Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As we told you earlier today, even though Karl Rove has been telling Republicans for two years to stop using the word "privatization" and to try to bully reporters out of using the word, like every other Republican until about two years ago, "privatization" was always his word of choice to describe a private-accounts-based Social Security phase-out plan.

At Rove's prompting, President Bush tried to pull this trick when Washington Post reporters asked him about "privatization" during a recent sit-down interview. Unfortunately for the president, Mike Allen had found several instances where President had used the word himself as recently as last year.

Let's be frank about what this is all about. Turning Social Security into a private accounts system has always been called 'privatization'. It was the privatizers' word of choice. That is, until they did some polling in 2002 and found out that using that word made their phase-out plan very unpopular. So, not only did they decide to stop using the word themselves, which is fair enough, they decided to try to stop anyone else from using it to describe their plan.

Here's the passage from the Bush interview ...

The Post: Will you talk to Senate Democrats about your privatization plan?

THE PRESIDENT: You mean, the personal savings accounts?

The Post: Yes, exactly. Scott has been --

THE PRESIDENT: We don't want to be editorializing, at least in the questions.

The Post: You used partial privatization yourself last year, sir.


The Post: Yes, three times in one sentence. We had to figure this out, because we're in an argument with the RNC [Republican National Committee] about how we should actually word this. [Post staff writer] Mike Allen, the industrious Mike Allen, found it.

THE PRESIDENT: Allen did what now?

The Post: You used partial privatization.

THE PRESIDENT: I did, personally?

The Post: Right.


The Post: To describe it.

THE PRESIDENT: When, when was it?

The Post: Mike said it was right around the election.


The Post: It was right around the election. We'll send it over.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm surprised. Maybe I did. It's amazing what happens when you're tired. Anyway, your question was? I'm sorry for interrupting.

The Post: So have you talked to Senate Democrats about this?

That's really great, isn't it? The Post has to argue with the RNC about whether they're allowed to use the word "privatization" to describe privatization.

Anyway, we're going to see a lot of this funny-business over the next year. And before it's done I figure they'll try to say people can't call them "private accounts" either.

Now, on top of this, we hear a lot of baloney about how there's something hypocritical about being against phasing-out Social Security while still believing in the power of markets and the benefits of investing in the market. So for instance you've got that beau ideal of the mores of 80s Wall Street, Larry Kudlow, claiming that AARP's campaign against phasing-out Social Security is "flat-out hypocritical [because] AARP advertises no fewer than 38 different stock and bond mutual-fund investments to their members ... Yet, when steering their membership away from the Bush Social Security reforms, they never cite the long-run positive stock returns."

So here's what we're going to do. Not only have we come up with a way to finally put to rest the privatizers' orwellian word games, we've come up with a market-based way to do it, just to make clear we like invisible hands just as much as the next guy. No cumbersome command and control system operating out of TPM headquarters -- we'll create the system of incentives and then let individual private enterprise and ingenuity do the rest.

So here goes.

We are creating a bounty for TPM readers who come up with instances where supporters of President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan used the term "privatization" (or other forms of the word -- "privatize", etc.) to describe their policy. In most cases, those examples will be prior to the time when Karl Rove and the RNC decreed the word to be outlawed. But some will be cases like the president's above where folks had a momentary lapse and forgot the new party directive.

To create the proper incentives we'll be assigning point values for different kinds of quotes. TPM readers who amass ten points will win one of our Special Edition Privatize This! TPM T-Shirts.

Now, the first step is our capital formation phase. And that means we need to raise some funds to defray the costs of the shirts and a few other miscellaneous expenses tied to the project. So as of now we're opening a special Market-Based Anti-Privatization Research Fund. Want to do your small part in preventing Karl Rove and his pro-private-accounts minions from pulling the wool over the eyes of the American public? Well click here and toss in a few bucks which will be earmarked for our fund.

Now that we've got our incentives in place. A few notes about the rules.

1. Each quote can only be counted once. The first person who sends it in gets the credit. Each evening we'll be posting a list of the quotes we've already assembled. So that should prevent most cases of people tracking down and taking the time to send in quotes that someone else has already gotten credit for.

2. Each quote has to come with a citation from a bona-fide publication or news source (i.e., not just bogus fly-by-night or blog or something) or some other way to prove its authenticity.

3. Any form or inflection of the word "privatize" is acceptable (except "private accounts"). But the speaker has to be using it in the way we've described above. In other words, finding a quote where Karl Rove says "privatization is a slur against the beauty that is private accounts" ... well that doesn't count, unless specifically noted in the bounty section below.

4. Multiple uses of the "privatization" or any inflections or forms of the word in a single setting, interview or speech only counts as one use.

5. All entries will be judged by TPM Editorial Assistant Avi Zenilman, though in cases of extreme complexity or ambiguity said Zenilman will be allowed to ask for a second opinion from any executive within the TPM organization.

6. Ten points earns one Special Edition Privatize This! TPM T-Shirts. Special Edition Privatize This! TPM Mugs and Sweatshirts may also become available, as circumstances dictate. Point totals will be posted for them too.

7. All entries must be sent to lyingprivatizers@talkingpointsmemo.com. Emails to any other address -- including the regular TPM comments address -- won't be considered.

