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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I've often thought George Will must be a great inspiration to those who want to believe that even if you lack insight, honesty, or wit you might still succeed as long as you dress like you have all three. Eric Alterman comments here about the breathless dishonesty of Will's column on "Gore's Revisionism." I'd repeat the points Eric makes. But I'd just be repeating. So take a look at what he has to say. This Sunday, Will had Mitch Bainwol, Executive Director of Republican Senate campaign committee, walk him through the various reasons why Republican Senate candidates are just going to keep on winning pretty much forever. If you haven't read it yet definitely read Nick Confessore's new piece on why Paul Krugman is as important as he is: he's the only columnist with a big megaphone who consistently and intelligently resists the crutch of false objectivity and discusses the manifest dishonesty and recklessness of White House fiscal policy. Will's columns are the perfect contrast and counterpoint: backrubs to power, reassurance to the comfortable, satisfaction to the self-satisfied.

If you needed any evidence that the demise of McCainite Conservative Reformism is a bad thing -- long-term at least -- for the Republican party you need only have looked at the recent Wall Street Journal editorial decrying the fact that the very low-income, those who make well below $20,000 a year, don't pay enough taxes. If you missed it, E.J. Dionne has a good column on the issue today. The argument the Journal advanced was that by cutting so many low-income earners out of the income tax system altogether you create a whole class of voters who simply can't relate to the anguished lash of taxation the super-rich have to suffer under. As is often the case in these sorts of arguments, the grinding weight of payroll taxes are more or less entirely ignored. More broadly though it's just a sign of how much the conservative movement -- once the home of some exquisitely sharp thinking -- has degraded to the point of being little more than an instrument of politically-organized money.

I was talking to a friend tonight over drinks about Al Gore. I said I'd always liked Gore, thought he'd gotten a viciously bad rap from the press and the conservative hit-machine. But somehow, I said, it just looked to me like there was too much scar tissue to ever make a go of it. All the gas-lighting about his being insincere or wooden or calculating has just pressed him deeper into a shell of equivocation and mannered self-presentation. So, having been accused so many times of being insincere he works as hard as he can to seem sincere and in so doing seems even less sincere. The whole thing is sad to me. But I'm not sure its being sad makes it untrue.

Then I saw this other nugget in the CBS/Times poll. Gore's favorable rating is only 19%. His unfavorable is 43%. Now let's toss out the obligatory and quite correct point that this is very early in a potential campaign. And recent events -- the election, Bush's popularity, etc. -- have been almost perfectly designed to diminish Gore in the public eye. But how do you get around a 19% approval rating being a devastating verdict?

I can't see where you do.

This new CBS News/New York Times poll nicely captures the political contours of the next two years. The essence is clear and provides an equivocal message for both parties: the Republican issue agenda isn't particularly popular; President Bush is.

Just what that means for Democrats trying to retake Congress or the White House I'm not precisely sure. One thing it does point up is the importance of how hard congressional Republicans and the White House try to push an ideological agenda. The temptation to do so will be great. And I suspect it's one they'll quickly succumb to.

That could make the White House rue the day they took back unified control of the federal government. Of course, it's not like everything's a bowl of cherries for the Democrats as long as President Bush can remain so popular even as his agenda is one most Americans don't agree with.

The best angle for Democrats would be to pry at the disjuncture between those two numbers rather than to hit the president head-on.

Elected Democrats and Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill really need to set aside a little time this evening to share some quiet, reflective moments with their own idiocy. Today, to great fanfare, President Bush signed the new law which creates the Department of Homeland Security. He got all sorts of great photos and TV coverage preening for the cameras and so forth. And, yet, this was the Dems' idea. They thought there should be a Department of Homeland Security. They pushed for it. He resisted it. Then he changed his tune and clobbered them with it in the election. How did they let this happen? Time for some quiet time ...

A bit more on the conference at Yale mentioned below. I was going to put together my recollections and ideas about what was discussed. But, frankly, Jeff Jarvis has already done it far better than I could. If you're interested in finding out more about what happened at the conference or if you're just interested in the blogging phenom, check out Jeff's run-down.

