Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Steve Rosenthal profiled today by John Harwood in the Wall Street Journal. Rosenthal, Harwood writes, "suggests Democrats place the five closest states from the previous general election (Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, New Mexico, and Wisconsin) first in the 2008 primary calendar to help tune up for fall battles."

That sounds like a damn good idea to me.

Wow! From the AP: "The head of the state Democratic Party said late Tuesday that recount results from King County give Democrat Christine Gregoire an eight-vote victory in the closest governor’s race in state history."

In its coverage of its new poll, the Washington Post leads with the finding that a bare majority (53%) supports including a private accounts option with Social Security. But the totality of this poll is, I would say, fairly encouraging. When a price tag is put to the plan, support drops down to 46%, with 47% opposed. Further down we find that the number of people who think there is a "crisis" in the Social Security system is a mere 25%, down from 34% six years ago.

And there's one final tidbit in there which may be more encouraging to those who want to keep the Social Security program than it seems on the surface. While either 53% or 46% support including a private accounts option, 62% say they would not take the private account option themselves.

"Of those who said they would make such investments," continues the Post, "only 7 percent said they would put "all" their contributions into the market, while 57 percent said 'some' and 23 percent answered 'just a little.'"

Here's why that's a big deal.

A clear majority wants real Social Security for themselves, even if many people want the accounts option for others. Only 37% would opt for the accounts option. And even most of them don't seem altogether enthusiastic about it -- as evidenced by their not wanting to invest as much as they might in the option.

But the thing is, if private accounts are a bad idea, they're a really, really bad idea for people who don't want to use them. Pulling money out of Social Security to fund private accounts will sharply accelerate the stresses already on the system -- a system a clear majority of voters appears to want to enjoy when they retire.

This poll is a road map for supporters of Social Security on how to frame their arguments.

"Long range changes need to be made" to Social Security to insure benefits can be paid. Did you know that? And with the baby boom generation about to double the number of seniors "changes will need to be made to Social Security" to keep the program solvent. And "most experts agree the sooner those changes are made the less they are going to cost." Did you know that? Or how about the fact that "some people mistakenly think there’s a special account" with their funds in it?

Just some of helpful facts you can learn about Social Security when you listen to the "on hold" recording while waiting to speak with someone at the Social Security administration.

Lots of new news on the Franklin-AIPAC espionage story from the JTA -- new details involving CBS reporter Adam Ciralsky, and how Franklin was flipped by the FBI and helped "set up a sting against AIPAC" as well as "initiating contact with some neoconservative defense experts, several of them Jewish, who supported Ahmad Chalabi ... [and] Chalabi’s political adviser," Francis Brooke.

This piece is lengthy, detailed and a must-read.

It's good to be da king ...

(Sam Rosenfeld on today's press conference)

The president got a tad petulant when fielding questions on Social Security. His emphatic response to any and all queries about his position on the subject was an indignant, righteous refusal to answer: “You’re not going to get me to negotiate with myself,” he repeatedly told the perplexed reporters. “I know what you’re trying to get me to do. You’re trying to get me to answer ‘Why this,’ ‘why that,’ to take positions -- don’t bother to ask me.” Rather than merely dodge the questions, Bush seemed intent on staking out an explicit, principled position in favor of dodging the question. There may have been a method to this madness above and beyond Bush’s stated explanation that “Congress writes legislation” <$NoAd$> and therefore he, as the president, shouldn’t be setting specific guidelines for a Social Security reform proposal. The president isn’t usually a big separation-of-powers, checks-and-balances kind of guy.

[Note to White House: Might be time to add a fifth stock answer.]

A reader writes in the following ...

re: Allen Boyd, I think it's a mistake to first assume that we can't convince him on the merits of the issue, rather than trying to intimidate him into submission.

I don't assume that. In fact, I would say that it would be foolish for anyone to commit themselves to voting Boyd out of office or punishing him in any way at all. I would say simply that anyone in Boyd's district who believes in Social Security should commit themselves to vote only for candidates who vote to keep Social Security.

