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Fri Nov 10, 2017, 09:55 PM

Friday Talking Points (461) -- "Berenstain Bear Democrats" Win The Day

Democrats just had the first very good week they've had in an entire year. Tuesday night, they absolutely swept the board in the few elections that were held. Now, granted, this was an off-off-year election, so it's too soon to say whether this presages a Democratic wave (or even a Democratic tsunami) in next year's midterm elections, but that doesn't detract from the gains Democratic candidates made all over the map this week. Michael Murphy, a Republican political strategist, summed up the impact of Tuesday night thusly: "Donald Trump is an anchor for the GOP. We got that message in loud volume in Virginia. The canary in the coal mine didn't just pass out; its head exploded."

But the best quote of the week came from a Virginia voter, marketing executive Toren Beasley. Quoted exiting a D.C. suburb's Starbucks, Beasley explained this year's motivation to vote:

It could have been Dr. Seuss or the Berenstain Bears on the ballot and I would have voted for them if they were a Democrat. I might do more analyses in other years. But in this case, no. No one else gets any consideration because what's going on with the Republicans -- I'm talking about Trump and his cast of characters -- is stupid, stupid, stupid. I can't say "stupid" enough times.

Hence our column's headline today. In the history of animal-themed Democratic groups, originally there were "Yellow Dog Democrats," as in: "I'll vote for a yaller dog 'long as he's a Democrat." This was back when anti-segregationist Democrats dominated the South, prior to the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s. Later, once most of these had switched over to the Republican Party, the remaining conservative or moderate Democrats became the "Blue Dog Democrats," who were responsible for such things as killing the public option in the Obamacare debate.

Now, however, what Republicans need to fear are these new "Berenstain Bear Democrats," which we are defining as those who are willing to vote Democratic simply to send a message about Donald Trump, Trumpism, and the capitulation of the Republican Party to all that that stands for. On Tuesday, the voters sent this message loud and clear. It didn't matter if the Democratic candidate was a neophyte, it didn't matter if they were a person of color or a transgender candidate, all that mattered was sending that clear message.

A quick recap of what Democrats managed to do Tuesday night: retain the governorship of Virginia, and flip the governors' office in New Jersey. Gain full control (both chambers of the statehouse and the governor's office) in two more states (New Jersey and Washington, where a special state senate election tipped the balance). Vote overwhelmingly, in the first time the issue has ever been on a state ballot initiative, to expand Medicaid in Maine. Flip many local seats in down-ballot races (especially in suburban districts), many of which came as a complete surprise to everyone. And, most notably, almost wrest control of the Virginia House of Delegates away from Republicans, by flipping a whopping 15 seats and counting (three races are still outstanding, but Democrats need two more wins to gain control of the chamber). It's been since 2007 since Democrats even picked up more than one of these seats in a single election, and even then they only flipped four. Oh, and Bill de Blasio overwhelmingly won re-election as New York City's mayor, the first time any Democrat had done so since Ed Koch in 1985.

It was also a historic election, for many reasons. Virginia elected an African-American to the lieutenant governor's office, only the second time that has happened. Danica Roem became the first openly transgender state legislator in the country, and she did so by defeating a self-admitted virulent homophobe who drafted a "bathroom bill" for Virginia. Virginia also elected several other "firsts" to the House of Delegates: the first open lesbian, the first Asian-American woman, and the first two Latinas. They also elected the boyfriend of a television news anchor who was gunned down on live television, even though a million bucks was spent against him in the race. Of 14 seats definitively flipped, all were previously held by Republican men. Ten of their replacements will be women.

Ralph Northam won the governor's race against Ed Gillespie, who had run a full-on Trump-style campaign, full of race-baiting and fearmongering. Northam beat all expectations with his nine-point margin of victory. Hillary Clinton won the state a year ago, but only by five points. Polling before the election only put Northam up by (at the most) six or seven points. His victory was no close call -- it was resounding.

It wasn't just Virginia, either. Democrats picked up three state legislature seats in Georgia, mayors in Manchester, New Hampshire, St. Petersburg, Florida, and in both Fayetteville and Charlotte, North Carolina. Seattle elected its first openly lesbian mayor, St. Paul, Minnesota elected its first black mayor, and in Minneapolis a black transgender woman won a seat on the city council.

