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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

My first blush opinion was -- and I think still is -- that Tom Daschle's presidential prospects were severely diminished by the Democrats' showing on November 5th. But I'm told he's making his decision now and will likely have that decision made by the end of the year. One interesting detail is that if Daschle decides to run he'd probably have a good chance of holding onto the core of the team that ran Tim Johnson's winning campaign in South Dakota. That would likely mean much of the senior staff and thus most of the couple dozen field staffers who would be key in early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Johnson was the only Democrat to pull out a victory from one of the close or dead-even races last week. And he managed to do so in what was probably the most pro-Bush state in contention. A lot of that -- as we said and predicted here months ago -- was a matter of staffing. We'll be saying more about this.

There are a million things to be said about this batch of polling data which Stan Greenberg assembled for the Campaign for America's Future. But I need to nurse the illusion that I have something better to do on this Friday night than write about polling data. So just make a point of browsing through the charts and graphs yourself.

The one number that really caught my attention is on page five. In the November 8th poll of actual voters, on the question of which party was better at "keeping America strong," Republicans beat out Democrats by an astronomical thirty-nine points -- Republicans 59; Dems 19. (The specific breakdown of the responses can be found on page 18 of the questionnaire. Yes, it sounds like it should be 40, not 39, but they must be rounding off or something.)

Republicans will crow over those numbers. And it'll be terribly annoying listen to them do so. (I overheard one of the most annoying of them crowing about it today. And, boy, did I want to slap this dude around ...) But Democrats really need to think long and hard about what those numbers mean. That's just an astonishing number.

This is both a substantive problem and a political one. In fact, the key is that it is a political problem in large measure because it is a substantive problem. This issue is starting to get more attention among professional Dems. I discussed it a month ago in The New York Post and Heather Hurlburt wrote a powerful piece on the issue in the current issue of The Washington Monthly. It's starting to get attention. But it needs to get a lot more.

TPM tomorrow night on CNN's Reliable Sources. 6:30 PM Eastern Time on Saturday evening.

More on Pelosi. For all the conservative chattering and outrage about alleged Democratic gay-baiting in Montana and South Carolina this Fall, don't we all know the subtext of Republican efforts to tag Pelosi as a "San Francisco Democrat"? Is this something we're not allowed to discuss? And why not?

The new Conventional Wisdom is that the Democrats' are moving to the left after last week's election. David Broder says it. So, by definition, it's Conventional Wisdom, though he's by no means the only one saying it. But a lot of the thinking that's gone into this line of thought is really sloppy.

Let's start with the ascendence of Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader, the woman who Broder calls "the near-perfect embodiment of a San Francisco liberal."

I have some concerns about her ascendency. But her election doesn't have anything to do with ideology. It's all about hierarchy. Pelosi's the Minority Whip, the second in the House leadership. Had the Democrats won the House, Gephardt would have become Speaker and she would more than likely have become Majority Leader. House leaders almost all ascend the ladder in this way. Just look at Tom DeLay, who's just gone from Whip to Majority Leader -- exact same thing. Gingrich followed the same path too.

This doesn't mean that Pelosi's elevation won't have any effect. But the fact that she's becoming Minority Leader isn't really a sign of anything.

This is but one part of the puzzle. But the whole Democrats moving to the left line is filled with lots of similarly lazy or shabby thinking. And many of the quotes you'll see from the predictable quarters in the Democratic party are from people whose understanding of the party is still rooted in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

More on this to come ...

Let's hash out a hypothetical. What if there was a columnist for one of the prestige news weeklies and suddenly he completely lost his mind and started penning column after column about how he had taken command of a ragtag army of snails and lemurs who were running through the neighborhood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor?

Would there be an intervention? Would he lose his column? Or would things just keep going on as per usual with maybe a few people chiming in about his edgy new style and crackerjack reporting?

You guessed it: We're talking about Howard Fineman.

Look at this final graf from his new article about Democratic power-brokers ...

With Bill Clinton’s humiliation in last week’s election (Democrats lost virtually everywhere he campaigned), there is only one revered elder statesman figure left in the party, and it’s Sen. Ted Kennedy. The Democrats have decided to hold their convention in Boston, in good measure because, as one party insider told me, “Teddy wants it so much.” Kennedy’s support would be a crucial benefit to Kerry, his Senate colleague from Massachusetts, but the relationship between the two is chilly. Teddy seems somewhat taken with Edwards, as a matter of fact. But however much he is a symbol of faded liberalism to the GOP, Teddy is a power in the party — and his word about whom to support (and whom not to) will be pivotal.
Let's take the first part of this. Bill Clinton humiliated? Is this cut and paste out of Karl Rove's talking points or dictated over the phone? (Margaret Carlson churned the same CW here.) As nearly as I can tell, Bill Clinton campaigned for Mark Pryor, Gray Davis, Rahm Emanuel, Ed Rendell, Frank Lautenberg, Bill Richardson, etc. Did he also campaign for a lot of folks who totally got their butts kicked? Absolutely. But in case you hadn't noticed Democrats pretty much all got their butts kicked last Tuesday. And they didn't really need the former President's help to accomplish that.

