Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

You don't get more trenchant than that.

Bob Novak has a column today noting how tragic it apparently is that Illinois is trending increasingly Democratic. So much so, he laments, that the Bush campaign has already essentially written the state off.

Then he writes ...

Illinois also appears to be getting eliminated from serious consideration in the battle between George W. Bush and John Kerry for the presidency because of a change in the way the state is perceived. No longer a classic swing state that could go either way and produce famous standoffs in 1960 and 1976, Illinois is now considered the most reliably Democratic state in the Midwest.

The 2000 election had a lot to do with that revised image. Al Gore won 55 percent of the vote to Bush's 43 percent, with a 570,000 vote margin. If Illinois were subtracted from the national totals, Bush actually enjoyed a popular vote plurality in the rest of the country.

Hard to quarrel with that <$Ad$>logic, isn't it?

This vaguely reminds me of the line one often hears in TV commentary about Democrats and their 'dependence' on the African-American vote. It's only the African-American vote, the argument goes, that keeps the Democratic party from becoming a permanent minority party.

That's true of course. But what's the point exactly? Presumably if you scratch out all the votes of a major constituency of any political party that would put a bit of a dent in their electoral fortunes, right?

If you wanted to be a little nasty you might, with equal merit, note that the Republican party's goose would be cooked if we disenfranchised everyone who doesn't believe in evolution.

CNN's Bill Schneider gave an almost textbook version of this line a couple years ago on CNN ...

Judy, how dependent are Democrats on the African-American vote?

Without black voters, the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections would have been virtually tied, just like the 2000 election. Oh no, more Florida recounts!

What would have happened if no blacks had voted in 2000? Six states would have shifted from Al Gore to George W. Bush: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oregon. Bush would have won by 187 electoral votes, instead of five. A Florida recount? Not necessary.

Right now, there are 50 Democrats in the Senate. How many would be there without African-American voters? We checked the state exit polls for the 1996, 1998, and 2000 elections. If no blacks had voted, many Southern Democrats would not have made it to the Senate. Both Max Cleland and Zell Miller needed black votes to win in Georgia. So did Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Bill Nelson in Florida, John Edwards in North Carolina, and Ernest Hollings in South Carolina.

Black votes were also crucial for Jon Corzine in New Jersey, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, and Jean Carnahan in Missouri. Washington state and Nevada don't have many black voters, but they were still crucial to the victories of Harry Reid in Nevada and Maria Cantwell in Washington.

Nebraska and Wisconsin don't have many black voters either, but Ben Nelson would have lost Nebraska without them and Russ Feingold would have lost Wisconsin, too, in both cases by less than half-a- percent. Bottom line? Without the African-American vote, the number of Democrats in the Senate would be reduced from 50 to 37.

A hopeless minority. And Jim Jeffords' defection from the GOP would not have meant a thing -- Judy.

I don't want to overstate the point. But nestled down deep in this argument is some sort of perhaps unconscious notion that the Dems are just hopelessly sucking wind among real voters and thus have to resort to padding their totals with blacks.

Again and again I read -- or hear directly from administration supporters -- this excuse that any questioning of the administration's record in foreign affairs, or Iraq, or even on other matters is just a deplorable focusing on the past, a distraction, when the nation faces grave challenges which we need to focus on solving.

This is more than just simple buck-passing. It is a sort of through-the-looking-glass version of how problem-solving and accountability are supposed to work. It also has the perverse benefit of allowing the scope of the administration's failures to become reasons for not discussing those failures -- a sort of self-reinforcing anti-accountability causality loop, with all manner of moral hazards built in.

We've created such a mess that we don't have the time or the luxury to start second-guessing how badly we screwed things up!

I've always been strict about keeping four-letter words off this site. So I apologize for the graphic nature of this analogy. But this is like I come back to my office to find my new employee has taken a crap right on my desk.

Puzzledly and not happy, I say, "What, umm ... what happened here?"

To which he replies, "There you go again, always focusing on the past, how this or that could have been done differently, when what's really important is the future, how we deal with this and other challenges we're going to face."

To which I would reply, "No. The future is exactly what I'm thinking about. And that's why you're fired. Because in the future I can't afford to have anyone working here who craps on my desk, and then when I confront them about it all they can do is dodge responsibility with moronic excuses and try to put the blame on me for asking what the hell is going on."

These guys should be fired too.

And, no, I wouldn't advise the Kerry campaign to base a 30 second ad on this analogy.

This new moveon.org ad about Don Rumsfeld (and the larger issue of administration dishonesty) is very powerful -- in large measure because it's so understated. All it does it replay a brief portion of Rumsfeld's appearance on Face the Nation last Sunday. Give this one a look.

Let me follow up on last night's post on the surreal shamelessness of the president's new TV ad.