The results were so decisive, both sides of the aisle emerged absolutely stunned from seeing Tuesday night's returns. Virginia's outgoing governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, admitted (after the fact): "in my mind I was thinking six to eight {seats gained in the House of Delegates} would have been a great night for the Democrats." Former Republican state attorney general of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli was more blunt: "Trump is Trump. Let's not kid ourselves that he's going to make any changes. It's up to the Republicans in Congress. If they canít deliver to their voters, those voters simply won't come out, and that should scare the bejesus out of the Republicans in Washington." Well, that and the Berenstain Bear Democrats, we'd have to add.

Tom Angell pointed out one interesting aspect of the Democratic victory as well, over at Forbes -- that Democrats won even close races by openly and enthusiastically supporting marijuana legalization and decriminalization. This has long been a political issue that many Democrats have shied away from, but supporting marijuana reform always seems to help candidates these days, not hurt them. This is a message other Democratic candidates should really consider taking to heart, in other words.

The overall attitude of the voters was pretty plain to see, from the exit polling. In Virginia, when asked what their most important issue was, the biggest category by far (more than twice the size of the number two answer, "gun policy" ) was healthcare. Of the 39 percent of voters who gave this response, a whopping 77 percent of them voted for the Democrats. Looks like the days of demonizing Obamacare may finally be coming to an end (especially considering that Maine voted to expand Medicaid by a 20-point margin).

A whopping 34 percent of the voters agreed that they were voting Democratic to "send Donald Trump a message." Half as many (only 17 percent) said they were voting Republican in support of Trump. The most notable change in voting patterns was that Democrats turned out in droves to the polls, especially in suburban districts. Voting was up in these areas among pretty much all demographic groups. Democrats didn't make much in the way of inroads among rural counties, but then again Republicans didn't motivate their base sufficiently here either (their voting patterns were similar to the last election).

Or maybe they had been watching Donald Trump Jr.'s Twitter feed. Don Jr. tweeted more than once early on Tuesday that Republicans really needed to get out to vote "tomorrow." When he finally figured his mistake out, he didn't exactly clear things up when he tweeted that voters should go to the polls (sic) "tody."

This all bodes very well indeed for Democrats' chances in next year's midterm elections. The resistance is real. The anger has been sustained. People didn't just sit on their behinds on Election Day, they got out and voted in full force. They wanted to send a message, and they did so in astoundingly clear fashion. The Berenstain Bear Democrats carried the day.

While Democrats are rallying around anyone who calls themselves a Democrat, Republicans are not shy of doing so on their side of the aisle as well. Their only problem is that they are now in the position of: "I'll vote for a child molester and pedophile as long as he's a Republican." The next election for a seat in Congress will be a special election in Alabama on December 12. Roy Moore is the Republican candidate, and he is currently vigorously denying that he not only dated underage teenage girls when he was in his 30s, but that he sexually assaulted a 14-year-old around the same time.

The "party of family values," of course, has now been painted into a corner by these allegations. So far, you can count the number of prominent Republicans on three fingers who have unequivocally denounced Moore. Here are their three tweets:

John McCain: "The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying. He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of."

John Kasich: "I've long opposed Roy Moore & his divisive viewpoints. The actions described make him unfit for office. The GOP must not support him. He should step aside."

Mitt Romney: "Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside."

Every other Republican who has been asked has fallen back on "if it is true, he should step down," without explaining what other proof they'd need than the already-extensive proof laid out in the original bombshell Washington Post article. Translated, this means: "As long as the child molester and pedophile votes for tax cuts, we'll continue to support his candidacy." Profiles in cowardice!

Astonishingly, there are even Republicans who are attempting to brush the whole thing under the rug, including Alabama's state auditor, who was actually quoted saying the following: "Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There's just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual." Hoo boy. Actually, sexual relations with a 14-year-old is indeed illegal -- even in Alabama.

Roy Moore denied all the allegations, and immediately began a fundraising effort as a result of the story. You just can't make this stuff up, folks.

An editor at the Washington Post pointed out the irony by tweeting: "Here's what I don't get: Even if your logic is purely partisan and your politics purely tribal, denouncing Weinstein while defending Roy Moore means you're basically taking the word of the famous Hollywood women but not the small-town Republican women." Good point.

