Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Private accounts supporter Rep. Chris Shays (R) of Connecticut takes a stand on privatization: "I am not going to impose my beliefs on Americans if they don't buy off onto it because this is too huge a program."

Actually, I'll give Shays his due. This quote is from a townhall meeting he held in Darien on Sunday. And like a slew of other House Republicans, one of Shays' special guests was President Bush's childhood friend and now deputy Social Security commissioner James Lockhart, who must be racking up a helluva lot of frequent flyer miles. But Shays apparently also had AARP President Marie Smith on hand too.

So for once, it seems, both sides actually got represented at a Republican Social Security townhall meeting.

Count Chocola's Chief of Staff a <$NoAd$> stand-up comedian?

This from Bloomberg: "Chocola, in a 2002 campaign statement, pledged 'no cuts in benefits, no increase in the retirement age and no new taxes,' according Brooks Kochvar, his chief of staff. Chocola's position has been consistent, Kochvar said. 'The system is bankrupt and we need to look at solutions to these problems,' he said. 'He thinks we should explore personal accounts as one of the many options to help fix the problem.'"


Isn't this the guy who told the local paper he was for total privatization in October 2000 (see adjacent graphic), then changed his mind and denied saying it a few weeks later, then said he was against privatization and now says he may or may not be in favor of the privatization?

Indeed, Rep. Chris Chocola (R) of Indiana is one of the great Social Security Switch-Hitters of all time. He'll certainly be in the top ten.

I really hope the folks at the DCCC are noting down Kochvar's whopper for their oppo research book on the Count.

A lot of Republican Social Security Switch-Hitters in the House are hiding behind their own phony definition of 'privatization' and thus claiming they don't and never have supported it and don't even support it now. And admittedly once you have to pull out the public policy dictionary on these bozos they've pretty much fought you to a draw in political terms.

But the Count is so bipositional that he not only used the word in 2000 he said he was for 100% privatization. "Eventually," quoth the Count, "I'd like to see the entire system privatized."

That was two years before he said he was 100% against 'privatization'.

They should be able to run the Count out of office next year on comedic value alone.

(ed.note: Special thanks to TPM Reader SR for giving us a heads-up about the Bloomberg piece.)

Many principles and lessons from military history are readily applicable to the political world. And one that is particularly applicable is that few maneuvers are more difficult to execute than an organized and orderly retreat under hostile fire.

Without a good discipline, a good plan and good morale, it can degenerate quickly into a rout and a slaughter.

Which brings us to the question of Social Security. An orderly retreat is what the White House and its congressional allies are trying to do.

I get asked a lot just what the White House is thinking. Every day, it seems, they get more bad news on the Social Security front. So just what do they think is going to happen?

I wondered about this myself a lot. And I can't say that I really have a good answer. But I have a tentative one. And perhaps that will do since I don't think the White House has more than a tentative answer either.

Basically, what I think is happening is that the White House is trying to keep up the Bamboozlepalooza thing long enough and monotonously enough that eventually people start forgetting that this was supposed to be a specifc piece of legislation the president the president was going to push through Congress this year, even this spring.

After a while it starts to sound a bit more like background noise. And suddenly it's more like some vague public education campaign with no specific or immediate goal in mind, like President Clinton's ill-fated 'conversation about race'.

Basically, having thrown down the gauntlet, President Bush is trying to wriggle out of the challenge so that he can get out of admitting to an abject political defeat.

Do that, they figure, and give the tremulous folks in Congress marching orders to keep their comments vague. Then you can either wait and see if other possibilities develop or just let the whole thing die and hope no one remembers how it all started.

Music to our ears.

From the Times: "Whatever the reason, people who have worked on Capitol Hill for generations said they could not remember a time when Democrats in the Senate were so unified. Except for Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who says he has not made up his mind, every Democratic senator is committed to opposing diverting Social Security taxes into individual accounts."

One of the endlessly mind-numbing things about public opinion polls (especially when they're churned through the meat grinder of daily journalism) is how you can have separately asked questions, the answers to which completely contradict each other.

So for instance, you have this lead paragraph in an article now running at CNN ...

A majority of U.S. Catholics surveyed want the next pope to have a theological outlook similar to that of Pope John Paul II, but they would also like to see changes on issues such as birth control, stem cell research and allowing priests to marry, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Sunday.

As the article notes further down into the piece ...

Seventy-eight percent said the next pope should allow Catholics to use birth control, 63 percent said he should let priests marry and 59 percent said the next pope should have a less-strict policy on stem cell research.

Needless to say, a Pope who followed <$NoAd$> any of those suggestions, let alone all of them, would be one who had a very different outlook from John Paul II.

I've mentioned a few times of late that we're soon going to be launching a new website that will be an adjunct or companion site to Talking Points Memo. One of the main features of the site will be a new group blog, which we're very excited about. It will feature some voices you're likely familiar with, and others you've either never heard before or at least have never read in a blog format. It will likely have a few more than a dozen authors -- a mix of writers and politicos, at least a couple of whom you will have seen as guest bloggers at TPM.

