Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A reporter just called me to get some follow-up comments/quotes on my earlier post on Bill Safire's retirement and his recent 'mendacity'. So I thought I'd take a moment to elaborate here as well.

As I told this reporter, I've been reading Safire's column for upwards of twenty years. And I thought highly of him, even if I frequently disagreed with him and not-infrequently thought he too easily made arguments I didn't think he quite believed.

Yet the last year or eighteen months or so has seemed very different to me. And, specifically, here's why. Over the course of the last year Safire has written about several topics -- most centering on some aspect of Iraq and/or the bad intelligence meta-story -- which I knew in minute detail.

It won't surprise you to hear that he and I disagreed on most of these matters. That goes without saying. But again and again I saw him making specific factual claims or allegations that he only could have made if he were acting with negligent sloppiness (i.e., not knowing even the basic factual information on the topic at hand) or knowingly misleading his readers.

At TNR online, a run-down of the various theories of Kerry's defeat by TPM alum Alexander Barnes Dryer.

Safire to exit OpEd page early next year.

It's not a day for criticism, I guess There were many good days in the past, no doubt. But in the last year the mendacity has just been overwhelming. There's no other way to put it.

Who will replace him?

Hopefully, someone smart and outside the box. If I had my druthers I'd pick Chris Caldwell. But perhaps there are others I'm not thinking of. Who has other suggestions?

[ed. note: A number of emailers don't seem to agree and/or realize this, though I could be wrong of course. But I'm assuming that Safire needs to be replaced by a conservative of some variety. A number of readers suggest Andrew Sullivan, which seems like an excellent idea. Still others suggest that I'm hopelessly behind the curve and that David Brooks is actually Safire's replacement.]

Briefly, on the purge underway at the CIA ...

Given all that has happened over the last four years, it is easy for critics of the president to fall into the comforting but mistaken assumption that intelligence, foreign policy, or military 'professionals' always know more or are wiser than outsiders and political appointees. Go back and read a biography of Franklin Roosevelt or Winston Churchill to see how mistaken that assumption can be.

All bureaucracies -- whether designed to make widgets, issue drivers licenses, run spies, or drop bombs -- have tendencies toward risk aversion and group think.

But here we have a record.

There has been a running battle along these 'political appointees' versus 'the professionals' lines at the Pentagon, the CIA and, to a much lesser degree, the State Department for more than three years. And by and large the Bush administration's 'political appointees' have been wrong almost every time. There are a few exceptions at the Pentagon -- the early stages of the Afghan campaign being the best example. But at the CIA it's really been pretty much a shut-out. And a number of those screw-ups have been ones of catastrophic proportions.

Yes, some of the commissions and investigations have worked to muddle or obscure this fact. And that's not to say that the CIA has gotten everything right. But in the cases where they got things wrong, it was always the case the the White House and the rest of the administration was pushing for wrong+1 or more likely wrong-squared.

In our reporting on the Niger uranium fiasco, we tried to get very deep into what people at the State Department and the CIA were thinking about the Niger claims in the final months before the war. And the answer you hear in most cases when you ask why this or that problem with the evidence wasn't scrutinized more closely in those dwindling days, the answer you get, after you push past the rigamarole is that there wasn't much point. The die was cast. We were going to war one way or another, better to spend time preparing for it than churning over evidence the reliability or authenticity of which no one cared about anyway.

We will continue to cover and discuss the particulars. But the larger point is simple and clear. On every significant point of conflict between the Bush administration and the country's cadre of intelligence professionals, the Bush political appointees turned out to be wrong. Often very wrong, and with disastrous consequences. Sometimes the intel folks were wrong too; but when that was so, the appointees were always more wrong.

This is not argumentative or hyperbole or even up for much serious dispute.

And the upshot of all that we've seen, the result of all those struggles over the last three years is that the 'appointees' are purging the 'professionals'. Another way to put it is that the folks who were always wrong and often catastrophically wrong are rooting out the folks who were often right and sometimes somewhat wrong. The answer to politicized intelligence, it turns out, is a more thorough politicization of intelligence and the elimination of those who resisted political pressure.

If you think this is just a Washington squabble or political debating point you'd be mistaken. Because your lives, and those of your families and friends, may very well be on the line.

Forget about the other three, who replaces Powell? The signs we're seeing now from out of the CIA paint a pretty dark picture.

Dignity loss watch (from AP/CNN)...

Sen. Arlen Specter must prove to his Republican colleagues that he is the right man to head the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Sunday.

Frist, R-Tennessee, would not say if he backed Specter, R-Pennsylvania, for the job. Specter will make his case to GOP colleagues this week when Congress returns for a postelection session.

To be a fly on the wall ...

A letter from a reader in <$NoAd$>respose to yesterday's post about the Democrats' consultocracy. With the letter writer's permission, I've removed certain portions of the letter to maintain the person's anonymity ...

