P8kice8zq6szrqrmqxag

Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

TPM doesn't go in much for Times-bashing, at least of the media bias variety. But when the paper prints cliches and conventional wisdom as fatuous and unsubstantiated as this ...

Since at least 1992, when Bill Clinton won the White House by, in part, appropriating traditionally Republican issues, the nation's two political parties have increasingly sounded the same notes during campaigns.

If the Republicans were left at the gate in 1992, they have surely caught up this year, blurring the lines on everything from prescription drug coverage to corporate malfeasance to the handling of Social Security.

Democrats and Republicans are lamenting the prospect of another election with low voter turnout, but in truth, they have only themselves to blame. What initially had been seen as a clever, if perhaps cynical, gambit for political advantage has ended up giving voters a choice between beige and brown.

More on this to come ...

Whatever else you can say about this election -- the quality of the campaigning or the issues debated -- you're just not going to find one to beat this one in pure nail-biting potential. Race after race for the Senate is either dead-even or within the margin of error or more than close enough for the lagging candidate to make a last minute dash across the finish line. (The best, up-to-date, methodological run-down of all the big races, that I've seen, can be found here.) Yet it's hard to miss a subtle but real shift in the Democrats' favor across the country. The third and fourth weeks out from election day did not look good at all for the Dems. But the last two weeks before election day seem to be moving in just the opposite direction. And if that's true, that's exactly when a party wants to have the wind at its back. Good months in the Spring or Summer are nothing compared to a good week or two at the end of October.

First, as TPM has been saying for sometime, the hapless Doug Forrester is really going down the tubes in New Jersey. The New York Times/CBS News poll has Frank Lautenberg up 48% to Forrester's 36% among likely voters. Among those most likely to vote, Lautenberg's lead was narrower, at 48% to 41%. That tracks fairly well with a Mason-Dixon poll released a couple days earlier which showed a 47% to 40%. Admittedly, the straight numbers here don't make this race look totally beyond Forrester's reach. But when you look at the context of the race and the trend-line -- Lautenberg's steadily expanding lead and Forrester's utter lack of issue, charisma, or demographic levers to turn the thing -- you realize that it is. He's toast. Republicans and Mickey are welcome to send in their dissenting emails here. But, believe me, he's gone.

I hesitate to even discuss the political implications of Paul Wellstone's tragic death (TPM eulogizes him here). But the conventional wisdom seems to be that if former Vice-President Walter Mondale signs on for the race (and it seems he will) he'll be very hard for the Republicans to beat. Wellstone was already opening a small, but measurable lead in that race. And the sympathy and grief factor, coupled with Mondale's elder statesman profile, may be impossible for Coleman to overcome. Who knows if this is how it'll turn out? And I'd happily lose all these races to have Wellstone back. But that's what I'm hearing.

One interesting note I hear from a few Republican sources (pure speculation, but intriguing) is that the Wellstone tragedy might actually have some spillover into the Missouri race, where it's likely to rekindle memories of Mel Carnahan's death in a very similar tragedy two years ago. Senator Jean Carnahan had apparently picked up some kind of momentum after a debate in which she, I'm told, effectively scolded Talent for questioning her patriotism. I had virtually written this race off, but the late movement may be in her direction.

The last few weeks also weren't great for South Dakota's Tim Johnson. He had opened up a very small lead but then fell back a few points as the voter fraud allegations pushed other issues off the campaign radar. Thune may still be up by a point or two. But my sense is that the campaign debate in the state is now moving back to issues which favor Johnson. It's a very hard call but I'd still say Johnson is the likely winner.

The key races I'm looking at are in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Georgia. These aren't the closest races. But they're the ones that are breaking unexpectedly in the stretch -- two trending toward the Dems and one trending toward the Republicans.

While people often say that Al Gore lost the presidency in Tennessee or West Virginia, I've always thought he really lost it in New Hampshire. Yes, it was grievous to lose his home state and the once impregnably-Democratic West Virginia. But there are a lot of reasons Democrats should have a hard time winning those states. Gore should have been able to win New Hampshire. And he very nearly did. Shaheen is benefiting from the political and demographic changes which have, over the last decade and a half, made New Hampshire into much more winnable territory for Dems. This article in today's Washington Post says it's basically dead-even and the momentum at least is with Shaheen.

The Senate really could swing several seats in either direction. But as of today I'd say the good money is on a Democratic hold, with a reasonable chance of their picking up one or perhaps -- a big perhaps -- even two seats.

