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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The authors of this Time article go to great lengths to be fair to the Bush administration. But the upshot of the story is still pretty devastating. In the early months of the War on Terrorism we heard a heroic tale: the Bush administration had inherited a dawdling and feckless anti-terrorism policy from their predecessors. Through 2001 they were in a headlong rush to bring the country up to speed but couldn't quite make up all the lost time before the terrorists struck.

Let's call this the Andrew Sullivan version of events.

The truth was rather different. By definition some things didn't get done that should have been done in the late 1990s. But the out-going administration left its successors with a fairly detailed action plan for attacking al Qaida. Presidential transitions are unavoidably disorienting affairs. But there were more specific reasons the plan didn't get acted upon. The Bush team a) was more concerned with missile defense than terrorism and b) was unwilling to adopt a Clinton era plan until six or seven months had been spent repackaging it as a Bush-era plan. And therein lies a tale.

Now to other matters.

Earlier this morning I came home from doing a short segment on Fox and flipped on the TV. On Cnn Robert Novak was reading Senator Carl Levin a quote from fellow Senator Rick Santorum in which Santorum was claiming that only a double standard was keeping former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin from being called before Congress to testify on his employer Citicorp's involvement in transactions which helped Enron hide losses.

It's time to say it: this is a stupid argument. It's being made by a) mau-mauing Republicans and their journalistic allies, b) morons, and c) chumps. Absent any new information those are really the only groups who can be involved. The first group I don't much begrudge. They're involved in a political fight and that's how the game is played. The second group requires no explanation. The rest are journalists -- largely, but not all, of vaguely liberal politics -- who have so long been slapped around and cowed by conservative complaints about liberal bias that the desired Pavlovian response has become second nature. In the seedy vernacular we call this being 'whipped.' The better analogy might be to the emotionally-damaged battered woman who perversely respects her abusive husband for keeping her in line.

It's not a pretty sight.

Unfortunately, through a grievous technical glitch, we lost the archived copy of the July 22nd through 31st TPMs. We are hunting around for a cached copy and will repost it as soon as possible.

Grievous, I tell you! Grievous!

One would think I'd been friendly enough to Al Gore over the months and years to avoid getting knocked in a blundering screed by Bob Somerby, the guy who writes the Daily Howler. But there's a deeper annoyance and foolishness here that I'd like to comment on.

A few days ago I made the point that with the economy in a tizzy and so much incompetence from the Bush team we might see a very different dynamic in a 2004 match-up between Gore and Bush. Bush's folksiness might count for much less than it did in 2000 and Gore's experience might count for much more.

Here's what I said.

In 2000 no one doubted that Al Gore was experienced and competent. But it almost ended up being a liability. People just never warmed to him. And they liked George W. Bush. Right now, who you'd rather hang with at the barbecue just doesn't seem quite as important. Competence and experience does.
Here's Somerby's response (which comes in the course of a long post)..
“People just never warmed to Gore,” Marshall says, offering no thoughts as to why that happened. Of course, the fact that the press borked Gore for twenty straight months will seldom be mentioned in the press corps’ narrations. In these renditions, the press corps itself plays absolutely no role; their effect of events is completely disappeared. In the case of Campaign 2000, the press corps is removing itself from the turrible tale as it concocts its group story about Gore.

Be careful when you encounter that story. Trust us: This press corps never tells you the truth when its own conduct is part of the tale. Do you really think that Ambitious Al weirdly refused to acknowledge Vile Bill? If you believe that, we have a bridge to sell you. It’s a bridge to the thirty-first century.

On one level this strikes me as a stupid comment because anyone who's even remotely familiar with my reporting and columns during the 2000 election knows that I was quite favorable to Gore and quite critical of the way the media covered him. Somerby is partly just at war with writerly brevity. One can't say that people never warmed to Gore because then one is lumped in with the anti-Gore, ass-covering media conspiracy. One has to make the prescibed genuflection, stating that people never warmed to Gore because the press bought into the right-wing's long-standing and well-timed attacks on Gore's character, held him to a higher standard than the bumbling governor of Texas, yada, yada, yada.

In a similar fashion one can never write the grammatically elegant sentence "Gore lost the election" without a hundred yahoos writing in to say, "No, no, no, Gore didn't lose. He got more votes. He won. Bush wasn't elected, he was selected!"

Yes, yes, I know. I too think Gore was robbed. But I'm content to let the language remain unmutilated and assume that right-thinking people remember all that.

The whole thing makes me think of someone who walks to the edge of the road, looks right, looks left, and then walks into the street and gets run over. As his ghost is rising up to heaven he's saying "No, wait, I looked both ways!"

Some things may not be your fault. But they're still your problem.

And this brings us back to the question of Gore and the press. It's stupid to criticize people who are sympathetic to Gore and yet don't muddle up their prose with explanations of why Gore had a hard go of things.

But there's a deeper issue too. Like Hobbes said with respect to life, most members of the press are nasty, brutish and short. And also not that sharp.

But, buddy, that's life! Or at least it's life in the political game. Most of the press was imbecilic in its treatment of Gore. But they were equally so of Bill Clinton and he managed okay. Democrats should mau-mau for press for their imbecility as successfully as whiny conservatives did for years about 'media bias', something that still has most of the press pitifully cowed.