8. Prior to converting their points into TPM merchandise, contestants will not be deemed to have a property interest in their amassed points.

So those are the rules. Now to the bounties.

1. Wanted: Ten (10) Karl Rove "privatization" quotes. Incentive Structure: Two (2) points each. Three (3) points a piece for quotes after June 2002.

2. Wanted: Ten (10) Rick Santorum "privatization" quotes. Incentive Structure: Two (2) points each. Three (3) points a piece for quotes after August 2002.

3. Wanted: Ten (10) Bill Frist "privatization" quotes. Incentive Structure: Two (2) point each. Three (3) points a piece for quotes after August 2002.

4. Wanted: Ten (10) Jim McCrery "privatization" quotes. Incentive Structure: One (1) point each. Two (2) points a piece for quotes after August 2002.

5. Wanted: Ten (10) John Sununu "privatization" quotes. Incentive Structure: One (1) point each. Two (2) points a piece for quotes after August 2002.

6. Wanted: From any member of the 109th Congress or Senate-confirmed Bush administration appointee, one quote using "privatization" as a word to describe private accounts and a second quote in which the member of Congress or appointee claims that the word "privatization" should not be used to describe private accounts. Incentive Structure: Ten (10) Points. Fifteen (15) points if the member of the Congress holds a leadership position in either the House or the Senate or the appointee is a cabinet secretary.

7. Wanted: From any spokesperson for the Bush White House, any member of the 109th Congress, the RNC, NRCC or NRSC, one quote using "privatization" as a word to describe private accounts and a second quote in which the same spokesperson claims that the word "privatization" should not be used to describe private accounts. Incentive Structure: Seven (7) Points. If the spokesperson is Scott McClellan fifteen (15) points.

8. Wanted: Any case of a talking head, pundit or other public weasel caught in "privatization" double-talk as described in bounties 6 and 7. Incentive Structure: Five (5) points. Extra credit points added based on prominence of double-talker, at the judge's discretion.

Final Rule: Point allocations may be revised upward, but will not be revised downward, as market conditions warrant.

[ed.note: Stay-tuned tomorrow for our new 'Help Rep. Allen Boyd Out of the Jam He's Gotten Himself Into Contest'.]

Lieberman about to leave the Faction?

We're getting a flurry of emails telling us that Sen. Lieberman just defended Social Security in an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Late Update: We continue to get live-on-the-scene reports from TPM readers across the country, all of whom provide rough approximations of what Lieberman said. Best email subject heading so far: "Joementum out of the Faction?"

Never too Late for Joe Update: TPM reader LS sends us what she describes as a TIVO-based transcript of the key words: "Lieberman: Social Security protection - don't fool around with it. It's probably the best thing the government has done in 100 years, getting senior citizens out of poverty - Stewart: You're not just saying that 'cuz you're getting older? Lieberman: (laughs) Yes that's one reason I'm saying it, but if we want to add some extra savings opportunities for baby boomers and those younger, let's find another way to do it without messing around with Social Security."

By the way, has anyone come up with a good Social Security Democrat to run against Rep. Allen Boyd next year? Certainly Florida's second district has someone willing to mix it up with this dastardly yellowbelly, right?

I'm usually pretty leery of investing a lot in over-clever wordplay. And even this one could be easily overdone. But this suggestion from TPM reader MR caught my ear: "You're on your ownERSHIP SOCIETY."

Most of you have likely already seen this. But in case not, and especially if you have impressionable young children, you'll want to know that radical cleric James Dobson has revealed that cartoon character "SpongeBob" is a homosexual and now involved in propagandizing America's youth on behalf of his alternative lifestyle.

With a name like SpongeBob we thought sure the guy was straight. But in cases like these we're always the last to know.

Marshall Wittman (aka 'Da Moose): "The Moose observes that the eloquence of the President's address was only matched by its disconnectedness to reality ... If he were in touch with the reality of America, he would discover that the country has deep doubts about the wisdom of the war in Iraq ... He is oblivious to the notion that he speaks ever so eloquently about advancing freedom abroad while he imposes economic policies that promote plutocracy at home."

Uh-oh ... Karl Rove says private accounts are "privatization."

What will we tell the children?

[ed.note: Good catch by TPM reader SW.]

The message being sent out from SSA Commissioner Jo Ann Barnhart in response to emails questioning SSA's possible involvement in a pro-phase-out media campaign ...

"Thank you for your inquiry. There has been a lot of misinformation in the media lately and I am glad to have this opportunity to set the record straight. I have never, nor will I ever, ask or direct Social Security employees to promote or advance any specific proposal for Social Security reform. Our job at Social Security is to provide services and benefits and to educate the American public about the programs and finances of Social Security. Again, thank you for your inquiry. We look forward to continuing to serve you."

Meanwhile, in comments to PRWeek, SSA press officer Mark Lassiter says the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. PRWeek says Lassiter told them that "the plan that's been circulated was never reviewed or approved by the agency. Rather it was posted on the website of one regional office."

Lassiter further says the that the SSA PR plan "hasn't changed in several years."

Finally, the Post's Al Kamen reports on the SSA's 'crisis, crisis, crisis!' phone messages.

Hey, didn't we report that last month?