As we noted, the new ad uses a very strained argument to allege that Kerry opposed an increase in military combat pay when in fact the White House was caught red-handed and quite publicly trying to cut combat pay for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq only a few months ago.

I mean, how do you top that?

One could speculate about some weird sort of projection. A more likely possibility is that they're accusing Kerry first of that which they were in fact first guilty as a way of innoculating themselves.

All intriguing theories. But I suspect the reality is more banal. They just don't care. It's a handy attack. They've got funds to run the ads. And they figure people's memories are short and the press is too lazy or stupid to call them on it.

Clearly, the Kerry campaign should highlight the inaccuracy of the charge. But I think they should be focusing their fire on the shamelessness, the disrespect for the intelligence of the public and the press.

They simply can't stop lying.

That point should be hit again and again and again. And not simply -- or even primarily -- on the narrow point of dishonesty but on the broader issue of disrespect for the people they're communicating with.

'Disrespect' doesn't quite convey the intended message. But it comes close. It may be closer to 'contempt' though I think the attitude is somehow breezier than that. They don't think any rules apply to them.

They want to say up is down. And they're sure they can get away with it because they think the people who are listening are either chumps or that their trust can be exploited endlessly.

We'll be saying more about this in the coming days, but for now just a heads-up.

For some time we've had problems with slow downloading of TPM and even sporadic outages.

(Someday I will share with you the story of screaming into my cell phone at the Merrimack Restaurant in Manchester two days before the New Hampshire primary, telling the tech support guy that a 48 hour turnaround on an answer to why the site was offline really wasn't good enough.)

In part, this is due to the fact that our soon-to-be-former hosting service just provides egregiously bad service and support. But the overriding issue is that we've simply outgrown the server set-up that had served our needs well enough for most of the three-plus years the site has been online.

To give you a sense of the growth, TPM's traffic is roughly 1000% higher than it was in late 2002 and roughly 300% what it was in late 2003.

In any case, it's taken us a while to get the logistics and financing worked out. But we're in the midst of moving the site over to a new home flowing not only with milk and honey but, more importantly, copious bandwidth and, I'm told, crackerjack support.

With any luck, you won't notice the switch-over other than perhaps seeing that the site appears more quickly.

We'll keep you posted.

More information on what turned the Spanish election. <$NoAd$>This passage comes from an interview on Monday night's Newshour ...

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Checa, what is your reading of what was the number one thing behind the outcome? In other words, was it Aznar's support for the war against Bush or those people, or was it this public perception that he was trying to withhold information about who was behind the bombing?

NICOLAS CHECA: Margaret, I really think what the key issue here is the handling or mishandling of public information in the 48 hours after the tragic events of last Thursday. I think it bears mentioning that the election was a statistical dead heat, according to public polls the morning of the tragedy on Thursday morning well within the margin of error, one or two points. And it was really not until Saturday evening, as Keith in your set-up shared with us, that the government decided to come forward with information as to the arrest of these five suspects linked to al-Qaida.

As an example, it took a personal call from Prime Minister Elect Zapatero to the interior minister, the Spanish homeland security secretary, informing him that the Socialist Party was aware of the arrest and that he was prepared to move forward with that information. It took that kind of information to get the current government to come forward and announce to the country at large that in fact it was not the ETA lead that would generate success down the road in the investigation, but rather the al-Qaida route.

MARGARET WARNER: So you're saying it more than just a public suspicion that they were withholding information, in fact the Zapatero campaign had to essentially pressure the government to release this information?

NICOLAS CHECA: Precisely. Yet there was a report earlier in the afternoon on Saturday coming out of Spanish intelligence agency saying that they were 99 percent confident that ETA was not responsible for the attacks and that all the avenues of the investigation pointed into al-Qaida.

In the early afternoon after the arrests had already been made, the director of the Spanish CIA denied those reports and it was after that that the campaign manager for the Zapatero campaign had to come forward and basically inform public opinion that there was information that was not being shared with the population.


As we noted a few days ago, the vagaries of public opinion are simply too great to accurately measure the response to such a traumatic event as the Madrid bombings over such a short period of time as three days.

But this article in Wednesday's Washington Post makes a strong argument that much of the public tide against the Aznar government wasn't based on anger at him for putting the country in harm's way over Iraq but rather because he tried to deceive the country after the attacks themselves occurred.

(In practice, I suspect both melded together in the public mind.)

This story has been coming into focus slowly in the English-language press (though it was already roiling the Spanish press in the 24 hours just before the election). And the Post piece advances it substantially.

Aznar's government immediately blamed ETA for the bombings based on very little evidence and continued to insist on the ETA theory of the crime even as more and more evidence piled up pointing to an Islamist link.

Aznar himself personally and repeatedly called several major national dailies to press the point that ETA was responsible. As doubts were beginning to mount, Aznar twice called the editor of one Catalan daily El Periodico and "courteously cautioned [the editor] not to be mistaken. ETA was responsible."

