Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

There's an ugly but resonant line usually attributed to Joseph Goebbels, but apparently written by the Nazi playwright Hanns Johst, which goes, "When I hear the word 'culture', I reach for my revolver." And ugly as it is, I am tempted to say that when I hear Democratic consultants, who made millions spinning and strategizing and rainmaking over the last decade, opining about Red State culture and the need for Democrats to break bread at Applebee's to commune with the zeitgeist I'm overcome with a similar feeling.

There is no end of Democrats in Washington and certainly in every state across this country who often eat at Applebee's or Bennigan's or Coco's, and not simply for research purposes.

Nor did they need election disappointment to put them on the case.

And perhaps this is an element of the problem. It's just time for some of these folks to go -- not because they're bad people (though more than a few are opportunists and backstabbers) or they lack expertise but because the party needs some new blood. The lessons of the 70s and 80s or even the 90s are not directly relevant to today.

If you've lived in Washington for any length of time you know it's laughable to imagine that the Republican operators are any less well-heeled or disconnected from lives of most Americans than their Democratic peers. Indeed, increasingly over the last decade, the big torrents of easy money flow into Republican hands. (With Congress under GOP management, business has much less need to hedge its bets.)

But the Democrats do have an aristocracy of operatives --- and the ‘a’ word is appropriate on a number of levels. Some have been around for decades, a few of the best came up with Clinton in 1992, and others came in during the '90s when the getting was good and mistook the power of incumbency for their own skill.

More than anyone or anything else they are the Democratic party. With organized labor as diminished as it is and party organizations at every level less institutions than conduits for political money, these folks are the power-brokers, the institutional memory, most of everything that persists over time, cycle after cycle, long after the race horses (i.e., the candidates) are put out to pasture.

So for all these reasons there is something rich and precious about hearing some of these folks sagely noting how the leadership of 'the party' is out of touch with the Red States when they are the party, when they're the folks who've been in the drivers' seat for years. If there’s a problem and especially if it revolves around being out of touch with the lives of ordinary Americans, then by all means the first place to start is for some of these folks to say a collective, my bad, my time has passed and depart the scene --- especially if their proposed remedies are as clichéd and pathetic as the ones many of them are offering.

The problem for Democrats is not that they don't cite scripture enough or that they don't live for NASCAR, though they do need to be able to appeal to both. Democrats who just tack a few gospel references on to their standard speeches will simply compound losing an election by losing their dignity. That's not a disparagement of religion; it's a recognition that mere pandering will achieve nothing politically and invite deserved ridicule.

Those aren’t the heart of the problem. The difficulty for Democrats today is that they excel at the libretto of politics but have little feel for the score.

Democrats frequently console or rally themselves with the fact that most voters agree with them on individual issues. And then they're mystified when they don't win elections. Sometimes it seems, or people convince themselves, that it's because one candidate is more likable than the other. Some people think that's the case with this just completed presidential election. And perhaps it is to some degree. But the bigger difference is that Democrats don't do anywhere near as good a job at telling a story with their politics.

If you want an example think of a movie with great acting and set-design but no discernible plot.

Yes, you're for this and that policy and you have this, that and the other plan. But what story or picture does it all amount to? What things does it say are important and which things less important? What does it all amount to in terms of who we are as Americans and who we want to be?

I think I can tell you what the Republicans are for and without referencing hardly any policy specifics. They're for lowering taxes in exchange for giving up whatever it is the government pretends to do for us, (at a minimum) riding the brakes on the on-going transformation of American culture, and kicking ass abroad.

That’s a clear message and a fairly coherent one, whatever you think of the content --- it’s about self-reliance and suspicion of change. And Democrats have a hard time competing at that level of message clarity.

What's the Dems' message, boiled down to as few words, and framed in terms simple imperatives and aspirations, rather than policy? And which are the do-or-die issues, and which are expendable?

Nor would it be a simple matter for Dems to compete on the terrain of traditionalism and religiosity. For years I’ve joked about Republicans who find themselves saying, wittingly or not, “Well, we’ve locked up the white racist vote. Now, if we could just get the blacks too, then we’d be cooking with gas!.” As I wrote in an article in the late 90s, “The GOP's problem with minorities isn't incidental; it's fundamental. Any genuine effort to aid minorities or the poor would instantly alienate a substantial portion of the Republican base. It's an electoral bind, inexorable and fixed. The Republicans can't be the party of both black opportunity and anti-black resentment, no matter how big the tent. The Democrats tried it; it didn't work.”

