David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

FEC slaps Swift Boat Veterans for Truth with a $300,000 fine and knocks around some liberal 527 groups, too, all for activities from the 2004 election cycle.

CNN's resident funny man, Jeff Greenfield, protests that he was just making a joke when he compared Barack Obama's jacket-but-no-tie attire to the fashion choices of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

"Talking Point Memo," the home of Joshua Micah Marshall, pronounced the observation "weird." "The Daily Howler" saw it as party of the same media instinct that ridiculed Al Gore for his "earth tones" clothing choices back in 2000. The Columbia Journalism Review Web site weighed in with "character assassination." (It acknowledged that the effort might have been a weak attempt at humor).

Is some of this my fault? It has to be, for the same reason famed Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach liked to say that when someone misses a pass, 90 per cent of the time it's the fault of the passer.

I figured there was no way on planet Earth that anyone could possibly take such a presentation at face value. I was wrong.

Most of what happened here, I think, is a demonstration of the hair-trigger instincts that have grown up among some of the bloggers (not to mention the need to fill all that space every day, or hour, or 15 minutes).

Sigh. Of course, it was a joke. Just a weird joke, poorly executed. Watch the clip (the link is on the left in the middle of the page) and decide for yourself. Then check out this second CNN clip, about Obama's name.

So is the joke on the media? Or on Obama?

(By the way, it's cable news that has space to fill, 24-7. We can write as much--or as little--as we want.)

Just about everyone is holding their collective breath to see how serious Democrats are about earmark reform. So when Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), the man who put the pork in "pork barrel," announces he's going to forgo this year's earmarks for his beloved West Virginia, that's a huge symbolic gesture.

Huge immigration raid at Swift meatpacking plants in six states Tuesday. The union for the plant workers tells TPMmuckraker that legal immigrants were caught up in the sweep.

The Listener-in-Chief:

The challenge for Bush's team was to make the president appear as though he were taking the release of the [ISG] report seriously, without necessarily embracing its conclusions. In the days following the report's release, Bush the Decider transformed himself into Bush the Listener. Usually prickly with war critics—on the rare occasions he spoke to them at all—the president now invited them in from the cold and kept quiet.

. . .

The results of that effort will be unveiled next week, when Bush is expected to announce what he calls "The New Way Forward," his latest plan to salvage the mission in Iraq.

The New Way Forward? How very Mao.

On the issue of what the House should do about the re-election of Rep. William Jefferson, a few readers have cited the Supreme Court case of Powell v. McCormack, which on a cursory reading suggests that the House would not have the power to exclude Jefferson, assuming he meets the basic legal qualifications for being elected to Congress (age, citizenship, etc.), but could expel him after he was seated.

TPM Reader CC, on the Bill Jefferson conundrum:

While I'm sure that Jefferson is guilty and corrupt as sin, I'm a little concerned about the idea of not seating a duly-elected member of congress when there hasn't even been an indictment in the case yet. If an indictment comes down, or the Ethics Committee finishes their investigation in the next couple weeks, that's one thing. Could they not seat him pending the outcome of the Ethics Committtee investigation? I don't know enough about the innerworkings of Congress to know.

With our legal system based on "innocent until proven guilty", it seems to me that this has become a no-win situation for the Democratic leadership. If they don't seat him, the GOP will use any angle possible as a wedge (race would be the most obvious thing here but I'm sure there are others).

Florida is an entirely different matter. Not seating the "winner" there would be a means towards a "do over" special election. You're not saying that he's unfit to serve, you're saying, "there's enough doubt in the process so lets do it again, and if you win again, so be it...". Both parties have enough operatives and money to make the do-over race legitimate.

I don't think that not seating Jefferson would blunt any of the outcry from not seating Buchanan just because Jefferson's a democrat. Linking the two cases muddles the issue. Duly-elected (probably) unfit to serve Dem vs. (probably) not-duly-elected but fit-to-serve Repub. I think they need to be as separate as possible.

From TPM Reader ML:

There's this chimera (some might call it a meme) floating about that hasn't been properly considered, and the dangers of not doing so are stark. There's this belief that the Iraqis have to know that they're responsible for their own fates, and with that burden, they'll at least make strides towards whipping themselves into shape. So the US should set the timetable or get out or whatever, so the Iraqis have the felt exigency of just getting along. (Of course, this has been pedalled by Friedman, the same one convinced that 'moderate' Muslims are capable, through their overweening moderation, of stopping lunatic extremists.) But take a step back and see what's being said and who it's being said about before we start down another dangerously deluded road, making the same mistakes and presumptions as before. Is this not the same couple of groups with a 1400 year-old blood feud? Are these not embers that have ignited into war repeatedly between small groups and nation states in the region? What, aside from its a priori attraction, should we possibly make of the argument that sovereignty or the threat of it will calm these rivalries? I'm open to suggestion as to how that might work, but my gut tells me it's dangerously misguided wishful thinking.

ML hints at a point I've been meaning to get to for some time. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a hundred times--from politicians in both parties and from countless commentators: If we give the Iraqis a timetable for withdrawal, they will have to stop relying on our good graces (look where that's gotten them) and take responsibility for their own destiny.

Let's call it neo-toddler foreign policy. With the right balance of rewards and punishments, we can re-direct misbehavior in the short term and instill long-term discipline.

Where does this notion come from?

It's long been a component of American foreign policy (though the neo-conservatives seem to feature it), but is there some historical basis for this approach, or is it, as I suspect, just a blatant manifestation of our paternalistic approach to most of the rest of the world?

This approach--reducing politics to competing bad or good behaviors, rather than, say, competing self-interests--infects most of our current dealings in the Middle East. We can't talk with Syria or Iran because that would be a reward for bad behavior. We can't stay in Iraq indefinitely because that would be overprotective. Instead, the Iraqis need to be weaned from our presence.

That may be an effective parenting technique for toddlers (or maybe just a way to patch and fill through a difficult phase they eventually grow out of). But even setting aside how patronizing and condescending it must sound to foreign peoples and countries (and therefore self-defeating for us), it is a desperately impractical approach to foreign policy.

Signaling to Iraqis that we're leaving by a date certain in hopes of forcing them to pick up the pieces of their broken country and put it back together is more of the same grand-scale wishful thinking that led us into this mess in the first place.

On my suggestion for what to do about Rep. Bill Jefferson, TPM Reader JC disagrees:

Right on all points, wrong on the conclusion.

Jefferson is, by all accounts, dirty and odious. But the only thing worse for the House Democrats than sending a message of "we don't tolerate corruption" is sending the message that "we'll ignore the will of the voters, and abandon the principle of 'Innocent until proven guilty,' for political posturing."

Like it or not, Jefferson's constituents elected him, knowing that he's under investigation. Unless there is evidence of election rigging, he must be seated. The Democrats can of course change the House rules and then deal with Jefferson, or wait until he is indicted and then remove him.

But your suggestion, while well-intended, is penny-wise and pound-foolish.