Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Let me share with you some quick and hastily-assembled thoughts about the evening just concluded.

I thought the president tonight was better than his speech. And what I mean by that is that he seemed confident, assured, and at ease -- all the qualities that he should have conveyed and embodied. But the speech itself, while good, seemed like less than it could have been. In many ways I thought Cheney's was better.

I trust you'll understand that it's a given that I didn't think much of the content of either speech. But purely evaluating them in terms of political effectiveness, I thought the president's speech left unaddressed issues that I thought he should have and could have dealt with more effectively.

My watching of the speech was disrupted in a jarring way because I happened to be sitting two seats away from one of the protestors who was hustled out of the arena during the president's speech. An unassuming women had been sitting on our press row for the couple hours prior to the speech. And about half way through out of the corner of my eye I saw a plainclothes police officer lunge in our direction. I looked back to see the woman who -- without my having noticed -- had tossed on a pink slip over her dress and I guess was about to start some sort of chant or statement.

He grabbed her; there was a brief commotion. Other officers rushed in our direction. And then before I could even figure out what was going on, she was gone.

There are some more details to the story, including the journalist sitting next to me, who started yelling at the woman -- or perhaps better to say, aggressively scolding her -- as she was dragged off. But I'll leave that till tomorrow.

Remember how President Bush has said, any country that looks at me the wrong way, that's a country I'm going to wipe from the face of the earth? And do you remember how he said that if he didn't read the August 6 PDB that that wasn't his problem and people should stop complaining about it?

I admit that I probably can't point to a direct citation for those things the president says. But then I don't know if George Pataki or the others can point to where John Kerry said he would only attack terrorists after they attacked us first.

"The whole week was double-ply, wall-to-wall ugly. The tone was set early on ... Allowances should be made for rhetorical excess ... But, even so, the Republican Party reached an unimaginably slouchy, and brazen, and constant, level of mendacity last week ... [President Bush] is in "campaign mode" now, which means mendacity doesn't matter, aggression is all and wall-to-wall ugly is the order of battle for the duration."

Joe Klein
August 31st, 1992

"Our tribe will attack their tribe. And then we will kill their men, make their livestock our own and take their women to mate."

This, I'm told, is from the draft version of Zell Miller's speech, before word came down that Zell really shouldn't hold back.

After all the grief Howard Dean got way back when, I'll be watching to see how much follow-on there will be after Miller went from delivering that speech to going on Chris Matthews' show and challenges him to a duel.

(The transcript is really worth reading, if you didn't see it live.)

It's also worth glancing at this CNN interview that they did with Miller just after the speech, in which they pointed out that most of the factual assertions he made in the speech were false.

(CNN's still in awfully bad shape; but credit where credit is due.)

Kevin Drum has a nice run-down of responses from across the web.

Actually I think Atrios get props for the best out of the box response to Miller when he said: "Wow, I never thought Zell would be able to improve on the original German version of Pat Buchanan's '92 speech, but he did."

An important story, though one we're likely to hear little about: former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was released today after his (by all accounts trumped up) sodomy conviction was overturned by the country's high court.

The latest numbers from ARG ...

John Kerry and George W. Bush remain tied nationally. Among all voters in a survey conducted August 30-September 1, Kerry is at 48% and Bush is at 46%. Among likely voters, Bush is at 48% and Kerry is at 47%.

With Ralph Nader in the race, it is Kerry 46%, Bush 45%, and Nader 3% among all voters and Bush 47%, Kerry 47%, and Nader 3% among likely voters.

Kerry has lost support among Independents <$NoAd$>in the past month.

Among all Americans, 48% disapprove of the way Bush is handling his job and 45% approve. When it comes to handling the economy, 51% of all Americans disapprove and 43% approve.

Again, as I said before, Kerry has lost ground -- as ARG notes, among independents, which is the only fluid part of the electorate this year. But you can't really say he's out of it as he's not even clearly behind.

Be sure to check out NewDonkey.com on Zell Miller. "On an evening supposedly devoted to defending the administration's economic record, the two big prime-time speakers, Zell Miller and Dick Cheney, unloaded a truckload of bile against John Kerry's national security record. I'm not sure I've ever heard so many slurs, misleading inferences, and bold-face lies in the course of an hour of rhetoric." (Just between us, the author of this blog is a Georgian who knows Zell like the back of his hand.)

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.