Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I was away for the weekend and had only occasional web access. So I was happy to see when I got in this evening that there was an inevitable follow-up to Friday evening's post about Sen. Evan Bayh's (D) appearance on the Stephanopoulos show. We asked, you'll remember, whether George would pop the question that would get Sen. Bayh out of the Fainthearted Faction.

And, as it turns out, Stephanopoulos is something of a master at the highly-specialized art of Faction extraction. He put the question to Bayh in terms he couldn't duck or talk around. And to Bayh's great credit, he didn't even try. George got not only a clear answer, but a good one.

Here's the relevant passage ...

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Let's turn, then, to the president's agenda. In his State of the Union address Wednesday, of course the focus is going to be Iraq and Social Security reform.

And a lot of Democrats are wondering where you stand on Social Security reform. You've supported President Bush on his tax cuts. Let me ask you about these Social Security reform proposals, and there are three answers that could be: yes and no (ph).

Number one, would you support diverting the payroll tax into individual accounts?

BAYH: No, I would not, George.

And, look, the president is probably going to talk a lot about ownership and individual choice. I think those are great concepts, and I can support those -- but in addition to the current Social Security system, not as a replacement for it.

Look, you may own your home; a lot of Americans do. I bet you have insurance. Ownership and insurance have to go hand in hand.

Social Security is the insurance. Senior citizens in our country can always rely on it to make sure they're not desperately poor in their old age.

Should we have ownership and choice in addition to that? Yes, we should. But we should never do anything to undermine that insurance. That is one of the bedrock principles of our country.

There was some further discussion of Social Security between the two men. One point Bayh raised was the possibility of a form of 'means testing' at the very high-end of the income scale, though it was framed around the question of whether benefits are indexed to wages or inflation. In any case, the whole exchange pointed clearly to the fact that Bayh just handed in his membership card in the Fainthearted Faction.

See the new updated Faction list here.

As so often is the case out of Iraq, some the best reporting on the Iraqi elections comes from Anthony Shadid in The Washington Post.

Good news has been hard to come by in Iraq for some time. So this unexpectedly high turn-out, relatively low level of violence, and what seems to have been a swelling tide of enthusiasm over the course of the day, is something more than very welcome news. It may also provide some indication or clue to explaining those polls which show, on the one hand, deep-seated Iraqi disenchantment with the US occupation, outrage over the persistent violence that afflicts the country, and yet also an underlying optimism about the future.

Disasters aren't turned around in a day; but this was a good day. Nobody should be surprised that people show up in large numbers in a country where elections have never or only seldom happened; that happens all the time. But I'm not sure I can think of a similar instance when voting has occurred amidst such immediate and credible threats of violence.

The issue now is providing basic security throughout the country and building democratic institutions that will last -- the latter depending on the former.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg has a nice piece in tomorrow's Times about how central the Social Security debate has become for Dems.

In the portion discussing potential waverers, she writes...

One such Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, has taken a tentative step toward working across party lines, by attending a private meeting with Republicans, led by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, to talk about Social Security. But Mr. Graham's idea, to increase Social Security taxes as a way of financing the transition to private accounts, is not in favor at the White House.

Another Democrat from a heavily Republican state, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, joined Republicans to help pass Mr. Bush's tax cuts and prescription drug coverage for the elderly. But Mr. Baucus, who as the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee is the party's point man on Social Security, says he will not join the president in the current fight.

Across the Capitol in the House, Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., Democrat of Tennessee, has in the past embraced the concept of private accounts. But Mr. Ford, who intends to seek the Senate seat being vacated in 2006 by the Republican leader, Bill Frist, also opposes Mr. Bush's plan.

"The math isn't right," Mr. Ford said, adding that while he liked "the idea of building wealth," he did not favor using private accounts to replace any of the guaranteed Social Security benefit.

A couple points.

First, the<$Ad$>mention of Sen. Nelson (D) of Nebraska seems incomplete without noting that he has now explicitly come out in favor of add-on accounts rather than carved-out accounts favored by President Bush and even more emphatically against changing benefits to tie them to inflation rather than wages.

