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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

BEGALA: Oh...

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.

My first blush opinion was -- and I think still is -- that Tom Daschle's presidential prospects were severely diminished by the Democrats' showing on November 5th. But I'm told he's making his decision now and will likely have that decision made by the end of the year. One interesting detail is that if Daschle decides to run he'd probably have a good chance of holding onto the core of the team that ran Tim Johnson's winning campaign in South Dakota. That would likely mean much of the senior staff and thus most of the couple dozen field staffers who would be key in early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Johnson was the only Democrat to pull out a victory from one of the close or dead-even races last week. And he managed to do so in what was probably the most pro-Bush state in contention. A lot of that -- as we said and predicted here months ago -- was a matter of staffing. We'll be saying more about this.

There are a million things to be said about this batch of polling data which Stan Greenberg assembled for the Campaign for America's Future. But I need to nurse the illusion that I have something better to do on this Friday night than write about polling data. So just make a point of browsing through the charts and graphs yourself.

The one number that really caught my attention is on page five. In the November 8th poll of actual voters, on the question of which party was better at "keeping America strong," Republicans beat out Democrats by an astronomical thirty-nine points -- Republicans 59; Dems 19. (The specific breakdown of the responses can be found on page 18 of the questionnaire. Yes, it sounds like it should be 40, not 39, but they must be rounding off or something.)

Republicans will crow over those numbers. And it'll be terribly annoying listen to them do so. (I overheard one of the most annoying of them crowing about it today. And, boy, did I want to slap this dude around ...) But Democrats really need to think long and hard about what those numbers mean. That's just an astonishing number.

This is both a substantive problem and a political one. In fact, the key is that it is a political problem in large measure because it is a substantive problem. This issue is starting to get more attention among professional Dems. I discussed it a month ago in The New York Post and Heather Hurlburt wrote a powerful piece on the issue in the current issue of The Washington Monthly. It's starting to get attention. But it needs to get a lot more.

TPM tomorrow night on CNN's Reliable Sources. 6:30 PM Eastern Time on Saturday evening.

More on Pelosi. For all the conservative chattering and outrage about alleged Democratic gay-baiting in Montana and South Carolina this Fall, don't we all know the subtext of Republican efforts to tag Pelosi as a "San Francisco Democrat"? Is this something we're not allowed to discuss? And why not?

The new Conventional Wisdom is that the Democrats' are moving to the left after last week's election. David Broder says it. So, by definition, it's Conventional Wisdom, though he's by no means the only one saying it. But a lot of the thinking that's gone into this line of thought is really sloppy.

Let's start with the ascendence of Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader, the woman who Broder calls "the near-perfect embodiment of a San Francisco liberal."

I have some concerns about her ascendency. But her election doesn't have anything to do with ideology. It's all about hierarchy. Pelosi's the Minority Whip, the second in the House leadership. Had the Democrats won the House, Gephardt would have become Speaker and she would more than likely have become Majority Leader. House leaders almost all ascend the ladder in this way. Just look at Tom DeLay, who's just gone from Whip to Majority Leader -- exact same thing. Gingrich followed the same path too.

This doesn't mean that Pelosi's elevation won't have any effect. But the fact that she's becoming Minority Leader isn't really a sign of anything.

This is but one part of the puzzle. But the whole Democrats moving to the left line is filled with lots of similarly lazy or shabby thinking. And many of the quotes you'll see from the predictable quarters in the Democratic party are from people whose understanding of the party is still rooted in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

More on this to come ...

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