Friday Talking Points: Worst... Congress... Ever!

To fully appreciate that subtitle, you really have to read it in your best impression of The Simpsons character "Comic Book Guy." I'm just sayin'....

The phrase refers to a very in-depth article by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, who gives us (happy Friday the 13th, by the way) 13 reasons why this is the "worst Congress ever." It is an excellent article which I highly recommend, and I'm not just saying that because I am (admittedly) a sucker for articles with lots of graphs in them.

Even Truman's infamous "Do-Nothing Congress" actually managed to get a lot more done than what we've got now, folks. Yesterday, I wrote one of my quasi-semi-annual articles dinging Congress for its incredibly lax work schedule (from now until the end of the year, Congress has 41 scheduled work days, or a little over eight work weeks' time -- in five-and-a-half months' calendar time). But I have to take my hat off to Klein, because he does a superb job of quantifying exactly how unproductive the 112th Congress truly has been.

Since I'm plugging my own columns here, I also think I had a creative idea while getting ready to watch baseball earlier this week -- hold an "All-Stars of Politics" debate each election year! OK, enough with the self-aggrandizing nonsense. Instead, let's get right on with the show.


Vice President Joe Biden gave a rip-snortin' speech this week, which definitely earns him an Honorable Mention award. Biden is going to be Obama's most valuable asset out on the campaign trail this fall (especially in a few key swing states), and it's good to see he's in fighting form already.

But this week, we've got to give out our Most Impressive Democrat of the Week award (with special "Told you so!" vindication icing) because of what President Obama told a CBS reporter recently (the full interview is slated to air this Sunday night). The reporter asked Obama what his biggest mistake in office had been so far. The president responded:

The mistake of my first term -- a couple of years -- was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that's important, but the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times. It's funny, when I ran, people said, "Well, he can give a great speech, but can he actually manage the job?" And then in my first two years, I think the notion was, "Well, you know, he's been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but where's the story that tells us where he's going?" And I think that was a legitimate criticism.

So do I, Mister President, and it is nice to hear you say so. In fact, I spent a goodly portion of the first two years of Obama's first term saying exactly this -- "Who would have thought Obama's biggest problem when he got into office would have been communications?" But I'm just a guy who writes a blog. I'm free to blather about such things without it becoming an inside-the-Beltway intra-party fracas.

What got everyone in the political world's attention, though, was when Professor Drew Westen -- a progressive voice if ever there was one -- wrote an opinion article in the New York Times which said pretty much exactly the same thing, much more eloquently than I ever had. Compare what Obama just admitted with what Westen wrote last year (speaking of his feelings while watching Obama being sworn into office):

I had a feeling of unease. It wasn't just that the man who could be so eloquent had seemingly chosen not to be on this auspicious occasion, although that turned out to be a troubling harbinger of things to come. It was that there was a story the American people were waiting to hear -- and needed to hear -- but he didn't tell it. And in the ensuing months he continued not to tell it, no matter how outrageous the slings and arrows his opponents threw at him.

Westen, when this article ran, got a lot of grief for what he wrote. The grief from conservatives was to be expected, but the grief from Lefties was almost as scathing (some of it, at any rate) -- especially for Westen's use of the metaphor of "telling a story."

We may be bending the rules for the MIDOTW a bit, because Westen is not a Democratic officeholder and we are only making the assumption he is a Democrat. But until we hear otherwise, we're going to go ahead and say that Drew Westen is not only completely vindicated -- by Obama's own words -- but also that he is our Most Impressive Democrat of the Week this week. You were right, Mr. Westen, and I for one am glad President Obama has now said so quite clearly.

[Professor Drew Westen of Emory University is not a public official, and it is our general policy not to provide contact information in such cases.]


The United States attorney for Northern California has been on a crusade against medical marijuana providers for some time now. This week, she announced she'll be continuing her aggressive targeting of such providers, based solely on (are you sitting down?) their size. The legal reason used: if they're big, they must be doing something wrong. No, seriously. Here it is in Melinda Haag's own words:

I now find the need to consider actions regarding marijuana superstores such as Harborside. The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need.