I'm not saying to get over it. I'm saying to do something about it. Much of the political game is a matter of managing and dealing with a craven and shallow press corps. Like bad referees in sports, they may suck, but they're part of the game. Once you get that through your &#$%(@# head you're better equipped to deal with the situation.

For a while I've thought the coverage of the Democratic jockeying for 2004 has been reported with an air of unreality. For starters: Joe Lieberman. As nearly as I can figure, for reasons I outline in Thursday's New York Post, he never even enters the race.

I thought we might be able to go more than a few hours without another installment of (hands in the) Cookie Jar Watch. But it wasn't meant to be.

As you know healthcare is a very pricey commodity -- but one which veterans earn a right to by virtue of their service. But, think about, couldn't we save a few bucks if we just didn't tell these guys and gals about the healthcare services they're entitled to? A shameful attitude, you say? Well, the Bush administration apparently doesn't agree.

A couple weeks ago a Bush appointee at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Laura J. Miller, sent out a memo to local administrators telling them to stop healthcare outreach programs to vets so that the Department could save money.

In the memo (just added to TPM Document Collection), Miller notes the growing demand for VA healthcare services. But "against this backdrop," she notes, "is very conservative OMB budget guidance for 2004." In plain English that means we need more money to service all the vets who are applying for VA healthcare services, but Mitch Daniels and the White House says we can't have it.

The answer?

Get more resources to serve the deserving vets?

Bite the bullet and say the budget requires cuts in VA health benefits?

No, no, no. Just order local officials to stop all efforts to tell vets what services they're entitled to. What could be easier?

In the memo, Miller orders local administrators to "ensure that no marketing activities to enroll new veterans occur within your networks." Efforts to get out the word about VA health services, the memo goes on to say, "with such activities as health fairs, veteran open houses to invite new veterans to the facilities, or enrollment displays at VSO meetings, are inappropriate."

At least they're pro-military.

Oh My ... I guess it's time for another edition of Cookie Jar Watch. As in 'hands in the ...' It seems no sooner was the president kickin' it with Paul Sarbanes and gettin' d-o-w-n with his regulatory self than the White House turns around and quietly announces its intention not to enforce a key provision of the law.

The new law included a whistleblower provision granting protection to any employee of a publicly traded company who take "lawful acts" to tip off or assist regulatory agencies, law enforcement officials or "any member of Congress or any committee of Congress."

If they get punished they can file a claim at the Department of Labor and get reinstated and possibly also get compensatory damages.

But then the White House announced that it plans to interpret the law as referring only to a properly constituted congressional investigation. In other words, if you know your company's books are getting cooked and you ring up a Senator before the investigation gets underway, then you're vulnerable. But of course it probably would be before the investigation got underway, wouldn't it? That's why you're dropping a dime on them in the first place! To let someone know what's going on so they'll start an investigation!

A special thanks to Nathan Newman for putting me on to this.

I spent most of June reporting on what the Bush administration has or hasn't accomplished on homeland security -- with particular emphasis on intelligence reform. Here's the result, in the new issue of Blueprint magazine.

Another major topic covered is the woeful unpreparedness of the FBI -- which was shocking to behold.

"We need to do more to strip corrupt corporate kingpins of their ill-gotten gains. We're taking the mansion. We're draining the accounts. And we're coming after the yacht." That's a quote from Tom DeLay of all people, in an article from the Washington Times about new super-mega-double-crack down efforts from the GOP.

Why does this remind me of Dukakis in the tank?

Oh, to have been there at the first moment when this or that fabled canard got hatched on the world. The moment of creation. The precise second when the bacillus escaped the lab.

Someone had to argue that the recent stock market skid wasn't the cause of congress's new anti-corporate corruption bill, but rather its result. The markets weathered Enron and Worldcom and all the others just fine, this argument would hold. It was when congress got the idea of passing some new laws -- that's when the bottom fell out.

Someone had to be first. But who would it be?

The prize goes to James K. Glassman, who has apparently decided that the best defense ("Dow 36,000!") is a good offense.

Indulge me in a quick counter-factual.

Imagine that Al Gore was now president and he, not George W. Bush, had sent up a proposal for a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Only in the Gore proposal all employees of the DHS would get free health care insurance, dental insurance, generous long-term care coverage, and copious allowances for repetitive stress injuries.

I assume editorialists would see this for what it was: a craven and disreputable attempt to bootstrap in the Democrats' workplace policy agenda under the guise of a critical homeland security measure. The White House would be cynically calculating that they could snag an interest group goody on the sly since Republicans wouldn't have the stomach to vote against. It wouldn't matter if you happened to support universal health, long-term care insurance, and ergonomics regs. The White House just should not use the terrorism card to muscle through an ideological wish-list that it lacks the courage to push on its own terms.

So why no similar outrage at the Bush White House for doing just the same thing?

The White House is insisting on a Homeland Security bill with virtually all the civil service and collective bargaining rights of federal employees stripped out of it? The excuse of course is that the DHS is just too important to pussyfoot around with the sort of loafers who slide by under the civil service regime. But this argument -- though superficially plausible -- doesn't bear much scrutiny, especially since these protections now apply to people doing just the same kinds of work throughout the federal government.

Maybe federal employees shouldn't get the double protection of unions and civil service status. It's not an unreasonable argument. If that's what the president believes, he should send up a separate bill abolishing the civil service system. What he's doing here is just using the crushed, maimed and devastated of 9/11 to prop up Grover Norquist's federal workplace policy agenda.

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