Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Keep your eye out and you're bound to see this argument -- now floated by many conservative columnists -- that Kerry may win because voters need a breather -- a time-out, if you will -- from the turbocharged rush of history we've experienced over the last three years under George W. Bush. The president has simply accomplished so much, bent the world so mightily to his will, that Americans are craving a return to normalcy, as that campaign neologism once had it.

We thirst for mediocrity -- the road more travelled -- and Kerry quenches us.

But, really, how many times has the American electorate punished a president for accomplishing too much? Franklin Roosevelt? Harry Truman? Theodore Roosevelt? Where are the examples?

The reference Peggy Noonan put forward was with Kerry playing the Warren G. Harding to Bush's Woodrow Wilson. But Wilson's presidency, in tandem with his health, had collapsed over his efforts to secure a settled peace after World War I.

Rather than taking it on its merits, though, I have a different take on this argument. It's a rhetorical or logical reasoning halfway house on the way to a realization of how badly the president has screwed up what one might generously call his ambitious plans. As with Kubler-Ross's grinding five stages of grief, first we have denial. Then anger. And with this argument we have something akin to that tipping-point stage of 'bargaining' -- the sensible pundits' first tip-toe out onto a serious consideration of the impact of the president's term of office.

This afternoon I exchanged emails with a friend who's involved in crafting the evening's message, asking him about the standing orders to steer clear of any personal attacks on the president or even, it seemed, any invocations of the president's name. "This will not be a Michael Moore event," he told me, after confirming the gist of what I'd read in various press accounts.

Then hours later, as I was leaving the Fleet Center, making my way down an escalator to the first floor, I looked across the few feet separating me from a parallel-running escalator and saw, yes, Michael Moore.

First, I should say, as I side note, that trying to pull off an impromptu interview, with pen and pad, calling out questions from one escalator to another, is a perilous endeavor, as you're apt not to be paying attention when the escalator ends or simply be looking the wrong way. But let's not distract ourselves with that. Just file that away for future reference.

In any case, there I am a few feet from Moore; and it's one of the first times all day when I can think of a question to ask someone where I'm really curious and uncertain as to what the answer will be. So I ask him what he makes of all of this. No attacks on the president. Not even any mention of the man's name. It's like the anti-Michael Moore event. Or rather the non-Michael Moore event. (I caught myself the first time, realizing that hadn't come out precisely as I'd intended.)

Clearly, the guy didn't know what to make of me. And as he breezes by he says, "Oh, Really? I liked it. You don't even have to say it. Everyone knows how bad it is."

Think what you will about Michael Moore or evening one of the convention, I think that sums up precisely what this event is all about and the dynamic on which it's operating. I've seen a slew of articles today arguing that the Democrats must energize their 'base' while not alienating the swing voters John Kerry needs to clinb from the mid-40s past 50%.

But this strikes me as a tired conventional wisdom that has little to do with what's actually happening here.

To be in the hall tonight -- or even to have watched the Democrats closely for the last five or six months -- is to know that that tension or trade-off hardly exists.

When it first occurred to me to write this post I was going to say that partisan Democrats have decided to give Kerry a free hand in appealing to independents and swing voters. But that doesn't get it quite right. That was the case in 1992 when the party's core voters, after twelve years out of the White House, were willing to give Bill Clinton all sorts of leeway with what most viewed as his DLC heterodoxies. But something different is at work here.

Among Democrats, the rejection of this president is so total, exists on so many different levels, and is so fused into their understanding of all the major issues facing the country, that it doesn't even need to be explicitly evoked. The headline of Susan Page's piece in USA Today reads: "Speakers offer few barbs, try to stay warm and fuzzy." But the primetime speeches were actually brimming with barbs, and rather jagged ones at that. They were just woven into the fabric of the speeches, fused into rough-sketched discussions of policy, or paeans to Kerry.

Perhaps it's a touchy analogy, but like voters who understood the code-words Republicans once (and often still do) used to flag hot-button racial issues they dared not voice openly, these Democrats could hear the most scathing attacks on President Bush rattling through the speeches they heard tonight.

I have little to report thus far. I spent most of today getting situated at the place I'm staying, getting my credentials, finding out where everything is and so forth. But what has struck me thus far is that the security -- at least in the hall, and immediate vicinity -- doesn't seem that different from what I remember four years ago at Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

On the streets of Boston, the police presence is palpable. But it's mainly street cops on the corners and stuff like that.

I'm sure the souped-up security is there, probably in places I haven't been. But it hasn't been as visible as you might expect.

(Of course, maybe I've just grown accustomed to the new way of things since September 11th. I don't remember seeing anyone in combat fatigues at either of the 2000 conventions ...)

Early today I buzzed by the MSNBC convention coverage site (probably through the ad link they're running on this and other blogs) and was flabbergasted to see that they've absorbed the blogging model to something like a mind-bending degree. Fineman's got a convention blog now. Hardball has some sort of pan-show blog. And on the latter, even Andrea Mitchell seemed to have typed out a post or two. I had to wonder whether her husband, Alan Greenspan, might be next. Perhaps an FOMC blog?

I've never been much for the blog triumphalism that seems always to be so much a part of the blog universe. Blogs make up a small, specialized niche within the interdependent media ecosystem -- mainly not producers but primary or usually secondary consumers -- like small field mice, ferrets, or bats.

When I see the mainest of mainstream outfits buying into the concept or the model I really don't know what to think. The best way I can describe my reaction is some mix of puzzlement and incredulity.

I've always thought of this as just a vehicle for writing -- a mix of reporting and opinion journalism, done in a format that allows a maximum degree of flexibility, not bound by limitations of space -- the need to write long or short -- or any of the confining genre requirements that define conventional journalism.