This brings up the previously-unthinkable prospect of a Democrat actually winning a Senate race in Alabama -- a state that went for Donald Trump by almost 30 points last year. This would reduce the Republican majority to only 51-49, and whoever wins will be there until the 2020 elections.

In unrelated news (well, you be the judge), Trump supporters gathered in several cities to celebrate the anniversary of his electoral win in a rather unusual way: "The idea was self-explanatory, as people came to public gathering places, looked to the sky and let out a yell." Next year, one can only assume, they'll gather again to howl at the moon?

In other bizarre news, Senator Rand Paul was attacked while riding his lawnmower, by a neighbor of his. Nobody so far has admitted what the fight was even about. Paul suffered multiple cracked ribs from the attack, and his neighbor is facing increasingly-severe charges.

There was some good news for political protest this week, and some bad news. The woman who laughed out loud during the confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions (reacting to the statement that Sessions had a "clear and well-documented" record on "treating all Americans equally under the law" -- which is, indeed, a laughable statement to make) has now been freed of her legal nightmare, as the Department of Justice suddenly dropped all charges against her (after failing to convict her in their first court case).

However, the bad news came for Juli Briskman, who was the woman famously caught on camera flipping Donald Trump's motorcade the bird, from her bicycle. When she gave her employer, a government contracting firm, a heads-up that the flipper-off-er was indeed her, she was immediately fired and escorted to the door. So much for political free speech -- Briskman was not wearing anything which identified her employer, and she was on her own time when it happened, but she was summarily canned anyway.

And we have to finally end with some really sad news. Two weeks ago, we celebrated the ascension of Paddles the cat to the rank of "First Cat of New Zealand," after its owner Jacinda Ardern was elected prime minister. If for no reason other than: "Ms Ardern's partner Clarke Gayford recently said the cat interrupted Ms Ardern's phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump in late October," we thought this would be a fun cat to follow on social media for years to come. But alas, we have to report that Paddles the cat has died unexpectedly, in an untimely car accident. Anyone wishing to memorialize Paddles is being asked to donate to the S.P.C.A., where Paddles was a rescue cat. And you can also use the hashtag we close on today, as well: #PrrpForever.

Requiescat In Pace, First Cat of New Zealand Paddles. You will be missed. Prrrrp!

There were so many impressive Democrats this week that we're going to have to just punt and issue a group award. Otherwise the task of measuring all the victorious candidates' records and margins of victory would just be overwhelming. So this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week goes to each and every Democrat who participated in this year's election cycle in any way.

This includes -- first and foremost -- the voters. Democratic voters showed up. They turned out. They did not shrug and say: "It's raining, so maybe I won't go vote after all." Whether traditional Democratic voters, or first-time Democratic voters, or independent voters who were fed up with Republican tactics, or suburban voters, or women voters, or college-educated voters, or the newly-christened Berenstain Bear Democrat voters, the voters showed up by the thousands. You can't win elections without voters, and you don't win elections when the voters are uninspired. Whether sending a message to Donald Trump or sending a message about the importance of healthcare or sending a message of inclusivity and diversity, Democratic voters definitely made the political world sit up and take notice this Tuesday. The resistance is real, and it just delivered what will hopefully be the first of many victories.

This also includes all the Democrats who were brave enough to throw their hats in the ring and run for office. Recruiting good candidates can be a problem at times, but not so this year. Women candidates were motivated by the Women's March on Washington, candidates of color were inspired to take on the creeping white nationalism prevalent in the Republican Party, and transgender candidates were motivated by the sheer disrespect shown by the other side. And they all won, and won big.

Democrats everywhere in this country owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all of these candidates and all of these voters. Heading into the midterm election season, Democrats are now fully on offense and Republicans are reduced to a defensive crouch. Voters in other places in the country -- especially those living in suburbs currently represented in the House by a Republican -- have now seen that it is indeed possible to wrest these seats away from the GOP. A sense of real optimism prevails now, for the first time in an entire year. Which is, as we said, why Democrats everywhere owe their thanks to each and every person who participated in the 2017 Democratic blowout election.

So instead of trying to come up with who was more impressive this week, we're just throwing up our hands and awarding the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week to everyone who made it happen. And we'd like to offer our personal thanks as well. It's a new day for Democrats, that's for sure.

