Friday Talking Points -- A 4/20 Column

Today is a day two incredibly different groups celebrate. Marijuana enthusiasts, who nationwide adopted a bit of 1970s high school slang from Northern California, are holding various events around the country today, because it is "4/20." Not as well-publicized (by design, for the most part), white supremacists and other hate groups celebrate today as the birthday of Adolph Hitler. The two celebrations and the two groups have nothing in common, I should point out. I'd even bet the overlap between the two groups is almost non-existent.

April 20th is also the day the Columbine shooting happened in Colorado in 1999, but the two shooters may not have picked this day for anything to do with Hitler, they may have been one day late in their plans (April 19th is the anniversary of the fiery end to the Waco siege in 1993, and also of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995). April 20th is also, by coincidence, the same day BP's Deepwater Horizon oil well blew up in the Gulf of Mexico.

What does it all mean in the grand scheme of things? Not a lot, unless you happen to be an astrologist or a numerologist. Or a university administrator trying to stop all the students from blatantly "sparking up" in public, I suppose. Why, you may wonder, am I even bringing up Hitler and explosions and other things that are, like, totally bumming everyone out? Well, because (sadly enough) Hitler's in the news.

The Republicans seem to have chosen Double Down On The Crazy™ as their new campaign motto for 2012. One Senate candidate, in West Virginia, says new anti-smoking regulations are pretty much the same thing as that time when Hitler made all the Jews in Germany wear yellow Stars of David. Unfortunately, I am not making this up.

Republicans are not alone in gratuitous violations of Godwin's Law, though, as a Catholic bishop in Illinois just said that Obama was leading America down the same path as Stalin and Hitler. Because of all those millions of Catholics Obama has slaughtered. Oh, wait, that never happened, did it? We'll just have to see whether the Vatican has anything to say about this, or whether it's too busy cracking down on nuns for the theological crime of militant feminism (and of thinking for themselves).

In other news this week, Ted Nugent is saying crazy things (as usual), including calling himself (bizarrely) a "black Jew at a Nazi-Klan rally," and Michele Bachmann is saying offensive things (also, as usual), including gratuitous use of the term "tar baby" when describing our president. This is one week after a Republican declared that over 75 Democrats in Congress are card-carrying members of the Communist Party, I hasten to remind everyone. It's easy to lose track, because the Double Down On The Crazy™ campaign is fully underway.

To put it another way: don't expect things to get better any time soon. Campaign season 2012 is off to an insanity-laced start, folks! No wonder so many across this great nation have decided that today would be a good day to celebrate tetrahydrocannabinol instead. You can see their point... through the billowing clouds of smoke.


Every so often, Democrats play the game of politics brilliantly. Unfortunately, being Democrats, they usually forget all about it when it comes time to campaign.

Here is the best example of what I mean (the best of all time in our own archives, going all the way back to FTP[31]): four years ago, 178 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against H.R. 1113, which was introduced in the spirit of "celebrating the role of mothers in the United States" and "supporting the goals and ideals of Mother's Day." Once again, in case you missed it, 178 Republicans voted against it. Here is a handy list of them, for easy reference. The Washington Post even ran an article about this vote with the headline: "Republicans Vote Against Moms; No Word Yet on Puppies, Kittens."

Was this vote ever mentioned in the campaign? Not that we are aware. Was it turned into a stinking, steaming pile of campaign mud which was flung in the face of every single one of those 178 Republicans? Not that we heard about. Not even once. Why not? We have no answer to that, sadly.

Now, just for one tiny little minute, imagine that the vote had gone the other way -- and 178 Democrats had voted against honoring moms. Picture, if you will, what the Rightwingosphere would have said about it. Extrapolate it out -- how often would this issue have been raised by Republicans in campaign ads and campaign stump speeches? Our guess is: with every chance they got, until Election Day, and far beyond.

We bring this bit of history up in prelude to this week's winner of the prestigious Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, Representative Pete Stark. Stark, this week, introduced legislation titled the "Women's Options to Raise Kids Act." You'll immediately note that, for once, a Democrat actually came up with a catchy acronym: the "WORK Act."

Jumping into the Mommy Wars fray, Stark is essentially daring Republicans to support stay-at-home mothers. He is essentially saying: "You want to make political hay over whether mothers who stay at home 'work' or not? Fine. Then put your money where your mouth is."

