Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

"I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation - not the Saudi royal family."

Paging Adel Al-Jubeir ...

For the last four days, this convention hall has always been in motion -- people milling on and off the floor, in and out of the stands, the ever-present floor ushers -- the only real extremists in the whole place -- hustling people out of the aisles. But, now, like it is at the tail end of every national party convention, everyone is stationed in their place.

No one is moving from their seats. No one is leaving the floor, because if you do, you can't go back down. I'm sitting just up and back to the side of the podium and looking out over the crowd, it -- or they -- look like nothing so much as a vast carpet of people, all watching intently, no floor to be seen anywhere.

The crowd was certainly more roused in Barack Obama's speech; but not at any other time has their attention been more rapt.

Cleland just introduced Kerry. More later ...

Actually, apropos of the previous post, the real sucker on this one seems to be MSNBC rather than CNN. At least thus far. As of 5:43, the Ghailani capture is the headline on the MSNBC website, while it gets lesser billing on CNN. MSNBC is even blaring it more than Fox News (oh the infamy!).

As with the earlier post, I'd be much obliged if anyone can tell me whether any of the MSNBC talking heads note the earlier published report in one of America's most respected political magazines (see previous post) about the White House's pressure on Pakistan to produce an al Qaida bad guy during the Dem convention.

Finally, right now I'm watching Wolf Blitzer on his little CNN news perch right off the convention floor doing a live shot. If he's talking up the al Qaida story, why not have on Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, to talk about their above-mentioned story? I'm sure Peter would be happy to come on. And I just saw him here in the Fleet Center not more than twenty minutes ago.


See CNN's Breaking News Alert: "Security forces have captured a high-level al Qaeda operative in a raid in central Pakistan, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said."

Then, after you see that, remember that we noted in May and then The New Republic reported out extensively early this month, that this White House has been telling the Pakistanis for months that they wanted to see a big-time al Qaida leader -- hopefully bin Laden -- produced during the Democratic convention.

Reuters is reporting that the guy they've served up may be a Tanzanian involved in the 1998 African embassy bombings. So apparently they couldn't come up with bin Laden himself.

But here's the thing. I'm not going to be able to watch the television coverage of this throughout the day. But many of you will. So I'd be very, very curious to hear whether when, oh say, CNN goes on about how this al Qaida guy has been hauled in they will mention at all, or with any consistency, that one of the most respected political magazines in the United States reported just weeks ago on the pressure the administration has been placing on the Pakistanis to serve up an al Qaida bad guy on this day.

Will they make the obvious connection? Or will they just ignore it?

This is just the latest, but perhaps the most blatant, example of how this administration has placed politics and, really, political dirty tricks above national security itself, and along the way persisted in defining political deviance down until tactics we used to associate with banana republics start to seem commonplace here.

And while we're at it, this is yet another example of how truly important it is that we democratize the Middle East. Because once we have, some of them will be able to come back here and redemocratize us.

A few thoughts on Edwards.

Friends who I watched the speech with, down on the floor just to his left, thought Edwards was about 75%. I don't know how much it appeared that way on TV. He may only have come off that way if you'd seen him a lot on the campaign trail.

His voice was slightly hoarse and cracked on certain phrases. He seemed to me like he might be getting sick.

Still, with all that, he has an irresistible charm. And he does wind the themes of this convention together in a unique, compelling way. One point: listening to Edwards tonight, and thinking back to the themes he struck during the primaries, it occurred to me how many of them have been incorporated into the message coming out of this convention.

Another thought ... There was a line down towards the end of the speech that stuck in my head: "We have to restore our respect in the world to bring our allies to us and with us. It's how we won the World Wars and the Cold War and it is how we will build a stable Iraq."

Makes perfect sense, no objection -- either on substance or on politics. But it rattled in my head. Because with those words he committed their administration to the herculean task of holding together all the centrifugal forces that are cutting that country apart.

