Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The Wall Street Journal on the Dean, from Wednesday's paper: "Republicans are eyeing Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, a well-regarded young Democrat who has said he is open to private accounts. But a senior aide to Mr. Ford said he opposes borrowing as an option for covering transition costs."

Dear Congressman Ford,

Look, yes, I know this may seem like a sort of public way of communicating. But my tech guy has set this up so only your home computer can access this post. No one else can see it. It's set to your IP address. (I guess you've got a static IP address on your home hook-up?)

In any case, the consensus of the pols in your home state is that your angle on the Social Security privatization stuff is that you want to set yourself up for a Senate run in 2006 for Frist's seat. And this'll give you bipartisan cross-over cred with rural and conservative voters in the state that you need.

But look, if you're going to be cynical, at least do it effectively, right? This may have been a pretty bad decade-and-a-half for the Dems in Tennessee. But it isn't because Democrats support Social Security, believe me. Gay Marriage? Abortion? Guns? National Defense? Sure, probably all of them. But not excessive fealty to Social Security.

Think about it. Did Bush even get into Social Security during the campaign? Of course, not. Even Lieberman's gotten off that train. And half the people in Connecticut work on Wall Street. What do you got compared to that? Right, I didn't think so.

If you're trying to angle your way into the Senate and set yourself apart from the national Democrats, do it on abortion or the gay rights stuff. Not that I'm recommending it. But if you're going to be cynical at least do it with an issue that's going to do you some good.

If you want to pull up a seat with the real power players, being cynical ain't enough. You've gotta be cynical and smart.

I was chatting with a friend of yours today. And he says he figures you're probably just not with it enough to realize that this isn't much of a way to appeal to Democrats-turned-Republicans in your state. But, dude, I've got your back. He may not be enough of a friend to tell you. But I am, whatever I may be saying about you in the public posts.

Like I said, gay marriage? Iraq? Even maybe the Oil-for-Food angle? (Coleman's too big a doofus ever to carry that ball anywhere.) Those are some issues with some mileage in them. And like I said, if you're going to be cynical, get some mileage out of it, right?

Picture this placard ...

Harold Ford: Man Enough to Know That a Man Shouldn't Marry a Man.

Right? Right? That's great stuff.

Or maybe, this ...

Harold Ford: Putting the 'Christ' back into Christmas.

Anyway, we can come up with various angles. But you get the idea. We'll talk soon. And lemme know if you have any ideas for the database.


From the Christmas day Post ...

The U.S. military invaded Iraq without a formal plan for occupying and stabilizing the country and this high-level failure continues to undercut what has been a "mediocre" Army effort there, an Army historian and strategist has concluded.

"There was no Phase IV plan" for occupying Iraq after the combat phase, writes Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, who served as an official historian of the campaign and later as a war planner in Iraq. While a variety of government offices had considered the possible situations that would follow a U.S. victory, Wilson writes, no one produced an actual document laying out a strategy to consolidate the victory after major combat operations ended.


As a result of the failure to produce a plan, Wilson asserts, the U.S. military lost the dominant position in Iraq in the summer of 2003 and has been scrambling to recover ever since. "In the two to three months of ambiguous transition, U.S. forces slowly lost the momentum and the initiative . . . gained over an off-balanced enemy," he writes. "The United States, its Army and its coalition of the willing have been playing catch-up ever since."

Some things are just unforgivable. <$NoAd$>And this crew does a lot of them.

Tennesseans chime in on the Dean of the Fainthearted Faction ...


Democrats have one chance, and one chance only, of taking Frist's seat in '06 (I'm sure you know Frist is not running again.) Harold Ford. You are advocating a very tough trade off for folks like me; I am very likely a Ford voter regardless of what he does on S.S.; so far, the other possible Democrat contenders would not get my vote. He is the only Democrat with any substantial support in heavily Republican East Tennessee, where I live, and for a Democrat to win state wide, they have to run well in East Tennessee. (Though not necessarily carry it.) This is how Phil Bredesen managed to get elected Governor. If Democrats cut Ford, they will make a lot of Republicans very, very happy.

