Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Let's call it the big bat.

We all know that first the Dean campaign, then the Clark campaign, and then to lesser extents the other Democratic presidential candidates and now even House candidates have used the web to haul in large sums of money from small donors.

But the big test won't get started until a month or more from now.

Let's say John Kerry wins the nomination. I think that's overwhelmingly likely. But in this case I'm just using the assumption to sketch out a hypothetical or rather plot a sensible course of action. I'm not trying to prejudge the outcome of what's going to happen over the next couple weeks.

One of the biggest factors in this upcoming race has always been what would happen in the spring and summer of this year. The game plan goes something like this ...

After the Democratic primaries are over, the eventual winner would have spent a lot of money winning the nomination. And that nominee-to-be would probably be pretty near the spending caps he or she had had to agree to to get matching funds.

That means that for all intents and purposes the Democratic nominee would be out of cash and probably out of luck till the general election phase began after the conventions. That's when a new round of public funds would come in and the spending caps would reset.

Right about that time, though -- in early spring -- President Bush will be able to go on the airwaves with the equivalent of campaign commerical carpet bombing and bludgeon the Democratic nominee while he has no funds to fight back.

A milder version of this happened in 1996 when an unchallenged Bill Clinton went on the airwaves early and took advantage of the period when Bob Dole had no money to respond. But the war chest President Bush has been able to amass is far, far larger. What's more, like Kerry, he's opted out of the public system for the primaries. So he can spend as much as he wants.

(As it happens, I think that going on the air early for Clinton in 1996 just put the icing on the cake. That was never going to be a close election. This, on the other hand, is definitely going to be close.)

Now, assuming Kerry's the nominee, one part of the equation has already changed: if memory serves, Kerry opted out of the public financing system for the primary phase of the campaign. So he can spend as much as he can raise.

But he still won't have anywhere near as much as President Bush will have in reserve.

That's where the big bat comes in.

How well will the Kerry campaign -- and the rest of the Democratic party, broadly construed -- do in the middle-months of this year raising small-donor cash online to keep President Bush from unleashing all his fire power while Kerry has no way to fire back?

We'll return to this question later with some thoughts on how they might go about it.

On the Today show this morning, the <$NoAd$>president's campaign chairman Marc Racicot, said that that forecast of 2.6 million new jobs this year wasn't a forecast but rather a "goal".

That prompted this exchange in this morning's gaggle ...

QUESTION: Scott, on taxes and jobs, your campaign chairman, Marc Racicot this morning said that the job prediction or the job forecast in the CEA report was a "goal." You indicated to us yesterday that it was simply a figure that was based on economic modeling. So what is it? Is it an objective analysis of the current state of the economy, or was that a political document?

Scott McClellan: John, I think it is what it is. The data is a snapshot that economists use at a point in time for economic modeling. That's what I said yesterday. So it is what it is --

QUESTION: Right, but Racicot --

Scott McClellan: -- and it's based on the data available at that point in time.

QUESTION: So was Racicot wrong in describing it as a goal?

Scott McClellan: I haven't seen those specific remarks. I'll be glad to look at them, but it is what it is, and it is how I described it yesterday.

[Here there's a short and snappy back-and-forth between John and Scott on the difference between predictions and goals, and what the definition of 'is' is.]

Scott McClellan: John, I'm giving you the facts. It is what it is.

QUESTION: And the meaning of the word "is" is?

Scott McClellan: Well, John, I think that where the discussion of policy should be -- or the discussion should be is on policy. And the President is a decision-maker. The President leads by making policy decisions. And the policies we are implementing are working to strengthen our economy and create an environment for robust job creation. New jobs are being created. The unemployment rate is declining. The policies this President has advocated and passed are working. And I think the American people think the discussion should be there on the policy decisions that are being made. Some don't want to discuss the policies. But it's important for a President to lead and make decisions, and then defend those decisions.

QUESTION: You understand the difference between a forecast based on economic modeling and a stated goal. Racicot just seems to indicate that this is a stated goal.

Scott McClellan: It is the economic forecast for our annual Economic Report. That's what it is.