Boyd has plenty of time to decide whether or not he qualifies.

I think Boyd's fellow Democrats have a very strong case to make to him on Social Security, both on the substance and the politics. If the issue were abortion or gay rights or guns, it would be foolish to think that Boyd is going to adopt the positions of Democrats from the coasts, given that he comes from a district that is very culturally red. But I simply don't buy the idea -- frankly, I can't imagine that anyone does -- that Social Security is a program that culturally conservative rural voters just won't abide.

As Ed Kilgore has been saying in a slightly different context, Democrats need to put much more focus as a party on persuasion. But as any sensible hawk knows, diplomacy is seldom truly effective without a credible threat of force backing it up. And that's all I'm recommending.

Nick Confessore has an important post here about why losing a few House seats by punishing reps. who agree to phase out Social Security wouldn't be the end of the world. Frankly, I doubt anyone will lose their seats. I think the process will change their minds before it comes to that. But if a few fall, so be it. The Democrats are in the minority. (Washington Dems should take a moment to absorb that.) Gaining or losing a few seats won't change much either way. What will change things is recasting the issue map in a way that can securely propel the Dems back into the majority. Read Nick's piece.

Following up on yesterday's call for some progressive organization to begin an online database stating where every representative and senator stands on Social Security, a short update.

It turns out that one individual had already taken the initiative on Saturday to set up a blog to compile the data. And I've already heard from a few TPM readers with technical expertise in doing this sort of thing eager to volunteer their time. So far, though, none of the progressive groups that come readily to mind seem interested.

Or, at least, I haven't heard anything about it if they are.

That's too bad. Because without aggressive, outside-the-box thinking and action, this will all go very badly. The same-old-same-old mix of press conferences and reports and 'coalitions' won't amount to anything.

And there's another thing to consider as well.

In politics as in life, victory or success is seldom entirely within our control. As we noted a few days ago, the Democrats can't win this legislatively. They don't have the votes. The GOP has the White House and solid majorities in both chambers. If they can hold their troops together, they can write the bill, pass it, and sign it into law before anyone gets another chance at the ballot box. But, as important as winning is in this case (and I'm a good deal more optimistic than many of my friends and colleagues seem to be), winning isn't everything.

If Democrats have to lose this, they must be sure to lose well.

Do they spin and shuffle and whine and sputter on about how bad the whole thing is? Or do they make this into a clear choice -- where Democrats support Social Security for a clear set of reasons rooted in values and policy, and Republicans oppose it?

If the lies about the program's unviability are volubly refuted, the party division made clear, and the reasons why Social Security is good for America are ably argued, then let the chips fall where they may. But if it's all tactics, the outmoded bag of tricks and risk-aversion, playing at the margins and wringing of hands, that will truly be unforgivable.

Late Update: In response to the above, a reader writes in the following: "I think it's possibly all to the good to have independent operatives doing stuff like this: wasn't the use of arms-length surrogates a hallmark of the other side's tactics? Why does everything have to come from Party Central? is that a Democratic value I am missing? Oliver Willis' Brand Democrat effort is similar: he didn't ask permission, only provided minimal guidance and a banner to stand behind."

First, there's a lot here that I agree with. In fact, mostly I agree. These folks won't be moved or forced to change but from the outside. And I hope that continues to happen. At the same time, they have money. They have organizational infrastructure. They have media contacts. As much as I don't want those resources put to ineffectual uses, I also don't want it to go to waste since it's not like there is an excess of resources to go around.

To the extent that energy and insight is bubbling up from folks who haven't been involved before or new blood is coming up in the ranks, great! Frankly, that's the only hope. But I want those folks to start groups, get funding, get office space, get folks who can go on TV. Institutions and infrastructure matter. It's as simple as that.

Let me be as frank as possible. I know a lot of the people we're talking about. I also know very well that almost all of them have devoted a lot more of their lives to fighting for things that I believe in than I have. But I've also seen from the inside how many of the methods and approaches simply don't get the job done -- to put it mildly. But they have strengths and resources that would be foolish to ignore. And why not put them to use?