Massachusetts), so they likely have formed a pretty solid opinion of Romney by now. Also, Mainers are a down-to-earth bunch who are not as impressed by glitz (Gingrich, for instance) or fire-breathing (Santorum, perhaps) as voters elsewhere.

The biggest news out of the Maine caucuses will be that Ron Paul chalks up second place, after doing so decisively in Minnesota earlier in the week. I think Paul is the only candidate who actually bothered to visit Maine, which will pay off for him in a light-turnout caucus. Third place is anyone's guess, but I flipped a coin and it came up Santorum, so let's call third for Rick.

So, Maine prediction, in the following order: Romney, Paul, Santorum, with Gingrich barely even registering. Those are my picks, feel free to share yours in the comments, as always.

As for my record, I only did OK last Tuesday, although I did nail 3-for-3 in Missouri. Overall, though, I only chalked up 5-for-9 for the entire night (which I've belatedly decided to call "MinneRockyShowMe Tuesday"), which leaves my overall percentage at:

Total correct 2012 primary picks so far: 14 for 24 -- 58%.

Fun Maine trivia fact number two: Maine is the only state's name which contains only one syllable. But enough silliness, let's get on with the show....


In what can only be called the best-yet example of "How to Springboard Off Stephen Colbert," Nancy Pelosi branded her effort to pass a political financial disclosure bill as the "Stop Colbert" campaign. So far, we're pretty impressed at her grasp of hilarity. Here's Pelosi, from the video:

Stephen Colbert used to be my friend. I even signed the poor baby's cast when he hurt his hand. But since the day he started his super PAC, taking secret money from special interests, he's been out of control, even using his super PAC to attack my friend, Newt Gingrich. And if that weren't enough, I hear he doesn't even like kittens.

Heh. Love that part about Pelosi's "friend" Newt Gingrich. It's a serious piece of legislation, but that doesn't mean you can't have some fun with it and get your message out as a direct result. For doing so, Pelosi wins at least an Honorable Mention this week.

But our Most Impressive Democrat of the Week winner was Senator Barbara Boxer, for being the woman leading the effort to provide political cover for the White House this week on the birth control controversy (much more on this later in this column). Perhaps we're biased, since we do reside in Boxer's home state of California -- there were some other Democrats out there in the media mounting a strong defense of the new policy, as well. But Boxer has made women's reproductive health one of her signature issues in the Senate, so it was her voice that carried the most weight in the debate from the Democrats' side.

For being a consistently-strong advocate of women's rights, and for stepping up to the plate this week on the birth control decision, Barbara Boxer wins the Most Impressive Democrat of the Week this week. Well done, Senator Boxer, well done.

[Congratulate Senator Barbara Boxer on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


Moving along, we have the "How Not to Springboard Off Stephen Colbert" category, it seems. Colbert apparently, right after the BP oil spill, proposed renaming the Gulf of Mexico the "Gulf of America" (on the you-broke-it-you-buy-it theory), as a joke. Mississippi state representative Steve Holland just introduced a bill in the state legislature which would do just that.

The only problem is, it's very easy to miss the fact that he's joking. After all, it wasn't that long ago our country's national legislators were spending their valuable time coming up with such neologisms as "freedom fries." So while Holland was shooting for some Colbert-inspired humor, he missed the mark for a lot of folks. We don't think this rises to the level of even a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, but we did at least think it was worth pointing out here.

In other news, the Obama White House had rather a bad week... but again, we'll get to that in a moment.

The disgrace of the Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week this week belongs to another state legislator, Bill DeWeese of Pennsylvania.

DeWeese has now been convicted of five out of six corruption charges against him. This will make him a convicted felon, once he is sentenced. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 24, which is the day Pennsylvania holds primary elections. In an astounding display of chutzpah, however, DeWeese is trying to move his sentencing back past the November election, so he can get re-elected. He is not just some backbencher, either, but the majority leader of the state house of representatives.

What he should be doing instead is writing his resignation letter. If he's sentenced as a felon, he will either have to step down or face the certainty that he's going to be kicked out. Rather than putting Pennsylvania voters through that disgrace, however, DeWeese should "take more time to work on my legal problems and my appeals" and resign his office.

For not immediately doing so -- and with golden "I'm Entitled to This Office, Dammit!" poison-ivy-leaf clusters -- Bill DeWeese is our Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week this week. Do the right thing, Bill. Resign.

[Contact Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese on his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions, even though he is not likely to pay the slightest attention.]


Volume 197 (2/10/12)

We're going to forgo enumerated talking points this week, to follow the White House's lead.

That was sarcasm, just for the record.

For the past week the political world (outside of the Republican primary race) has been consumed by a gigantic policy fight. Barack Obama and the White House were supposedly at the heart of this battle, but they were (for the most part) missing in action. This left the field for the opposition, who successfully framed the entire issue in their own terms -- which was very damaging to Obama, to say the least.

The issue, of course, was the administration's decision to require religious organizations who operate secular businesses such as universities and hospitals to provide health insurance for their employees (who are also secular, not religious employees) which fully covered birth control. Churches themselves would continue to be exempt from this requirement, but hospital workers would not.