Of course, to be morally unambiguous, we have to admit that Roy Moore certainly isn't the only politician who has been compromised by child molestation charges. Sadly, these things happen on both sides of the aisle.

Just before the Roy Moore news broke came this little footnote to a long and sordid story:

Former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) reported to prison Monday morning to begin serving a 21-month sentence for sending sexually explicit text messages to a 15-year-old girl.

Weiner will serve his sentence at Federal Medical Center, Devens, a federal prison in Massachusetts.

The ex-lawmaker pleaded guilty in May to sending a North Carolina high school student explicit messages in early 2016, acknowledging he was aware of the girl's age when he messaged her.

We certainly don't need to go into any detail on Anthony Weiner, except to remind everyone that his antics may have been a large contributory factor in Hillary Clinton's election loss a year ago, since when he was arrested his laptop was seized -- and this was the reason F.B.I. Director James Comey reopened the Clinton email investigation mere days before the election happened. If Weiner hadn't been caught, that would not have happened. So his sordid tale had an outsized impact.

For now, we'll just hand Weiner his ninth Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week and let it go at that.

{Anthony Weiner is no longer a public figure, so as a rule we don't provide contact information. If you really want to contact him to let him know what you think of his actions, we'd suggest getting in touch with him through that federal prison listed above.}

Volume 461 (11/10/17)

Once again, due to its importance, we are devoting the entire talking points section to fighting hard against the Republican tax plan. It's hard to even call it a "tax cut" anymore, as more and more information becomes available about how many people's taxes will actually rise due to this ill-conceived giveaway to the ultra-wealthy.

Now, designing tax reform so that everyone gets at least a small tax cut is usually pretty easy for Republicans to do. What normally happens is that the people on the bottom get a tiny, meager scrap of a tax cut, those up the income scale see bigger benefits, and those at the top reap the big bucks. Republicans have sold these plans as "tax cuts for all," and it has usually worked for them.

This time around, for some inexplicable reason, they chose not to do that. Instead, they threw so many curveballs into the mix that many Americans are even now unsure whether their taxes will go up, down, or sideways under the GOP plan. But because they introduced so many complexities, it is assured to create a whole lot of losers under the new system.

Democrats need to feed this uncertainty by pointing out how many people will actually get hit by higher taxes. Most people, even towards the upper end of the income scale, are actually fine with paying a little more in taxes if (and it's a big if) they believe that the money raised is going to a good and worthy purpose -- like lowering taxes on the working class, or like reducing the national debt. However, when told that they have to feel some economic pain in order to provide a trillion-dollar giveaway to the wealthiest few and big business and Wall Street, it becomes an entirely different political equation.

Democrats really need to forcefully be making this case. Public outrage is what stopped the "repeal and replace Obamacare" bills, and it can do the same for the tax bill -- but only if enough people hear about it. So, this week, it would behoove all Democrats to begin making some of the following arguments.

Hand $1,000 to a hedge fund manager

Bill de Blasio had a good week at the ballot box, as previously mentioned. But that didn't stop him from fighting the Republican tax plan, with an excellent opinion piece he wrote for Business Insider. In it, he makes the best analogy we've yet heard to describe the GOP tax plan.

In New York City nearly 700,000 families earning less than $200,000 would see their taxes increase under the proposed bill, with their average tax hike exceeding $1,000.

The Republicans might as well ask hardworking New Yorkers to withdraw $1,000 from the bank machine and find a hedge fund manager to give it to. Meanwhile, losing that money will force families to make terrible choices between food and medicine or rent and tutoring for a child.

Fix inequality, don't exacerbate it

De Blasio's entire piece is really worth reading in full. Because he is calling for the type of tax reform which would actually be popular with a majority of Americans, unlike the Republican plan which is currently almost as unpopular as their "repeal and replace Obamacare" bills were.

I agree with the president on one thing: We need to reform our tax code. But I think we should be taking that reform in exactly the opposite direction. Our tax code should address our country's runaway inequality. It should ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share, so that all Americans can reap the rewards of their drive, skill and spirit, which have built our economy.

