Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A friend of mine from across the aisle wrote in this morning, saying that however much of a whacko Zell Miller might have sounded like last night, the GOP has a message for this election, and Miller pounded that message again and again. The message, of course, is Bush will keep you safe; Kerry won't. The Democrats, he said, have no message other than that Bush was AWOL in Texas and Alabama.

There's some real truth in that analysis, or at least in part. The Democrats do have a message but it's been submerged for most of the last three weeks. And that is the main reason why they've lost traction over that period.

The message is straightforward and explainable in ascending levels of specificity.

At its simplest: President Bush has screwed everything up.

A tad less simple: President Bush lied the country into war and then screwed up Iraq. He's racked up huge deficit numbers but no good jobs numbers. He's blown a lot of stuff up; but he's made America less safe.

In that second version, I've made no attempt to craft the whole thing together like a good message maven would do. But that is the essence of it -- accountability, a simple look at the guy's record. Most of his policies were sold on dishonesty and pretty much all of them have failed. In the real world the consequence of screwing everything up is getting canned. Little of the president's life has been lived in the real world. But we have to. So he should be fired.

Here's just one point the Dems could start off on today. For all the mumbo-jumbo about the 'success' with Libya, the two biggest nuclear dangers to America are North Korea and Iran -- Iraq never was one. President Bush has completely screwed up both of them. He's let both of them cruise right along to becoming nuclear states without doing anything of any consequence except barking some occasional tough talk and letting his more gonzo supporters whip up some Spy vs. Spy ridiculousness on the fringes.

Keep the focus on the president's manifest record of failure and he loses this election. Simple as that.

That's why this whole Republican convention has come down to Zell Miller with a shotgun in hand, out in front of the cabin, holding the A-rabs and other outsiders at bay until President Bush can come save the day. Save the womenfolk. Cherish the household gods. I may die but if I do my finger will be clenched on this trigger.

While Zell Miller was speaking this evening, I was sitting in the radio section of Madison Square Garden, down a few floors from the main level, crouched in a pocket where I managed to find some available connectivity to finish up some reporting. That's a fancy way of saying that I didn't hear the thing word-for-word, only the tenor and certain passages and the various talk radio hounds whooping and cheering for this line or that.

But just on a pure political level it didn't seem to me like the sort of speech the planners would want in prime time. There's a lot of rage and anger in that man -- and I can't imagine a viewer coming to that speech with an open and politically-uncommitted mind who wouldn't wonder where it was from. The tone struck me as a bit ranting and wild, barking and angry, with Miller channeling some mix of Heart of Darkness and Deliverance, which I can't quite decipher but did not want to be near.

Andrew Sullivan captures Miller's craggy and curdled mix of lies and blood and soil. A senator from the other party willing to endorse your party's nominee is something that would be hard for either party to pass up. But I think the Republicans let this one go to their head.

Three years ago Miller called Kerry one of the "nation's authentic heroes." Now, he seems to think differently.

I mentioned in a previous post these quotes from Mitt Romney's speech, which came earlier in the evening. And even though his speech -- in some superficial sense -- probably didn't seem like such a red-meat endeavor, to me it captured the imagery of foreboding, fear and lies which is at the heart of this convention, but seldom stated so crisply.

First, of course, there were the back of the hand slaps at Kerry’s military service. Romney said he “respect[ed Kerry's] four months under fire in Vietnam.” But then there were these lines: “America is under attack from almost every direction.” Not just from the terrorists, it seems. But everywhere and by everyone. Everyone wants to get us. We're in danger on every front. And of course the inevitable kulturkampf or stab in the back dimension of the story: “American values are under attack from within.”

If one weren’t so level-headed one might think someone was trying to whip up mass-hysteria.

Along those lines, I’ve been listening closely to the way these speakers talk about war – its immanence and ever-presence, often in ways that don’t jump out at you. In his speech on Monday Sen. George Allen --- current head of the Republicans’ Senate campaign committee --- called this election “the most important since 1980” and then went on to describe this one and that one both as “elections decided in the midst of war.”

The ‘war’ he was talking about for 1980, of course, was the Cold War. But the tenor of the comparison to me had an ominous feel, a retrospective redefinition of the past aimed at making war seem like a permanent, ever-present condition.