DL Tennessee


From what I've read, he's definitely exploring a run for Bill Frist's Senate seat in 2006, and that's going to be a high-profile race. No doubt he's trying to gain support among conservative Tennesseans on this issue, especially East Tennesseans, and trying to preempt one of his opponents - probably the tired old Van Hilleary - likely charges that he's for 'doing nothing about the bankrupt SS program'. And by attaching himself to Lindsey Graham, he's going to pound it in that he's bipartisan and works very well even with very conservative Republicans like Graham and DeMint (as opposed to the partisan Van Hilleary and Frist).

I think all of this is his well-thought out strategy of placing himself in alliances that will ultimately go nowhere (Bush's plan, though more draconian, is going to be the only choice), but he can point out his public stance with conservatives as proof he plays well with others (repuglicans, especially).

I personally think Ford would be a disaster as a Democratic candidate for Senate. He has no traction in East TN *at all*.... Problem is, no one except Gov. Bredesen on the Dem side has any traction *at all.*

MC Tennessee

Let me chime in here with at least my <$Ad$>sense of what this is about.

The point here is very much not to be writing people out of the party. The point is to corral them in on the basis of an issue of fundamental importance to Americans all across the country -- let's call it a little coercive encouragement or organizational tough love. With any of these folks in the Fainthearted Faction, if they come around to the right position, then the past is the past. There's no sense in coming up with purity tests over what this or that person said or thought in the past so long as they're on the right side now. The point of putting these guys into the Fainthearted Faction is to get them out of the Fainthearted Faction.

Like the first reader I'd hate to see Harold Ford go down over this. But I don't think that has to happen and I don't even think it's going to happen. It's a risk. But I think it's a small one and one that, if we run it, we will most likely end up with our Harold Fords and a party united around defending Social Security.

If he turns out to be that craven, Democrats are better off without him.

Following a ship to the bottom of the sea on principle is seldom a wise choice. But the thing here is not only the fundamental importance of Social Security, but the fact that this fight is quite winnable and that if the Democrats win it, the winning of it will generate dividends in cohesion, morale and respect in the minds of the American people that transcend this individual policy issue.

See, we like dividends too.

From a piece I wrote about one of the President's 2001 pro-Social Security phase out astroturf groups, the Coalition for American Financial Security, or CAFS ...

"The most striking thing about CAFS is not that it is made up of interested parties from the financial-services industry, nor that it enjoys close connections to the White House. Rather, it is the extent to which the organization has emanated from a single corporation whose interest in privatization is driven as much by ideological zeal as by the expectation of profit.

The Frank Russell Company--creator of the Russell 2000 small-cap stock index--is known within the financial-services industry for spearheading privately funded initiatives aimed at spreading laissez-faire principles of economic organization in former socialist or mixed economies around the world. This has often meant setting up organizations that advocate the privatization of social-insurance programs: exactly what CAFS is now designed to do in the United States. Russell's efforts to jump-start the privatization debate in this country began two years ago when Russell CEO Michael Phillips started the company's Social Security reform initiative and assigned Don Ezra to coordinate it.

Ezra is a global avatar of privatization and laissez-faire. A soft-spoken British national, he has worked for Frank Russell in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. From Russell's European headquarters in London, he was involved in similar efforts to privatize social insurance in Europe. While in the United Kingdom, he stirred controversy with a report arguing that British pension-fund management gave too little say to investment professionals and that the managers of U.K. pension funds were overly burdened by such factors as the need for consensus and "too much caution" in choosing investments."

That's a bit from a July 2001 article I wrote on the Social Security privatization biz.

Is Harold Ford the Dean of the Fainthearted Faction? Could be. When last we left the Tennessee up-and-comer he was saying nice things about Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) private accounts bill. But little did we know that last year he came awfully close to co-sponsoring the private accounts bill of South Carolina Congressman Jim DeMint.

