You should take it as a given that Talking Points is involved in more or less constant communication and negotiations with wags and wonks from across the political spectrum searching for ways to stick it to the folks currently running the show at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And along those lines, here’s a thought.

It sounds like there’s ample ground for a possible meeting of the minds between certain Dems (Dems, of the TPM variety at least) and the National Greatness Conservative / Reform / McCainite wing of the GOP on the tax cut front. Here’s the idea.

Many of these NGCs aren’t too crazy about the Bush tax cut. They’re not up in arms about it exactly. But they think it’s too regressive, that it should put more emphasis on middle income families.

How about a tax cut with a substantial payroll tax rebate plus a dramatically increased and refundable child tax credit? There’s very little in that which a progressive could disagree with — at least certain progressives. It’s also across the board — every gets the payroll tax rebate and everyone with kids gets the tax credit. And for the NGCs, well, they can just see the child tax credit as a school voucher. The thought has occurred to at least one of them.

Such a package would address much of what both groups say they believe in.

Now one problem is size. How big would it be? For my part I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble with the price tag being pretty high — say in the trillion dollar range, or perhaps even a touch higher? (Don’t quote me on that — I’m still thinking it over.) But the fiscal discipline issue is a very important one for the Democrats today. Not just for substantive reasons and for its political potency but also for the way it knits together different factions within the party, the way it allows them to have something to agree on to mask over other differences.

So that’s one problem.

Another problem is that Dems may fear that if they legitimized the idea of a tax cut on that scale they’d lose one of their major arguments against the Bush plan. And they might be right.

There’s also a problem on the NGC side of the equation.

The NGCs are very much like Scoop Jackson Democrats from the 1970s — a handful of brainy thinkers, an equal number of pithy writers, and exactly one elected politician. And even that one with a questionable future.

(In fact the NGCs aren’t just like Scoop Jackson Democrats. A few who are old enough actually were Scoop Jackson Democrats. But that’s another story.)

The relevant point is that it’s not really clear what troops they can put on the field — and so far even McCain has been a no-show in the tax debate.

Still, it’s an interesting possibility.

Once Talking Points is through writing this merciless piece on the alleged epidemic of voter fraud in the United States he’ll return to more frequent posts. But for the moment let me set the record straight on John Edwards.

In his online column today Wlady Pleszczynski, editor of American Spectator Online says I seem “prepared to attack [Edwards] as not reliably liberal enough, a rather strange way to think about a product of the Democratic Party’s potent trial lawyer wing.”

Now before proceeding let me say that there are, by definition, no bad links to Talking Points. Some are more accurate than others. But they’re all good and appreciated. Especially when they’re coupled with good buzz-inducing phrases like “rising liberal political writer.” Frankly, who cares about the ‘liberal political writer.’ But ‘rising’ is definitely on-message with the larger Talking Points PR strategy.

In any case, back to business.

I don’t think I’ve ever said Edwards isn’t reliably liberal enough. And if I did say it, I don’t think it’s true.

What I’m saying is this: Much of the Edwards mania is premised on the belief that Democratic presidential contenders have to come from states that seldom vote Democratic for president. Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, etc. Or to put it more baldly, that they have to come from states that belonged to the Confederacy. For a number of reasons, which I’ll discuss in a later post, I don’t think that’s true.

I also think that Edwards took certain positions in his 1998 Senate campaign which won’t work well in national Democratic politics — particularly, if I remember correctly, supporting right-to-work laws.

And for reasons which again I’ll get to later I’m still not convinced Edwards is all he’s cracked up to be. Not unwilling to be convinced, just not convinced yet. But that’ll wait for another post.

Here is a very interesting article from the New York Times about states jumping into the breach and devising various ways to help seniors manage the rising cost of prescription drugs.

On the one hand this is a rather inspiring story of states devising pragmatic solutions to a pressing social problem. And there’s even a nice ‘laboratories of democracy’ angle to it — with different states using different devices and strategems to approach the problem.

But in the final analysis this is a story of failure, not success. For any number of reasons the provision of health care for seniors is inherently a matter for the federal government, not the state governments. The states are only getting into the act because Congress has failed to act.

Americans are fundamentally Americans, not Texans or Californians or New Yorkers. And as Crolian Progressives argued at the beginning of the last century there are certain problems that can’t be solved by the states, or private enterprise, or voluntary associations, but only by concerted national action.

Health care for seniors is indubitably one of those cases.

Now as long as we’re talking about national purpose and national action, I’m curious where those National Greatness Conservatives (who’ve got a touch of a Crolian streak in them) come down on this question. For a nation to be great, mustn’t it be great as a nation?

And as long as we’re talking about Evan Bayh, let’s also say a few words about John Edwards.

Like Evan Bayh, John Edwards is up for reelection in 2004. Yet unlike Bayh it’s quite clear that Edwards is very, very serious about running for president.

So what exactly does that mean?

One possibility, suggested by a friend of mine, is that Edwards really doesn’t have plans of serving more than one term in the Senate. Maybe he’ll run for president, maybe he won’t. But he won’t be a Senator in 2005.

On the face of it that’s hard to figure. Being a Senator is a really sweet job for a pol. Just ask John Kerry. And unless you want to become governor of your state, what the hell else are you going to do?

