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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

By ten o'clock this morning, by the time I left for the train station, I had already received a flood of email about last night's post about the parallels between Bush-hating and Clinton-hating.

Of course, the response was shaped by the fact that the TPM audience leans Democratic --- though probably not as much as most people think. And many of those responses could be summarized as follows: animus toward President Bush simply doesn't compare to that against President Clinton --- whether in the sheer degree of rage, the organized nature of it, or simply its mania. Emailers also noted two other distinctions: One was that animus toward President Bush isn't nearly as tied to the president as a person, as it was in Clinton's case. The other was that intense opposition to President Bush is, quite simply, far more justified.

Now, this is a conversation that has so many moving parts that it's difficult to know quite where to start. Let me begin with this: by and large, I agree with those points stated above. But before getting into this more deeply, I think it's important --- both in terms of intellectual honesty and of crafting responses --- for us to understand the structure and function of these two phenomena as clearly as we can.

Now, let's take that last point first: Bush has done more to deserve it. True or not, this is obviously not the kind of judgment you're ever going to get agreement on across the partisan or ideological aisle. What I think you can say is this: opposition to President Clinton was more personal, aggrieved and intense. And this is all the more striking considering his presidency was fairly centrist in its orientation and quite non-ideological. The same certainly can't be said about the Bush White House, which has been quite conservative and quite ideological.

You could certainly find some hacks and liars who would challenge that essential characterization. But this analysis is as close to objective truth as the highly subjective terrain of political analysis can ever hope to be. In fact, the testimony of conservatives demonstrates the fact. Remember, of course, that one of the prime Republican charges against President Clinton was that he was 'stealing our issues.' A fair translation of this charge is that he repositioned the Democrats out of positions and policies and imagery that made it easy for Republicans to pillory and defeat them. One would even hear this line in a more frustrated form when partisan Republicans lashed out at Clinton for masking his true liberal desires with all manner of centrist-sounding policies.

Today, to demonstrate the conservative line President Bush has taken, one need only look at the quiescence of the Republican right, their basic satisfaction with him on virtually every issue. That is because he has faithfully satisfied their essential wants on almost every issue: tax cuts, conservative judicial appointments, business-friendly regulatory policies, no compromise on bright-line 'morality' issues like gay-marriage, stem-cell research and the like.

I think a much more maximal argument could be made on both of these points --- both about Clinton and Bush. But for the moment I want to stick to arguments that are, I believe, undeniable. And so I think you can say that opposition, even intense opposition to President Bush is at least more explicable in conventional political terms than was the opposition, animus and rage directed toward President Clinton.

Another point worth making is that opposition to President Bush isn't nearly as personalized as it was to President Clinton. And, to be frank, it's nowhere near as frenzied. There is simply no equivalent to the talk of 'body counts,' conspiracy theories about the deaths of Vince Foster and Ron Brown, the numerous intensely politicized investigations leading to nothing, the Impeachment jihad, or the lot of it (much of it cynically trafficked in by supposedly respectable commentators and politicians). 'Wingers will frequently try to jump on the Richard Hofstadter bandwagon. But this sort of zeal and political hysteria, as Hofstadter understood, has almost always been the province of the right in this country or if not the right, per se, than political groupings currently aligned with the right.

There are more than a few sorta liberal commentators who've tried to imply or predict that Democratic antipathy towards Bush has become or would become as intense as the Clinton variant, predicting in one case that it would become as violent as hard-right activism sometimes did in the 1990s. This was, is and I'm pretty confident always will be a stretch, a facile attempt to find a symmetry that isn't there.

(The new faddish attention to Bush-hating among many DC types is an example of the town's collective amnesia and, on a deeper level, failure to really come to grips with what happened in the middle and late 1990s.

Now, I want to say more about this. And I'll try to pick up some of these threads in a subsequent posts.

But let me conclude on this point. It's always a mistake to let the rights and wrongs of a situation obscure its dynamics. For some time now I've been working on a review of Sidney Blumenthal's book, The Clinton Wars. It's a long book. And I think a very good book. And, though I've read a number of reviews of it with different reactions, I think it's actually a fairly straightforward book, straightforward, that is, in its essential point.

The conceit of official Washington is that the 'Clinton wars' were an inane time-wasting battle between a president with no morals and outlandish partisans with unhinged brains. It was, in this view, as though politics had simply stopped for half a dozen years or skidded off the rails into something that was utterly alien to politics, in the sense that politics has anything to do with issues and governance and so forth. Let's call this view, for the lack of a better word, Quinn-Broderism. Blumenthal's point is that the entire episode was deeply political, precisely about politics and concrete political issues, an effort on the part of one side to go outside the conventional political system and engage in a sort of political guerilla warfare. Defending Clinton, which many people have seen as the central aim of Blumenthal's book is, I think, actually quite secondary to sustaining that larger point.

