Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

President's latest response to the tsunami tragedy: badmouth Bill Clinton.

From the Post ...

Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling. Explaining the about-face, a White House official said: "The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain.' "

Many Bush aides believe Clinton was too quick to head for the cameras to hold forth on tragedies with his trademark empathy. "Actions speak louder than words," a top Bush aide said, describing the president's view of his appropriate role.

Actions speak louder than words? <$NoAd$> Actions?

Let's do a short update on the Fainthearted Faction.

Former congressman Tim Roemer voted against the Filner Amendment back in 2001, which would have gotten him grandfathered into the Faction, only he retired from congress in 2002. We've always liked Roemer. Since then he served on the 9/11 Commission and now he's thrown his hat into the ring for the DNC chair. We think he's a good spokesman for the party if not necessarily the spokesman.

Now, it turns out that back in 2000, when he was defending his seat against challenger Chris Chocola (whose name always makes me think of Count Chocula; but that's growing up in the '70s for ya. My mom -- God bless her heart -- was a bit of a health food nut. So such delicacies were few and far between.), he campaigned heavily on his opposition to privatization or any other plan to phase out Social Security and replace it with private accounts.

Distinguishing himself from Chocola didn't end up being all that hard since Chocola had had an accidental moment of honesty in an interview with a local paper in which he said that then-candidate Bush's plan was "a start." "Eventually," he continued, "I'd like to see the entire system privatized."

(Chocola was elected to the seat in 2002 after Roemer declined to run again.)

Given the backstory, I figure Roemer opposes phasing out Social Security. But his vote against the Filner Amendment still does raise some questions. Given that he's running to be the titular head of the Democratic party and that Social Security seems likely to be the defining issue for the next two years -- at least in terms of domestic policy -- you'd think he might make some simple statement just to make clear where he stands.

(I put in a call today but haven't heard anything back.)

On the senate side, the more we hear about Jonathan Cowan et al.'s Third Way outfit the more concerned we get, given his strong past advocacy of replacing Social Security with a private accounts system and with what many are telling us is the group's goal of giving Red State Dems alternative policy positions to both Republicans and the Democrats, notwithstanding the policy merits.

We also haven't yet been able to get any comment from any of the group's co-chairs Senators Bayh, Lincoln and Carper. That's still not enough to get them in the Faction. But put us down as concerned.

Meanwhile, what about the Dean? You know, Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.? Someone reminded me of this great Ryan Lizza article from 2002 in TNR.

Here are a few choice moments ...

Consider Ford's role in the race between Republican Anne Northrup and Democrat Jack Conway for Kentucky's third district in the last election. Northrup was considered one of the most vulnerable House Republicans, and, to help challengers like Conway, the party instituted a "buddy" system in which safe incumbents would campaign for particular candidates. Ford was assigned to Conway. The only problem was that he never did any of the fund-raising or campaigning expected of him. Finally, close to Election Day, a furious Dick Gephardt intervened and called Ford, demanding he get to Kentucky. The night before he arrived, Ford called Conway's staff, but by then there were no useful events they could set up. He campaigned for about half a day. Northrup won by four points and scored an impressive 20 percent of the black vote--a constituency with which Ford, African American himself, obviously could have helped Conway.


His last spat with the party establishment came two years later, when his friend Al Gore invited him to deliver the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. As usual, the media wrote laudatory profiles about the 30-year-old, black, Southern New Democrat who represented the future of the party. Behind the scenes, however, Gore's aides were not as praiseworthy. They complained that he was a headache to work with. They were disappointed with his initial version of the speech, but, when they dispatched writers to fix it, Ford dug in his heels. "Harold Ford deeply resented this," says one Democratic strategist who was involved. Gore's senior aides were so frustrated that they actually bumped the keynote address out of its prime-time slot. (Months later, they learned that Ford had relied on Republican media consultant Frank Luntz to shape the speech.)

Ahhh, the Ford-Luntz connection. It just gets better and better.

Anyway, I need to take advantage of one of my first but regrettably not my last opportunity to pull age rank on Ford (by my calculations I'm a year or so older than he is), and say that maybe the Dean just needed a little seasoning to get all this foolishness of his system and soon he'll fly right. And as we said a couple days ago, as long as he's going to be cynical and opportunistic, you'd think he'd have a better feel for which issues he could effectively cynically exploit, right?