Here's a Bob Novak column cheering him on. Here's his statement of support for the DeMint plan on the Cato Institute 'Project on Social Security Choice' website. And here's a piece from South Carolina's The State on how he just couldn't quite get himself to sign on the dotted line at the last minute because even though he loved the plan he and DeMint couldn't decide how to pay for it.

Now, it just so happens that Congressman DeMint just got elected to the Senate. So that means that in the new Congress Ford will have the whole South Carolina Senate delegation covered in as much as that he's given the thumbs up to co-sponsoring partial phase-out bills with both of the state's senators.

In any case, a few other points. First, though he is sponsoring a partial Social Security phase-out plan, I will at least give Sen. Graham credit for a level of responsibilty on how to pay for it. He has publicly scolded President Bush's willingness to borrow one or two trillion dollars to finance his Social Security phase-out plan. And he himself has suggested eliminating the caps on payroll taxes (thus incresing the taxes on upper-income workers) to finance the transition.

At the end of the day, he still wants to partially phase-out Social Security and replace it with private accounts. And partial phase-out will lead to total phase-out. But there is some virtue I think in noting cases in which you have fundamental political and philosophical disagreements with someone and yet you can see that they are advocating what you see as bad policies with some measure of honesty and responsibility, in contrast to the likes of President Bush who is doing so with the characteristic recklessness and deception. Graham was also a standout on Abu Ghraib. So, anyway, I just wanted to note these points.

And, though I've noted this several times, I want one more time to make this point about the Fainthearted Faction, and particularly those who got grandfathered in because of their opposition to the Filner Amendment (see this earlier post if you want to know what the hell I'm talking about), because I keep hearing from readers for whom the point doesn't seem clear.

Most of the folks who are now in the Faction are there because of their opposition to the Filner Amendment. That just means that they're the first people to look at (for the reasons described in this post) if we're trying to figure out which congressional Democrats seem most likely to sign on with Bush's plan.

As we noted earlier today, three congressmen who got grandfathered into the Faction because of their opposition to the Filner Amendment have made recent statements which state fairly clear opposition to the Bush plan. Congressmen Boyd and Smith are confirmed members of the Faction for recent actions or statements. And now Harold Ford is not only in the Faction but has actually become the Dean because of his rather lengthy history of openness to phasing out Social Security.

I know this all gets complicated. But bear with me since Social Security really is an important program.

Now, in addition to being the Dean of the Fainthearted Faction, another thing to note about Rep. Ford is that he's a man with big plans --- statewide office, national office, the sky's the limit. He ran against Nancy Pelosi two years ago to be the head of the Democratic caucus when he was only in his third term and thirty-two years old, for crying out loud.

So what I'm wondering is what big funders and groups of Democrats are going to go to Ford and tell him that if he ever wants to get out of his Memphis House district just who does he think it's going to be who's going to fund and staff out his campaign?

And what about those Republicans who might not quite be ready to sign on to President Bush's plan to phase out Social Security? You know, the Conscience Caucus. Florida's Mark Foley told the AP a few days ago that out of the 232 member GOP caucus in the 109th Congress, between 125 to 150 of them might need "a lot of hand-holding" to get them to sign off on ending, or ... okay, okay, partially ending Social Security. And Illinois' Ray LaHood seemed to be thinking along the same lines.

So the Conscience Caucus may include a good seventy, eighty, even a hundred members. And they, after all, are the real issue.

The reason it's so critical to get every Democrat lined up with the right position in favor of Social Security is not simply or even principally because of the significance of their individual votes. After all, if the president can keep all his troops together they don't need any Democratic votes. The point is to raise the stakes, to make the moral responsibility as stark and as clear as possible.

If President Bush is intent on destroying Social Security and replacing it with a private accounts system, let him do it with Republican votes only. Republicans in marginal districts will be far less likely to sign on to his plan if it's an exclusively Republican enterprise, if there are no Democrats along for the ride to muddle the picture and provide illusory bipartisan cover.

An update on the Democrats' 'Fainthearted Faction', those who voted against the Filner Amendment in 2001, which was widely seen as a proxy vote for support or opposition to replacing Social Security with private investment accounts.