Was 1980 a war-time election? I don’t think most people at the time would have said so. Indeed, I think that’s an understatement. Was national security a major issue? Yes. But an election decided in time of war? 1980 was a peacetime election. 1968 and 1972 might fairly be called wartime elections. 1944 was definitely a wartime election. Not 1980.

After Miller left the stage I hustled my way up to the seventh floor to listen to Vice President Cheney’s speech in the hall itself. My first thought was, bold words for a man whose office is the subject of an on-going criminal inquiry. But apparently that’s not the subject of polite conversation.

As I walked around the hall --- in a circle from the left side of the stage all the way around to the right --- my sense was that the crowd was not quite as raucous as I might have expected. Not that it fell flat of course. There were plenty of applause lines. The audience got plenty animated with the advance-choreographed flipflop routine. And to his credit Cheney had much, much less of the swaggering militarism of Miller's diatribe. But the crowd didn’t seem to have the roar in it that I remember for Cheney’s speech four years ago.

It won't surprise you to hear me say that I'm no great fan of our Vice President. So perhaps it's telling -- or at least I found it telling as I walked back to Chelsea after I left the Garden -- that his speech struck me as one of the more level-headed ones I'd heard. This whole confab has been built around militarism, the seductions of the mentality of seige and insecurity both from without and within, and the sort of no-rules-win-at-all-costs-lie-if-it-works mentality that will lead this nation to grief.

Thank you, Jack.

In Slate, Jack Shafer gives a nice run-down of Denny Hastert's low-rent smears of George Soros. He also points out that famed whack-job Lyndon LaRouche is a probable source of Hastert's information.

My only slight disagreement with Jack is on his global analysis of the matter. He calls Hastert a "nut job." I think he's just a smear artist, like some character out of a noir-ish movie from fifties, only he's Speaker of the House of Representatives.

I've got to head upstairs to the hall to catch the Cheney speech with the full measure of Sturm und Drang. But let me leave you with these quotes from Mitt Romney's speech for future discussion ...

"i respect [Kerry's] four months under fire in Vietnam"

"america is under attack from almost every direction"

"american values are under attack from within"

A little later we'll have more on the Ben Barnes story.

But for now, we seem to have a bit more detail on what the president was doing in Alabama in 1972. The president's story is that he got an opportunity to serve on a political campaign in Alabama and then put in for a transfer to serve his Air National Guard duty in that state. But the timing of what he did when has never added up. Nor are there any records to document the president's service. And there's never been anyone who seems to remember what Bush was doing -- or rather anyone who remembers and has been willing to go on the record.

And now Salon has some details that clears up part of the picture.

Jimmy Allison, was a campaign consultant and newspaper owner from Midland, and he was very close to the Bush family. In 1972 he was managing the Senate campaign of Winton Blount in Alabama.

According to his widow, that spring the president's father, George H. W. Bush, called up Allison and asked if he could find his son a job on the campaign to get him out of Texas and out of trouble. "The impression I had was that Georgie was raising a lot of hell in Houston, getting in trouble and embarrassing the family, and they just really wanted to get him out of Houston and under Jimmy's wing ... I think they wanted someone they trusted to keep an eye on him."

Asked if she'd ever seen the younger Bush in uniform during his time in Texas, Allison's wife Linda said, "Good lord, no. I had no idea that the National Guard was involved in his life in any way."

The radical right's cynical pitch to the Jews: "My friends, there is no Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is only the global war on terrorism." Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Aug. 30, 2004, New York City.

An amazing update on the rapid decline of CNN. Now, apparently, only intolerant Republicans can get a fair shake.

The pro-gay rights Republican group Log Cabin Republicans is running a thirty-second ad in favor of an inclusive, rather than an intolerant Republican party. The ad's running on other channels. Even Fox News has agreed to run it nationally, according to Christopher Barron, an LCR representative.

But CNN has refused to run it, calling it "too controversial."

Denny Hastert just sent a letter to Soros in which he writes that groups that support drug legalization, which Soros has helped fund, are "the drug groups that I referred to in my comments on the Fox News Sunday program. Chris Wallace said, 'drug cartels.' I did not."