Certainly, given Spain's history, a quick rush-to-judgment about ETA's culpability would neither be surprising nor evidence of bad faith. But the article makes a rather good case that there was a coordinated and cynical effort to misdirect public suspicion.

In other words, faced with a great national tragedy, the government tried to deceive the public in order to achieve a political end -- something that is paradoxically heartening since it suggests that, all the recent unpleasantness aside, we Americans and our European brethren seem to share quite a lot in common after all.

As you know, it's now been revealed that the White House threatened the top government Medicare actuary that he'd be fired if he revealed the true costs of the Medicare reform passed last year.

What struck me most about this story was how generally muted the reaction to it was.

I don't think this was because it wasn't reported widely or because people didn't take note. I think people just aren't that surprised that this administration would practice deceit in such a casual, even routine, manner.

It's just not surprising anymore. It's expected. (Pat Moynihan died too soon to see the most bracing example of defining -- governmental -- deviancy down.)

In any case, now we have another example from the latest Bush campaign ad.

This one uses last year's $87 billion Iraq supplemental, and the fact that Kerry voted against it, to accuse him of voting against each of the various line items for troop funding included in the bill.

Now, this is inherently misleading since I believe Kerry, like many other Dems, voted for an alternative bill which would have funded these needs by rescinding part of Bush tax cuts. So to say he voted against these particulars is really a distortion of the legislative process.

(Admittedly, it's not quite as bad as what they tried to pull last week, but still pretty bad. In that case, the President charged Kerry with a reckless plan to cut Intelligence spending in 1995, without mentioning that the agency targeted was was mismanaging the funds in question or, much more importantly, that the Congress, then under Republican control, voted a substantially larger cut than the one Kerry had proposed.)

What's more, the commercial highlights three budget items, each of which were ones the president opposed and had to be bullied into supporting -- by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The text narration says: ""No body armor for troops in combat. No higher combat pay. No to better health care for reservists and their families. No -- wrong on defense."

What's most bracing about this narration is that this is actually a pretty factual statement if the target is the president, not Kerry.

Now, one claim really stands out here. The ad says Kerry voted no to "higher combat pay."

This is truly a milestone in the long bilious history of gall.

If you watched this debate at the time you'll remember that last summer the Bush administration went to great lengths to cut combat pay for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to save money for other priorities. They only relented when Democrats, Republicans and most of all military-oriented publications like Army Times expressed so much outrage that they had no choice but abandon the effort.

Here's a snippet from an article which appeared on August 15th, 2003 in the San Francisco Chronicle which gives a brief glimpse of their ignominious retreat ...

The White House quickly backpedaled Thursday on Pentagon plans to cut the combat pay of the 157,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan after disclosure of the idea quickly became a political embarrassment.

The Pentagon's support for the idea of rolling back "imminent danger pay" by $75 a month and "family separation allowances" for the American forces by $150 a month collapsed after a story in The Chronicle Thursday generated intense criticism from military families, veterans groups and Democratic candidates seeking to unseat President Bush in 2004.

And so the White House which was pushing to save money by reducing combat pay for troops currently serving in two combat zones is now challenging Kerry's national security bona-fides by alleging that he opposed increases in combat pay.

Sometimes you try to dress it up or package it in some artful way. But the truth is irreducibly blunt: lying and indifference to a factual record often no further away than the google web site is the hallmark of this administration.

Up is down.

Please! No more challenges!

As you know, a couple days ago, Colin Powell challenged John Kerry to come forward with the names of some of the foreign leaders who he says want President Bush turned out of office.

"If he feels it is that important an assertion to make, he ought to list some names. If he can't list names, then perhaps he should find something else to talk about."

After that he apparently upped the ante, denying Kerry's claims that he, Powell, had been undermined or sidelined in administration foreign policy debates.

"Name a specific issue," said Powell, "where it looks like I have been marginalized."

Sorta sad, isn't it?

A brief note on this brouhaha over whether some foreign leaders want president Bush turned out of office in November.

This is the topic of my column tomorrow in The Hill. So I just want to touch on it briefly.

Clearly, the president and his surrogates are hammering John Kerry now over this claim and even accusing him of making the whole thing up to hurt the president.

"Either [Kerry] is straightforward and states who they are," said Scott McClellan, "or the only conclusion one can draw is that he is making it up to attack the president."

Now, I don't think there's any question this was an unwise thing for Kerry to say, not least because it's opened him up to all these attacks which are awkward to answer.

But the idea that he's making this up is laughable. The question isn't whether or which foreign leaders don't want to see George W. Bush get another term. A better question is whether there are any outside of perhaps a half-dozen capitals around the world who do.

(Powell knows this perhaps better than anyone.)

The reason it's unwise to say this -- or at least say it so bluntly -- is precisely because it's so undoubtedly true. And the fact that it's true is a difficult matter politically for both candidates.