(Sure, you could sort of imagine Edwards playing the Cosby-esque paterfamilias on a network sitcom. But for the moment, let’s assume that’s not where his heart is.)

On the other hand, my friend raises another possibility. The kind of voting record that Edwards would want to put together to run for reelection in North Carolina is quite different from the kind he’d want to run in the Democratic presidential primaries.

In fact, ‘different’ may be too gentle. They may be incompatible. So that’s another argument for Edwards’ possibly not seeing himself as more than a one-term Senator.

Of course there’s one more reason you figure Edwards will definitely run. One of the reasons Evan Bayh likely won’t run is that he’s basically part of the same club as Joe Lieberman (and, for that matter, Al Gore — yes, I know they’re all mad at each other, but trust me it’s still the same club). They’re all New Dems. And there are all sorts of reasons why people don’t want more than one of them in the race.

A similar logic applies on the liberal side of the Democratic spectrum, though they’re less clubbish so there’s more of a chance that more than one of them would run.

But Edwards really isn’t in either of these camps (and of course that’s precisely the reason that a lot of folks are into him) and so there’s really not anyone else who could throw their hat in the ring and make Edwards drop out.

Next up, we’ll discuss what Talking Points thinks of a potential Edwards candidacy … Hint: It ain’t pretty.

Maybe Evan Bayh’s been reading Talking Points. I’m hearing that he may not be such a lock to run in 2004 after all.

As Talking Points has discussed earlier, Bayh has not done so well in the early positioning for 2004. But consider another point. Bayh is up in 2004 for Senate, his first shot at reelection.You can run for vice-president and senator at the same time, not president. Is he so committed to a run that he’ll risk his Senate seat? That’s hard to figure.

People with some knowledge of Bayh tell me they’d be surprised to see him challenge Al Gore, if Gore decided to make another run. They also tell me they’d be surprised to see him challenge Joe Lieberman if he decided to run.

Now who knows if the former Veep is going to run in 2004. But if he doesn’t, Joe Lieberman definitely will. So maybe Bayh’s just not going to run, period.

I’m normally content to leave carping and whining about popular culture to conservative hacks like Bill Bennet. But let’s make an exception.

Last night I caught a few minutes of Weakest Link, the new game show which NBC has imported from the United Kingdom. And I must say it was the ugliest, most wretched thing I think I’ve ever seen on American television.

If you haven’t seen it yet Weakest Link is a sort of hybrid of the Regis Millionaire show, Family Feud and Lord of the Flies. A group of contestants answer questions as a team and then at the end of each round they vote off the lamest member of the squad — a process engineered to foster hurt feelings, petty quarrels and general lameness.

This whole mess is presided over by Anne Robinson, a prim, starchy, offensive Englishwoman who asks the questions while berating the contestants with wooden taunts and denigrating comments.

This is apparently supposed to be entertaining. And perhaps it would be if Robinson were clever or original or witty and not such a dork herself. But her insults usually amount to the ‘you’re dumb’ variety and don’t get much more clever. Sort of Don Rickles without the comedic brilliance, if you get my drift.

Here you can visit the ‘brutal truths’ section of the show’s website and vote for which of her insults has the “most bite.” (The caption reads “Anne Robinson is notorious for delivering the Brutal Truth to the contestants before her.”)

Watching the show I kept thinking of some episode of Seinfeld when some dolt keeps insulting Jerry. But, sorry, I couldn’t quite place it.

In any case, who finds this crap entertaining?

I mean, let’s be honest. Without the charm, just what do the Brits have to offer anyway?

Alright, I apologize to the throngs of Talking Points readers who wrote in asking why almost forty-eight postless hours went by on the site. But even if that weren’t the case we’d still have to go on the air to issue a special Talking Points Schadenfreude Alert.

As you all know, Pat Robertson, one-time Pope of Christian Conservatism ain’t much of a fan of abortion. In fact, he considers it murder and a sin and an abomination and all the rest.

Unless of course it’s forced abortion in the interest of preserving racial purity. That’s something else entirely!

That’s what Robertson told Wolf Blitzer Monday night on CNN, as recounted here in this article in the Washington Post.

After telling Blitzer that forced abortion might be necessary to hold down China’s population, Robertson went on to explain:

It’s going to be a demographic catastrophe. When they’re having abortions, they’re picking the girl babies for the slaughter, and they’re allowing only the males to be born. And in another, say, 10 or 20 years, there’s going to be a critical shortage of wives. The young men won’t have any women to marry. So it will, in a sense, dilute the — what they consider — the racial purity of the Han Chinese. And that to them will be a great tragedy because then they will have to be importing wives from Indonesia and other countries in order to fill up the population.

Mike Kinsley once said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that a gaffe is when a politician inadvertently tells truth, or at least, speaks candidly. But this assumes that the pol says something that we all know to be true in some sense and not just the prefab malarkey that their handlers feed them.

But when Robertson speaks candidly, again and again, he says things so deeply crazy that it’s a wonder why he is still a figure in American public life. Remember of course that this same Pat Robertson who published a book which rehashed much of the vile craziness of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Lefties, being lefties, will often accuse their enemies of being ‘reactionary.’ And for them often this means simply being opposed to liberals — against government spending, in favor of big tax cuts, yada, yada, yada. In other words, being what you might simply call a ‘Republican.’