The bill would allow raising children to be defined as "work" by the federal government, which would help millions of low-income women in a very tangible way. As Stark explains in his press release, Mitt Romney "was for forcing low-income mothers into the workforce before he decided 'all moms are working moms'. I think we should take Mr. Romney at his most recent word and change our federal laws to recognize the importance and legitimacy of raising young children. That's why I've introduced the WORK Act to provide low-income parents the option of staying home to raise young children without being pushed into poverty."

This is a brilliant political move, because it puts the focus squarely where it should be: do Republicans just want to give lip service to the idea that mothers raising children is "work," or do they have the courage of their convictions when it comes to federal law?

To put it even more bluntly: put up, or shut up.

But this sort of political tactic only works if Democrats get behind it and scream it from the mountaintops. Which, sadly, they are just not that good at doing. In other words, much like the vote on honoring Mother's Day, if nobody even mentions it during campaign season, that it is nothing more than a futile effort, a brilliant voice crying in a roaring windstorm.

It is up to Democrats to force this issue. Republicans are never going to vote for this in a million billion years (in their vernacular, this "expands welfare"). But they also are never going to pay a political price unless Democrats hold their feet to the fire in a very public manner.

Pete Stark has teed up this particular issue, and all that remains is for Democrats to drive it as far down the fairway as possible. He can really do no more -- it is now up to Democrats to flog this issue in the media every time they open their mouths in the next two months. Sadly, though, the bill only has 17 cosponsors, to date.

But for giving Democrats an opportunity (which they will likely let fall by the wayside), Representative Stark is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. This is how the political game should be played, folks.

[Congratulate Representative Pete Stark on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts. And contact your own representative and ask them why they haven't cosponsored this bill, yet, as well.]


Three scandals erupted this week, but none of them are particularly political in scope. The Secret Service and armed services got caught partying down in Colombia, but neither group is political in nature (although, boy, it certainly gave the news media a juicy sex scandal, complete with prostitution, to yammer about all week long, didn't it?). The General Services Administration is still squirming through the fallout of their own party habits, but it's hard to imagine a less political arm of the federal government than the G.S.A., really. More disgusting photos were released from a war zone, but again, this doesn't have much to do with politics, so we're giving all three a pass today.

There was a sexual harassment scandal happening down in North Carolina steeped in politics, but frankly, this column's already too long, so if you're interested in all the details, check out the local news reporting, because we're going to save a few electrons by refraining from digging too far into it.

Instead, we'll just hand out a few quick awards and move on. To David Parker, the North Carolina state Democratic Party chairman, a (Dis-)Honorable Mention for the way he handled it and for not stepping down fast enough. The man accused of sexual harassment did resign immediately, but that doesn't stop us from awarding former Executive Director of the Democratic Party in North Carolina Jay Parmley the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, on his way out the door.

[Because he has resigned, Jay Parmley is now a private citizen and it is our policy not to provide contact information for such. However, you can always contact the North Carolina Democratic Party, to let them know what you think of the whole situation.]


Volume 207 (4/20/12)

We haven't done a traditional discretely-numbered talking points in a few weeks here, so we've got somewhat of a backlog. Because of this, the talking points are kind of all over the map this week.

As always, these are offered up in the hopes that Democrats -- especially the ones interviewed on television -- will see the benefit in framing a few things in terms that can help them out politically. So, without further ado, let's get to it.


   Why your boss shouldn't have any say in your health insurance

This one is, frankly, outrageous. In the literal sense of that word: provoking outrage. This is why there are laws which "intrude on religious belief" in this country, and it's time some brave Democrat connected these dots.

"An Oregon couple just had their children taken away from them because, sadly, they let their 16-year-old son die rather than providing him with needed medical care. The reason they did this was because of their religious beliefs. They tried 'faith healing' instead of medicine, and their son died as a direct result. While we can all agree that this is indeed child abuse, under a recent Republican proposal, what would happen to you if one of those parents was your boss? What kind of health insurance do you think he or she would offer you, if Republicans had their way? Republicans want to try and pass laws which allow anyone's religious beliefs to trump basic health care for any of their employees, no matter what those beliefs are. This is precisely why Democrats killed such cruel legislation, so that you don't have to care what your boss' religious beliefs are, when it comes to your own health insurance rights as a worker."


