Happy New Year 2009!
Because I've always felt it is more amusing to make new year's resolutions that others should follow, today's Friday Talking Points will be some resolutions for Democrats. For once, I will keep a foolish resolution I made at the beginning of 2008 to write shorter columns, because this close to New Year's Day it's about all I can handle writing (and probably about all you folks can handle reading).
I have to limit this to Democrats, as well, since making resolutions for Republicans is even more an exercise in futility (George Bush: "I will not issue blanket pardons before leaving office," for instance). Worthy resolutions spring to mind for other groups as well, such as: "We in the mainstream media will stop being idiots, go to any decent community college and take a refresher course in Journalism 101, and then start doing our jobs the way we should have been doing all along." But the list would be way too long if I didn't limit it in some way, so I've chosen to restrict it only to Democrats.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't feel free to add your own, if any spring to mind, in the comments section. Be my guest!
So, very quickly, let's hand out the awards, and then get to our list of new year's resolutions for Democrats.
I've really got three weeks to cover, since we're returning from our annual "McLaughlin Awards" hiatus. Which is good, since all the politicians are also on vacation, and political news in thin right now.
President-elect Obama and his transition team certainly deserves an honorable mention here, for putting together their cabinet before putting together their White House team. Bill Clinton did it the other way around, and suffered because of it. But Obama has put together his cabinet in record time (quite literally) and will be able to get them approved much easier as a result. With the possible exception of his Attorney General pick, since the Republicans are making noises about attempting to derail his appointment. But, in general, the sheer competence (there's a word we're going to be using more in the coming years, I reckon) of the Obama team in their process deserves mention here for being so impressive.
But this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Al Franken, who took one giant leap closer to being named Minnesota's newest senator in the last week or two. The vote count stands (right now) with Franken up by a slim 49 votes (out of almost three million) -- but the real news is that this is the first time he's been up in the official vote count. Now, this is really the end of "round 2" in a three (or four) round fight, so it's not over yet. Round three will be the remaining absentee ballots, which are expected to favor Franken. But then we may have a fourth round in the courts before anyone takes that Senate seat, so stay tuned....
But for pulling ahead in the vote count, Al takes home this week's MIDOTW. Well done, Al, and we look forward to when we can officially call you "Senator Franken."
While Illinois Governor (for now) Rod Blagojevich is the obvious choice this week, for (1) remaining in office, and (2) for going ahead and naming someone to Obama's Senate seat; he is not really the one to blame here. He still is governor, he still has the power to appoint a senator, and Harry Reid notwithstanding, there may be no legal way to refuse Blagojevich's choice.
No, the real culprit here is the Illinois legislature. Which is controlled by Democrats. Here is the relevant phrase from the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution:
When vacancies happen in the representation of any state in the Senate, the executive authority of such state shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, that the legislature of any state may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
The key word, used twice, is "may." They "may" empower the executive, and they "may" direct how the power is used. What this means is, they may also take this power away. This scandal broke in mid-December. The Legislature dithered over whether to call a special election or not (Democrats thought twice about it, since they could actually lose the seat to a Republican). But what they utterly failed to do was to immediately strip the power of temporary appointment from Blaggy. They could have passed a one-sentence bill:
"Until such time as this Act is repealed, the Governor shall not have the power to appoint a temporary U.S. Senator."
That's all it would have taken. And they could easily have gotten a veto-proof majority to do so, meaning they didn't even need Blaggy's signature (he would, assumably, veto such a bill). This would have removed the problem before it happened. Sure, Blagojevich might have sued and forced it to his state's Supreme Court, but that would have taken some time. Meaning they could have impeached him in the meantime, making the point legally moot.
But they didn't. They blew it. By their inaction, we're in a Constitutional mess. Call it a mini-crisis (it doesn't really rise to a full-on separation of powers "crisis" in my opinion). By failing to head Blaggy off at the pass (as it were), the Democrats in the Illinois legislature bear full responsibility for the situation Illinois finds itself in now. And for that, they collectively get the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
OK, enough of that. Onward to our mandatory resolutions for Democrats. Here are my ideas for what everyone on this list should be resolving right about now.
"We, the Democrats in the House, resolve to get something done, as quickly as possible. President Obama needs to get large parts of his agenda passed in his first year in office, and we need to be the ones on the forefront of this effort. We have to keep the pressure up on the Senate, so they won't water down everything we do. We have an enormous majority in the House, and we resolve to use it to get some things done for the American people. And we need to use Obama's 'honeymoon' period to do so."
"We, the Democrats in the Senate, need to get our heads out of our collective..."
No, wait, that's not right. It's a new year, I have to be more positive here. Allow me to begin again...