There's nothing I disagree with in the sentiment. And it is notable (and it's been much noted) that the word was a 'stable' Iraq, not a 'democratic' Iraq. Still, a very tall order. I think Kerry is going to win this election. And I'm optimistic in general. But it has occurred to me more than once that that hypothetical next administration could be brought to grief by the occupation (and it is still an occupation) that this president has embarked the country upon. Those were fateful words, even if correct or inevitable ones.

And finally this. As I said above, I watched the Edwards speech in a standing crowd of journalists and Democratic operatives down to Edwards' left on the convention floor. At my back were two of those alchemists and engineers of sound and color, message and image, the ubiquitous handlers and speechwriters who play such an outsized role in the theater that is so much of politics.

As Edwards finished his speech and began his round of thumbs-ups and pumping fists, and as everyone else in crowd was whooping and screaming and clapping, one of those guys at my back turned to his friend and said, with quiet satisfaction and unfazed observation, "right on time." In other words, all wrapped up just minutes before eleven o'clock. Perfect television.

And it was.

Another legacy of Bill Clinton's impress on the Democratic party.

Early this evening I noted that the tone of the Democratic party assembled here in Boston really is quite different than it was in New Hampshire, and much different from what it was in mid-2003. Democratic 'rage' and 'Bush-bashing' was to a real extent a product of Republican spin. But not altogether.

So why the difference? Certainly it's not because opposition to the president has waned in any way. And I think the fact that the convention is meant to appeal to the swing voting audience actually doesn't play that great a role in the change.

I think there are two main reasons -- and they're fundamental rather than cosmetic.

Reason number one has to do with understanding the dynamics that animated the 2003-04 primary contest. On the surface, the fiery rhetoric and animus of 2003 and early 2004 were directed at President Bush. And to some degree of course they were. But the punch of that rhetoric derived not so much from Democrats' antipathy for President Bush as from a pitched battle, almost a rebellion, within the Democratic party -- the grassroots of the Democratic party insisting that Washington Democrats were compromising with the president over particulars when he was leading the country in a direction that had to be opposed across the board. Fiery rhetoric against President Bush was fiery rhetoric against compromise and accomodation with him. In other words, it was to a very real degree aimed at other Democrats.

The specifics and the rights-and-wrongs of that intra-party debate are complicated and needn't detain us here. But understanding that intra-party debate explains why the tone here is so different. The Democratic party is now deeply united around the proposition that President Bush is moving the country in the wrong direction on almost every front and must be opposed head-on. With that question settled within the party, what is there to be angry about? Is there anger at President Bush? Sure. But no one here is talking to President Bush. So opposition, yes. But anger, much less so. Unity isn't simply a reason or a tool to stifle anger. In a sense, it has eliminated it.

Point two is related to point one. Anger is often, and rage is almost always, an emotion rooted in powerlessness. That was certainly the position of Democrats in early 2003 (on so many levels), though less so as the year went on. These Democrats don't feel powerless. The mood is one of cautious optimism that they can drive the president from office, that the wind is at their backs. That too changes the emotional tone dramatically.

This column by Rich Lowry in National Review Online makes some very shrewd points about Barack Obama's speech Tuesday evening. Praise across the political divide is often rich with backhanded compliments and disingenuousness. He includes some digs. But this is something different.

I'm really enjoying this Wyclef Jean song. But isn't this seriously off-message. I'm surprised it got by the message wizards.

One thing I haven't had much of since I've been here is a sense of how the press is covering this event -- not the quantity of coverage (how many hours an evening), but how they're interpreting it.

Mostly, that's been a matter of the priorities I've given myself, though a relative lack of Internet access has played a role as well. Yet one thing I've heard a lot is this sense that this convention is brimming over with anger and anti-Bush rage and that the organizers are busy tamping it down and doing all they can to keep a lid on the rage.

I haven't see that.

From Republicans this is spin, which is fair enough or at least understandable. From journalists I think it's just laziness or an unhealthy addiction to conventional wisdom. This is my third day now milling through the crowds, listening to conversations, talking with activists and elected officials. And the impression I have is almost exactly the opposite.