This issue is sort of a perennial -- the ridiculously lavish paychecks and perks of the execs at the Educational Testing Service, the SAT folks. But apparently it's getting even worse. There's an article about it in today's Times. The new CEO -- the aptly-named Kurt Landgraf -- had to get by on a mere $800,000 for his first ten months on the job.

The Times talks about the salaries. But ETS's campus in Princeton, New Jersey is equally outrageous. Those SAT sign-up fees -- paid by this and that striving high school senior, or his or her parents -- are so fat that there's just nowhere to put all the money. So to find something to do with all that money that keeps pouring in they end up finding new fountains, or sculpted gardens, or whatever other knick-knacks of abundance cash can easily be converted into. The ETS campus is like the Versailles of American meritocracy. Or, I guess it's better to say that it's the Versailles of the folks who administer the American meritocracy. It's a perennial scandal. It never changes.

I spent the day yesterday at a conference about blogging at Yale Law School. Very interesting panels, two very entertaining and thoughtful talks by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit and Mickey Kaus of Kausfiles. I made some meandering comments about what it's like to write a blog and work as a professional journalist at the same time. And one of the folks involved in putting the thing together did a sort of loose transcription of what I said.

(That's me in the foreground and Mickey Kaus in the background in that picture.)

Loved the conference, but one of the issues that came up at the post-conference dinner last night is one I've really wanted to write about for some time: blog triumphalism. What do I mean by that? I guess I mean the many folks who write blogs and live in a world in which there is a place called The New York Times populated by several dozen basically feckless and cocooned reporters, constantly outdone and corrected and outwitted and generally ground into the dirt by a few bloggers up at odd hours jabbing away at a laptop keyboard. As Mickey Kaus said at dinner last night, it's easy when you're writing one of these things to start thinking that you rule the world.

I find myself recently on weekend trains home, reading pdf versions of The Weekly Standard, and happening upon articles that inspire me to write new TPM posts. Last week's winner was an article by the prolific curmudgeonist Charles Krauthammer. This week we're on to Clint Bolick writing about the horrors of Arizona's campaign finance law which, Bolick says, proved pivotal to the election of Democrat Janet Napolitano as governor.

I'm ambivalent about a lot of campaign finance legislation. Public funding of campaigns -- though a clear solution to many of the most dire problems of election funding -- strikes me as problematic on constitutional, political and simply pragmatic grounds. But Bolick's article ("Fundraising Arizona: We’ve just seen the future of campaign finance reform, and it’s not pretty") is one of those articles which sways with a soft comedy the author couldn't be aware of because he is too deeply nestled in the cocoon of his own side's cliches and comforting self-justifications. Partisans of both sides do it; this is just a really sweet example.

The first half of the article is a narrative of GOP candidate Matt Salmon's doomed effort to make due on campaign donations from the interested and well-heeled in the face of the state-subsidized juggernaut which was Napolitano's campaign. He tried, but apparently the ability to raise money from wealthy donors more or less at will, get help from the state party, and get plenty of fundraising time with President Bush just wasn't enough to stem the tide.

Salmon, we learn, is something of twilight struggler on behalf of various causes like freedom and right.

Salmon, a former congressman who honored his term limit pledge, refused to accept campaign subsidies. “I have advocated all my life personal responsibility and less gov-ernment,” he explained, so “it would be hypocritical for me to take taxpayer money for my campaign.”

But Napolitano, who served as one of Anita Hill’s lawyers during the confirmation battle over U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, had no such qualms. As the Arizona Republic reported, Napolitano deployed labor union minions to collect the requisite 4,000 five-dollar contributions, then sat back and watched millions in tax-payer subsidies roll in.

Did we mention he honored his term limit pledge?

The second third of the article raises some interesting points about the funding of the law. According to Bolick, the law is financed by a state tax return check-off. But unlike the federal one, which simply moves some of your tax dollars into the campaign finance system, this one moves some of those dollars over and gives you back personally another five bucks. It's hard to say precisely why this is wrong. But if Bolick's upset with it, I can't say it sits all that well with me either.

The last third is taken up with the standard sort of partisan yada. Campaign finance reform is a conspiracy to elect liberal Democrats. The system is stacked against us. Big government programs bring us big government politicians. Big, big, big, government, government, government, yada, yada, yada. The final passage is a slip-n-side of watery and facile Hayekian cliches.

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