"We, the Democrats in the Senate, need to first figure out who exactly is among us. We need to get Democrats seated from Delaware, New York, Colorado, Minnesota, and Illinois, and we need to do it as quickly as we possibly can. Then, we need to stop being so timid. We need to repeat, every morning, in front of our collective mirrors (assuming Franken makes it): 'We have a 59-41 majority. We have the power. We have the power! WE HAVE THE POWER!!' We need to realize that we only have to peel off one Republican moderate and we can defeat any filibuster attempt. Republicans are scared and we need to use that fear -- the fear of being voted out of office. We need to send flowers every week to Senator Olympia Snowe and Senator Susan Collins, and we need to use only Maine maple syrup on our pancakes and eat lobster once a week from this point on. We need to use the power of our overwhelming majority in the House, and President Obama's extraordinarily high approval ratings, to pass Obama's agenda without too many compromises. We need to realize the power of our numbers, and use it to get some things done."
"I, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, resolve to lead the way I've been itching to for the past two years. I will become the voice for progressives and liberals throughout this country, and I will insist on passing the most progressive legislation possible from the House. I can even afford having defections from 'Blue Dog' Democrats, because we have such a huge majority that we can still pass legislation without them. I resolve to push the Congress to the left, and make it truly representative of the new center-left country that America has become. The voters put Democrats in control because they wanted to see some progress, and I will be behind the wheel, driving that progress. I resolve to be more progressive than the Senate Democrats, and more progressive than President Obama himself."
"I, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, will grow a backbone."
Seriously, that's about it. Reid has been so willing to abandon his own principles and his own party's position on so many crucially important issues, it's a wonder he doesn't show up to work every day wearing a lime green T-shirt with the word "Welcome" on it. Because Republicans have been walking all over him (and wiping their feet while they do so) pretty much since he took control of the Senate. This needs to end. If the House is passing good bills, and if President Obama is pushing for good bills, then Harry needs to pass some good bills and not just crumble in the face of one or two Republicans who say mean things about him. Reid only needs to court one or two Republicans over to his side, and then he can tell the rest of them to go pound sand. Republicans may not be bright enough to realize that their obstructionism is what lost them the last election (or the last two elections, depending on your point of view), and they may continue to try and block every good idea Obama and the Democrats come up with. Reid needs to realize that Democrats are not reliant any more just upon the goodwill of Joe Lieberman. It's not a 51-49 game any more. If he'd just grow a backbone, he could laugh in the face of Republicans threatening filibusters, and tell them that they are just insuring their own defeat at the ballot box. No matter which party, the one thing politicians are terrified of is losing their power. And Harry could use that as a blunt object to keep them in line.
If he only had a backbone, that is.
"I, soon-to-be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will have a drama-free term in office. I will execute President Obama's foreign policy as best I can, and I will do so without personally becoming the story itself. Oh, and I will keep Bill completely under control. I resolve that Bill's leash will be so short it will damn near be invisible. Because now my legacy is more important than his."
"I, soon-to-be President Barack Obama, will understand the fine line between holding to my principles, and making necessary political compromises. I resolve to move beyond partisanship, but not in a way that lets Republicans undercut the core parts of my agenda. I can compromise on some of the details, but I will not budge from certain deal-breaker positions. Including the other side in discussions will not give them a veto over what gets done. I resolve to not 'give away the store,' in other words."
The Lefty Blogosphere
This one includes me, for the sake of discussion. Just wanted to say that up front.
"We, on the left of the blogosphere, resolve not to go ballistic on every perceived slight coming from Washington. The bloggy left grew to the power and position it now occupies because we've been so good at being against those in power -- George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and all of their ilk. We on the left have never really found ourselves in the situation we now face: Democrats hold the White House, the House, and the Senate. We are in power now, and we have to realize that getting half or even three-quarters of a loaf is a lot better than no loaf at all. To get some good ideas passed, we're going to have to realize that compromises are going to be made. This is the nature of politics. The right wing media (talk radio, Fox News, etc.) will do a dandy job of ripping into the Obama administration for all kinds of perceived shortcomings. We on the left know we need to counter such by pushing our issues to the fore, but we should also show some restraint. Three areas, in particular, we resolve to show restraint: (1) the language we use, (2) keeping a sense of proportion, and (3) not holding grudges too long. We need to enter the debate about the issues of the day without demonizing our own, and realize that some compromises are going to have to be made. When some detail is given up in negotiations that we have fought hard for, we need to step back and look at the bigger picture, and realize that the perfect is the enemy of the good. We're never going to get everything we want, so we should keep reminding ourselves of the good progress we are making without obsessing over the one issue that got thrown under the bus."
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