This is my third convention. I was at both in 2000.

The Republican convention four years ago was a brimming, often angry convocation. Some of that perception is undoubtedly a product of the prism through which I view these things. But I don't think that's much of it.

Bill Clinton had driven the GOP crazy for eight years, particularly during his second term -- not because of his failings but because of political resilience in spite of them. Partisan Republicans had never really accepted or I think understood how or why he had gotten reelected in 1996. And again and again -- particularly during the Lewinsky mess -- he seemed to rise from the dead. Impeachment was about righteous indignation (or self-righteous indignation, depending on your viewpoint) in spite of political good sense.

Finally, in 2000, with Clinton barred from the ballot, they had their chance. And the backdrop of those pent-up frustrations were ever-present in the hall. Confidence mixed with the animus. But the latter was a constant subtext, though the convention planners went to great lengths to keep the DeLay types under wraps and position Governor Bush as set apart from the partisan antagonisms of the late 1990s.

I remember one speech, perhaps it was Cheney's, I'm not sure. And in that speech there was one rallying cry or veiled remark about Clinton's 'character problems'. And the crowd erupted not with applause but with a sort of rumbling, growing roar that didn't stop.

The Democratic convention in 2000 wasn't the same sort of affair, but it was an angsty setting in its own way. There was a left tired of biting its collective tongue through eight years of Bill Clinton. There was the Gore-Clinton tension, the Gore-Bradley tension, the endless intra-Gore-camp rumbles, and a certain malaise born of having the protection of the presidency for eight years. The party was an odd mix of indifference and near panic. And that, in turn, made the party message-wizards more inclined to dish out red-meat on then-Governor Bush.

This convention is very different from both. There was a mood of anger and frustration and even rage during the Democratic primaries. But not here. In the next post I'll try to give my take on why that is.

I hope it's not an example of the Democrats' organizational muscle. But this morning I've had to abandon the Fleet Center and retreat to a local Starbucks to find reliable Internet access that'll allow me to post some updates.

Yesterday while Barack Obama was speaking, I was making my way around the convention hall floor, trying to listen to the speech while gauging audience reactions. In some ways this is a far inferior way to absorb a speech than simply to watch it on your television screen at home. And I wasn't following every moment word for word. But at some point, perhaps a half or two-thirds into the speech, I could sense a difference in the feel of the crowd and the tenor of Obama's voice. He was electrifying the crowd in a way you seldom see a politician manage to pull off. And I realized I needed to get down as close to the podium as I could.

So I made my way down through the several delegations on the right side of the convention floor and settled in about thirty feet down from Obama's left. What struck me first about Obama is something I've only really seen clearly before in Bill Clinton.

In most politicians -- in most public speakers really -- you can always sense a sort of double motion. You can sense their constant awareness of what they should be doing before they do it, and their inability to get the two to match up. Perhaps this is simply another way of saying that you sense their consciousness of self, the visibility of their artifice, like an actor who looks like he's acting, even if the technical points are hit more or less on key.

Clinton was always different. Whether there was artifice or not, it was seldom visible. His rapport with crowds or individuals was (and is) intuitive. The mastery of voice, sound and expression was always complete. And you could see that Monday night.

As it happens, I don't think that quality in a public speaker is something that can be learned. And on a fundamental level, I don't think it's a matter of artifice, though clearly Clinton has a rhetorical bag of tricks he returns to again and again. It's an emotional quality, an element of personality -- part of that undefinable quality of personal charisma. And that was what was radiating from Obama last night.

This was the passage I found the most powerful, and only in part because of the bare text of the words.

Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

Another point on Obama, to which we'll return. Every great public speaker has an emotional touchstone, a tenor that resonates through all they say and do. Clinton's was empathy and expressive emotion -- something that many people gravitated to irresistibly, and others recoiled from. In that regard, Obama seems altogether different. That Clintonite element is barely present with him. The hallmarks are grace and power, even force. (Watch the hands and the eyes.) And that worked well with last night's invocation of national unity.