Excellent post on the state of the Democratic party, its operatives and its message. I think there are two separate points here, each of which is worthy of far further discussion. The idea of an aristocracy of Democratic consultants and operative has been a huge problem for a long time, and I will comment on that mostly in this post, since that is something with which I have experience.

[Here the letter writer explains that he is a mid-level political operative, roughly TPM's age, and notes the various positions he's held in the infrastructure of the Democratic party, its various committees and campaigns, over the last ten or fifteen years.]

I give you this background because I want to point out that many of us mid level political hacks who no one has ever heard off have been having these conversations for a long time. And the problem you identify has sent many of them to lucrative and non-political lives elsewhere.

Its is a depressing fact that for a candidate to become credible in Democratic politics, they have to hire from among a group of consultants who give them credibility with the fundraisers on K St.. The problem from my perspective? None of these firms are new. It’s the same group of consultants who have been running Dem. campaigns since the late 1980’s. If you look at the partners of the major media firms, for example, you can almost guarantee that they were players for someone in the 1988 campaign.

This creates a different problem. For those of my generation of political operatives, the searing election experience was 1994. And the animating ideas, strategy, and tactics of the Republican House majority still dominate the way the Republicans do their politics. Unfortunately, for most of the folks still at the top level of our party, the 1994 election was just one of many elections, and you win some and lose some. For example, it would have been impossible for anybody who lived through 1994 as their baptism into politics to assume that the Swift Boat Veterans attack was anything but harmful and required any reaction but a vicious and immediate counter attack. Yet, that is what the Kerry campaign did….inexplicable. But clearly a decision made by our “older” party hands…one that I believe proved decisive.

The further problem is that in order to succeed with careers in Dem politics – well, you got to join the big boys -- i.e., the young successes in Dem politics tend to hold the same ideas as the people in charge.

I have many, many more thoughts about this, as it’s been a ongoing conversation for some of my close colleagues and I for years. Hope this is helpful a little.

It's not about right or left. It's not an argument that things would have turned out differently if we'd only had better consultants and spin-meisters. But it's a conversation that Democrats should be having.

One of the historical arguments for retaining the Electoral College -- and an argument still made today, though in slightly different terms -- is that a straight national vote would allow the big states and large cities to 'overwhelm' the small states and rural areas.

And it's true after a fashion. The population of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota -- almost a whole region of the country -- amount to just more than 4 million people. Almost as many people live in the puny state of Connecticut. Almost ten times as many live in California.

If every voting American were simply poured into the cauldron of one unified national electorate, how would these states make their voices heard?

It's not a new argument. Go back into the 19th century and you find many debates in state constitutional conventions or other venues in which it is argued that lightly populated or socially or culturally unique regions deserve political clout out of proportion to their population numbers. And similar claims for preferment surface in seminal court cases in the 1960s.

I was particularly struck though by this article which appeared in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

At one level the editorial simply notes the undeniable fact that the Red state/Blue state division we talk so much about is really an rural/urban divide. But the particular spin on the issue is close to given away in the headline: "Big cities can override state's votes."

The Red State/Blue state discussion is "misleading", continues the editorial, because it obscures the "the large-city vs. rest-of-the-county reality."

From there on out we're treated to a discussion of the election in which the effect of the franchise in large cities amounts to a sort of hidden and nefarious loophole to the democratic process. Let me quote at some length (with emphasis added) ...

Without votes in just 11 cites, Kerry won only eight states, and Bush, 42. Without those 11 cities, Bush won by 55 percent to 45 percent nationally, while Kerry won those cities by 61 percent to 39 percent.

The states Kerry won, due solely to votes in just one or two cities each, are California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin. The cities that out-voted the rest of their state or adjacent areas are the District of Columbia, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle.

Kerry won just eight states (Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) with balanced votes, and only two of these (Delaware and Hawaii) are outside of New England. These states gave him just 41 electoral votes.

The 11 cities listed above gave him 208 such votes, against wishes shown elsewhere statewide. Four more states could have had similar results due to city voting in Cleveland, Denver, St. Louis or the Miami to Palm Beach- area. Add D.C.'s three electoral votes and just 15 cities can award 278 electoral votes.

Thus, cities can pick our president, against the wishes expressed elsewhere nationwide. Clearly, this is not a blue-state vs. red-state issue; it is a large-cities vs. the rest- of-the-country issue.

On the "mandate" issue, with Bush winning 42 states, by 55 percent to 45 percent, and his opponent winning just eight states and 11 cities, there should be no question.

The thought that lots of people live in cities seems to pale beside the notion that cities amount to a sort of interest group, one among many, and certainly not one entitled to dominate all the others. After all what kind of democracy are we running if "cities can pick our president, against the wishes expressed elsewhere nationwide"?