Like so many others I am in a state of shock over the sudden and tragic death of Paul Wellstone. I can scarcely believe I've just written those words. For every Democrat -- probably as much for those who didn't share his politics as for those who did -- Wellstone was a special treasure: a sort of genuinely progressive, utterly engaged and sincere politician who somehow captured what was essential in the aspirations of his party, even if he supported policies that others didn't. ("I'm from the Democratic party-wing of the Democratic party," he got fond of saying in the late 1990s ...) One thinks of his vote against welfare reform in 1996, on the eve of his first run for re-election. Whatever you think of the merits of that vote -- and history has been kinder to the supporters of the bill than the opponents, on balance -- no other Senate Democrat who was up for re-election that year had the nerve to make the vote that he did -- though many of them thought the way that he did. He did something very similar this year on Iraq. And in recent days it seemed conviction was making for good politics. I can't say I knew Wellstone in any serious way. But I did have a number of conversations with him over the last few years -- particularly a couple in New Hampshire in early 2000 when he was stumping for Bill Bradley and then later at the Convention. Perhaps the most honest thing I can tell you, while my eyes are still teary over this, is the simplest: I really liked him. It's the most wooden of cliches to say in death that so-and-so was real, genuine, not scripted, just an all around great guy. But the over-use of such plaudits as filler can't bar the invocation of them when they were this true. Most successful pols are steely operators. Not a few act serious, without at all being serious, but are rather jokes and whores. Or if they're first-rate men or women they've long since gotten gated-off behind walls of flacks, caution and self-protection. Paul Wellstone just wasn't like that. From my admittedly limited experience with him, the image he projected of a down-to-earth, more-like-what-you'd-expect-from-a-driven-political-activist-than-a-United-States-Senator was entirely accurate. I remember getting hit up by him and members of his staff -- I think it was in early 2001 -- to give more attention to the truly egregious and low-incoming-screwing bankruptcy bill then moving through the Senate. He was more or less single-handedly holding the bill up and getting grief from other supposedly liberal stalwarts in the Senate for doing so. When I was more clearly ensconced in the environs of professional liberalism -- when I was the Washington Editor of the American Prospect -- I often chafed at what I perceived to be the ineffectual Ivory-Towerish purism of so much of late 20th century elite liberalism, the mix of muscle and cliche masquerading as energy and fun. And I feel that no less today. I've seen my share of the fundraisers with their endless harvesting of checks from the fancy-hatted, the useless and the corrupt. But, you know, you do what it takes to accomplish things you believe are right. For a dozen years Paul Wellstone managed to show that these trade-offs did not necessarily have to be made. At least not for him. He was irreplaceable.

Toast? Yes, toast. Several days back a few normally shrewd commentators took me to task for prematurely writing off New Jersey Senate candidate Doug Forrester. The key evidence was a Washington Post article which said the two candidates in the race were "virtually tied in public opinion polls." Frankly, that wasn't true then. But now we have a bit more evidence. Let's review the last three public polls, starting with the most recent: NBC 10 poll, 42-32 Lautenberg; Quinnipiac University poll 52-43 Lautenberg; Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll 47-42 Lautenberg. Add to this that Jersey Democrats have a rock-solid get out the vote operation and you come fairly quickly to the conclusion that Forrester is toast.

There's a dictum in politics: when your opponent's going down the tubes on his own, stand back, look high-minded, and watch him swirl. Which brings us to the South Dakota Senate race. In Monday night's debate, challenger John Thune fell over himself charging -- loosely, in the form of questions -- that Tim Johnson was personally involved in orchestrating voter fraud in the western part of the state. Thus Thune ...

You hold a press conference and tell the people of South Dakota - come clean about what your involvement is with voter fraud in western South Dakota. I think the people of South Dakota need to know what the facts are. Who authorized this putting a bounty on voters? Who did you hire? Who was involved?
This tells you something pretty clearly. If the fraud issue were pulling Johnson down of its own weight, the logical move would be to avoid such extravagant charges. Since it's not, he's not avoiding them. Rather, he's pushing them as hard as he can, trying to win the campaign on this issue alone.

Today, Johnson called for both campaigns to forswear any and all negative ads for the remaining two weeks before election day. This is a pretty transparent tactic, since Thune needs to go negative much more than Johnson does right now, and has something -- baseless or not -- to go negative with. Still, a transparent tactic isn't always a bad one.

In turn, Thune's spokesperson, Christine Iverson responded with a classic 'when did you stop beating your wife' rejoinder.

Thus Christine ...

Today, we ask Tim Johnson to release the following information: all correspondence and E-mail between his campaign and the South Dakota Democrat Party; all cell and phone records between the Johnson campaign and the South Dakota Democrat Party; all records of meetings between the Johnson campaign and the South Dakota Democrat Party; and all financial transactions between the Johnson campaign and the South Dakota Democrat Party related to the voter fraud investigation, people currently under investigation and those indicted. There is more to running a clean campaign than running positive ads. A clean campaign includes preserving the integrity of the election system. If the Johnson campaign has nothing to hide they will have no problem releasing information about their work with the state party on voter registration efforts. Together, we can give the people of South Dakota a positive campaign, both on the airwaves and in the ballot booth on Election Day.
Note the puerile use of 'Democrat party' in place of the correct usage, 'Democratic party.' Iverson has developed quite a rep in recent months for bullying and slashing behavior on the campaign trail and she seems inclined to go out with a flourish.