Well, golly gee, maybe she needs to be reassigned to Wall Street, huh? Wouldn't that be great to see? "The larger the bank or investment firm, the greater the likelihood that they are abusing financial regulations and performing transactions which are illegal, so we are hereby immediately moving to shut down [fill in the name of your least favorite "Too Big to Fail" institution], even though we have not a shred of evidence that any such crime has been committed."

This will, of course, never happen in a million billion years, but it sure is fun to daydream, isn't it?

Seriously, though, this is her stated legal reasoning for not only targeting successful medical marijuana dispensaries, but also aggressively going after their landlords as well, in an effort to force them back out onto the street -- precisely what the medical marijuana law is supposed to prevent.

Steph Sherer has a longer piece on this dismaying turn of events at the Huffington Post, which is worth reading for some sordid details. In it, she suggests: "If you live in Northern California, tell President Obama's campaign to take control of his law enforcement officials and fire Ms. Haag -- call them and say, 'I want Obama's administration to stop raiding dispensaries -- fire Melinda Haag!' "

We would go even further. Any donor or supporter of President Obama's campaign (especially donors) anywhere in the country should pick up the phone and call up campaign headquarters and say exactly the same thing. It is time for Melinda Haag to go. Again, we're not sure of Haag's political affiliation, so we're going to give her award instead to Attorney General Eric Holder, her boss (who is indeed a political appointee).

[Also, if you agree with these sentiments, head over to the Courage Campaign and sign their petition to Eric Holder. Or you can contact the White House on their official contact page, to let them know what you think of these actions.]


Volume 218 (7/13/12)

OK, seriously, those "Team USA" Olympic outfits? Really? That's the best they could come up with? It's like some brainstorming session was held where some bright spark chimed in with: "Well, it's in Britain, so let's go with a preppy outfit -- for all those folks in American who all secretly want to be British anyway -- yeah, that's the ticket!"

Sigh. Sorry, didn't know where else to insert that particular bit of snark, so it wound up here.

The week in politics consisted of two speeches to the N.A.A.C.P. -- one to get their votes, and one to get the votes of people who enjoyed seeing this particular audience boo the speaker. That's about as polite as I can put it, really.

The other news centered around Mitt Romney and his days at Bain Capital. I have to say, the Obama campaign team so far has done a superb job of attacking Romney on the Bain issue, and the polls show it is really doing Obama some good with the voters. Expect this to be a major storyline all throughout the campaign.

To put this another way, for once it is amusing to see a Democrat define a Republican so well with the public that the Republican is the one left flopping around like a dying fish on a trawler. Usually, these positions are reversed. And usually, Democrats take the entire summer off from campaigning, often to their detriment in November. It is refreshing to see a Democrat pulling out the full-court press so early in the game, I have to admit. Although there's a good possibility I'm biased. Heh.

But enough of this blithering and blathering, let's get on to the real blither-blather -- this week's suggested Democratic talking points.


   Mitt's actually talking to the press?!?

This one is sheer twist-the-knife schadenfreude, I freely admit. But still, it's just too tempting an opportunity to pass up.

"Boy, this Bain story must really be terrifying the Romney campaign. I heard that Mitt is actually going to give mainstream media interviews to address it -- to every single news channel. Wow. I can't remember the last time the Romney team allowed Mitt to, you know, actually speak to reporters in such a fashion. I guess they realized how damaging the story has become, because they sure are looking desperate, aren't they?"


   Did Mitt lie to you, or to his investors?

This is the perfect way to frame this story. Either Mitt was lying to his investors (and the S.E.C.), or lied to the American public on his campaign financial disclosure statement. Those are really the only two choices. We're going to turn this talking point over to Stephanie Cutter, who is Obama's deputy campaign manager:

Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments.


   The more the public hears...

These attacks are working. So hammer them home!

