Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Forget about the other three, who replaces Powell? The signs we're seeing now from out of the CIA paint a pretty dark picture.

Dignity loss watch (from AP/CNN)...

Sen. Arlen Specter must prove to his Republican colleagues that he is the right man to head the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Sunday.

Frist, R-Tennessee, would not say if he backed Specter, R-Pennsylvania, for the job. Specter will make his case to GOP colleagues this week when Congress returns for a postelection session.

To be a fly on the wall ...

A letter from a reader in <$NoAd$>respose to yesterday's post about the Democrats' consultocracy. With the letter writer's permission, I've removed certain portions of the letter to maintain the person's anonymity ...

Excellent post on the state of the Democratic party, its operatives and its message. I think there are two separate points here, each of which is worthy of far further discussion. The idea of an aristocracy of Democratic consultants and operative has been a huge problem for a long time, and I will comment on that mostly in this post, since that is something with which I have experience.

[Here the letter writer explains that he is a mid-level political operative, roughly TPM's age, and notes the various positions he's held in the infrastructure of the Democratic party, its various committees and campaigns, over the last ten or fifteen years.]

I give you this background because I want to point out that many of us mid level political hacks who no one has ever heard off have been having these conversations for a long time. And the problem you identify has sent many of them to lucrative and non-political lives elsewhere.

Its is a depressing fact that for a candidate to become credible in Democratic politics, they have to hire from among a group of consultants who give them credibility with the fundraisers on K St.. The problem from my perspective? None of these firms are new. It’s the same group of consultants who have been running Dem. campaigns since the late 1980’s. If you look at the partners of the major media firms, for example, you can almost guarantee that they were players for someone in the 1988 campaign.

This creates a different problem. For those of my generation of political operatives, the searing election experience was 1994. And the animating ideas, strategy, and tactics of the Republican House majority still dominate the way the Republicans do their politics. Unfortunately, for most of the folks still at the top level of our party, the 1994 election was just one of many elections, and you win some and lose some. For example, it would have been impossible for anybody who lived through 1994 as their baptism into politics to assume that the Swift Boat Veterans attack was anything but harmful and required any reaction but a vicious and immediate counter attack. Yet, that is what the Kerry campaign did….inexplicable. But clearly a decision made by our “older” party hands…one that I believe proved decisive.

The further problem is that in order to succeed with careers in Dem politics – well, you got to join the big boys -- i.e., the young successes in Dem politics tend to hold the same ideas as the people in charge.

I have many, many more thoughts about this, as it’s been a ongoing conversation for some of my close colleagues and I for years. Hope this is helpful a little.

It's not about right or left. It's not an argument that things would have turned out differently if we'd only had better consultants and spin-meisters. But it's a conversation that Democrats should be having.

One of the historical arguments for retaining the Electoral College -- and an argument still made today, though in slightly different terms -- is that a straight national vote would allow the big states and large cities to 'overwhelm' the small states and rural areas.

And it's true after a fashion. The population of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota -- almost a whole region of the country -- amount to just more than 4 million people. Almost as many people live in the puny state of Connecticut. Almost ten times as many live in California.

If every voting American were simply poured into the cauldron of one unified national electorate, how would these states make their voices heard?

It's not a new argument. Go back into the 19th century and you find many debates in state constitutional conventions or other venues in which it is argued that lightly populated or socially or culturally unique regions deserve political clout out of proportion to their population numbers. And similar claims for preferment surface in seminal court cases in the 1960s.

I was particularly struck though by this article which appeared in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

At one level the editorial simply notes the undeniable fact that the Red state/Blue state division we talk so much about is really an rural/urban divide. But the particular spin on the issue is close to given away in the headline: "Big cities can override state's votes."

The Red State/Blue state discussion is "misleading", continues the editorial, because it obscures the "the large-city vs. rest-of-the-county reality."

From there on out we're treated to a discussion of the election in which the effect of the franchise in large cities amounts to a sort of hidden and nefarious loophole to the democratic process. Let me quote at some length (with emphasis added) ...

Without votes in just 11 cites, Kerry won only eight states, and Bush, 42. Without those 11 cities, Bush won by 55 percent to 45 percent nationally, while Kerry won those cities by 61 percent to 39 percent.

The states Kerry won, due solely to votes in just one or two cities each, are California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin. The cities that out-voted the rest of their state or adjacent areas are the District of Columbia, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle.

Kerry won just eight states (Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) with balanced votes, and only two of these (Delaware and Hawaii) are outside of New England. These states gave him just 41 electoral votes.

The 11 cities listed above gave him 208 such votes, against wishes shown elsewhere statewide. Four more states could have had similar results due to city voting in Cleveland, Denver, St. Louis or the Miami to Palm Beach- area. Add D.C.'s three electoral votes and just 15 cities can award 278 electoral votes.

Thus, cities can pick our president, against the wishes expressed elsewhere nationwide. Clearly, this is not a blue-state vs. red-state issue; it is a large-cities vs. the rest- of-the-country issue.

On the "mandate" issue, with Bush winning 42 states, by 55 percent to 45 percent, and his opponent winning just eight states and 11 cities, there should be no question.

The thought that lots of people live in cities seems to pale beside the notion that cities amount to a sort of interest group, one among many, and certainly not one entitled to dominate all the others. After all what kind of democracy are we running if "cities can pick our president, against the wishes expressed elsewhere nationwide"?

The long castration (from the AP) ...

Sen. Arlen Specter must prove to his Republican colleagues that he is the right man to head the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Sunday.


Frist, R-Tenn., said he expected a chairman to understand that he is responsible "to the feelings, the wishes, the beliefs, the values, the procedures that are held by the majority of that committee."

He added that Specter, as chairman, "has a clear obligation ... to take what the president nominates (and) get that nomination through committee."

Frist would not say if he backed Specter for the job.


Frist said Specter's comments were "disheartening to me. They were disheartening to a lot of different people," Frist told "Fox News Sunday."

So <$NoAd$>disheartened ...

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.