Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Look at the picture which leads this column in Newsweek on gay marriage. I think it helps explain what this issue is about.

What does it tell you when House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) isn't sure he wants to be as reckless, extreme and divisive on gay rights as President Bush? This from a late story on the Associated Press newswire ...

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said he appreciated Bush's "moral leadership" on the issue, but expressed caution about moving too quickly toward a constitutional solution, and never directly supported one. "This is so important we're not going to take a knee-jerk reaction to this," Delay said. "We are going to look at our options and we are going to be deliberative about what solutions we may suggest."

As I said earlier, like a cornered, wounded animal. What won't they do on the way down?

I don't think I really have anything to add to what Andrew Sullivan said with great eloquence and fury this morning about the president's decision to put the full weight of his office behind a constitutional amendment banning not only gay marriage but even the right of states to allow their citizens to enter into civil unions which would provide the legal benefits, protections and obligations of marriage.

(Scott McClellan seems to have fudged a bit on the civil unions issue. But my understanding is that the specific amendment the president is backing clearly rules out civil unions too.)

I'm a pretty big small-'c' conservative on all matters of amending the constitution. In almost all cases it should be reserved for structural revisions to the architecture of the state, not as a means to hardwire policy changes or litter it with silliness about congressional pay raises. But it really is a sad day when we consider using the amendment process to turn back the widening gyre of equality and emancipation which has always been this document's role in the American state.

(The White House will try to say that this is in response to what is happening in San Francisco. But I don't think that will pass close scrutiny since, if recollection serves, they started signalling this before that happened.)

We should also note a few things about what this means about the president.

The White House didn't want to have the president out last night making a slashing campaign speech in late February. They also didn't want to start hitting the airwaves this early with their campaign commercials. And they definitely did not want the president jumping off the high dive into a gay rights culture war.

The strategy was to bank the president's rock solid support from Republicans and spend the year above the political fray with soft sounding proposals aimed at the political middle.

But it hasn't worked out that way.

The support among conservatives has taken some real hits. The White House has decided that the long-predicted rising economy won't float them through this election. The situation in Iraq looks wobbly and likely to get worse before it gets better. So deprived of the ability to run on his record he's decided to save his political hide by trying to tear the country apart over a charged and divisive social issue which is being hashed out through the political process in the states.

It's his dad and the flag burning amendment all over again. Is there really anything that tells you more about a man's character than this?

A couple weeks ago I said we should be on the look out for stuff like this -- not just the move on gay marriage, but the whole descent into scurrilous attacks and divisive wedge politics as the president's popularity drifts downward. (Isn't the White House a bit worried that their line about the Democrats being negative and haters will be a little undermined by these tactics on their part?)

One might suggest that the idea we should have in mind here is that old line about judging a man's character and mettle by what he does when the seas get stormy rather than what he does when they're calm. But I think the real metaphor to keep in mind is how dangerous and unpredictable an animal becomes when he's cornered.

E.J. Dionne has an excellent piece in Tuesday's Post, the heart of which is this passage ...

What's forgotten is that Bush has a pattern throughout his political career of staying above the fray while others tear his opponents to shreds. The Republicans are trying to weave a clear narrative about Kerry. The above-the-surface part is about his voting record, which Kerry will, indeed, have to defend. The below-the-surface part will paint him as a Vietnam-peacenik-Massachusetts-liberal weirdo.

What he might have added is that almost exactly the same could be said about the president's father. It's a family MO.

From TPM reader Rich D. ...

Bush accused Kerry of waffling on the issues today:

What about Bush:

1) Job projection numbers change within a week or two. 2) The cost of the Medicare prescription drug benefit dramatically rise within a few weeks of passage. 3) The timetable and procedure for a transition government in Iraq changes weekly. 4) His statements on who is responsible for the poor WMD intel change weekly. 5) He now denies that Sadddam let the UN inspectors in Iraq.

Dubya stands for Waffle.

Does Kerry have a "Rapid Response" Team?

Now, I like this list. And I thank Rich D. for sending it. But I'm <$Ad$>not sure these are waffles exactly. They seem more like examples that, for this administration, all facts are fungible or perhaps infinitely malleable.

Indeed, I'm really not sure you can say the president is a waffler at all. His policy positions remain fairly consistent over time. It's not his positions that change, but his facts.

I'd almost say that the president -- or the White House, more broadly -- is something like the inverse of a waffler. He continues with policies even after the factual arguments upon which he initially justified them collapse entirely.

I got into this issue -- the Bush administration's belief in the utter malleability of facts -- in an article last summer in The Washington Monthly. And we'll be returning to it presently.

Could this be what Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot <$Ad$>was talking about?

We're still trying to get to the bottom of what mystery article in a 'national publication' Racicot was referring about when he told Juan Williams that President had volunteered for service in Vietnam but had not been 'selected'.

The only thing we can come up with is this.