Let's start by closing loopholes that unreasonably benefit the 1%. Let's end the carried-interest loophole, which allows hedge-fund billionaires to pay a lower rate of taxes on their income than the salaries their secretaries pay. Let's increase, rather than eliminate, the estate tax, which is paid only by the heirs and heiresses of multi-million dollar fortunes.

Driving the suburbanites into the arms of the Democrats

This one should be the most fearsome to Republicans, at least those who were paying attention on Tuesday night.

"You know who just elected a Democratic governor of Virginia? Suburban counties, full of middle-class and even upper-middle-class Americans. These are the swing counties nationwide. And as if Tuesday weren't punishment enough for Republicans, their tax plan seems designed specifically to raise taxes on exactly the same demographic. These are people who know full well the details of how the tax system works, and they're going to be some of the hardest-hit under the Republican tax plan. The GOP is removing many of the deductions the middle-class uses, rather than targeting how the truly wealthy make their money. So the middle class will be subsidizing a trillion-dollar tax cut for Wall Street and the one percent. And they're already not too happy about it -- what are they going to think in a year's time, when it comes time to vote? Republicans seem bent on driving away the very voters they really should be courting right now. It's like they actually want to see a Democratic wave election wipe the GOP majorities out in 2018 or something."

100 million households

Of course, it's always better to provide some facts and figures in your talking points.

"The numbers are out, and they are terrible for millions of Americans who will see their taxes rise under the Republican plan. Of the middle fifth of the income scale -- those with an average income of $72,000 -- a full 21 percent will be paying higher taxes if the Republicans get their way. In the next highest fifth (average income $115,900), almost one-quarter will be hit with higher taxes. And a full third of families making an average of $207,000 will get socked with a higher tax bill. This is a so-called 'middle-class tax cut'? Hardly. In fact, by one calculation, this will mean a whopping 100 million households will either be paying higher taxes or will see no tax cut at all. And it's all to shower trillions on big business and Donald Trump's children after he dies."

Lyin' Ryan

The Washington Post "Fact-Checker" column (the one that hands out Pinocchios) got Paul Ryan to admit he was lying, this week. So point it out!

"Earlier this week, Paul Ryan was making promises that were just flat-out lies about the GOP tax plan. Ryan was confidently repeating, and I quote: 'every single person, every rate payer, every bracket person gets a rate cut.' Now, I'm not sure what a 'bracket person' is myself, but this statement is laughable for other reasons as well. Because it's just plain false. Republicans could have easily designed a tax plan that would actually have achieved this goal -- by merely raising the standard deduction a bit, or by raising the personal exemption -- but they chose not to do so. When it was pointed out to his office that he was lying his face off, he quickly pivoted to a much more parsed answer: 'what the analysis shows us, the average taxpayer in all income levels gets a tax cut' -- which is nowhere near what he had originally been claiming. I will give Ryan credit, though, because most Republicans are out there just ignoring the facts and continuing to lie their faces off about their 'middle-class tax cut' that actually raises taxes on the middle class."

SALT in your wounds

This one should sting, but only if you rub it in.

"If anyone has any doubt about who this tax proposal was written to help, you need look no further than what Republicans are doing on the state and local taxes (or 'SALT,' as some call them). Individuals will either, under the House plan, have their SALT deduction heavily limited, or, under the Senate plan, see their SALT deduction disappear completely. But this pain doesn't apply equally to all, because businesses will continue to be allowed to deduct state and local taxes -- it is only individuals who will get hit by this change. Right there is the best example of who will get hurt by the Republican tax plan, and who it is designed to help. You pay more, Middle America, so that Wall Street can give themselves bigger million-dollar bonuses next year."

Seth finds a great example

Nicely done, Seth. Kudos to his writing and researching team, as well, for digging this one out.

"Seth Meyers, a late-night comedian, pointed out what is probably the most egregious example of how Donald Trump's tax plans benefit one very particular demographic of society. Meyers asked us all to 'think of the most Donald-Trump-friendly tax break you could possibly imagine,' before revealing that the Republican tax cut includes a freakin' tax break for golf course owners. That's right, Mr. and Mrs. Middle Class -- you are going to have to buckle down and fork over more tax dollars so that Trump can rake in millions of dollars in breaks because he owns golf courses. Maybe that's what he meant when he promised everyone we'd get tired of all the 'winning'?"

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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