This decision was announced a while back, and it was greeted with a full-scale attack by the Catholic Church and (once they realized what was going on) most Republicans. Inexplicably, the White House was caught flatfooted in their response.

No matter what you think of the administration's decision (agree, kind-of-sort-of agree, disagree), I think we can all agree that it was handled extremely badly from the get-go. This is not the way to roll out a contentious policy, guys and gals.

This policy has been a long time in coming. I first read about it last fall, when many on the left were predicting that Obama was going to cave in and give the churches what they wanted, rather than stand up for employee rights. This worried tone continued, with an article every few weeks on the immanence of the decision the administration faced. To put it another way: the White House had plenty of time to plan for this rollout. It seems they didn't bother to do so, or if they did plan for it, the person responsible should be fired immediately for rank incompetence.

The political implications should have been obvious. This is, after all, an election year. Catholics make up a large proportion of some very important swing states in the Midwest (such as: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan). Putting yourself in opposition to the bishops is going to have repercussions, in other words.

To be charitable, maybe the White House wanted to pick this fight. Maybe it was part of some multi-dimensional political chess where Obama could benefit from the backlash to the backlash. Birth control, after all, is a lot less contentious than gay marriage or abortion. Maybe it was some sort of attempt by the Obama team to create a wedge issue of their own, rather than fighting over the same old Republican wedge issues.

Even assuming this, however, you'd be a fool to say that it's been successful so far. If you're going to wage culture war, you have to get in there and strongly make the case for your side. If you're going to take a moral high road, you have to be aware that the other side is taking their own moral high road -- even if it's a different path than yours. You've got to plan for it and attempt to counteract it, by explaining your side of the story.

This, to be blunt, was noticeably absent. Once again, to be charitable, perhaps the White House was caught by surprise at the ferocity of the backlash, and has (instead of fanning the flames) been working diligently ever since to come up with a compromise. This compromise was announced this morning (which, incidentally, is why I'm ranting here instead of providing the talking points I had sketched out for today's column -- in support of the White House's position -- which are all now mostly moot).

But even this was handled badly. The bishops weren't on board, and may still fight back with everything they've got. If you hammer out a compromise, it would behoove you to make sure everyone's in agreement before announcing the compromise to the world.

The compromise itself didn't sound so bad, on the face of it. The women affected would still get the exact same thing: free birth control. Accounting hairsplitting may pass muster with the bishops, but the women affected won't care, because they're more concerned with managing their own health than in debating some "pinhead-dancing angels" theological conundrum.

Whether the bishops do agree to the new rule, or whether this is just the first round of attempting compromise remains to be seen, as of this writing. But no matter the outcome, the entire matter has so far been badly fumbled by the White House. They knew this was going to be a political decision -- just like their ruling on not offering the morning-after pill to women of all ages over the counter. If they intended on caving completely to the churches, they could have done so months ago and announced it at the same time as the morning-after pill decision -- before the presidential election really got going in full swing. If they intended to pick this fight as a political wedge issue, then they didn't just fumble, they fumbled the ball in the wrong end zone. OK, I know it's too late for bad football metaphors, but still.

If this was a political fight the White House was relishing, then there is a tried-and-true way to mount such an operation. You get everyone who will strongly agree with your decision completely on board. You coordinate with them, so they know when the decision is coming. You line up heavyweight members of Congress and have meetings with them so they're ready to be interviewed as well. Then, when everything's in place and everyone's on board, you call a press conference and roll the whole thing out to the media. Your supporters get on the news with their rehearsed talking points, while the other guys are left scrambling.

None of this, quite simply, was done. Democrats and other advocates didn't even have a fact sheet of handy things to talk about before they found themselves in the political firestorm. Even worse, the other side had done a superb job of preparation, and many otherwise-liberal pundits and media voices were -- from the very beginning -- saying what a horrible political misstep the White House had just taken. Democratic legislators began to peel off as well.

It was like watching a high school football team take on the Oakland Raiders (our next-to-the-last football metaphor of the season, promise). No matter what metaphor you choose, though, watching the whole thing was very disturbing to anyone who would like to see Barack Obama win a second term. We're in election season, folks. This isn't the time for rookie mistakes, or being caught so flatfooted. Granted, we've got quite a few months to go, but this isn't a good start for Team Obama.

The White House's political shop can be better than this, however. They can put this behind them and hone their skills for the upcoming race, but they've got to do so quickly. Because of this, and because we wanted to end on an upbeat note, we will close today with the full script of the outstandingly good Super Bowl ad featuring Clint Eastwood. The best thing Obama's re-election team could do right now is immediately hire whatever genius wrote this ad, and give him a free hand for the upcoming campaign. Because this is how it is supposed to be done, folks:

It's halftime. Both teams are in their locker room discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half.

It's halftime in America, too. People are out of work and they're hurting. And they're all wondering what they're going to do to make a comeback. And we're all scared, because this isn't a game.

The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, now Motor City is fighting again.

I've seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And times when we didn't understand each other. It seems like we've lost our heart at times. When the fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead.

But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that's what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can't find a way, then we'll make one.

All that matters now is what's ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together? And, how do we win?

Detroit's showing us it can be done. And what's true about them is true about all of us.

This country can't be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines.

Yeah, it's halftime America. And our second half is about to begin.


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