At a few points over the last decade President Bush has claimed that he tried to sign up for something called the Palace Alert program, which would have taken him to Southeast Asia.

Now, it seems odd on the face of it that the president's family would pull all these strings to help him jump the queue for a safe spot in the Texas Air National Guard only to have him take the first chance to go to Vietnam. But, as this 1999 interview in The Washington Post makes clear, even the dates don't add up ...

WP: Were you avoiding the draft?

GWB: No, I was becoming a pilot.

WP: You wanted to serve?

GWB: Yes I did.

WP: But when you were asked do you want to go overseas, you said no.

GWB: I didn't know that. But I actually tried to go on a Palace Alert program.

WP: That was later.

GWB: It was. After I became a pilot.

WP: Palace Alert program was being phased out.

GWB: Not really, a couple of my buddies got to go. ...

WP: ... But they'd already graduated.

GWB: That's true. I couldn't go until actually I'd gotten my –

WP: I was curious about the sequence. You got out of combat school on June 23, 1970. Palace Alert programs were all closed down overseas as of June 30. So could you have gone even if you signed up for it?

GWB: I guess not if that's the case, but I remember going to see [the supervisor] to try to get signed up for it. You just ask the commander to put you in. He said you can't go because you're too low on the totem pole. I'm not trying to make this thing any grander than it is. ...

D'oh! as Homer Simpson would say.

As far as I know, there's no documentary evidence that Bush ever tried to sign up for this program which, in the words of the Post, "dispatched qualified F-102 pilots in the Guard to the Europe and the Far East, occasionally to Vietnam, on three- to six-month assignments."

But, as the interview makes clear, even if he did, he seems to have tried to get on board about a week before they shut the program down.

That's sorta like when you show up a couple hours late to shovel manure. "Oh, you guys're d' ... Oh, I'm ... I'm sorry, man. I really wanted to come here and help out, but ... Wow, I feel terrible. Is there anything else I can ... maybe next time? Hey, I'm gonna go grab a sandwich, okay?"

As I said earlier, even the president doesn't even try to push this line anymore. Two weeks ago he told Tim Russert that he'd never volunteered to go to Vietnam.

Ahhhh ... the plot thickens.

We noted earlier that Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot went on NPR this morning and told Juan Williams that the president had volunteered to go to Vietnam, but hadn't been chosen. That is, of course, a demonstrably false statement, which even the president himself says is false.

Well, this afternoon Racicot held a conference call with reporters. And during that call, I'm told, he was asked just what he was talking about when he said that the president had volunteered to go to Vietnam.

According a participant in the call, Racicot said that he had read this in a 'national publication', but he couldn't remember which one.

One of Racicot's aides, who was also on the call, promised he'd later provide the mystery article to the reporter who had asked the question.

Now there've been a few articles I've seen in which friends of the president's from the time in question have said that at the time Bush expressed some interest in volunteering for service in Vietnam. But there is no evidence for this in his records. The one piece of evidence we have is that the president said on his enlistment papers that he did not want to serve overseas. And the president himself just two weeks said he didn't volunteer for service in Vietnam.

So, now we know that Racicot didn't mispeak. He's standing behind what appears to be a demonstrable falsehood and pegging his claim to some article in a 'national publication'.

Racicot is going around the country and hitting every media outlet around attacking John Kerry's record on national defense -- which he is certainly entitled to do. And at the same time, he's peddling blatant falsehoods about the president's military service that not one publication has yet chosen to call him on.

Go figure ...

Run it by the boss first?

This morning we noted that Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot tried to float the demonstrably false line that President Bush had volunteered for service in Vietnam, but hadn't been 'selected'.

Now, our first thought was that Mr. Racicot might be angling to be the next winner of the 'Heather Wilson "I think the American people are a bunch of god-forsaken idiots" Award'.

But this isn't just a blatant mistatement of the facts that Racicot apparently believes the press will be too timid to call him on. He's even contradicting what the president himself said only two weeks ago.

Let's go to the tape ...

"He (i.e. the president) signed up for dangerous duty. He volunteered to go to Vietnam. He wasn’t selected to go, but nonetheless served his country very well."

Marc Racicot
NPR Interview
February 23rd, 2004

Now, here's what the president himself said just two weeks ago ...

RUSSERT: Were you favor of the war in Vietnam?

BUSH: I supported my government. I did. And would have gone had my unit been called up, by the way.

RUSSERT: But you didn't volunteer or enlist to go.

BUSH: No, I didn't. You're right.

Meet The Press
February 8th, 2004

And here's an even more candid version of events from the president from fourteen years ago ...

"I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes."

George W. Bush, 1990
as quoted in The Houston Chronicle
May 8th, 1994.

No doubt there are <$Ad$>other examples in which the president has conceded the undeniable truth that he didn't volunteer for service in Vietnam. And if folks want to send them in to me, I'd be obliged.

But let's just consider what Racicot is doing here.