The whole thing is mystifying to me.

And, yes, I just arrived late this evening in Boston.

From ABCNews ...

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader's quixotic presidential campaign says it submitted about 5,400 signatures to get on the Michigan ballot, far short of the required number of 30,000. Luckily for him, approximately 43,000 signatures were filed by Michigan Republicans on his behalf, more than meeting the requirement.

Speaks for itself.

Idiots ...

Harry Jaffe has an interesting piece in the Washingtonian about the declining circulation of the Washington Post.

That might not sound like such a big surprise since the decline in newspaper readership in the face of competition from electronic media is almost a cliche. Yet, Jaffe notes that the Times, the Boston Globe and USA Today are all gaining readers. And according to statistics Jaffe cites, the Post was one of only two papers in the top ten nationwide to lose circulation last year.

The article speculates on, but doesn't quite arrive at an explanation of why this is happening. And the thrust of the piece is that Post management can't figure it out either.

The broad story seems to be that the newspaper world, which was once built on big city newspapers, is polarizing towards a crop of, in effect, national newspapers and a larger universe of much smaller ones that are intensely local in their focus. The Post, for a series of reasons, seems to be getting caught betwixt and between by that polarizing trend.

One personal note, though, that I should add. I'm sometimes caustically critical of the Post -- particularly a few specific reporters and members of the editorial page. And I've always had an instinctive preference for the New York Times, though I freely grant that's in part a matter of cultural prejudice of a sort. When I'm travelling or getting on a train and want something to read, for instance, I'll almost always grab the Times rather than the Post.

Yet, writing TPM day in and day out for years now has given me a certain brass-tacks way of evaluating the quality of reportage over time. Allow me to explain. I do a fair amount of original reporting for this site. But most of what I do is, inevitably, a matter of mining other news sources for bits and pieces of information and piecing them together with other pieces of information, showing too-little-noticed connections or explaining or trying to interpret their meaning.

Over time you get a good sense of which news outlets consistently generate new information and which don't. And by this measure -- on the issues I follow closely, which I'd say are foreign policy, defense policy, intelligence and national politics -- the Post consistently outclasses the Times, particularly on the first three topics. When it comes to who's generating fresh information rather than summarizing the story a few days later or relying on hand-fed stories, my experience putting together this site tells me I usually end up finding new information -- which stands up over time -- in the Post.

Needless to say there are a number of Times reporters on these topics who are first-rate, peerless and a number at the Post who, to put it coarsely, suck. But on balance -- and to some degree to my surprise -- that's my experience.

A different take (see post from last night) on what the new presidential Air National Guard payroll records mean -- this from Reuters: "Some of President Bush's missing Air National Guard records during the Vietnam War years, previously said to be destroyed, turned up on Friday but offered no new evidence to dispel charges by Democrats that he was absent without leave."

Of course, the fact that the White House has wrangled this issue down to poring over a million different records that I myself can hardly keep track of means they've largely neutralized this issue through that classic Washington method of the death of a thousand docs.

An article in the Post reports that a special prosecutor in Mexico, Ignacio Carrillo Prieto, has asked a judge to issue an arrest warrant for former Mexican President Luis Echeverria. The charges involve an attack in 1971 in which security forces killed at least thirty student protestors in Mexico City.

As the article notes, "bringing charges against Echeverria also marks a milestone in Mexico's efforts to investigate the government's so-called dirty war against pro-democracy activists from the 1960s to the 1980s."

What strikes me though is that the crime he would be charged with is "genocide."

I know the definition of 'genocide' is a highly contested matter -- in philosophical, political and legal contexts -- particularly in emerging international law. The term can be highly mutable. And, of course, withholding the term 'genocide' in no way mitigates or excuses state-terror or political murders used as a tool of repression. But its use in cases such as these seems to blur it almost beyond recognition.

Merriam-Webster defines the term as "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group."

A couple weeks ago we noted reports that a group of payroll records, which might have clarified President Bush's Guard service during a part of 1972, had been "inadvertently destroyed" in a tragic microfilm accident.

That grabbed my attention because from my history research days I knew that the sort of microfilm accident described is exceedingly rare. Indeed, this is the reason so many institutions still use microfilm, even though its been around for something like a century -- because of its excellent archival value, which for various reasons still far outpaces various new digital storage media.

Today though we have an example of just how archival microfilm is. Even after having been destroyed, the files in question managed to turn up at the Pentagon late Friday afternoon.

Now that is archival!

In any case, as announced this afternoon the announcement that the documents in question had been "inadvertently destroyed" itself turned out to be the product of an "inadvertent oversight." (And, no, in case you're wondering, I'm not making this up. Those are quotes.)

And the AP has written the story up with this lede ...

The Pentagon on Friday released newly discovered payroll records from President Bush's 1972 service in the Alabama National Guard, though the records shed no new light on the future president's activities during that summer.

A Pentagon official said the earlier contention that the records were destroyed was an "inadvertent oversight."

Like records released earlier by the White House, these computerized payroll records show no indication Bush drilled with the Alabama unit during July, August and September of 1972. Pay records covering all of 1972, released previously, also indicated no guard service for Bush during those three months.

The records do not give any new information about Bush's National Guard training during 1972, when he transferred to the Alabama National Guard unit so he could work on the U.S. Senate campaign of a family friend. The payroll records do not say definitively whether Bush attended training that summer because they are maintained separately from attendance records.

I have to say that I think I'm with Atrios on this one: I don't understand.

I concede the point that payroll records may have been wrong, or rather simply not have recorded times when the future president showed up for duty. But no new information? These new documents seem to provide at least some added confirmation that the president never showed up for drills as he said he did, right? What am I missing?