Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Well, I guess it was only a matter of time before the Bush administration realized that it had made a mistake in filling the Treasury Secretary post with a bland, unknown, Ford administration retread, who made his name as the CEO of an Old Economy stalwart. They sure won't make that mistake again.

Oh wait ...

Good for Andrew Sullivan. Andrew and I disagree about a lot. But he's right on the mark in not only taking exception to Trent Lott's outrageous comments in favor of racial segregation but giving them the full measure of outrage they deserve. As he says, the real question is why this incident is still being treated as no more than a minor embarrassment or a simple gaffe.

What really strikes me is not only the original comment but Lott's unwillingness to take it back or even explain it. To the best of my knowledge his only response came in a terse two sentence statement from his flack Ron Bonjean:

Senator Lott's remarks were intended to pay tribute to a remarkable man who led a remarkable life. To read anything more into these comments is wrong.
That's the flack's equivalent of 'go jump in a lake.'

The fault isn't with Lott; it's with evil commentators who are reading too much into what he said. On its face the statement makes no sense, since the simple logic of Lott's remarks went well beyond this 'remarkable life' mumbo jumbo. More to the point, however, there's a simple -- if disingenuous -- way of dealing with this sort of thing. Lott or his flack immediately comes forward and says something like this ...

I have great respect for my retiring colleague Strom Thurmond. But some of my comments at his Birthday party last week may have been unclear. Everyone should know that I believe segregation was wrong. And as incoming-Majority I'm very proud of the progress our nation has made in guaranteeing civil rights and voting rights of all Americans, regardless of race, creed or color.
Simple. Short. Almost certainly dishonest. But in such situations honesty isn't always the most important virtue. Trent Lott may not believe in civil rights for blacks. It's a disaster for the country if he doesn't. But if he doesn't, it's still important -- given who he is -- that he say he does, that he genuflect publicly to the ideal. It's important for him to say something like this if for no other reason than to underscore the fact that anyone who doesn't support racial equality -- even in this most general sense -- is politically beyond the pale.

The mystery is why he hasn't even said something like that. He doesn't even think it's a big enough deal that he has to address it publicly. An even bigger mystery is why his unwillingness hasn't generated more controversy or a serious push to make him resign as Majority Leader.

"I'm 100 percent pro-life. As a practicing Catholic, I did not leave my faith as did Mary Landrieu." ... Suzanne Haik Terrell, close-but-no-cigar loser in today's Louisiana run-off election (52-48, Landrieu), questioning Mary Landrieu's Catholicism.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer lady ...

"But, Candy, truly, I mean there's really no chance that Susie Terrell is going to lose this, is there? I mean, if you were betting, you would never bet on the incumbent senator, would you?" ... Tucker Carlson from Thursday night's Crossfire.

Hard-hitting coverage? We report, you decide.

As we noted yesterday, on Thursday incoming-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott seemed to explicitly endorse the pro-segregation, anti-civil rights platform which Strom Thurmond ran for president on in 1948. He even bemoaned all the "problems" the country might have avoided if it had taken the segregation route.

Now, maybe Lott deserved another bite at that apple? Maybe he didn't quite mean what he said? Maybe he was just trying to be nice to Strom on his birthday? That all sounds like a cop-out to me. But perhaps at a minimum he'd like to apologize or just take it back?

In any case, on Friday CNN's Jonathan Karl sat down with Lott for a brief interview which ran on Friday afternoon's Inside Politics. The questions? What Lott thinks about the firings of O'Neill and Lindsey; whether being Majority Leader made him happy and/or stressed; and whether or not he's going to gloat about the November election wins.

No question about whether having the majority back would up his budget for hair shellac. But more importantly, no question about the segregation comments.

On Inside Politics the John Kerry hair story made the cut, not the Trent Lott segregation story.

I've always thought that for all the jokes about age and longevity in office, the one line that really captures how long Strom Thurmond has been around is this: he ran for president against Harry Truman.

Do you really have to say any more than that?

Of course, Thurmond ran as the presidential candidate on the "States-Rights Democrat" or "Dixiecrat" ticket -- a candidacy that was based exclusively and explicitly upon the preservation of legalized segregation and opposition to voting rights and civil rights for blacks.

There's a sort of agreement in Washington these days -- with Thurmond's retirement and hundredth birthday -- to sort of forget about all that unpleasantness.

But look at what Trent Lott said about that candidacy yesterday...

I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead we wouldn't of had all these problems over all these years, either.
Oh, what could have been!!! Just another example of the hubris now reigning among Capitol Hill Republicans.

"The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace within Stanford University is a public policy research center devoted to advanced study of politics, economics, and political economy—both domestic and foreign—as well as international affairs." So says the Hoover website. Now the famed conservative think tank has gotten in on the John Kerry hair cut story. Bill Whalen, a 'research fellow' at Hoover who "studies and writes on current events and political trends, with an emphasis on California's political landscape" has written about the hair cut story in National Review Online. You can find the commentary here.

Up the agitprop food chain we go. When does Irving Kristol chime in? Bob Bork? Milton Friedman?

Today in the Wall Street Journal John Fund complaining about Democrats' complaints about the press and alleged media bias. Is this something conservatives can complain about? Isn't whining about not getting a fair shake from the media about 50% of what it means to be a conservative in America?

By the way, John, the Krauthammer comment was about Al Gore, not Tom Daschle. Look at the transcript. WSJ gets Nexis, right?

What is it about the Nixon Center and why are they so defensive? So paranoid? Are they really that Nixonian?