"What I find interesting is that the more the public finds out about Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital, the less they trust him on economic matters. He's sinking in the polls on the economic trust issue, precisely because of financial shenanigans such as these. Romney says he left Bain in 1999, but for years afterwards he was listed as 'chief executive officer and president' of Bain. Either Mitt was misrepresenting himself by these titles, or he actually did Bain work for longer than he's now admitting, or -- even worse -- he thinks that merely 'phoning it in' is acceptable behavior for a chief executive officer. That's something American voters are going to be thinking about when we elect our own chief executive this fall. And the more the public hears about Bain, the less they trust Mitt Romney."


   You say outsourcing, I say offshoring

Before the "When did Mitt quit?" scandal broke, Romney was fending off another Bain attack, by trying to split hairs between "outsourcing" and "offshoring." This is a fun game to play with Mitt, because no matter what he says, he just digs the hole deeper. Neither term is a big winner with the public, even if Mitt hasn't figured this out yet.

"Mitt Romney complains about people saying Bain Capital contributed to the offshoring of American jobs, by trying to say it was really only about outsourcing jobs. Here's my idea for a drinking game while watching Mitt twist in this particular wind: When Mitt says 'offshoring,' drink a shot of tequila. When Mitt says 'outsourcing,' down a full margarita. No matter how the game plays out, you're going to wake up the next morning with a pounding headache -- much like the people whose jobs disappeared. That hangover was painful for workers with good-paying jobs who got nothing but a pink slip from Bain, and I don't think those people cared where the jobs went, because they hurt just the same either way."


   What's the matter with America, Mitt?

Speaking of offshoring....

It's actually rare that Democrats get to play the "jingoistic" card, so please, have all kinds of fun doing so. Maybe have an American flag in the background. Heck, why not have ten or twelve? Heh.

"You know what -- I am an American. I keep my money in American banks. They have always been good enough for me, because I know my money will stay right here in this country. I've never even been to Switzerland or the Cayman Islands in my life. I particularly haven't traveled anywhere just to make use of their secretive banking laws. Apparently, Mitt Romney is too good to keep his money right here in the good old U.S.A. I find that disappointing, personally. What's the matter with America, Mitt? There aren't enough banks here to hold all your dough, or something?"


   Mitt's Olympic bailout

NBC has been all but peeing their pants in excitement over the upcoming Olympics, as they do every year while most Americans steel themselves for two weeks of extra-crappy coverage by the likes of clueless folks like Bob Costas (shudder). Which makes it a dandy time to attack Romney on another of his supposed strengths: the Salt Lake City 2002 winter Olympics. By the time the games actually begin, we'll all be talking about how much Mitt pays every year for what David Letterman calls "his dancing horse," an official U.S. Olympic contender in the dressage event. For now, it's time to take down Mitt's supposed miracle in Salt Lake City.

"Mitt Romney likes to brag about how he personally 'saved' the 2002 Olympics. But you know what actually saved the games? A federal bailout of 1.3 billion dollars. That's right -- Mitt got a gigantic 'earmark' from the American taxpayers so that Utah wouldn't have any more egg on their face than they already had from the bribery scandal. Republican John McCain called this bailout a 'ripoff of the taxpayers' and a 'national disgrace.' Republican Rick Santorum went even further, saying during the primaries about Romney: 'He heroically bailed out the Salt Lake City Olympic games by heroically going to Congress and asking them for tens of millions of dollars to bail out the Salt Lake Olympic games, in an earmark. Does the word hypocrisy come to mind?' Those aren't partisan remarks, mind you -- merely what Mitt's fellow Republicans have to say about how Mitt 'saved' the Olympics."


   It cost how much?

Finally, we're going to end where we began: Worst... Congress... ever! This talking point comes from Scott Pelley of CBS News, who helpfully put the Republican action in the House of Representatives on Obamacare in perspective this week. After pointing out that the House held their thirty-third vote on the issue, and that this all took a combined 80 hours of House floor time, Pelley had this to say:

We wondered how much it cost taxpayers for the House to repeal the law again and again. You can't be exact about these things, but the Congressional Research Service tells us that the House of Representatives costs us $24 million a week. So with two weeks spent repealing the law, that comes to a little under $50 million.


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