Finally, two last points.

First, we're moving full steam ahead on our Social Security 'where do they stand' database. And to those of you who've volunteered your time, we have your letters and we'll be in touch soon.

Second, as we compile the Faction and marvel at the Dean and so forth, I hope no one will lose sight of the fact of just how united Democrats already are on this issue. Traditional Labor-Liberal Dems and New Dems are both going to end up opposing this because of values and goals they both share. Keep an eye out for signs and announcements on this front in the coming weeks and months. The point here is to get the relatively few stragglers back with the program because politically speaking the difference between down-the-line Democratic opposition and merely overwhelming opposition could turn out to be all the difference in the world. Some folks in the Faction probably already want to defend Social Security or will come around to the right view soon enough. We're just trying to make sure.

Tragedies, or stories into which one has no unique or particular insight, are always a challenge for a blogger because silence is read by many as indifference or inattention. Not so. But in the case of the tragedy unfolding across South and Southeast Asia I'm just an observer. ABC news now puts the number past 50,000 dead. And I can only imagine that with the shattered lines of communication, and the geographical breadth of the damage, that it will run far higher.

The Globe gets it: "The run-up to President Bush's plan to deal with Social Security is looking a lot like the run-up to his plan to deal with Saddam Hussein." Read the rest.

Here's a book I'm excited to read, and you may find of interest too: When America Was Great: The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism by Kevin Mattson. It just arrived in the mail today and I don't know anything about it but what I just read on the dust jacket and skimming through the front matter. But I like the concept and where the author seems to be going with it.

Courtesy of Marshall Wittman, a choice paragraph from the Post's latest article on Jack Abramoff's cash-n-carry graft perpetual motion machine ...

For most politicians, fundraising is a dreaded chore. But until recently, Rep. John T. Doolittle of California and other members of the House Republican leadership had adopted a painless solution: fundraising events in luxury sports boxes leased largely with the money of Indian gaming tribes, where supporters snacked on catered fare in plush surroundings as they watched the Wizards, Caps, Redskins or Orioles.

Doolittle, a Mormon, is an ardent opponent of casino gambling, so it is somewhat ironic that he would invite supporters to watch the Wizards play the Sacramento Kings from an MCI Center suite paid for by casino-rich Indian tribes. But the plaque at the door to Suite 204 did not say Chitimacha or Choctaw. It said "Jack Abramoff," a name synonymous with largesse and influence in the GOP-controlled Congress.

With Abramoff, we now need a term for the moral inverse of 'honest graft', organized corruption, with no redeeming features, which is yet thoroughly lawyered and irreproachable before the law <$NoAd$>. And of course Abramoff is no more than one of the more noteworthy butlers in the House that DeLay built.

The president and the White House have now <$NoAd$> compared their build-up to the Iraq war with their push to phase out Social Security enough times that it seems worth creating a detailed taxonomy of the Bush White House approach to major policy initiatives in order to predict their efforts over the next two years.

The Journal said last week ...

The president has yet to lay out specific ideas for changing the entitlement program; he and his aides are focused first on selling the idea of change. "For a while, I think it's important for me to continue to work with members of both parties to explain the problem," he said in a Monday news conference.

This would suggest that we're now in the lying and fear-mongering phase of the campaign, which would be followed of course by a later phase in which a specific policy remedy is brought forward, nominally meant to address the fake problem.

Perhaps if folks could note beginning and end points of various phases of the Iraq war mumbojumbo that could help us pinpoint signs to look for in the unfolding Social Security debate.

So are there any senators in the Fainthearted Faction?

Hard to tell -- certainly a lot harder than in the House, where you've got Ford as Dean and Allen Boyd as Vice Chair.

The only guy who seems clearly in is Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

He's frequently talked up by the White House as someone who they think they can get to come across. And here's what the Journal said about him last week ...

Mr. Nelson says he is "not saying no to some level of privatization " and is spending the holiday recess assembling a template for overhaul. He says he won't support a plan that could destabilize the current system and says he will insist on "real accounting" in tracking the cost. Like Sens. Conrad and Graham, he doesn't rule out painful steps like cutting benefits. "It's always an option," Mr. Nelson says. "It's sort of the last thing you do."

