Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

"Once again, the Washington press corps is getting creamed on a major story — this privatization of the federal workforce for patronage purposes — by a guy with a day job." Those words are Eric Alterman's. And he's talking about Paul Krugman's column in Tuesday's Times. I'd read the piece earlier in the day but after reading Eric's mention I realized that I really needed to mention it here just in case anyone hasn't seen it yet. This is a very, very important column and it shows just why Krugman is so important in today's media ecosystem. By the way, there's an excellent article coming out in a few weeks on just that topic -- Krugman, that is. More on that soon. Now back to Blood on the Tracks ...

Not that I want to bash Tucker Carlson. But can you read the following exchange from Tuesday night's Crossfire and not think Tucker's antics are silly and grade-schoolish? Even for Crossfire?

CARLSON: Now I noticed that Al Gore, people say he's changed a little bit. I've noticed a change. I didn't understand it until I read Time Magazine this week, a long interview with Mr. Gore in there with Karen Tumeltee (ph).

Here's the explanation. I'm quoting now. "Both Tipper and I have meditated for quite a while."

Tell me more about that.

KIKI MCLEAN: It means he actually stops to think about what happened...

CARLSON: No, no, truly.

MCLEAN: ... and think about what he says.


CARLSON: Is it -- I know, but you worked for him.

MCLEAN: It is, Tucker?

CARLSON: But no, no, hold on. This is a fair question. Is it Lotus position, incense...

MCLEAN: Tucker, Tucker...

CARLSON: What does he mean by that?

MCLEAN: Do you ever say a prayer? Do you ever give a thought to something you did during the day?

CARLSON: I do. I'm talking about meditation, and that's distinct from prayer. He said, "We meditate, we pray."

MCLEAN: I am willing to bet...

CARLSON: What's the meditation?

MCLEAN: I'm willing to bet, if you asked your pastor, if you asked a rabbi, if you asked a priest...

CARLSON: We're not talking about a pastor. We're talking about Al Gore.

MCLEAN: They'll tell you that prayer and contemplation is meditation.

CARLSON: It is Lotus position?

Okay, maybe Junior High ...

If you're a subscriber to the Wall Street Journal, definitely take a look at this article in yesterday's paper about Instapundit, Talking Points Memo, and AndrewSullivan.com. For once, something I said in an interview actually makes sense to me when I read it later.

Liberals are out-of-touch elites, led by a few aging movie stars and public TV hounds, doing constant battle and facing perpetual defeat at the hands of salt-of-the-earth conservatives whose bedrock understanding of real Americans and real American values is liberalism's constant undoing. This is Charles Krauthammer's world. Whatever other causes or effects the election may have had, it popped the cork on a new bottle of conservative conceit and self-congratulation. It gave new life and currency to a bundle of hackneyed phrases, tropes and ideas.

I did business in the world of professional liberalism long enough -- to a certain extent I still do -- to realize there's more than a hint of truth to the stereotype. That's all true. And I'm a big critic. And so on.

But one of the best ways to judge someone's moral and intellectual seriousness -- perhaps also their moral and intellectual caliber, but at least their seriousness -- is to see who they pick as their enemies, who they choose to pick fights with. Someone like David Horowitz is a great example of the effectiveness of this method -- a sorry sort of guy, bubbling on churning rapids of cash, constantly casting about for some new lefty freak to mount a new crusade against, all mixed-up with aggrieved passion and outrage. The whole enterprise is about as grave and righteous as tricking retarded grade-schoolers out of their lunch money.

Krauthammer is a very different, much more creditable, sort of animal. But the mode of operation seems fundamentally the same. (Columnist Michael Kelly belongs in the category too.) How serious are columnists who get all hyped-up for battle with cliches and outliers?

I can't show you the link to the article that got me thinking about this -- since I've been traveling this weekend and am writing at the moment without an internet connection. But it's an article by Krauthammer in the new issue of The Weekly Standard ("The Fantasy Life of American Liberals").

Now let me shift gears to discuss another point. And I want to be careful to make clear the ways in which the two points are not connected.

The question is simple ... What happened to conservative reform? National Greatness conservatism? You know, McCain-ite TR worship and the rest?

Some will say that National Greatness Conservatism is alive and well in the zeal for the drive to Baghdad. But that's a weak rejoinder. Aggressive foreign policy was only part of the equation. The truth, I think, is pretty clear: it's dead. It doesn't exist anymore. Now, the whole enterprise was never that big in terms of people. It was a few people around McCain, a couple editors at the Standard, and some miscellaneous other GOP malcontents and polemicists. The whole movement -- inchoate as it admittedly was -- was in significant measure a response to the crack-up of Movement conservatism, or rather the winnowing down of organized conservatism till it was little more than a vehicle to serve the interests of corporate power and politically-organized money. Of course, it was also an effort to give the party back its intellectual muscle and political fire.

What happened is that Bush got popular because of the war. And after that happened why did anyone need reform anymore? McCain's political strategist, John Weaver, recently re-registered as a Democrat. Marshall Wittman has now taken a gig as McCain's Communications Director, closing down his Project for Conservative Reform at the Hudson Institute. So, publicly at least, Marshall's voice is silenced. At the Standard you just don't hear those same themes voiced like you did a year ago -- certainly not as you did two years ago. Why not? is a very good question.

I have little doubt that the silencing of that voice is bad for the country. I think it'll probably prove even worse for the Republicans.