QUESTION: So it's not a goal?

Drip, drip, drip ...

Now this is something special. Tompaine.com has <$Ad$>set Bob Dreyfuss up with a blog on Iraq and national security issues, The Dreyfuss Report.

Bob and I disagree about a lot on foreign policy. Generally speaking, he's just much more to the left than I am on the issue. But he's one hell of a reporter. And the whole complicated, ugly, tragic, farcical Iraq mess is the sort of story that's just made for him.

I'll be visiting this site again and again.

Bob links to this very important article by Knut Royce in Newsday which reports on how the US has "awarded more than $400 million in contracts to a start-up company" tied to Ahmed Chalabi.

If we didn't have so many billions to spare, one might almost think that was a problem.

To get a read on the current state of <$NoAd$>play between the White House press corps and Press Secretary Scott McClellan (and, by extension, the White House) see today's back and forth from the noon press briefing in which McClellan tried to explain why the president issued a prediction about estimated job creation last week but won't stand behind the numbers this week.

Q So why not -- why aren't you standing behind it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think what the President stands behind is the policies that he is implementing, the policies that he is advocating. That's what's important.

Q That's not in dispute. The number is the question.

MR. McCLELLAN: I know, but the President's concern is on the number of jobs being created --

Q My question is, why was the prediction made --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and the President's focus is on making sure that people who are hurting because they cannot find work have a job. That's where the President's focus is.

Q Then why predict a number? Why was the number predicted? Why was the number predicted? You can't get away with not -- just answer the question. Why was that number predicted?

That's near the point when it pretty much broke to nah-nah-nah. Read the whole section.

The president says he's "troubled" by <$Ad$>the rush of wedding licenses being issued to gay couples in San Francisco. But I don't think that's really what's troubling them. I think what's really got their guts in knots are these numbers from the new CNN/USAToday/Gallup poll which shows that both John Kerry (12%) and John Edwards (10%) hold double-digit leads over the president among likely voters.

The poll actually has the president's approval number holding pretty steady at 51%. But his reelect number -- which is the more significant one heading into an election has fallen to the low 40s.

You don't judge a race when one candidate is in a trough. But this is quite a trough.

I like John Kerry. And, last night's results notwithstanding, I think he's got this race pretty much wrapped up. But take a look at the Kerry website and the Edwards website, and tell me which one radiates more energy and excitement.

Some mumbo-jumbo just turns out to be ... well, too mumbo. This from CNN ...

The White House backed away Wednesday from its own prediction that the economy will add 2.6 million new jobs before the end of this year, saying the forecast was the work of number-crunchers and that President Bush was not a statistician.

I think we'd all agree to that last point. But can he hire one?

Embarrassing. The bloom is really coming off this rose.

The credibility account is close to overdrawn.

Drip, drip, drip.

Back to the tangled web files ...

Knocked on his heels by increasing evidence that he willfully deceived the American public, President Bush is off to a new strategy of spreading around the blame. Let's call it the anti-buck gambit. Don't pass the buck. Just get an M-80, light it, put it over in the corner with the buck on top of it. Then no more buck, no more problem.

In any case, back to our story. The new line is, well, okay maybe we were wrong. But everyone else was wrong too. So who's gonna cast the first stone.

Said the president yesterday at an Army base in Louisiana: "My administration looked at the intelligence and we saw a danger. Members of Congress looked at the same intelligence, and they saw a danger. The United Nations Security Council looked at the intelligence and it saw a danger. We reached a reasonable conclusion that Saddam Hussein was a danger."

Filling in the blanks here, the argument is that everyone thought Saddam had WMD. So it's not my mistake. It's everyone's mistake.

Now, this is dishonest at a number of levels. But let's just pick one. When it comes to what constitutes a threat, all 'WMD' are not created equal. Mustard gas is close to irrelevant weighed against the threat of nuclear weapons, especially effectively deliverable ones. And on this there was in fact fierce and public disagreement. Let's take the UN and their inspectors versus the White House.