Why precisely do I read Andrew Sullivan's website? I'm not sure. Much of the stuff I find either wrongheaded or offensive or stridently badgering toward people who don't deserve badgering. And yet I read it. In fact, it's one of the only blogs I read regularly or even read at all. Tonight or this morning -- take your pick -- I noticed his post on the prison amnesty in Iraq. And I think Andrew's on to something. Clearly, this amnesty has been promulgated for the most cynical of reasons, for a mix of domestic and foreign propaganda. But this is the most repressive of regimes. And repressive regimes tend to function like ratchets. To survive they can stand in place or become more repressive. But it's very difficult for them to become less so. Reeling back political repression is a tough, often an impossible, proposition, as we saw in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union a dozen or more years ago. And there's some small chance we could be beginning to see the first signs of something like that in Iraq. What's happening right now -- and the way a few are interpreting it -- reminds me of something I was once told by the guy I regard as one of the shrewdest and most knowledgeable people in Washington when it comes to Iraq and US policy thereto. I can't say who it is other than to say he's ex-military. But here's the way he once described the Iraqi regime to me: "The physical analogy to Saddam Hussein's regime is a steel beam in compression. This is an extremely repressive regime. Even to say those words doesn't do it justice. When it breaks … it'll give off absolutely no sign at all that it's about to fail … And then ka-wammo! And it just goes crazy. That what's gonna happen here." That really could happen here, and possibly, just possibly, without a single American shot ever being fired.

Is it just my imagination or when Bill Kristol read this quote from the President, didn't he pretty much have to press his hands to his temples and shake his head disconsolately?

If [Saddam] were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I've described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand, that in itself will signal the regime has changed ...
Whatever Kristol did, I couldn't help laughing. And perhaps that says something about my not getting out quite often enough that I would find this so amusing. But, honestly, this is about thirty-times more audacious a massaging of the English language than that little number the former president pulled about what the meaning of 'is' is.

If the regime will just change then you don't have to change the regime. And if the regime changes isn't that regime change? So what's the problem?

I've rolled this one over in my head a few times and as nearly as I can figure the key is that the president prized apart the words in that wonderful phrase and took 'regime' which was supposed to be the object of the verb 'change,' as in 'change the regime' and made it the subject, as in 'the regime changes.' That is to say, the 'regime' was mean and now it's nice. I grant you, this grammar and syntax chopping may not do full justice to the utter discombobulation of this phrase. You can just see the chief regime-changers hearing this and breaking out with the frantic 'wait, wait, waits...'

In any case, approaching the matter at that level may miss the point. Could anybody but this president have managed to get away with uttering such a quote? What we're seeing here is a grey glimmer of that undiscovered country where verbal goofballism meets the honed edge of grand strategy. Sort of Gomer Pyle meets Forrest Gump meets Klemens von Metternich.

Now, I'm not sure the underlying change of policy here is wrong-headed, at least as far as it goes, or even that it represents a change. But how much must those report writers at Heritage and AEI be pulling out their hair out over this. (And a lot of them don't have a lot to spare. So it's serious.) I mean, if only the phrase 'regime change' had come with an instruction manual or a rulebook perhaps this chicanery would never have been possible.

Now do you doubt that Colin Powell is calling the shots?

The folks at ABC's always-admirable The Note say the "the ball is in [my] court" on the South Dakota voter fraud story, after this detailed article in Sunday's Argus Leader. But perhaps they should look a bit closer at the article itself. The article contains the following quote from Republican Attorney General Mark Barnett, who was himself one of the original hard-chargers on the alleged vote fraud story...

"I'm still only aware of two cases where criminal law may have been violated, and you've heard about those," said Barnett. "I just don't want the suggestion out there that there is widespread fraud when we don't have any evidence of that."

Our recent posts continue to stir the blood of the more rabid breed of South Dakota Republicans, ginning up a slew of letters like this one.

Sir,

Please get your facts straight concerning the Mary Matalin speech in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I happen to be on the committee that sets up these monthly luncheons. This WAS NOT a fund-raiser for John Thune or anyone else. As a matter of fact, we have never made money on any of the luncheons, that is not our intent. Just for the record, after paying for the food, the announcements and the postage we LOSE money. This event was open to the public, it was even announced in the Argus Leader by David Kranz, a well known Democrat lover. Just for the record a registered Democrat was sitting at my table.

You people will stop at nothing to hold on to power, even if it means destroying people's lives. What next murder? Oh yeah, Bill Clinton has already done that.

I guess we Republicans really owe you libs a debt of gratitude because you have really fired up our base. We will be voting in droves on November 5th. I am sure Johnson would appreciate some help packing up his office on November 6th. Remind him not to take anything that does not belong to him; I know you libs have a tendency to have sticky fingers.

AB [Full Name Suppressed]

Then AB's husband chimed in ...
As we expected, liberal sycophants such as yourself are trying to circle the wagons to protect your hold on power. I informed my wife, who is on the committee for Winning Woman, about your rant and she intends to dispel your lies. You and the DNC may think that your smear tactics will work in SD, but think again. We have had to live with the absolutely biased reporting of the Argus Leader for years, so one more idiot in the liberal bunch really won't matter. We intend to contact Neal Bennett and make sure that he has the facts of this matter . This will demonstrate just who is the liar! YOU!
And so it goes.

TPMLivewire