But this is hardly what the word means. ‘Reaction’ in this specific sense is a fairly complicated term. Websters defines it as “relating to, marked by, or favoring reaction; especially : ultraconservative in politics.”

Even that’s a rather thin definition, though. The word refers to a more specific anti-democratic impulse: a desire to turn back the broad Western trend toward democratic government and civic equality, often tied up with nostalgia for established militarized aristocracies, state churches, and so forth. This is why, say, Francisco Franco was a reactionary, as were, in a quite different way, some of the proto-fascist impulses in a European capital like Vienna at the turn of the last century — as described in this book.

In any case, one seldom really sees anything quite like this in American politics, though the term is often tossed around pretty freely.

Seldom, but not never.

Lately the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page really is starting to seem a little reactionary. Tim Noah had a whole series a little while back about a Journal editorial praising the virtues of the idle rich. And today there’s this really whacky column arguing that the problem with the British monarchy is that they’ve … well, that they’ve made their peace with the 20th century essentially.

The best response to the Sophie “scandal”–for that is how the tabloids dub it–would be for the queen to withdraw her family from the throng. A popular embrace is fatal. The monarchy does not, and should not, reflect the latest opinion poll. Instead, as a source of authority, it must cultivate afresh a sense of suspicion–a suspicion, this time, of the people.

Yikes!

Is this some new obscurantist thread in American conservatism? Or has Robert Bartley just gone over the edge?

As you’re probably aware, Republicans commonly make the case for their tax cut plan by arguing it is simply wrong that people should give more than a third of their income to the federal government. They point to the highest tax rate of 39.5% and say that even for the very, very wealthy paying more than a third is simply wrong.

Now as a matter of fiscal policy and morality that may or may not be the case.

But critics of this dishonest argument know that very, very few people ever pay more than a third of their income to the federal government — even including the extremely wealthy, and even including those who fall in that highest bracket.

And as luck would have it today we get a splendidly apt demonstration of this fact.

Today we find that George W. Bush and Laura Bush had a combined, adjusted gross income of $894,880. On this they paid the federal government $240,342.

Now Talking Points twice got Ds in high school math classes (long story!). But doesn’t this mean president Bush paid significantly less than a third of his income to the federal government even though he’s in the stratospheric zone of the income scale and even under the presumably confiscatory Clinton tax code?

Is anyone else noting this rather obvious point.

P.S. The Cheneys do seem to have paid more than a third of their incomes in taxes — this on roughly $36 million they cleared last year by cashing in stocks and stock options from his old employer. So, okay, mega-plutocrats do occasionally pay more than a third when they cash in all their stocks.

As you’re probably aware, Republicans commonly make the case for their tax cut plan by arguing it is simply wrong that people should give more than a third of their income to the federal government. They point to the highest tax rate of 39.5% and say that even for the very, very wealthy paying more than a third is simply wrong.

Now as a matter of fiscal policy and morality that may or may not be the case.

But critics of this dishonest argument know that very, very few people ever pay more than a third of their income to the federal government — even including the extremely wealthy, and even including those who fall in that highest bracket.

And as luck would have it today we get a splendidly apt demonstration of this fact.

Today we find that George W. Bush and Laura Bush had a combined, adjusted gross income of $894,880. On this they paid the federal government $240,342.

Now Talking Points twice got Ds in high school math classes (long story!). But doesn’t this mean president Bush paid significantly less than a third of his income to the federal government even though he’s in the stratospheric zone of the income scale and even under the presumably confiscatory Clinton tax code?

Is anyone else noting this rather obvious point.

P.S. The Cheneys do seem to have paid more than a third of their incomes in taxes — this on roughly $36 million they cleared last year by cashing in stocks and stock options from his old employer. So, okay, mega-plutocrats do occasionally pay more than a third when they cash in all their stocks.

If you’re thinking that Democrats on the Hill are feeling emboldened of late, you’re right. As the AP reported on April 7th, Geoff Garin, a well-known Dem pollster, and Paul Begala met with a group of Dem Senators and basically assured them that — given the political situation, poll-numbers, etc. — they had little to fear from confronting the president on a wide-range of issues — particularly on the Budget/tax/Social Security front.

I don’t think this was mentioned in the original AP story, but apparently this was some sort of message group that Dick Durbin (Democrat of Illinois and a possible 2004 dark horse) has put together.

In any case, one person who was at the meeting tells me that the Senators seemed more focused, angry, and ready to fight than at any time in recent memory, which is nice to hear.

Let’s look a little more closely, though, at the ‘internals’ of the polls which were discussed.

Every marquee public poll routinely asks some version of this question: Does politician X care about/understand the problems people like you face?

Pollsters would undoubtedly come up with some more elegant, technically appropriate phrasing. But you get the idea.

In any case, Bill Clinton always scored very, very well on this question. Even when his job approval ratings (and certainly his personal approval ratings) weren’t so hot, this number remained strong.

This is a measurement of what we might call the politics of empathy, social science’s measurement of “I feel your pain,” etc. I’ve always thought, as many others have as well I suspect, that this was the secret ground of Clinton’s political resilience, his ability to bounce back from so many apparently fatal blows.

The late 1990s produced a quite false political truism which held that so long as the economy was growing at more than 4% annual GDP the president could snort coke, deflower cheerleaders, behave poorly at state dinners and still keep his job approval rating over 60%.