A similar logic applies to the urban vs. rural, modern vs. traditional cleavage that is so apparent in our politics today. I believe as fervently as anyone that the Democrats can’t allow themselves to be seen as the party of irreligion. And Democrats must at least be competitive throughout the Midwest and Southwest, if not necessarily in the core states of the old Confederacy. But let’s not be like the Jack Kemps of the GOP and forget the intensely dynamic nature of coalitional politics.

The Dems did not get 48% of the popular vote for nothing. They got it because of what they were clearly for and clearly against. 48% isn’t enough for the White House or enough to be the country’s majority party. But it’s nothing to sneeze at either. And many changes that would gain Democrats votes in the Red States would lose them votes or unity in the Blue ones.

This doesn’t mean Dems should just stand-pat or be satisfied with what they have. They shouldn’t; indeed, they can’t. It is only to say that there are real limits to how many positions and rhetorical styles Dems can ape to good effect. And it means having a little more respect for themselves, their voters and what they claim to believe in than to collapse into a puddle of self-doubt just because this election didn’t go their way.

Any hired-gun who worked for John Kerry and is now publicly -- subtly or not so subtly -- slipping a shiv in his back: that's someone the Democratic party can do without. Clear the decks.

Spare a moment for this.

It's a page on the Washington Post website. I hate to use a word as banal or cheap as 'interactive'. But it's an interactive page, searchable by dates or name, of every American soldier, sailor, airmen or marine who's been killed in Iraq over the last twenty months or so. Every one. The picture, the name, their age, service, where they were from; how they died.

Every one.

Radical Cleric, aka Mullah, aka Grand Inquisitor (yes, let's make it that) Grand Inquisitor James Dobson.

Michael Crowley, in Slate, explains for us how the good Dr. Dobson acceded to his new new office, thus becoming headman of all Dobsonists, Dobsonites and even sundry Dobsonians.

Radical cleric Bob Jones' letter to President Bush ...

Dear Mr. <$NoAd$>President:

The media tells us that you have received the largest number of popular votes of any president in America's history. Congratulations!

In your re-election, God has graciously granted America—though she doesn't deserve it—a reprieve from the agenda of paganism. You have been given a mandate. We the people expect your voice to be like the clear and certain sound of a trumpet. Because you seek the Lord daily, we who know the Lord will follow that kind of voice eagerly.

Don't equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ. Honor the Lord, and He will honor you.

Had your opponent won, I would have still given thanks, because the Bible says I must (I Thessalonians 5:18). It would have been hard, but because the Lord lifts up whom He will and pulls down whom He will, I would have done it. It is easy to rejoice today, because Christ has allowed you to be His servant in this nation for another presidential term. Undoubtedly, you will have opportunity to appoint many conservative judges and exercise forceful leadership with the Congress in passing legislation that is defined by biblical norm regarding the family, sexuality, sanctity of life, religious freedom, freedom of speech, and limited government. You have four years—a brief time only—to leave an imprint for righteousness upon this nation that brings with it the blessings of Almighty God.

Christ said, “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my father honour” (John 12:26).

The student body, faculty, and staff at Bob Jones University commit ourselves to pray for you—that you would do right and honor the Savior. Pull out all the stops and make a difference. If you have weaklings around you who do not share your biblical values, shed yourself of them. Conservative Americans would love to see one president who doesn't care whether he is liked, but cares infinitely that he does right.

Best wishes.

Sincerely your friend,

Bob Jones III President

I guess "let it boil" is the falangist version of "burn, baby, burn."

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for pointing it out.

Like many who share my politics I think there are more than a few reasons to oppose Alberto Gonzales's appointment as Attorney General: his role in the Abu Ghraib scandal being the chief among them.

Having said that, there is less than no chance that he won't be approved. And presidents deserve much more latitude with cabinet appointments than appointments to the bench.

But with all the discussion of why the president chose him and why he may or may not be qualified, I'm surprised one issue seems to go largely unmentioned.

Despite the fact they weren't resolved before the election, high level administration officials are still the targets of or implicated in a number of potentially damaging criminal investigations.

Whether or not he's conservative enough, tolerant or intolerant enough of torture, or anything else, Mr. Gonzales is one thing for President Bush: reliable.

Democrats won't be able to prevent his appointment. But they should take the opportunity of his confirmation hearings to put him on the record about how he will handle these various on-going investigations, at least one of which directly involves the White House and thus also involves him.

Many of you will already have noticed the article in Friday's Post about Robert D. Blackwill, President Bush's recently resigned Iraq policy director at the NSC. The article discusses new allegations that Blackwill berated and manhandled a female staffer from the US Embassy in Kuwait over a ticketing mix-up at Kuwait International Airport last September.