The Washington think tank world was roiled a few weeks ago when Steve Clemons, of The New America Foundation, delivered a paper in France on the way in which corporations and industry trade groups now funnel money into DC think tanks to engage in a covert and entirely unregulated form of lobbying. It's an equal opportunity game, touching tanks on the left and right.

The speech got attention when it was written up in the Washington Post on November 19th. The thousand word article briefly identified Clemons as "a former Senate staffer who is also a veteran of several Washington think tanks, including the Nixon Center and the Economic Strategy Institute."

Apparently that brief mention of the Nixon Center in the context of questions about think tank ethics was more than the Nixon Center could bear.

Nixon Center Director Paul J. Saunders fired off a letter to the Post protesting a bit too much, shall we say, that none of this stuff -- none of this stuff! -- ever happens at the Nixon Center.

Then he attacked Clemons.

"Notwithstanding his identification as a Nixon Center 'veteran,'" huffed Saunders, "[Clemons'] tenure at the center was limited to a few months after our founding, and he had no meaningful experience related to the center's operations or programs."


Now, I'm no expert on these things but my understanding is that Clemons was actually closely involved in the creation of the Nixon Center and that he was its first Executive Director, a job he held for about a year and a half. In fact, when Clemons was Executive Director, Saunders was his assistant.

This all got my attention because early this year I wrote an article about a fellow named Doug Paal who also had some think tank lobbying type questions swirling around him. And one of the people I interviewed was Nixon Center President Dimitri Simes. And Simes was the only one to rush forward with a fairly embarrassing non-denial denial of his comments to me.

Here is the back and forth in a subsequent letters section of The New Republic ...

To the editors:

I was surprised and disappointed to see the references to The Nixon Center and to me personally in Joshua Micah Marshall's article "Pacific Whim" (March 4 & 11). I was surprised because I had never spoken to anyone identifying himself with tnr about Douglas H. Paal or his Asia Pacific Policy Center (APPC). In fact, Marshall placed several calls to me and to a colleague at The Nixon Center identifying himself with The New York Times Magazine. Was he misleading us? Or did the Times Magazine give Marshall an assignment but reject his product?

I was disappointed because Marshall's characterization of the discussions between The Nixon Center and Paal is quite different from what I told Marshall. I made clear that I was not aware of any impropriety whatsoever on the part of Paal or the APPC. I also explained that our conversations about a possible merger had not gone far enough for The Nixon Center to have received details of the APPC's finances or programs. My point to Marshall was that different organizations quite legitimately have different missions and cultures and that it is rare to find a perfect match, particularly when the institutions in question are of roughly the same size. To imply on this basis, as Marshall does, that The Nixon Center "got a sense of what Paal's real business was" is reckless.

Dimitri K. Simes


The Nixon Center Washington, D.C.

Joshua Micah Marshall replies:

Last December I signed a contract with The New York Times Magazine to write an article about Douglas H. Paal. Thus, in good faith, I told interview subjects I was writing an article for that publication. Later, after an amicable disagreement with the Times Magazine, I withdrew the piece and brought it to TNR. It is hardly incumbent upon a writer to go back and notify every interview subject that the article will appear in another magazine. As to Simes's second point, part of his error is in assuming that his interview was the only source for my account of Paal's dealings with The Nixon Center. In interviews with two other Nixon Center sources, I learned that Paal's negotiations with the Center came to naught because the Center's staff and board were concerned about commingling Paal's foreign funding with the Center's finances, as well as what one Center source termed the "commercial" nature of Paal's work. Another source did recall that Simes was the biggest advocate of bringing Paal on board and apparently the least concerned about the questions of ethics and propriety surrounding Paal's work. Nevertheless, Simes confirmed--albeit gingerly--the essence of this account.

The comment about the Times Magazine was a slur Paal's friends, shall we say, had been peddling about me in anticipation of the article's publication. So we assumed Simes' use of it was a sign that he had been put up to writing the letter. In the small world of Washington foreign policy hands, a man like Simes can sometimes find himself in the embarrassing position of needing to distance himself from an article which has raised uncomfortable -- and unanswered -- questions about another member of the fraternity.

And now we seem to have something similar with Saunders and Clemons.

Now, I know a bit about these things and my understanding is that, as DC think tanks go, the Nixon Center is a reasonably clean operation. My question is, is the Nixon Center so low on the totem pole that they've got to carry everyone else's water? Are they that paranoid? It's like they're the goons sent out to do the hits for the big boys. Like I said, why do the folks at the Nixon Center become so Nixonian?

A number of readers have written in saying that by writing so much about this moronic John Kerry hair story I am actually perpetuating the story, much as I accused Judy Woodruff of doing. Perhaps so. But I think it's worth writing about, even important to write about, because for all the media criticism out there, the media is very unreflective about the ways it allows itself to be manipulated. This Drudge-borne hair story is a good example.

So as frivolous as the story may be I think it's worth paying attention to as a sort of object lesson in the mainstream press's general insipidness and openness to manipulation.

Another point. Several folks wrote in to say that I mischaracterized Tony Blankley's column in the Washington Times. There's an element of truth to this. Blankley did mock the attention the hair story got. But he also ran with it. And there were so many other denigrating, disingenuous and tawdry comments in it that I thought it well merited inclusion.

Finally, a few whiny 'wingers have said this is just a joking thing that shouldn't be taken so seriously. And why am I giving it so much attention? Mockery and ridicule are two of the most effective of political tools. Conservative polemicists understand this very well -- and their opponents would do well to take note of it. As I've noted earlier, Al Gore is perhaps the best example.