   The last shall be first

Speaking of religion and politics...

"I see John Boehner doesn't always listen to the Catholic bishops, when they disagree with his party's stance on major issues. The Catholic bishops wrote Boehner recently about the Paul Ryan budget which would gut safety-net spending for the poor and vulnerable. The bishops are trying to remind Republicans that Jesus said a whole lot of things about how we treat the poor, but apparently the Republicans aren't all that interested. In a statement that ranks right up there with 'we had to destroy the village to save it,' Boehner said that slashing spending on the poor would actually be a good thing for poor folks, while simultaneously doling out more tax cuts to the rich. I believe the Bible talks about this sort of logic in a number of places, but I'll leave it to the bishops to make the theological case."


   What do Republicans have against mothers?

Beat this drum as loudly and as often as possible.

"Four years ago, 178 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against honoring mothers and Mother's Day. Now, Republicans are against the federal government formally recognizing that mothers who stay at home and care for their young children are performing valuable "work." When Mitt Romney wants to pander to women, he brings up the subject of mothers and work -- but when it comes to actually doing anything to make these women's lives easier, the Republican Party is dead set against it. Does Mitt Romney support the Women's Options to Raise Kids Act? Why not? Does Mitt support granting Social Security credits to stay-at-home moms? Why not? Would Mitt have voted with 178 Republicans against honoring mothers? Maybe someone should ask him these questions, don't you think?"


   Gimmick? I'll tell you what the real gimmick is...

We had two bills on Capitol Hill this week on the subject of taxes, neither one of which is going to arrive on the president's desk. But lots of political fun was had by all.

"Republicans successfully filibustered a bill which would have more fairly taxed millionaires and billionaires -- so they don't pay a lower tax rate than a fireman, a police officer, or a member of the military. They called this bill a 'gimmick' even though overwhelming majorities of the public agrees with Democrats on the 'Buffett Rule' legislation. You know what's the real 'gimmick,' though? The bit of the tax code that the ultra-wealthy use to pay half the tax rate of a middle-class worker. That is a gimmick. The way the wealthy make most of their money is taxed at a much lower rate than the way 99 percent of Americans get paid. Sounds pretty gimmicky, doesn't it? That's what President Obama is trying to fix, but the Republicans insist on protecting this gimmick, so folks like Mitt Romney and the Kardashians can pay half the tax rate you do."


   Dumb ALEC

Finally some attention is being paid to a nefarious conservative group. Which -- astoundingly -- actually made the group change its ways (at least partially).

"There's a group called ALEC which got a bit of attention this week, because their corporate sponsors were fleeing. They're the folks who were behind the Florida 'stand your ground' law. That's what the group ALEC does -- it writes ultraconservative legislation and then hands it to state representatives so they can pass a boilerplate law. Like voter ID laws designed to disenfranchise millions of American citizens, for instance. Until very recently, this group was funded by such American icons in the business world as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, and McDonalds. Now pressure is being brought to bear, and these corporate sponsors are pulling their dollars out. The group has now wisely backed off on some of the worst legislation they had been pushing, but only because they were getting such bad press. I used the word 'wisely' there, but that doesn't mean they are now some sort of 'smart' ALEC -- in fact, I'd still call them a very dumb ALEC."


   Ahh!!! The VLWC!!! Everybody run!!! In different directions!!!

Got your membership card yet? I'm still waiting for mine, personally.

"So I guess Mitt Romney thinks there is a, quote, vast left-wing conspiracy, unquote, out there in the media who all get their marching orders simultaneously each morning. This is laughable, because I have to tell you, even if all Democrats did get marching orders and talking points on a daily basis, they'd still likely have the same old 'herding cats' problem. I don't know what Mitt's been smoking this week, but it does sound like he's getting a little paranoid, doesn't it? Maybe it was a few minutes after 4:20 when he said that, I don't know."


   Seriously, though...

Put your own money where your mouth is (OK, maybe first put down the blunt).

"Two states have citizens' initiatives on the ballot this year which would legalize non-medical, recreational marijuana for all adults. I encourage everyone to check out the Colorado Marijuana Initiative and the Marijuana Reform Initiative in Washington state. The Washington one is even running a 'money bomb' effort today, on 4/20, should you be inclined to support such an idea with your donations."


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