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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

In this post Kevin Drum wades into the online debate about why new poll numbers out yesterday show public approval of the Iraq war down substantial since election day. He notes that fellow blogger David Adesnik reacted in puzzlement to these new numbers ...

I have to admit I'm somewhat puzzled by the numbers. Why were the American public so much more confident [in] Bush on election day? The media have generally presented the post-election battle in Fallujah as victory for our side....Steve Sturm's take on all of this is that America supported the first Iraq war (to get rid of Saddam's WMDs) but not the second (to promote democracy in Iraq).


Kevin's answer, which I think is certainly correct, <$Ad$>is that there's no real mystery. With a few bumps and wiggles along the way, public support both the conduct of the war and the very idea of going to war has basically been heading south from the day the war ended. "Conservatives seem to think that Americans like wars.," writes Kevin, "They don't. They like winning wars. As it becomes ever clearer that Bush doesn't have a winning strategy in Iraq, support continues to drop. It's pretty easy to understand."

But I have another explanation, one that I think is complementary to Kevin's, but adds something to it.

During the election, I always thought that the dynamics of the campaign were providing what we might call an artificial floor for support for the war -- both at the level of its management and the whole idea of going to war in the first place.

Here's what I mean -- it comes down to an issue of cognitive dissonance.

The dead-even political polarization of America remains the defining fact of our politics. Close to 50% of Americans were dead set on voting for President Bush almost no matter what. Or they were dead set on voting against John Kerry. For our purposes, it's the same difference.

I think that many Bush supporters simply couldn't take stock of the full measure of the screw-up in Iraq during the election because doing so would have conflicted their support for President Bush. Iraq and the war on terror so defined this election that support for the war and the president who led us into it simply couldn't be pried apart.

Perhaps it wasn't so internalized. During the slugfest of the campaign supporting Bush just meant supporting the war and this is what people told pollsters when they were asked, because one question was almost a proxy for the other.

You can even do a thought experiment by imagining how many conservatives during election season would have been so staunch in their support for the war if it were being fought under a President Gore or a President Clinton. The question all but answers itself.

In any case, I think what has happened is that the end of the campaign season has departisanized the war -- at least to a measurable extent -- and folks who were emotionally and intellectually committed to reelecting the president (just as there were people on the other side with similar commitments) are now freer to see the situation in Iraq a bit more on its own terms.

An update on yesterday's discussion of the ABC/WaPo poll on Social Security -- and this one's a pretty big deal.

Last night I wrote that the poll showed that 53% of respondents favored private accounts but that number dropped to 46% (with 47% opposed) when costs of up to $2 trillion were added to the equation.

But it seems that's incorrect and the real finding was far more favorable.

I went back and looked at what appears to be a revised version of the Post story I referenced yesterday to see exactly what they said. But even the revised version states: "The president also has at least general support from 53 percent of the public for the concept of letting people control some of their contributions to invest in the market ... Support dropped to an even split when people were told that the cost of the transition to a new program could reach $2 trillion over time ..."

The original version of the article, I believe, provided the specific numbers, but this reference to an "even split" is clearly a reference to the numbers falling to 46% for, 47% against. Or at least I can't see any other way of interpreting it.

All I can figure is that the authors of the piece weren't clear on what the numbers actually said. (I don't say that lightly; they're both solid reporters. But I don't see any other way to interpret how they characterize the data.) This is clear in ABC's compilation of the data; and it's noted in their write-up of the poll as well. Indeed, if you look at the section of the Post's complete poll data which references this question, you'll see quite clearly that this question was "asked [only] of those who support a stock market option."

That means that it's not 46% of respondents who still support private accounts but only 46% of the originally-private-account-supporting 53%. Or, in other words, just under 25% of respondents support Bush's plan once they know the costs and an overwhelming 69% oppose it.

That's a pretty big difference.

[ed. note: A special thanks to readers JD and SC for flagging my attention to this point.]

Gen. Richard Myers at today's Pentagon briefing: "This attack [in Mosul], of course, is the responsibility of insurgents, the same insurgents who attacked on 9/11, the same type of insurgents who attacked in Beirut, the same insurgents who -- type of insurgents who attacked the Cole, Khobar Towers, and the list goes on."

Kerik resigns from Giuliani partners.

Did Rudy make him an offer he couldn't refuse?

Just a quick update on the Dems' Fainthearted Faction mentioned below.

At least a couple of folks on this list are now making what appear to be unequivocal statements against phasing out Social Security. And we'll be bringing you those updates later today. But let's review what the list is.

