Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I took a moment tonight to read former Bush economic advisor Gregory Mankiw's brief for Social Security privatization in this week's New Republic. It's a companion piece to Jon Chait's article making a principled case for Democratic obstruction. The title of Mankiw's piece, or the subtitle, is 'Why Democrats Oppose Bush.'

I planned to write about it. And then I didn't know quite where to start. Given Mankiw's background he's obviously an intelligent and sophisticated man. And yet the arguments he adduces are gimmicky and puerile and laced with minor dishonesties all the way through. Two thirds of opposition to the president's plan, he reasons, is due to Bush hatred and Democrats' latent marxism. The remaining third is the result of paternalism. And he deals with that by noting that the Harvard faculty (of which he is a member) has a 401k-style defined-contribution pension plan. And they seem to like it. So why do Democrats (and the idea is that the Harvard faculty is roughly synonomous with Democrats) want to prevent people from having their Social Security replaced by a 401k-style private accounts system?

If it's good enough for the Harvard folks, why isn't it good enough for everyone else.

At this late stage of the game, there's probably little point in again noting that the Harvard faculty and everyone who has a 401k also has Social Security. And there are a slew of other rather elementary arguments why this is a silly comparison. But, again, you've heard those arguments already by now. And you can agree with them or decide that Mankiw's reasoning is more sound.

After sitting for a while with Mankiw's critique, though, a more salient point came to me. Conservatives have any number of explanations why Democrats don't like the president's plan: latent Marxism, political opportunism, contempt for the common man, and on and on. Believe those arguments or don't.

But liberals make up less than a quarter of the population. Democrats, defined by party ID, perhaps a bit more than a third. Yet every poll that comes out shows that clear and, by some measures, decisive majorities don't like the president's plan.

What's their beef?

I can understand why Mankiw wants to pick on Democrats. Because that other question is far more troublesome and difficult to answer.

You've probably seen already that former New Hampshire Republican party Executive Director, Chuck McGee was sentenced to seven months in prison yesterday for his role in the 2002 New Hampshire phone-jamming case.

Next up is Jim Tobin, former head of Bush-Cheney 2004 in New England, who TPM was first to report was a main conspirator in the case. He is now the only charged conspirator who has so far refused to cut a deal. He is scheduled to go on trial in June. McGee and fellow conspirator Allen Raymond are both expected to testify against him.

Keep an eye out, though, for what comes next. And whether it pulls in someone else with lofty ambitions in the next few years: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R) of Tennessee.

When Tobin organized this election-tampering scam he was working as the Northeast field director for the NRSC (the campaign committee of the Senate GOP). That was the cycle that Frist chaired the committee.

We hear that those involved in the phone-jamming scam are now claiming that the plan was aired with NRSC personnel in Washington in advance. If any of the key players are willing to testify to that effect when Tobin goes on trial later this year it could quickly open up a Washington dimension to this story.

Saving private accounts?

Or Saving Private W.?

Just, why is Karen Hughes coming back to the White House?

In his piece breaking the story today, Peter Baker notes sources who "said Hughes will not be a formal member of the White House staff but will take on a specific and particularly important assignment involving international affairs, but they would not identify it."

Color me skeptical.

Notwithstanding her communications assignment post-9/11, Hughes isn't a foreign affairs person. She's a politics and communications person. And a good one. Indeed, one who's always been in tension, if a collegial and productive one, with Karl Rove, as Dan Froomkin does a nice job explaining today.

And where does the president seem to need help right now? On the international front or the domestic politics front?


A new poll just out again puts the president's public approval on Social Security below 40%. This time 37% according to AP/IPSOS. The poll also shows that rather than cementing a new Republican governing majority, as Karl Rove has long argued for and planned, Social Security has split the current tenuous Republican majority right down the middle. The AP poll shows that the president is having problems with "independents, married women and Southerners."

Will Sen. Lugar give us the bum's rush on John Bolton?

Opposition to John Bolton's nomination to be Ambassador to the United Nations is widespread, if latent, even among some of the more sensible Republicans in the senate (not that that means they won't vote for him, mind you). And awareness and opposition to his nomination is picking up speed quickly outside Congress too.

But from what I'm told, much of this is going to come down to whether Sen. Richard Lugar (R), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls for hearings on the nomination today. Senate procedures come in to play here. But basically, if Lugar calls for the hearing today, there's a six day notification rule. And that pretty much means that a quick committee hearing can be held next week and the full senate can rush Bolton through before there's a chance for there to be any serious debate over his qualifications or appropriateness for the job. If he doesn't call for it today the whole thing will get pushed into April.

Steve Clemons reports that the State Department is leaning heavily on Lugar to rush the thing through to avoid precisely that open debate. (Steve's a former senate staffer. So he knows the ins-and-outs of the place as well as anyone.)

If this is something you care about, stop by Steve's site now to find out more and see what you can do.

It sure would be a pity if Andrew Heyward's troubles turned CBS News into a White House mouthpiece on Social Security privatization. But this report on privatization in Chile from last night sure does make it seem that way. Compare CBS's report with this one from January 27th in the Times.

It's almost funny. Sen. Pat Roberts (R) plays Sen. Rockefeller (D) and his staff for fools. Spencer Ackerman has the details.