As a Clinton diehard, I’m not above conceding that Bill put this theory to the test a few times. But the thesis is simply false. The state of the economy is very important to a president’s approval rating, but not decisive. The politics of empathy were equally vital to Clinton’s political survival.

Which brings us back to the current occupant of the Oval Office. One of the numbers which got a lot of attention at the meeting noted above was this from the recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll: by a measure of about 2 to 1 Americans believe George W. Bush cares more about corporate interests than the people’s interest. That’s basically a proxy for the “feel your pain” question noted earlier.

This is a sign of a deep underlying vulnerability. If the public perception that Clinton understood and cared about ordinary people’s problems buoyed him through turbulent political waters, the lack of such a perception for Bush should make his popularity fragile when times get tough.

I am really not a fan of Bill Gertz. Make that REALLY not a fan. Gertz, the defense writer for the Washington Times, has long been a mouthpiece for the more hysterical and over-the-top China hawks in Washington, DC. In a sense, I guess that’s unfair: Gertz IS one of the most hysterical and over-the-top China hawks in Washington, DC.

Having said all this, though, he’s actually been one of the more interesting people to read of late. Like him or not, he’s got impeccable sources among the more Sino-phobic members of the defense and intelligence communities. And these are the people — in many cases — whose role has been augmented by the change in administrations.

Here’s the update from Gertz’s own site on the administration’s post-crisis response to the China. So long as you keep the biases of the writer in mind, there’s still a lot of interesting information to be had.

Sometimes someone says something and you say (or I say), “Hey, I wanna make fun of that person.”

And then you say, “You know, on second thought, I don’t even want to talk about it.”

Then, on third thought, “I don’t even want to think about it.”

I’m going to have some more to say later on the whole China issue. But for the moment can we all just agree that the Weekly Standard’s David Brooks has come up with the uckiest metaphor to describe the recent turn in Sino-American relations?

Here’s Brooks describing our ‘position’ last night on The Newshour:

Well, the President responded in an honest way, and maybe he was right to tail back. You know, when you’re being pawed by a dirty old man and he’s got something you need, maybe you just have to sit and take it, but the – the mistake would be to treat this as a discreet event which, you know, we’ve got a result and so let’s be happy.

Satire? Ohhhhh the possibilities are endless…

P.S. You got something against David Brooks? No, not in the least. But how could I pass that one up?

I’m always up for a new art form since my tastes are so varied and such. And that’s one of the reasons I’m so into the most dynamic new American art form to come along in some time: merginalia.

Never heard of it? The unsubtle way of explaining this would be to say it’s when you go out of business, tank, go belly up, etc., and spin it to make it sound like you’re actually merging with another company or entering into some sort of corporate alliance. The Mona Lisa of the genre of course is the recent ‘merger’ of Inside.com with Brill’s Content.

But there are many other examples and there was another entry today. The new deal struck between Amazon and Borders Books. The headline at CNBC.com says “Amazon, Borders join forces.”

But if you read this article from the Washington Post it’s pretty clear the headline might have been written “Borders Bites the Dust, Avoids Utter Ignominy By Getting One Page at Amazon.com with Borders Logo at the Top.”

Now the question is, what company tanks next? And what’s their merginalia going to sound like? And why didn’t Pets.com get with the program and ‘merge’ with Hanes socks division?

P.S. Late Update. Now we know who’s next: Kozmo.com. As of this afternoon. But apparently they couldn’t even get a mercy ‘buyer.’ So they can’t even attempt a merginalia.

P.P.S. Aren’t you going to come up with a way to swing this merginalia concept into a slam on David Horowitz? Still workin’ on that.

Well I don’t want to go too far off message here. But I just need to say that I don’t have too many complaints with how the Bush White House has managed to resolve this China stand-off. I think they flubbed it at first. And there are things that should have been done differently along the way (repeatedly saying this could damage relations was a touch feeble).

But all that said, I give the president reasonable marks. I’m no expert on the Chinese language obviously. But from a brief perusal of the papers it would seem we expressed a measure of apology without in any way admitting responsibility or wrongdoing. (The follow-on to this will be the key.)

The more important point, however, is that (to me at least) one of the measures of national power and greatness is the ability to suffer the insecurities and feebleness of weaker powers with a measure of grace. Pace my friend Michael Lind, but indulging someone else — in the right circumstances — is often a sign of power, not weakness.

Sort of like with David Horowitz. His flipping out over the Daily Princetonian’s calling him a racist isn’t a sign of power or prestige, only a sign that he’s pitiful and insecure. Or like when he flew off the handle because of a small comment about him in like the fifth or sixth article I ever wrote.

Anyway, you get the idea.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to go write a memo for some friends on the Hill about how to bash President Bush for humiliating the nation in the China hostage debacle.

Boy, am I ever proud of my Alma Mater. Or rather my Alma Mater’s campus daily, The Daily Princetonian.

As you may have heard, The Prince was one of the campus papers that agreed to run David Horowitz’s laughably amateurish anti-reparations for slavery ad. But they wisely went ahead and ran it with an editorial blasting Horowitz as a self-promoting cretin.

Horowitz has now turned around and refused to pay The Prince for running the ad because he says they slandered him.

(At the end of what is actually a pretty mild editorial The Prince said it was giving the ad money to the local chapter of the Urban League so as not to “profit from Horowitz’s racism.”)