Now of course I'm a fan of the former president. How effective he was on the campaign trail is certainly debatable. And I certainly realize there are plenty of places in the country I probably wouldn't send him to campaign. Like, say, Alabama or Mississippi, for instance. They don't have philandering in those states so he really doesn't go over very well there. Anyway, you get the idea.

But now let's go on to the choice morsel. The revered elder statesman-power-broker isn't Bill Clinton. It's Teddy Kennedy. His support for president is pivotal.

This is pretty much the point where you're talking your rag-tag army of snails and lemurs. What the hell is Fineman thinking? I'm a big fan of Teddy Kennedy's. Big admirer. Love that he's in the Senate. All that good stuff. But his support is really pretty damned far from being pivotal. I mean, he couldn't even get his niece and especially his nephew over the hump in frigging Maryland this year.

One thought: Democrats are grinding their teeth about all the terrible blood-letting going on amongst them. Republicans are giddy over it. Democrats wonder whether the in-fighting will be productive or just leave a lot of blood on the floor. Will it turn off voters to see the party in such disarray, etc.?

Why does it matter? Who cares if there's a lot of in-fighting? It only matters to political obsessives and insiders who, obviously, are not politically up for grabs anyway.

So let them fight. Or not fight. Get it out of their system. It will all be ancient history by the next election. Doesn't matter a bit.

I hesitated to discuss Charlie Cook's newsletter today because you have to sign up to get it by email. And thus I can't link to it. And you -- the esteemed TPM reader -- cannot easily read it. But he has some very sage points to make about how much last Tuesday's election is being over-interpreted. It wasn't a wave or a rout and certainly not some decisive election result. There's no reason to have a Slate Dialog with the headline "Can the Democrats Be Revived?"

Part of what happened is that Democrats just underestimated the continuing post-9/11 salience of national security issues. But more generally, to me, this was the wifflebat election. Democrats put very little on the table, didn't run that aggressively. And since they put very little on the table the Republicans were able to knock them back with the fairly weak cudgel of a presidential barnstorm and some misleading but relatively effective hits on the Homeland Security Department issue. The Dems came into the election ill-prepared and the President beat them with a wifflebat. You can't take their victory away from them. But it was still just a wifflebat.

One of the unique things -- possibly one of the lamest things -- about 'blogs' (hate that word, but I can't resist the tide any longer) is that you can start commenting on a topic before you've really pulled together all the information or even decided quite what you think about it. The generous description would be 'running commentary.' Another unique thing is that you can start a post with a dreadfully opaque lead sentence which has little to do with what you're actually writing about and somehow it seems to work out okay.

That said, let's talk about Howard Dean.

A few days ago I wrote a post that some took to mean that I was saying Howard Dean wasn't a 'serious candidate' for president.

That is what I meant. But let me take a moment to explain what I meant by those words. Fundamentally, by a 'serious candidate' I mean a candidate who I can seriously imagine being nominated by the Democratic party to run for president.

Like a lot of people who follow Democratic politics I've watched Dean for a number of years and I find him very compelling. Smart. Good on policy from what I've seen. Articulate. Lots of good stuff.

But when the Democrats are out of power there's usually one person among the field of contenders who is clearly the most thoughtful of the candidates and, perhaps because he also seems -- for whatever reason -- unlikely to get the nomination, he also ends up being the most courageous in the stands he takes and the interests he's willing to take on. (Republicans usually take a different course, having one lovable freak like Alan Keyes in the hunt.) Inevitably this candidate becomes the toast of the advanced degree and latte set and various star-struck journalists write "if only..." articles for smart-set monthlies. He often ends up teasing the debate out in interesting directions. But he is pretty much never the one who gets the nomination or even gets close. This guy is the olive in the martini. Or if you're closer to my habits -- and tolerance levels -- the slice of lime in the Corona. The archetypal case here is Bruce Babbitt in 1988.

I guess I'm saying that Howard Dean looks a lot to me like the Bruce Babbitt of 2004.

Having said this, though, I'm not certain of it. A lot of really thoughtful people really like the guy. A number of people I know who are serious A-list political operatives have talked to me about possibly working for him -- which is an important factor at this stage in the campaign. And I keep getting word from the early primary states that he's really generating some serious interest. He also just signed up former DNC head Steve Grossman as his chief fundraiser. And that means something -- not everything, but something.

So, as I say, I haven't given the question a lot of serious thought yet. These are the assumptions I have going in. But my mind is open -- a bit.

What makes tomorrow different from all other days? No, no, it's not a Judaism-based trick question ... What makes tomorrow different from all other days? What? Right, right, exactly! It's the second anniversary of TPM. Two years ago tomorrow this esteemed institution got off the ground.

So anyway, we had been planning to bring out this troupe of long-legged dancers from Vegas for the entertainment at the gala anniversary party. But we did a conference call yesterday with the staff and decided that that was just going to be a bit off message.

Anyway, though, there's still going to be plenty of celebrating. Stay tuned.

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