In addition to that, however, the site will also be a forum for TPM readers to discuss and debate the issues raised on TPM as well as to raise and hash out questions we're not discussing, but that you think we should be.

Another reason for launching the site is something that only became clear to me in the last six months or so. And that is, the way that blogs can facilitate what amounts to a sort of distributed or open-source journalism. Perhaps, you might even call it open-source muck-raking.

I began to sense the possibilities of this during the whole Sinclair Broadcasting debacle last fall, again with the 'DeLay Rule', and then on a larger scale with President Bush's jihad against Social Security. When people guest-blog on TPM, they never fail to be amazed at just how much quality information comes in from readers. And in this case, I don't just mean solid thinking and analysis, but concrete factual data.

It would have been impossible for me, for instance, to have written most of what I've written on Social Security over the last few months if I didn't have literally thousands of people reading their local papers and letting me know what they're seeing or reporting back from townhall meetings or giving me the heads up on things that are about to break on the hill. That's not a replacement for journalism; it's different. But it's potentially very powerful.

We want this site to facilitate more of that sort of joint endeavor, bringing together readers with an interest in a particular issue, pooling all the information they're able to collect and bringing it together in one place. (The Bankruptcy Blog we recently set up at TPM was one limited effort to do that. We sort of jumped ahead with our plan in that case because the need seemed so pressing.) And here's where we'd love your input.

There are many great discussion and community sites out there. In terms of discussion sites, some features of which we're going to be using and others we're not. We're eager to hear about features you like or don't like or, even more, things you wish other sites had, but don't. Even more, we'd love your input about the last issue I discussed, this distributed or open-source journalism. Many of you have been sending in tips for months, contacting representatives and senators, sending in news stories that aren't getting picked up in the national press. We're looking for ways to put you into with each other more directly, to facilitate that sort of exchange or activism on others issues beside Social Security.

Now, we have our own ideas about how to do this and we're incorporating those into the site as we design it. But we're very eager to get your input too. So drop us a line and let us know what you think.

Is the bug man in trouble back in the district?

While I'm all for running a well-financed challenger against DeLay in 2006 (and in every election thereafter, for that matter) I've always figured it was pretty unlikely he'd actually get run out of office by his constituents. But maybe not.

A new Houston Chronicle poll conducted by Zogby found that 40% of his constituents have a less favorable opinion of him now than they did last year. Meanwhile, only 11% said they thought better of him.

It is true, reports the Chronicle, that "half of the respondents gave DeLay a somewhat or very favorable rating. Yet 49 percent said they would vote for someone other than DeLay if a congressional election in the 22nd District were at hand; 39 percent said they would stick with him."

Now, lest anyone get the wrong impression, I'm not saying DeLay's defeat is likely, let alone inevitable. But this poll does suggest that you don't need to make too many heroic assumptions to come up with a scenario in which a solid challenger could unseat him.

And, of course, there's still 18 months for DeLay to threaten federal judges, commit more corrupt acts and rope the members of his caucus into rewriting more of the ethics rules to keep him in the clear. So he might become more unpopular still.

Bamboozlepalooza, Street Theater Edition!

Next Tuesday President Bush is taking the Bamboozlepalooza Tour to West Virginia.

But he's going somewhere special, Parkersburg, home of the Bureau of Public Debt. That's where the Treasury notes that make up the Social Security Trust Fund are kept -- the ones the president and his allies deride as worthless slips of paper or worthless IOUs.

Indeed, in announcing the president's visit, White House spokesman Taylor Gross noted that "This is a center that, in a sense, houses the IOUs of Social Security." And then he went on to say that "the president seeks to highlight the fact that the IOUs housed at Parkersburg are a good example of why this system needs to be fixed."

After touring the Bureau, the president is scheduled to move on to a Bamboozlepalooza event at West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

Now, the article on the visit in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, which appeared before the death of John Paul II, noted that the Pope's then-apparently-imminent death could lead to a change in scheduling of the president's trip. But whenever the visit occurs, the clear aim is to create footage of the president chatting up or even handling the debt instruments he says are worthless and that he is so committed to not repaying or defaulting on.

Now, if there were any shame in the man or any sense in the media, this would be treated like a case of the crook returning to the scene of the crime -- only we might say, in this case, in advance of the bad act he aspires to.

But it would certainly make sense for the supporters of Social Security to raise this question again now in the clearest terms: Does the president believe that those Treasury notes are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States and will he guarantee those funds will be repaid?

Late Update: TPM Reader AK writes in with a splendid bit of lexical or phraseological insight. What the president is doing is casing the joint.

Even Later Update: Actually, why didn't I realize this the first time through? The president is making a special stop at the Bureau of Public Debt to view his legacy.