A couple weeks ago, Rep. Tom Allen of Maine released a statement in which he said, inter alia, that "The proposed Social Security privatization will sink the nation further into the ocean of red ink that has already resulted from this President’s failed budget and tax policies. No amount of media ‘spin’ can disguise the brutal fiscal reality that this plan is a double-edged sword that wreaks deficit havoc on one side and Social Security chaos on the other."

Congressman Adam Schiff of California has released a statement in which he says: "The privatization of Social Security would be detrimental to the guarantee of a secure future for all of our seniors and our national economy. I have serious reservations about tying the Social Security funds into the stock market. Such accounts would expose participants to excessive market risk for an income source that has become so essential to many of the nation's elderly. Our nation has a three-tiered retirement system -- consisting of Social Security, private pensions, and personal investments. While we may want to undertake some "risk" in the latter two tiers, Social Security -- as the tier that provides a basic floor of protection -- should be more stable. It is true that steps need to be taken to strengthen the Social Security Trust Fund. First and foremost, we must continue to pay down the national debt to ensure that that the Trust Fund remains intact. However, the Administration's privatization proposal is estimated to require borrowing at least $1 trillion, which would be a fiscally irresponsible decision. Instead, to protect the Trust Fund, we must prohibit the transfer of any funds to cover future tax cuts or new spending programs."

Staffers for congressman Dennis Moore of Kansas have been telling TPM constituent-readers who've called his office in no uncertain terms that he opposes replacing all or part of Social Security with private accounts and we received a letter from him today in which he writes that "In the 109th Congress, we will attempt to address the challenges facing Social Security, but I cannot stress enough the importance of strengthening the current system instead of dismantling it. As such, I am opposed to any efforts to privatize the current Social Security system." He also notes his support for taking Social Security "off-budget" thus preventing the use of the Social Security surpluses to mask general revenue deficits. Finally, he says -- in reference to the Filner Amendment -- that "while I applaud the Commission for helping to initiate a debate on how best to improve the Social Security system, let me assure you that I will continue to oppose any plan that would jeopardize the benefits of hardworking Americans through investment in individual accounts."

Finally, Congressman Adam Smith of Washington, from what we can glean from TPM constituent-readers who've contacted his office and this article he wrote on December 17th, is very much keeping his options open on private accounts.

So, that all means that we're striking Reps. Allen, Moore and Schiff from the Fainthearted Faction and leaving Congressman Smith definitely in.

That takes the number of members of the Fainthearted Faction down to ten. But we also have a new member joinging the Faction, Congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee, who brings the number back to eleven. We're adding Rep. Ford to the list because of an exchange a reader sent us between Rep. Ford and Mort Kondracke at a panel meeting on capitol hill last March sponsored by Centrists.Org, The Concord Coalition, The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget at the New America Foundation, and The Alliance for Worker Retirement Security.

When Kondracke asked Ford whether he could support Sen. Lindsey Graham's private accounts bill (Graham was the other member of Congress on the panel), Ford responded ...

Yes, I would, provided we could pay for the transition costs without running up bigger deficits. I’m not an expert on all the details, but I think his bill has good anti-poverty protections, and matching funds for lower-income workers. The personal accounts are progressive, which is good. And in the long run, it keeps Social Security costs down to about where they are now, which we can afford. In this budget environment, however, it will be very hard to pay for the transition costs of the accounts.

MORT KONDRACKE. Is there a caucus for entitlement reform among Democrats in the House? Realistically, how many House Democrats do you think would be interested in discussing Social Security reform and personal accounts?

REPRESENTATIVE FORD. I think there is a group who would be willing to work constructively. Maybe 50 or 60 members. Certainly, Charlie Stenholm has been an extraordinary leader on this. Charlie has been explaining this issue to voters for many years, and he is a very influential leader on budgets and entitlements.

So Congressman Ford enters the Faction. And that leaves us with the following updated list for the Fainthearted Faction ...

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

More soon on our Social Security 'where do they stand' database.

[ed.note: Thanks to TPM reader JH for the tip on Rep. Ford. The linked post contains more details on Ford.]