Not enough to get him out of the Faction yet. But a pretty big deal.

Then there's Rep. Harold Ford,Jr. (D) of Tennessee, former Dean of the Fainthearted Faction. Ford put out a statement last month saying he did not back the president's bill or approach. But he still seemed to leave the door open to privatization, perhaps when the country's fiscal house was in better order.

No more, it seems.

Stolberg doesn't use an exact quote. But she paraphrases him saying no private accounts to replace "any of the guaranteed Social Security benefit."

If she's got the nuance of what he told her right, that's a lot more than he's been willing to say to date (maybe it's that senate announcement coming up late next month?). If he said that himself, he'd be out of the Faction entirely.

Sen. Evan Bayh goes on the Stephanopoulos show on ABC this Sunday.

Will George pop the question that ushers Bayh out of the Fainthearted Faction? Or will Bayh let Sen. Ben Nelson beat him to the door?

He's on the show to talk about voting 'no' on Condi. So you can bet the presidency is on his mind.

As badly as the White House has stumbled in these early weeks of the Social Security debate, the presidency is an office of tremendous force and power, particularly one as familiar with and wedded to discipline and demagoguery as this one. All the folks who cover the White House are looking for WMD2. It'll be one big push of fear-mongering and fibs to bum-rush the country into phasing out Social Security.

Do not underestimate it.

As this and other articles make clear, the president will hit the road right after the State of the Union, with the avowed aim of breaking through the biggest obstacle standing in the way of his efforts to begin phasing-out Social Security. As the Times puts it,"the trip next week will be in part an effort to crack the Democratic wall" of opposition.

In fact, that probably understates how central that aim is, since breaking free some Democrats loosens up everything else.

So there it is. The Democrats have built a solid wall of opposition to phasing out Social Security. And it's there -- in many ways more than in his own party -- that his plan has been momentarily stopped in its tracks. He knows it. The Dems know it. Everybody knows it.

The Dems have built it up. And next week we get to see if the president can knock it down.

Sen. Baucus (D) is hanging tough, telling the press that the president can come to Montana as often as he likes; he still won't help him phase out Social Security. Sen. Nelson of Nebraska (one of the most entrenched numbers of the Fainthearted Faction until now) has preemptively announced his support of add-on accounts, rather than phase-out. Others on the hit list are Sens. Lincoln, Conrad and Nelson of Florida.

Will the Fainthearted go fainter still or will they send the president back to Washington with no one else to help him phase out Social Security? It's in their hands; so it's in your hands.

Another local Democratic party committee resolution in opposition to phasing out Social Security -- this time from Washington state.

And what's that line after the 6th 'whereas'? "Whereas there is indication that at least one recently re-elected Democratic Senator from the Northwest has not expressed a public position on the Republican plan;"

Hmmmm ...

Sen. Baucus (D) says the president can come to Montana if he wants, but he still won't help him phase out Social Security.

Ed Kilgore says that on the whole presidents should get their pick of cabinet nominees. But on Gonzales? No way.

Everyone seems to agree.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine edging toward Loud and Proud status?

As most all of you know, there's a heated race going on for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, something that hasn't happened since before the Clinton era. The race will be decided in about two weeks; but so far I've only done a handful of posts about it.

Partly that's due to time constraints and the inherently opaque nature of the selection process. But mainly it is because I have been so focused on the Social Security issue. And getting into a tussle among Democrats is not easy to square with doing what you can to unify them. As I guess must be pretty clear by now, I think preserving Social Security is the transcendent issue today for the Democratic party -- indeed, for the country as a whole.

A few weeks ago I actually wrote some version of what you'll find below, but then trashed it because I didn't want anything getting in the way or anyone's negative reaction distracting from what I was trying to do on the Social Security issue.

So, with that over-long introduction, let me just address the issue here briefly and in one shot.

If I were one of the four-hundred-odd people who have a vote in this race, I'd be voting for Simon Rosenberg. And I'd feel very strongly about the vote and cast it without reservation.