One of the key points the White House never mentions is that, notwithstanding what people thought before the return of inspectors, we found out quite a lot during the brief period when inspectors were in the country. And almost all of what we learned was damaging to the White House's case for war. Indeed, one reason for the hurry to start the war was the fear that the case would collapse entirely. (For a broader discussion of what the UN knew and what we 'knew', see this excellent piece by Fareed Zakaria in a recent Newsweek.)

In any case, one of the key findings was the IAEA's determination, after its initial round of inspections, that there was no evidence that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. For a variety of technical reasons, it's much more difficult to hide a real nuclear weapons program from inspectors who are on the ground in your country than it is to hide, say, a chemical or biological weapons program.

So the IAEA's judgment came with a lot of weight -- at least to those who were interested in knowing the state, or even the existence, of Iraq's nuclear efforts.

So the UN (the IAEA is, in effect, a part of the UN) definitely disagreed with the White House on the WMD issue.

And what was the White House's response? Recall this exchange between Vice President Cheney and Tim Russert on the eve of the war ...

MR. RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree, yes. And you'll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree. Let's talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We've got, again, a long record here. It's not as though this is a fresh issue. In the late '70s, Saddam Hussein acquired nuclear reactors from the French. 1981, the Israelis took out the Osirak reactor and stopped his nuclear weapons development at the time. Throughout the '80s, he mounted a new effort. I was told when I was defense secretary before the Gulf War that he was eight to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon. We found out after the Gulf War that he was within one or two years of having a nuclear weapon because he had a massive effort under way that involved four or five different technologies for enriching uranium to produce fissile material.

We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He's had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq's concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don't have any reason to believe they're any more valid this time than they've been in the past.

That of course would be the same Vice President Cheney who told Hans Blix before he took on his job that "we will not hesitate to discredit you" if Blix failed to march to the White House's tune.

They can run and they can hide. They can pass the buck, eat the buck, blow up the buck, hide it in the drawer, twiddle their thumbs and hope everyone forgets about it. But this buck is a MIRVed missile. And it's coming right for them.

Our friend Mr. Perle is giving new meaning to the phrase 'comedy of errors'. Yesterday in Washington he called for the resignation of CIA chief George Tenet and the head the of DIA. "Heads should roll," he said, "not in a punitive or vindictive way. But when you discover you have an organization that doesn't get it right time after time, you change the organization, including the people.... I would start with the head. George Tenet has been at the CIA long enough to assume responsibility for its performance."

Now, this is truly one of those 'where do you start' points of ridiculousness. It's rather like Andy Fastow and Ken Lay calling for heads to roll at the SEC because the government regulators didn't get the whole securities oversight thing quite right. Well, Yes, heads should roll, you say in response. But then when you see the would-be executioners, the rationale and the logic of the thing starts to break down.

It is awfully hard to find a single data point on which the CIA or the DIA were 'wrong' in which Perle & Co. were not wrong-squared or even wrong-cubed, and in which he and his crew were not playing the same old bureaucratic and media games to mau-mau those agencies into being even more 'wrong' than they were. (See this particularly humorous example.)

We can leave aside for the moment that this is far from the first time. Perle himself was a leader in the effort to second-guess US intelligence agencies about the Soviet threat in the 1970s, arguing that Soviet military was far more threatening and powerful than the folks at the CIA believed.

Of course, the CIA did miss the boat on that one. But their error wasn't in underestimating but rather in overestimating the military and economic power of the late Soviet state.

They missed the internal rot and economic and military and political degeneration that would bring the whole edifice crashing down in the late 1980s. To say that Perle's crew failed to see this coming is rather an understatement. As late as 1980, in The Present Danger: Do we have the will to reverse the decline of American power?, neoconservative founding father Norman Podhoretz, lamented whether it might not be too late to prevent the "finlandization of America, the political and economic subordination of the United States to superior Soviet power."

In any case, if Perle wants to call for others to walk the plank, it's a call he should be making from the waves, not the deck.

Who will take this claptrap seriously? Advice on honing our intelligence processes from a serial enabler of intelligence ridiculousness stretching back two generations.