Now what makes me so proud about this isn’t that they ran the ad or gave away the money or anything like that. It’s that the folks at The Prince have managed to give Horowitz quite enough rope to hang himself. And, boy, has he ever taken the bait.

Now even defenders like the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page and Andrew Sullivan are lining up to say what a complete ass Horowitz is making of himself.

Bottom line: if your whole racket is taking a stand on free speech rights you are in a very, very weak position trying to break a contract on the basis of someone else’s offensive speech.

(I mean, come on, David. Just open up the *$%&#@% checkbook and give these kids some of Richard Scaife’s money already.)

Yet Horowitz’s actions really aren’t so much offensive or brazen as they are comic. And that gets us back to a point that has been too little made in this whole brouhaha. Horowitz isn’t really so much a racial provocateur as he is a sort of freelance imbecile, a flesh and blood cartoon.

(If you want an example, take a peek at the hilarious letter he wrote to Andrew Sullivan. It’s a classic.)

If you haven’t actually read his “ten reasons” why reparations are a bad idea you really should. They’re less offensive than they are pitiful. Sure, several of the points are tendentious to the point of falsehood (see 1, 6, 9 & 10). But what’s more striking is that they’re written with the sophistication of an over-eager high school student. It’s not even fact-checked: item #6 refers to the “slave system that was ended over 150 years ago.” (This, presumably, is a reference to that little-known ‘other’ emancipation that occurred in 1851?)

As the folks at The Prince did a good job showing, the proper response to Horowitz isn’t offense but laughter.

Why does anyone take this guy seriously?

Well, as you must now know SlatePoints AG was just a ruse. The real reason the Slate.com link is there down on the left is that Slate has just started a new feature called Mezine Central, a portal (as the web jargon would have it) to what they call “the best in political weblogs.”

The best includes Kausfiles.com, AndrewSullivan.com, Virginia Postrel’s site vpostrel.com, and of course the grand-daddy of all political blogs Talking Points!

Actually, I think I may be the youngest of the bloggers who made the cut. And why is that important, you ask? I haven’t the slightest $%&#*#@ idea.

Anyway, part of the deal was that we each put a link to slate.com somewhere prominent on our sites. And that’s the answer to the mystery of the Slate.com link.

If you’re interested in the broader issues involved in America’s policy toward China and East Asia then, by all means, read this article by John Judis, my friend and former partner in writing the Below the Beltway column for the American Prospect.

The essence of John’s argument is that liberals should get over the presumption that support for Taiwan vis-a-vis China is necessarily rooted in some reactionary form of McCarthyite Cold War militarism. And not just verbal support, but selling the Taiwanese the weaponry they need to defend themselves against Chinese threats of forced reunification.

About a year ago I wrote another Below the Beltway column which made something of a contrary argument — making the case against the wacky right-wing hysterics who want to roil up East Asia with a new Cold War. My point was that a very ill-begotten sort of American domestic politics was threatening to sow havoc in East Asia. I don’t think my piece is necessarily opposed to John’s. But I would say also that in the intervening year I’ve somewhat shifted my position more toward his.

Now, having said that, I do think there’s one part of the equation to which he gives too little attention. We should be willing to sell arms to the Taiwanese to help them defend themselves. We should probably also be willing to help defend thems directly should China seek to invade the island.

But as any sane person will realize, this second scenario is one we want to avoid at almost any cost.

We want to make clear our committment to defend Taiwan enough to prevent Chinese aggression but not so much as to encourage Taiwanese recklessness or efforts to secure formal independence. And that latter danger is much more than a theoretical possibility — as a number of events in the late 1990s demonstrated.

So, yes, sell the Taiwanese the weapons they need to mount a credible defense. But also realize the dangers of making our support for Taiwan too fulsome.

More on this later.

Alright, we’ve been getting questions for a while about why there’s a link down there on the left to Slate.com. Now at last we can tell you.

Here’s the deal: as you know, these have been difficult times for online content providers. NBC just pulled the plug on NBC Internet — their lame online division with the commercials featuring that svelte, fetching brunnette. And little more than a week ago Inside.com, one of the most buzzworthy web ventures out there, pulled the plug on itself and ‘merged’ with Brill’s Content.

Well, even ventures with deep-pockets behind them can’t ignore the gusting winds roiling the online sea. So tomorrow we’re going to be announcing the merger of Slate.com and Talking Points Memo.

Now for the moment, we’d really rather not comment on any rumors you may have heard about this actually being a buy-out of one company by the other. As will be clear when we do the role-out tomorrow afternoon this is a true merger, as signified by the new merged company’s name: SlatePoints AG.

(The AG stems from some German financing we brought in to help float the deal. We’ll also be dropping the “.com” suffix from the new company name — on the reasoning that that’s just way to 1990s for 2001 and sort of has the whiff of death about it, given the NASDAQ crash, and so forth.)

Anyway, you’ll still get all the same great content from the new combined venture. Tim Noah’s Chatterbox column is slated to be renamed “Talking Points, Jr.” as of May 1st. But Kinsley and I still have to have a sit-down with Tim and iron that out. Aside from that, most of the existing features and columns will likely continue as they are.

P.S. So what’s the Slate.com link really doing there? Well, something cool; but not nearly as cool as SlatePoints AG. I’ll toss up a post with the real score later this evening.