These are thirteen Democratic congressmen who, when given a chance three years ago to make a clear vote in favor of preserving Social Security rather than phasing it out with a private accounts sytem, voted no.

Perhaps they didn't give the issue enough thought then; maybe they wanted to keep an open mind and not prejudge the issue; perhaps the significance of the vote wasn't clear; maybe they've changed their position since then. Who knows? And, to a degree, who cares?

The question is where they stand now.

The larger point here is that the defenders of Social Security need to have all Democrats standing united against phasing out Social Security. And these are thirteen reps who at least seemed open to the idea in the past. The point is not to bash them but to find out where they stand today.

I want you to meet some friends of ours.

We call them the Fainthearted-Faction. They're the thirteen Democrats who look most likely to go wobbly when President Bush comes a'courting, asking for votes to phase out Social Security.

But first a bit of history.

I was recently reminded that back in 2001 there was something called the Filner Amendment. Without getting too bogged down in the details, this was a proxy vote on Social Security 'privatization'. Specifically, it aimed to "prohibit funds for the purpose of implementing the final report" of the President's Social Security Commission (i.e., privatization).

It turned out pretty much a party line vote. But not entirely.

Twenty Democrats voted against it.

The good news -- if of, shall we say, a rather painful sort and the kind one can only survive so much of -- is that six of those representatives aren't in the 109th congress -- for reasons ranging from defeat to retirement to felony conviction. And one has become a Republican -- Ralph Hall of Texas. But that still leaves 13 members who are already on the slippery slope to Boydville.

They are ...

Dennis Moore
Tom Allen
Marion Berry
Allen Boyd
Robert "Bud" Cramer
Ron Kind
James Moran
Collin Peterson
Adam Schiff
Adam Smith
Ike Skelton
John Tanner
Gene Taylor



I might note that one of those no longer in the congress is Tim Roemer, member of the 9/11 commission, and now an aspirant to head the DNC.

I'm a fan of Roemer's, though not necessarily a supporter of his for the DNC post. But I imagine he's going to have to really 'refine' his stance on this issue if he wants to have even the slightest chance of winning that contest.

More generally, opposition to phasing out Social Security, per se, is not the only grounds to persuade members of the Fainthearted-Faction to come to their senses on this issue. There's also the rather powerful argument of fiscal sanity. Putting the nation another two trillion dollars into debt over the next decade when we're already laboring under very large structural deficits is more than a little foolish. And most members of the Faction are fiscally conservative. So that's a promising appeal.

Finally, we've decided to put our own Social Security 'where do they stand' database together at TPM. And we're going to be getting help from some others who've already started doing this work separately from us. But we'll need volunteers to help collect and organize the data. Are you interested in getting involved? Let us know.

Steve Rosenthal profiled today by John Harwood in the Wall Street Journal. Rosenthal, Harwood writes, "suggests Democrats place the five closest states from the previous general election (Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, New Mexico, and Wisconsin) first in the 2008 primary calendar to help tune up for fall battles."

That sounds like a damn good idea to me.

Wow! From the AP: "The head of the state Democratic Party said late Tuesday that recount results from King County give Democrat Christine Gregoire an eight-vote victory in the closest governor’s race in state history."

In its coverage of its new poll, the Washington Post leads with the finding that a bare majority (53%) supports including a private accounts option with Social Security. But the totality of this poll is, I would say, fairly encouraging. When a price tag is put to the plan, support drops down to 46%, with 47% opposed. Further down we find that the number of people who think there is a "crisis" in the Social Security system is a mere 25%, down from 34% six years ago.

And there's one final tidbit in there which may be more encouraging to those who want to keep the Social Security program than it seems on the surface. While either 53% or 46% support including a private accounts option, 62% say they would not take the private account option themselves.

"Of those who said they would make such investments," continues the Post, "only 7 percent said they would put "all" their contributions into the market, while 57 percent said 'some' and 23 percent answered 'just a little.'"

Here's why that's a big deal.

A clear majority wants real Social Security for themselves, even if many people want the accounts option for others. Only 37% would opt for the accounts option. And even most of them don't seem altogether enthusiastic about it -- as evidenced by their not wanting to invest as much as they might in the option.

But the thing is, if private accounts are a bad idea, they're a really, really bad idea for people who don't want to use them. Pulling money out of Social Security to fund private accounts will sharply accelerate the stresses already on the system -- a system a clear majority of voters appears to want to enjoy when they retire.

This poll is a road map for supporters of Social Security on how to frame their arguments.

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