Two basic reasons.

First, I think Simon is one of the relatively few people in the Democratic party today who combine two things: a) a deep and considered understanding of why we must and how we can rebuild the infrastructure of the Democratic party and -- and it's a huge 'and' -- b) the organizational abilities and skills to be part of making it happen.

This means everything from building up the decrepit state of state and local parties, to funding and nurturing think-tanks and activist organizations that are an essential part of a modern American party, to harnessing the roiling political energy emerging on the Internet, the whole bit.

I'm not telling anyone anything new by noting these imperatives. It's become almost a cliche -- though an awfully important one -- among all thinking Democrats of late that the Democratic party has to undergo the sort of process of internal transformation that the Republicans did beginning in the early 1970s.

But how to do it exactly? This is a different era and the Democrats are a different party. I've spoken to Simon about this a number of times and I think he understands what needs doing and has a keen sense of how to proceed.

Second, the issue of party divisions. There are obvious divisions in the Democratic party today. From some vantage points, it seems like a left/right, Old Dem/New Dem issue. But I think it's more an issue of establishment vs. rising activism and very different understandings of the Democratic party's role in a country where Republicans now control all of the federal government and are the dominant national party. I think everyone who observes the Democratic party today knows the cleavage I'm talking about even if it's not always clear just how to define it.

Simon's the only candidate in the race who has credibility and strong associations in both camps. You only have to look at the name of the group he runs -- The New Democrat Network -- to see his connections to the Clinton/New Dem part of the party. On the other hand he was one of the few people from that world who was a defender of Dean during the primaries and someone very in touch with the new and unruly world of net activism. Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager, is now actively supporting Rosenberg's campaign for chair.

All of this is very important because the Democratic party will be a cracked vessel without both camps coming together, not to agree on everything or make nice, but to build a powerful coalition. We can't afford to let either feel like they wholly lost out in this contest or that the other group is in the saddle to their exclusion.

What I'm saying here isn't aimed against anyone. I think Howard Dean and Marty Frost are both great Democrats. In very different ways both demonstrated that in the last two years. I just don't think either is the right one, right now, for this position. I think that's Simon Rosenberg.

Back in July, at the convention, I sat down with Simon for a few minutes at an NDN event. And this was just after the Matt Bai article in the Times magazine had come out about the movement afoot to rebuild the Democratic party's infrastructure and so forth.

Spirits were high all around at that point in the campaign. And Simon's work had figured prominently in the piece so he was very jazzed with that along with everything else that was happening at that moment (check out the piece, if it's not clear what I'm talking about). And at one point he said that what this network of people were trying to do would take a good ten years to accomplish -- building new institutions, sustainable sources of funding, new party infrastructure, and so forth.

I entirely agreed, I said. But my great worry, I told him, was that if Kerry lost the whole thing could be snuffed out in the cradle. Even today the sort of things we're talking about have only been in motion for a year or two. And the truth is that that's just not nearly enough time. So my worry was that you had all these people joining these new groups and giving money and getting involved in online activism and throwing themselves into the political fray. And if Kerry lost there might be some collective sense of, Wow, we did everything imaginable, had a united party, a motivated base, gave money, went door to door, blah blah blah. And it didn't work. So it's hopeless. Or all this rebuilding infrastructure business just didn't pan out after all. Or, in some sense, what we thought was the beginning of something new was just a dead-end.

And, so, here we are. In case you haven't heard, Kerry lost. And so what was my worry -- and I'm sure one many others felt too -- becomes a concrete challenge. A year or two was never going to be enough time. It's a much longer process, one with rhythms deeper and more sustained than the every-other-year election cycle. I remain excited and optimistic about the Democratic party's future. I think that a decade and two decades from now we'll look back and see what happened here in the first few years of this century as a beginning point, the beginning of a process that bore fruit in powerful and consequential ways in subsequent years. For reasons I've described above, in this race, I think Simon's the one to push that process forward.