I'll leave the rest of my take on Blumenthal's book to my review. But I think that this new phenomenon grows very much out of that earlier period. And, whatever the rights and wrongs of it, I think the dynamics involved are quite important for Democrats to understand.

More on this soon.

There are more and more articles being written about the intense animus toward president Bush among Democratic partisans. (I believe David Brooks got the meme rolling a month or two back.) I don't think there's much doubt that many are pushing this idea to discredit or marginalize the more intense opposition to the president. At the same time, there's simply no doubt that there is some real truth to it.

Here's what's weird about this, though: no one seems to mention how deeply this parallels the situation which prevailed through most of the 1990s between core Republicans and President Clinton. It wasn't simply that hardcore partisans then and now despised the president. But there was perhaps a third of the electorate that believed deeply in the president's illegitimacy (then Clinton, now Bush) and were driven further into that belief by the fact that they could not manage to get the rest of the electorate (say 60% or so) to see the man in the way they did. The difficulty of unmasking him became a sign of his political sins.

This was certainly the case with Bill Clinton. And there are at least hints of that now with Bush. If anything the depth of the enmity against Clinton was far more in-grown and aggrieved. But the parallel is so strong, the dynamics so similar, that the fact that it's gone so little mentioned really points to a blindspot among the folks who think up these ideas in the Washington press corps and commentariat.

Not that such a blind-spot would be so surprising, but still.

The reason we don't hear more about it, I suspect, is that Clinton-hating wasn't as jarring to most of these folks as enmity toward President Bush is, in that it wasn't that separated from their own passions and opinions and leanings through the 1990s.

Both phenomena -- Clinton-hating and now Bush-hating -- are signs of a deeper volatility, instability and acrimony in our current politics.

This article doesn't seem to have been picked up much of anywhere. But it provides a very interesting view into the struggles taking place behind the scenes in the US government over Iraq.

In this case, one of the important hawks at the Pentagon, F. Michael Maloof, has apparently had his security clearances lifted because of his contacts or connections with a Lebanese-American businessman whom the US is investigating for running guns to Liberia. (Small world, ain't it?) Maloof was a key player in the Pentagon's effort to develop its own intelligence to support a al Qaida-Iraq link.

This sort of story about security clearances, secret intelligence, and administrative decisions which are themselves supposed to be classified are very hard to nail down. And the article inevitably leaves all sorts of questions unanswered.

Maloof's defenders (the usual suspects among the hawks) say he's being punished for dissenting from and finding evidence to challenge the State Department-CIA view of the Middle East. Whatever the case, this is clearly part of a deeper tug-of-war over the control of intelligence, most details of which remain outside the public view.

This article from the Associated Press fleshes out the theory that Saddam had actually shuttered his WMD programs but intentionally kept the world guessing to produce the deterrent effect of having people believe he still had them.

He may even have put out disinformation to get people to believe the programs were still underway. Actually, it's more than a theory. The story is based on the testimony of a close aide who says this is what happened.

According to the aide, by the mid-1990s "it was common knowledge among the leadership" that Iraq had destroyed its chemical stocks and discontinued development of biological and nuclear weapons.
Who knows if this true? But I will say that it jibes with a lot of chatter I've heard back from Iraq in the last couple months. And it explains some key questions -- in particular, some supposed evidence of WMD from just before the war which it's been clear for some time was disinformation from the Iraqis. Frankly, it accounts for more potential questions than almost any other theory I've heard.

Frankly, it shows that, if nothing else, Ken Pollack was right about one thing: Saddam could be a pretty big idiot. Remember, one of Pollack's main arguments was that Saddam had a propensity to miscalculate. So I think you can say that Pollack had that one pretty much right -- only perhaps with slightly different consequences than expected.

Apparently Saddam was the only person in the universe last Spring who didn't know the fix was in on regime change.

And, I've gotta ask. Those uranium document forgeries? Could they have come from ...? No, couldn't be.

"[A]n official who has read the [9/11] report tells The New Republic that the support described in the report goes well beyond [support for charities]: It involves connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family. 'There's a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone's chasing the charities,' says this official. 'They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We're not talking about rogue elements. We're talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.'"

That's the key passage in a new piece up at the TNR website by John B. Judis & Spencer Ackerman. Take a look.

Meanwhile, we're working on a very interesting piece of news about the WMD search in Iraq.

Let's hope TPM can nail it down before the bigs get to it.

We're happy to announce our new numbers for July, as well as our continued growth. During the month of July 2002, TPM had 53,000 individual readers ("unique visitors"). This last month, July 2003, the number was 235,000.