By all means read this excellent analysis in the Washington Post of the mix of internal Chinese politics and geo-politics at play in the current spy plane stand-off. The piece is particularly good in describing the unenviable position of Chinese President Jiang Zemin and the downside for the United States if this crisis leaves him weakened.

As far as fiscal policy goes, you really don’t need Talking Points so long as you keep up with with Paul Krugman’s ‘Reckonings’ column on The New York Times‘ Oped Page.

Sunday’s installment provides an important reality check for anybody who’s getting too excited about the rebuke the Senate gave the president last week — slicing his $1.6 trillion tax cut to $1.2 trillion.

Unlike many of my friends, I’m quite happy to give Tom Daschle & Company real credit for succeeding at the art of the possible. Accomplishing even this was a major feat — given that the filibuster is not available for tax and budget bills. And keeping all but one Democrat on board involved exceptional legislative skill on Daschle’s part.

But, look, the real problem is that they only have fifty votes. And unless and until they get a few Republicans to work with them, there’s just not that much they can do.

So, a great effort. But their power is just very limited. And as Krugman points out even a $1.2 tax cut — organized along Bush’s lines — is still a disaster.

What’s so important about Krugman’s piece today is his willingness to state the obvious in unambiguous terms: the Bush tax cut package is premised on a bundle of lies, half-truths, and evasions. There is really no other candid way to put it. The cuts which go to the average family are paltry. The cuts it provides for the very wealthy are great. The danger it poses to the future solvency of Social Security and Medicare is profound. And if you’re thinking about a prescription drug benefit under Medicare any time soon, well, you can just forget it.

Read the article. You’ll be glad you did.

Wow! Did you just see Joe Lieberman on the Evans & Novak Show?

He talked a good game and made some interesting comments on a possible 2004 run.

More pointedly, though, he was the first marquee Democrat (at least the first I’ve seen) to openly make the ‘Hey, you didn’t really get elected anyway, bub‘ argument against George W. Bush. Yes, there was a touch of sugar-coating. But not much.

When I get a hold of the transcript, I’ll post it.

P.S. Is there going to be an acronym for the ‘Hey, you didn’t really get elected anyway, bub’ argument? No doubt. HYDRGEAB — not exactly euphonious, but you can’t have everything.

The Talking Points mailbag has been filling up with requests for a run-down of the potential Democratic standard-bearers for 2004. Who’s up, who’s down. All that.

One of these days I’m going to write up a long post on why a potential Evan Bayh candidacy – essentially an article of faith for many Washingtonians – is premised on an outdated view of the Democratic party, a view from an era when Democrats were so flat on their backs that they had to find their presidential candidates in states where virtually no one ever voted for Democrats

But for the moment just a preview.

Being a popular two-term Democratic governor from Indiana teaches you one thing – caution. And lots of it. But now even some of those who should be Bayh’s natural supporters for a hypothetical presidential candidacy are wondering whether that Indiana-bred caution may run so deep that he just can’t be an effective national leader in the Democratic party.

And consider one reason for those doubts. Much of Bayh’s potential presdiential cachet is based on his association with the Democratic Leadership Council (the centrist, more pro-business faction of the Democratic party) – much is often made of the fact that he’s just taken the post as chairman of the DLC, the same post Bill Clinton held when he ran for president … yada, yada, yada.

But so far the DLCers cannot seem to get him to sign on to their alternative to the Bush tax plan.

So here’s what this means. Bayh is trying to position himself as the centrist Democrat for 2004. Much of this is premised on his association with the centrist, New Democrat DLC. Yet he won’t even sign on to their tax cut plan because he presumably thinks it’s too liberal.

The person who gets the nod in 2004 will be the one who can bridge the divide between the centrist and labor-liberal wings of the party. But apparently the centrist wing of the party is too far left for Evan Bayh.

Isn’t this a problem?

Earlier I said I thought it would be a mistake even to try to ban ‘coordination’ between candidates and independent expenditure groups. Let me try to explain why.

Let’s take a group at random. The Sierra Club or the Christian Coalition. Each group has deeply woven ties to the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. It’s in the nature of things that the Sierra Club or perhaps the AFL-CIO will be in on-going close contact with the members of the Democratic party. The candidates, the leadership, etc.

It’s in the nature of things, normal, expected and most importantly, right. They’re ideological allies. They share common goals both in terms of whom to elect and what legislation to pass.

They will also discuss political strategy. They can’t help working together towards common goals, even if they avoid explicit conversations on the topic.

Now I know this isn’t exactly what the anti-coordination folks are talking about when they talk about cracking down on what they call “so-called independent expenditure groups.” And I agree that among friends we might be able to agree on when someone crossed the line and when they didn’t.

But that’s the point.

These things aren’t decided among friends. Quite the opposite. They’re decided among prosecutors and their potential targets.

The problem with getting into this thicket is that politicians and political advocacy groups would, in the nature of things, constantly be operating in a gray area where they were either a) discharging their highest duties as citizens by participating vigorously in civic life or b) committing serial felonies.

Yes, some examples would fall easily into either category. But most would not, I suspect. And the serious players – game theory being what it is – would necessarily have to run close to the line.

The problem here is not that the intent of the law is necessarily ill-conceived or constitutionally impermissible – though I suspect both are likely the case – but that the enforcement of the law would necessarily be arbitrary and political.