A couple problems with this comment. First of all, Hastert spoke of where Soros gets his money, not which groups he funds -- a rather important distinction, and not an accidental one, given what Hastert was trying to imply. If Hastert doesn't recognize the distinction, I'm not sure we want him voting on the nation's economic policy. More seriously, this was not an accidental slip, but clearly an intentional one. See the original exchange.

What's more, Hastert quite clearly responded with the same 'who knows?' response when Wallace put him on the spot, forcing him to stand by or not stand by what he was clearly implying. From the exchange ...

WALLACE: You think he may be getting money from the drug cartel?

HASTERT: I'm saying I don't know where groups--could be people who support this type of thing. I'm saying we don't know. The fact is we don't know where this money comes from."

Again, 'where this money comes from'. The nugget of this one is really clear. Hastert goes on Fox raising questions about the source of Soros's money; and when he's called to account he responds by pointing to groups to which Soros gives his money. Hastert was trying to be cute with his words but that's the way slimesters always operate.

And in his letter there's even more dreck like this: "I also believe that 527 political organizations set a dangerous precedent for political discourse because we don't know where the money comes from. For all we know, funding for some of the 527s might come from foreign sources or worse."

Foreign funding or worse? A different angle on the same slime. It is certainly legitimate for Republicans to note that Soros has given financial support to groups which advocate drug decriminalization. It's not legitimate for them to lie about it or indulge in textbook-style McCarthyism.

And to think this man is second in line of succession to the presidency.

Does the Political Director of the <$NoAd$>Republicans' senate campaign committee really see the Carson/Coburn race as a battle between "good" and "evil"?

This is the first graf of a press release put out this morning by the Carson (D)campaign ...

Following up from a debate on Monday where Tom Coburn called this race, “as the battle of good versus evil”, Patrick Davis, Political Director for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (NRSC), echoed those comments today speaking to a breakfast of Oklahoma delegates at the National Republican Convention saying, “we also view this race as good versus evil”.

Perhaps the original quote from the candidate contains some ambiguity. But Davis' comment seems to remove all doubt. Where did they get this guy?

Apparently, Davis' comments are going to be in the Oklahoma papers tomorrow. For context on Coburn's remark, see these first few grafs from a story that ran yesterday in the Tulsa World ...

With the stakes high, the U.S. Senate candidates focus on their differences.

With control of the U.S. Senate at stake in this political year, the race for one of Oklahoma's Senate seats heated up Monday when Republican Tom Coburn came face-to-face with Rep. Brad Carson, D-Okla., and called it "the battle of good versus evil."

A noon downtown Tulsa Kiwanis Club forum, which was aired live on talk radio station KRMG (740 AM), featured the leading candidates in the quest for the Senate seat that Republican Don Nickles will vacate at the end of this year.

Republicans control the Senate with 51 members to the Democrats' 48, plus one Democrat-aligned independent, but 34 Senate seats are up for grabs this year.

"If you don't recognize it," Coburn said, "you must. This is a battle for the culture of America and its future, and I would describe it as the battle of good versus evil."

If elected, Carson would vote to put liberals such as Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in committee leadership positions if Democrats win control of the Senate, Coburn said.

Campaigns always have the game of catching each other out on awkward quotes. But it used to be that if one got caught calling the other 'evil', that meant some staffer was about to get tossed out on his ear. No more apparently...

A bit more on Ben Barnes, the guy from Texas who got President Bush into the Guard way-back-when.

Apparently, the attacks on Kerry's war record just proved too much for him. As we've noted previously, for almost a decade now Barnes has gone to great lengths to avoid causing trouble for the president on the Guard matter. And the Bush folks in Texas have made it clear to him during this election cycle that if he spills the beans about the president that they'll do everything in their power to put him out of business in the state (Barnes is now a lobbyist). And that heat has, I'm told, increased dramatically in recent days.

But apparently those threats haven't done the trick because he has already taped a lengthy interview slated to appear in the not-too-distant future on a major national news show in which he'll describe the strings he pulled to keep Bush out of Vietnam and apparently more.

(Between you and me, according to my three sources on this, Barnes told his story to Dan Rather -- remember, the Texas connection -- for 60 Minutes.)