A special thanks to all the TPM regulars who've helped spread the word.

An investigation into the Valerie Plame affair does appear to be underway at the CIA.

Republicans constantly complain that Democrats play the "race card" whenever blacks or other minorities are involved in some political question or nomination or the like. And certainly the charge is sometimes valid.

The striking contrast, however, is with Republicans who now do this in virtually every case, even in the most preposterous instances, without a hint of shame, and usually without garnering much of any criticism at all from the capital's self-styled arbiters of political sportsmanship.

So far Senate Democrats have stalled three of the president's appeals court nominees: Miguel A. Estrada , Priscilla R. Owen, and today William H. Pryor, Jr.

Of those three, Republicans accused Democrats of opposing two on the basis of religious and/or racial prejudice.

That's a pretty high percentage, don't you think?

Democrats supposedly opposed Estrada because of anti-Hispanic bias and now they're purportedly opposing Pryor because of anti-Catholic bias.

According to a July 7th article in Roll Call, the group that spearheaded the claim that opposition to Pryor was based on anti-Catholic bigotry plans to do the same thing with the next controversial nominee who's coming down the pike, Carolyn Kuhl. She happens to be Catholic too. So, what the hell. Run it up the flagpole and see what happens.

No one with a shred of intellectual honesty thinks that this is really the case in any of these cases. It's understood by everyone that this is merely another political cudgel thrown into the mix to raise the heat on Democrats. In fact, it's done precisely because Democrats have large constituencies of Hispanic and Catholic voters.

It's entirely cynical, entirely obvious, everyone knows what the score is, and yet these hacks manage to get pretty much a complete pass.

One more house-keeping note. A few readers have written in fearing that I'm about to turn TPM into some whacked-out imitation of the MTV website or something else with long-downloading graphics or annoying pop-up ads or perhaps other similar terribleness.

Not to worry. The redesigned site should look very much like the current one and to outward appearances should look more or less unchanged. The changes that I do plan on having made are things like making it easier to print out individual posts, an RSS feed, the ability to adjust the size of the text. That's for all of you archeo-TPMers out who've written in to tell me of the perils of reading your daily TPM with that not-what-it-used-to-be eyesight.

Other changes won't be visible to readers but will make it easy and less time-consuming for me to update and maintain the site, which I'll appreciate a great deal. Up until now I've designed and run TPM from the ground up, doing all the coding by hand, which is something like writing an article with a decently sharpened piece of charcoal.

I've always been a fan of web design minimalism. And that feature of the site won't change.

Okay, one more round. If you've read the previous few posts you know that TPM reader Bryan M. wrote in to tell me that if I want the president to fire the "senior administration officials" who blew the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame then I am obligated to first ascertain who these as-yet-anonymous officials are. I published the letter because this struck me as a ridiculous argument.

Now some readers thought I was saying it was a sound criticism -- a misunderstanding I don't understand.

But a few other hawk-eyed readers pointed out that the grammar I used in my column was actually imprecise and clumsy.

Jon G. wrote in to say ...

When I originally read it, I thought it was some grammar joke. Your statement:

"the president should find out who they are, reprimand them or, preferably, fire them."

could be read as the president should find out who they are OR reprimand them OR fire them. I.e., finding them out is one option, but firing (or reprimanding) them without finding out who they are is another.

I think what you meant is, "the president should find out who they are and then reprimand them or, preferably, fire them."

OK, it's kind of a weak joke, but maybe that's where Bryan M. was coming from.

Ouch. I think he's got me. And there's nothing worse than being hoisted on your own mockery, believe me.

Here I was thinking Bryan M. was making a boneheaded criticism, when actually the jokes on me because he was knocking me for my dopey grammar. Now I'm feeling better though because Bryan M. has written back in to confirm that it actually was the boneheaded criticism he was making, not the grammatical point ...

I see I have become a subject of your current post. Evidently, we have both been too subtle for our respective reader(s). As you must know, my comment was directed to the fact that it may not be very easy for Mr. Bush to "pick up the phone" and "get to the bottom" of these anonymous statements. It seems to me that before you criticize the President for failing to fire these unknown employees you ought to be sure that he is able to tell who he should fire. Do you know which "senior Administration officials" he should fire for this transgression? Do you know that the President has not already attempted to discover the identities of these persons?

Since you decided publish my original comments aren't you obligated to provide your readers with my explanation as well?

As it happens, I don't think this is true. In Washington reporterese, "senior administration official" can only refer to a fairly small group of people. So I don't suspect it would be that hard, if he was determined to get to the bottom of it.

In any case, I know this is probably getting a touch tedious for regular readers. So, I promise, no more.

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