More on this later.

Let me just quickly comment on the campaign finance debate underway in the Senate. Like many people, I often think my friend Mickey Kaus stretches things a bit far in looking for cases where liberals have it all wrong.

But not this time. He’s completely right about the amendment to McCain-Feingold which would ban ads by independent expenditure groups in the run up to an election.

As Mickey says, the issue isn’t that this is a great idea but that there are some weird constitutional ‘difficulties’. This is plainly unconstitutional and rightly so! It’s a terrible idea. I understand the impulse. Sort of. But it’s a terrible idea.

Contrary to the claims of many conservatives, I believe that the 1st Amendment applies to far more than narrowly political speech. But political speech is obviously the core of what the Amendment is about.

It can hardly be the case that the 1st Amendment guarantees your right to watch slippery nymphets writhing around on top of each other on the web (just an example that popped into Talking Point’s head, feel free to supply your own pairing) and not the right to advocate political arguments on the eve of an election.

It stands both principle and logic on their heads.

This is a case where the antis have every argument on their side.

Next up, why even trying to ban ‘coordination’ been politicians and independent expenditure groups may be a bad idea.

Okay, now that I’ve finally thrown off the burden of having to hew to a party line, I can finally come clean! I really dig Joe Lieberman. (And this isn’t just a matter of tribal affiliation.) He rocks. Actually I didn’t use to have much use for him at all – especially when he used to be the darling of all the more reproachable people in DC, when he used to always be knocking his own party, and especially when he used to hang out with that cretin Bill Bennett. But, hey, let’s let bygones be bygones, okay?

Now, here’s the deal. There are at least a half a dozen Democratic senators who want to run for the big office in 2004 – including Lieberman, to put it mildly. But for the moment let’s just focus on the two marquee New Dems who are in the hunt – Lieberman and Evan Bayh.

It’s really not too much to say that in terms of positioning for 2004 Lieberman is just kicking Bayh’s butt. It’s almost painful to watch.

Any New Dem who hopes to be in the hunt in 2004 must at least give props to the liberal base of the party. They’re not going to be the liberals’ choice for the nomination. But they can’t be unacceptable to them either.

Lieberman came out of the 2000 race with a strong sentimental bond with the base of his party. He didn’t so much need to prove himself to them as he needed to keep those embers of affection burning.

But he’s actually done much more than that by becoming the most conspicuous advocate of a progressive alternative to the Bush tax cut – focusing the debate on the importance of the payroll tax burden and advocating a substantial tax cut weighted towards working families.

Each of the presidential wannabes is carving out their own signature issue. Kerry’s got environment. Edwards is taking up Patients’ Bill of Rights. But the tax cut issue is really an issue apart – especially for a New Dem trying to broaden his appeal within his party. Why? Because to the left of the party – the part Lieberman needs to appeal to – its fiscal policy that is the big enchilada, the issue they always fear they’re going to be sold out on.

And what’s Bayh’s angle? That would be ahhhhhhh … pretty much nothing. His big angle is the trigger mechanism – which has gotten almost no political traction, and which most observers now agree is a practical nullity.

Most importantly, it doesn’t significantly depart from the Bush package.

Yes, Democrats argue that the surpluses may not materialize and that we could be plunged back into deficits. But the essence of the Democratic argument is that even if the surpluses do materialize, the Bush tax cut package still represents a massive misallocation of funds – both in terms of who gets tax cuts and what other priorities the money could be spent on.

Part of what’s going on here seems to be a matter of staff. Lieberman’s operation is A-list and Bayh’s just isn’t (we’ll say more about why later). But equally important Bayh just doesn’t seem willing to sign on with what the vast majority of Democrats are thinking when it comes to tax policy. He won’t even sign on to the tax package put together by the DLC, the group of which he is now the chairman. He won’t even really come out against the Bush package.

Hey, why is there a link down there on the left shilling for Slate.com? That’s the section where Talking Points usually shills for himself, right? Where he tries to get readers to send donations to keep the site up and running with wit and insight for the content-starved web masses? What’s up with that?

Interesting you should ask … Stay tuned for more soon on this puzzling development.

Few spectacles in politics are as fascinating or captivating as watching hacks and ideologues set about the delicate work of fashioning an argument that – in the normal course of things – should be impossible to make. In other words, an argument so improbable or nonsensical that it could only be meant for political consumption.

It’s almost like watching insects create some improbable structure on the Nature channel.

Anyway, for years now Republicans have been a little wary of going back to their circa 1993 argument that Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax increase would kill jobs, throw the economy into recession, and perhaps even destroy the planet.

For a while in the mid-90s they argued that the economy would be growing even faster if taxes hadn’t been raised. But when the economy started screeching out growth at a rate most economists consider too high – say 5% or so – even that argument started to seem a little shaky.

Now they’re taking another crack at it. And, no, don’t snicker! Because arguing that the fiscal policy which preceded the most sustained economic expansion in American history was in fact a job killer is no mean feat.

Anyway, the new emerging Republican argument (which you could hear mouthed on CNN’s Late Edition last Sunday by Jim Miller and Wayne Angell) goes like this: the Clinton tax increase was a terrible drag on the economy, just as Republicans said it would be. But it coincided with a technology-driven explosion in productivity. And this productivity bonanza masked the awful effects of the tax increase.