This wasn't a slip of the tongue. This was deliberate. Now that the topic has been moved a bit to the back burner, they're trying to get back on the offensive by floating a deliberate and undeniable deception in the hopes that no one will notice. If no one does then the new false story will become the accepted version in the coming campaign debate.

You really can't let your eyes off them for a second.

Is anyone going to ask the campaign or the White House whether their new line is that the president volunteered to go to Vietnam but just never got picked?

Just when you start debating how much or whether the president's military service record should be an issue in this campaign, you realize that the main reason it's an issue is that the president and his surrogates just won't stop lying about it.

This morning Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot was interviewed by Juan Williams on NPR. When asked about the president's Air National Guard service he said, the president's and John Kerry's service "compare very favorably... He (i.e. the president) signed up for dangerous duty. He volunteered to go to Vietnam. He wasn’t selected to go, but nonetheless served his country very well …"

He volunteered to go to Vietnam?

Marc, no he didn't.

Does he think no one is listening?

(For some reason Williams, made no effort to call him on it.)

Let's set aside the fact that pulling strings to get into the Air National Guard in 1968 is, on its face, quite the opposite of volunteering to go to Vietnam. When the president signed up for the National Guard there was a check box asking whether he wanted to volunteer for overseas service. And he checked off "do not volunteer."

Now, the president's defenders have tried to explain this in various ways, hypothesizing that some unknown other person checked off the box or, more plausibly, that he was instructed to do so since what he was actually signing up for was to fly planes in Texas. Of late, they've brought forward friends or fellow Guardsmen who say -- with no documentary evidence whatsoever -- that Bush at one point or another asked about serving in Vietnam.

(There is also the president's claim that he volunteered for something called Palace Alert, a program that would have taken him to Thailand. But I believe there is no record of this. And as noted in this Washington Post interview from 1999, if he did sign up, it would have been within a week of the program's being shut down -- a fact that points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that if he did sign up, he did so to sign up, not to go.)

But however that may be, it is awfully hard to turn the "do not volunteer" into "do volunteer."

This is just a preview of what we're certain to see from the Bush campaign this year since it follows past practice so closely: Wait till the brouhaha subsides and then hopscotch over the remaining unanswered questions about the president's service by making stuff up that is flatly contradicted by the record.

Who's going to call them on this?

"As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important."

Those were the words last week of Ahmed Chalabi, head of the INC, member of the IGC, and central player in a scandal the scope of which Americans are only now beginning to grasp.

The "what was said before" that Chalabi is referring to, of course, are the numerous bogus claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction he peddled into American governmental channels over the last half dozen years and more.

After these words he was kind enough to say that "the Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants."

Now, I can't say that I was particularly surprised by this, though I didn't expect him to be quite so public about it. For months, when asked about what happened with all their crackerjack intel and defectors, those in Chalabi's entourage have responded with a blase version of 'the ends justify the means'. The general idea they communicate is: Okay, so there weren't any weapons. But we wanted Saddam gone. And he's gone. Our conscience is clean.

Not quite an admission, but also quite a ways from a denial. In other words, more or less what Chalabi told the Telegraph: "What was said before is not important."

Now, to me Chalabi's motives are extremely suspect. But there are many, many Iraqi nationalists who were willing to do or sacrifice anything to rid their country of this brutal dictator. And from that perspective I can understand how their consciences would be clear. They're not Americans. They're not bound up in the ins-and-outs of truth-telling in the context of American domestic politics. Their primary interest is not the vital interests of the United States. What they're trying to do is overthrow a tyrant in their country. And if that means hoodwinking the great power to come in and do the job or perhaps just telling the leaders of the great power what they want to hear, then so be it.

There's no point belaboring this hypothetical. I don't think it really applies to the people in question here. I am only trying to sketch out a potential way to see the rights and wrongs of all this from a very different perspective.

However that may be, Chalabi seems to be at the point of all but calling us suckers to our faces. If we were scammed, you'd think we'd be a bit angry about it -- right? -- even if we helped bring it on ourselves and even if some of our leaders were complicit in the scam.

Yet, we really don't seem to be angry at all. We funded Chalabi's pre-war intelligence operation in Iraq -- thus placing ourselves in the pathbreaking position of bankrolling a disinformation campaign against ourselves. (Much of his other money came from Iran. But we can get into that later.) And amazingly, we're still funding it.

According to this KnightRidder article from late last week the Pentagon has set aside between $3 and $4 million to fund Chalabi's Information Collection Program through 2004. So we want to keep buying Chalabi's prized intel for at least the next ten months?

We're far past the point where there's any question that basically all the intel we got from Chalabi was bogus. We're not far from the point of concluding that it was knowingly bogus or at least passed on with a willful indifference to its validity. And we're still going to pay his 'intelligence' operation $4 million more this year?

Isn't the $400 million worth of contracts to companies tied to his family enough to keep him happy?