The description of the incident contained in the article speaks for itself; and the piece seems revealingly ambiguous about whether the dust-up played a role in Blackwill's decision to resign his post as Iraq point-man three months before the critical elections in the country scheduled next January.

Something else in the piece caught my eye, however -- a point the authors mention only in passing.

Blackwill has taken a job with the lobbying firm of Barbour Griffith & Rogers.

As you'll recall from our reporting on this matter from September of last year, this is an excellent fit, since BG&R has spent the last couple years making a specialty of the Iraq contracting and logrolling racket.

Last year when President Bush's right-hand-man Joe Allbaugh resigned as FEMA chief and wanted to get into the Iraq business, he went to BG&R, where his wife then worked. They set Allbaugh up as New Bridge Strategies ("your bridge to success in Iraq").

In reality, New Bridge is just the Iraqi money-chase subdivision of BG&R.

New Bridge has four directors -- Allbaugh, John Howland, Ed Rogers and Lanny Griffith. The latter two are Chairman and CEO of BG&R, respectively. When Allbaugh put out the New Bridge shingle, it happened to be at the same address at BG&R, etc., etc.

If you go down the list of principals at New Bridge you'll find most of them work at BG&R.

Admittedly, not all of them: Jamal Daniel is Neil Bush's business partner.

Whatever misunderstanding there was back in Kuwait, I'm sure Blackwill will be in good hands.

Veterans <$NoAd$>Day (from the AP)...

Marine Cpl. David Antonio Garcia stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier Thursday and was sworn in as an American citizen - after already serving under the U.S. flag in Iraq.

The native of Mexico was among 80 sailors and Marines from 25 countries - from Canada to Syria - who became citizens in a Veterans Day ceremony aboard the USS Midway, a reward for putting their lives on the line for their adopted country.

The ceremony, watched by more than 100 cheering relatives, came as the nation observed Veterans Day with about 160,000 troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan - some of them locked in fierce house-to-house fighting in Fallujah.

"I wouldn't want to compare myself to World War veterans or Vietnam veterans," said Garcia, 21, who was with combat engineers who cleared the path for tanks to roll into Iraq. "But I feel some of what they must feel today. I know what it's like to leave loved ones and not to know if you will come back."

Marine Corps League

Association of the US Army

Navy Mutual Aid Association

Air Force Association

United Service Organizations

And more from Mullah Dobson,<$NoAd$> from The Daily Oklahoman, Oct. 23rd, 2004 ...

Dobson warned those attending the Friday afternoon rally at Oklahoma Christian University that the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman must be protected.

He cited examples of countries such as Norway that have allowed same-sex couples to marry as proof that fewer men and women get married. Dobson said 80 percent of children are born out of wedlock in Norway.

“Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage,” Dobson said.

“It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth.”

Dobson urged rally attendees to reach out to homosexuals and “bring them to Jesus.”

He also urged supporters in attendance to fast and pray on the Thursday and weekend before the Nov. 2 election and to go to the polls to elect Coburn to the Senate.

Dobson said a vote for Carson, “even if you think he’s right,” would be a vote for U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.; Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.; and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

“Patrick Leahy is a ‘God’s people’ hater,” Dobson said.

“I don’t know if he hates God, but he hates God’s people.”

Dobson said Coburn was exactly the kind of senator Oklahoma needs.

“I am passionate in my support of Dr. Tom Coburn,” Dobson said.

“This man absolutely has to be sent back to Washington.”

Also on hand to support Coburn, U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Warr Acres, said more lawmakers who believe in “the divine origins of the country” are needed.

Mullah James Dobson, as Andrew Sullivan described him, "the social policy director of the Bush administration."

And as for this 'mullah' issue, most folks who wrote in didn't seem to catch that I had already tipped my hand when I wrote that I was "mulling" the question. But everyone who wrote in seemed to agree that it wasn't a problem. One interesting suggestion though was that we might prefer the more precise and non-sectarian phrases sometimes used in the media to describe the sundry Dobsonites and Dobsonians of the Middle East.

So for instance, we might say "radical cleric James Dobson." Or since, Dobson is not himself a man of the cloth, we might say 'radical cleric Pat Robertson.'

"It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely ... Two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, 'You must obey me.'" -- Mullah (James) Dobson, from Dare to Discipline and The Strong-Willed Child.

I know not everyone who reads these pages will find those words troubling. And I also realize that social mores on this question have changed greatly over the last half-century.

But -- and this isn't a criticism so much as a point of genuine curiosity -- I would be very curious to know the correlation between Blue/Red voting patterns and those who do or do not find those sorts of attitudes towards corporal punishment of children troubling or acceptable.

I suspect the correlation is pronounced.