Miller put it thus:

And the last decade, because of the information technology revolution raising productivity, it masked a lot of bad decisions, including to increase tax rates. That’s sort of coming to an end and now the fiscal drag really is holding us back, and we need to reduce that.

So basically the predicted bad effects of the Clinton tax increase didn’t fail to appear as Republicans predicted they would in 1994 and 1995. They were just delayed half a dozen years. That is, until now!

I predict we’ll be hearing a lot more of this argument because it fulfills the basic requirements of the best bogus political argumentation. Though almost ridiculously improbable and quite nearly demonstrably false, the argument has enough logical structure to be at least theoretically possible. And that makes it more than serviceable for the normal run of fanatical ideologues, confirmed partisans and weak-minded bumpkins to make use of endlessly.

Trust me, we’ll be hearing a lot of this.

Here is a quite good run-down of the recent activities of the notorious self-promoter and opportunist David Horowitz. As you may know, Horowitz has recently taken it upon himself to bravely take on the virtually non-existent movement to pay reparations to African-Americans for the sin of slavery. I saw Horowitz (or rather heard him, he ‘appeared’ by phone) on C-Span this morning and the things he said were about as pitiful as one would expect.

One of the more tricky and beguiling aspects of Horowitz’s rhetorical style is that it is often difficult to decide whether his statements are more foolish than offensive, or more offensive than foolish. Sometimes it’s simply a tie; but it’s always a challenge disentangling the two, and measuring them one against the other.

There are actually a number of aging lefties — a number of whom I know — who still admire Horowitz, or at least refuse to dismiss him outright, because they admired him terribly when they were all in their twenties. But, ya know, many of these worthies dropped a lot of acid back in the day so you really can’t be too hard on them if they still can’t see the light about Horowitz.

In any case, two points seem worth making. One is that Horowitz in person is as obnoxious and unpleasant as he seems on all those talk shows. I got in a scrape with him a couple years ago because of a brief mention I made of him in an article in The American Prospect. (There are actually a few points I’d change in the article; but the description of Horowitz isn’t one of them.)

At that time I figured that — like many high-profile controversialists — Horowitz merely played an a–hole on TV. Yet after running into him at a Hillary-bashing conference last April, and having him repeatedly call me a liar and “disgusting” to my face, I concluded that he was actually the real McCoy.

Anyway, enough about my run-ins with him. Let’s get to that second point. These days, whenever he’s charged with anti-black animus, Horowitz insists that he’s got nothing against blacks, only what he calls the “black left.” Now one can certainly distinguish between blacks and the “black left.” But given what we know about this man, doesn’t this sound terribly reminiscent of that old hedge which anti-Semites love to employ: I’m not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist.

Oh. And if this all seems a bit a bit heavy and you want to lighten things up, you can buy Horowitz’s risible autobiography on Amazon. Yes, I know it may be galling to send a few bucks his way by buying it. But trust me, it’s really funny.

P.S. Dying to read the offending passage in the aforementioned article? Okay …

That zeal to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to excoriate the entire progressive tradition for the misdeeds of the extreme left is an approach that Radosh shares with a slew of former left-wingers who jumped ship and became conservatives as their hair turned gray. David Horowitz, to take the prime example, was a second-string radical journalist in the 1960s and 1970s who shifted to the political right in the mid-1980s and, in midlife, fashioned himself a second career as a sort of Whittaker Chambers manqué for 1990s conservatism. Horowitz’s 1996 autobiography Radical Son chronicled the story of his life from youth as a “red-diaper” baby, through stints as co-editor of Ramparts and his association with the Black Panthers, to his eventual conversion to political conservatism. Almost all of Horowitz’s writing since he became a conservative has been dedicated to attacking the principles and persons of the left.

That Horowitz, with his radical left-wing history, has been so readily accepted into the right-wing fold goes to the heart of the matter and connects the McCarthyism of yesteryear with its tamer cousin today. The strength of the ex-communist’s supposed moral superiority was always based on a dubious premise: that someone who had been entirely taken in by the party, willingly spied against his country, and obediently followed every zig and zag of the party line was somehow more to be credited than the momentary fellow traveler who attended a few meetings, signed a few petitions, and then walked away after seeing the party for what it was. In other words, the more radical the conversion, the more moral credit the McCarthyite (or New McCarthyite) supposedly accrues. This suits the Horowitzes of the world just fine, because they feel it gives them the credibility to denounce the left—believing that they can make up for youthful credulity with middle-aged ferocity. But just because Horowitz got taken in by the Black Panthers—long after almost everyone else on the left had washed their hands of them—hardly means that the progressives of today’s generation have anything to apologize for.

Did you see what I just saw? EPA Administrator Christie Whitman was just interviewed on CNN’s Late Edition about administration environmental policy. Obviously not a pretty site on a number of levels.

But Wolf Blitzer repeatedly pressed her to say whether she supported drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Repeatedly. Two or three times in several different ways. But she wouldn’t answer. Not even not a straight answer. She simply refused to answer the question.

Aren’t the Democrats going to see this as blood in the water?

Cut to thirty-second TV ad … deep male voice intones: “The President wants to trash the Alaskan wilderness to help big oil. Even his own EPA Chief knows it’s wrong.”

Isn’t she in some trouble?