So, by Senate standards, Nelson's definitely in <$Ad$> the faction. But even he seems pretty tentative in his support, and seems to be signaling, in a couple points he makes, that at least the current Bush plan would be a hard sell for him.

The Journal also suggests that Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, who's ranking member on the Budget Committee, is a possible pick-up for the White House. But from what I can tell from the piece they do so on pretty thin evidence. Conrad just did co-author this USA Today OpEd with Lindsey Graham, and the piece conspicuously does not rule out privatization. But from what relatively little I know of the guy I have a hard time seeing him play ball on this. And his pretty strong deficit hawk credentials makes me even more dubious of his signing on to the fiscal insanity of the president's plan. So without some clearer evidence I see no reason to put him in the Faction.

(It's worth noting that senators, for good reasons and bad, are usually temperamentally averse to ruling things out categorically before the legislative process gets underway.)

I've also had concern mentioned to me about three other senators -- Lincoln, Carper and Bayh, in part because of their sponsorship of a new group called Third Way.

I feel a certain amount of disorientation or ideological vertigo calling out a group named Third Way since I think of myself as a third way kind of a guy and basically Clintonite in my politics, all the political polarization of the last four years notwithstanding. But what caught some folks attention is that Third Way's president is a guy named Jonathan Cowan.

You may know Cowan as the founder of Americans for Gun Safety, a group that tried to give gun-safety measures more reach into the redder part of the country. But veterans of the Social Security debate also remember him as a founder of Lead...or Leave, a Gen X advocacy group, and also a staunch supporter of privatization.

As recently as May 16th 2000 he wrote an OpEd in the Christian Science Monitor which hit all the main themes of the privatization argument.

Still, that's just way too thin a reed in itself to get those three senators into the Faction.

So that's our very tentative run-down for the moment. Hints and allegations, yes. But when you add it all up, just one senator in the faction, Ben Nelson, and even that one not all that eagerly.

If you've any more clues or info about fainthearts in the upper chamber, definitely send them our way.

The Wall Street Journal on the Dean, from Wednesday's paper: "Republicans are eyeing Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, a well-regarded young Democrat who has said he is open to private accounts. But a senior aide to Mr. Ford said he opposes borrowing as an option for covering transition costs."

Dear Congressman Ford,

Look, yes, I know this may seem like a sort of public way of communicating. But my tech guy has set this up so only your home computer can access this post. No one else can see it. It's set to your IP address. (I guess you've got a static IP address on your home hook-up?)

In any case, the consensus of the pols in your home state is that your angle on the Social Security privatization stuff is that you want to set yourself up for a Senate run in 2006 for Frist's seat. And this'll give you bipartisan cross-over cred with rural and conservative voters in the state that you need.

But look, if you're going to be cynical, at least do it effectively, right? This may have been a pretty bad decade-and-a-half for the Dems in Tennessee. But it isn't because Democrats support Social Security, believe me. Gay Marriage? Abortion? Guns? National Defense? Sure, probably all of them. But not excessive fealty to Social Security.

Think about it. Did Bush even get into Social Security during the campaign? Of course, not. Even Lieberman's gotten off that train. And half the people in Connecticut work on Wall Street. What do you got compared to that? Right, I didn't think so.

If you're trying to angle your way into the Senate and set yourself apart from the national Democrats, do it on abortion or the gay rights stuff. Not that I'm recommending it. But if you're going to be cynical at least do it with an issue that's going to do you some good.

If you want to pull up a seat with the real power players, being cynical ain't enough. You've gotta be cynical and smart.

I was chatting with a friend of yours today. And he says he figures you're probably just not with it enough to realize that this isn't much of a way to appeal to Democrats-turned-Republicans in your state. But, dude, I've got your back. He may not be enough of a friend to tell you. But I am, whatever I may be saying about you in the public posts.

Like I said, gay marriage? Iraq? Even maybe the Oil-for-Food angle? (Coleman's too big a doofus ever to carry that ball anywhere.) Those are some issues with some mileage in them. And like I said, if you're going to be cynical, get some mileage out of it, right?

Picture this placard ...

Harold Ford: Man Enough to Know That a Man Shouldn't Marry a Man.

Right? Right? That's great stuff.

Or maybe, this ...

Harold Ford: Putting the 'Christ' back into Christmas.

Anyway, we can come up with various angles. But you get the idea. We'll talk soon. And lemme know if you have any ideas for the database.