Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Some random thoughts about the Democratic primary race.

I had lunch today with someone who is not a politician but a fairly prominent Washington Democrat -- certainly not someone from the party's liberal wing. And in the course of answering a question, I said "If it [i.e. the nominee] ends up being Dean ..." At which point, with the rest of my sentence still on deck down in my throat, my friend shot back : "It's Dean."

It was effortless. He wasn't happy or sad about it. He wasn't trying to convince me -- more like letting me in on something I apparently wasn't aware of yet.

We went back and forth over the various factors that play into the race. But the conclusion was that Dean is just in the zone, hitting on every cylinder, doing almost everything right tactically, and having the added benefit of having tons of money. Plenty of candidates have money and go nowhere because they don't know what to do with it. But at least at the moment that doesn't apply to Dean -- and that's certainly related to the fact that the money itself stems from campaign ingenuity, thus creating a sort of virtuous circle of fundraising success.

(I also keep running into McCain types who are very into Dean -- something which is on one level pretty surprising, but on another not surprising at all.

I was reminded of this when I read this post by Eric Alterman about John Kerry's campaign -- a meditation on a meeting Kerry held recently with Alterman and a bunch of other journalists, intellectuals and scribblers at Al Franken's apartment in New York. The broader theme was reconciling Alterman's belief that Kerry could beat President Bush and could even be a great president with the reality that Kerry's campaign appears to be disintegrating in New Hampshire. And because New Hampshire, essentially everywhere.

Alterman says Kerry ...

still has the problem—perhaps unsolvable—of how to break through to Dean voters in the short amount of time he has left when the media has their storyline already and no candidate gets to say anything that lasts more than a few seconds.

And how!

I like Kerry -- I find the smarm attacks on him revolting. But, in a situation like this, it's really hard for me to see how you can recover the support of voters that you once had in New Hampshire, but then lost.

I think Clark clearly has momentum. But he'll need a lot of momentum to make a fight of this.

Edwards and Lieberman? Somewhere between off the map and non-existent.

I find myself torn because I see great promise in the resurgence of energy among grassroots Democrats -- something that has made Dean's campaign possible, but which he himself has also significantly helped to catalyze. The novel methods of fundraising and networking are extremely important -- something that Dems allowed to atrophy literally decades ago. And I definitely think that the going models that Democrats have in DC just aren't working, demonstrably aren't working.

Yet my wariness remains -- on various counts.

Of late, a lot of folks, playing off the McGovern analogy, have started talking up the Goldwater one. Perhaps the Dems lose this one, but it's a campaign that germinates into a political realignment one or two or three elections later.


The problem is that I'm not sure we can afford another four years of this. And I don't consider that hyperbole, but cold fact. Plus, I think Bush is beatable.

"The hawks' whole plan rests on the assumption that we can turn [Iraq] into a self-governing democracy--that the very presence of that example will transform politics in the Middle East. But what if we can't really create a democratic, self-governing Iraq, at least not very quickly? What if the experience we had after World War II in Germany and Japan, two ethnically homogeneous nations, doesn't quite work in an ethnically divided Iraq where one group, the Sunni Arabs, has spent decades repressing and slaughtering the others? As one former Army officer with long experience with the Iraq file explains it, the "physical analogy to Saddam Hussein's regime is a steel beam in compression." Give it one good hit, and you'll get a violent explosion. One hundred thousand U.S. troops may be able to keep a lid on all the pent-up hatred. But we may soon find that it's unwise to hand off power to the fractious Iraqis. To invoke the ugly but apt metaphor which Jefferson used to describe the American dilemma of slavery, we will have the wolf by the ears. You want to let go. But you dare not."

"Practice to Deceive"
The Washington Monthly
April 2003

Still ugly, still apt.

All in the Family ...

President Bush named James A. Baker III, the <$NoAd$>former secretary of state, as his personal envoy to Iraq today to help the country grapple with its debt problem.

"Secretary Baker will report directly to me," Mr. Bush said in a statement, "and will lead an effort to work with the world's governments at the highest levels, with international organizations and with the Iraqis, in seeking the restructuring and reduction of Iraq's official debt."

New York Times, December 5th 2003

Saudi Arabia will withhold the $1 billion in loans and credits that it pledged last month for Iraq's reconstruction until the security situation is stabilized and a sovereign government takes office, U.S. and Saudi officials said.

Los Angeles Times, December 1st 2003

Baker is one of the Saudi government's chief supporters in the US. His law firm, Baker Botts, is now representing the Saudi government in the $ 1 trillion law suit filed against Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the 9/11 attacks by the victims' families. Baker also serves as senior counsel and partner in the Carlyle investment group, which is a financial adviser to the Saudi government.

Jerusalem Post, August 15th 2003

For more than three decades, Saudi Arabia has sought to influence American politicians, often through investment in American business. While they have occasionally sought out Democrats, they are far more comfortable with Republicans -- and in particular, with Bush Republicans. At the moment, for example, the kingdom's defense attorney in a lawsuit brought by families of 9/11 victims happens to be James Baker, that ultimate Bushie whose resume includes stints as Secretary of State and Treasury. (Mr. Baker's last big court case was Bush v. Gore.)

New York Observer, August 11th 2003

A fine illustration of this Washington tradition took place at the capital's Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, former secretary of state James Baker, former secretary of defense Frank Carlucci and a parade of other former government officials convened at those swank quarters to attend the annual investor conference of the Carlyle Group, a private investment company known for putting lucrative business deals together for the Saudi royal family (and also known for its roster of all-star advisers, including Baker and the elder George Bush). Among those gathered to schmooze with Washington's power brokers was one Shafiq bin Laden, a Saudi captain of industry whose brother would slaughter thousands of Americans before the conferees broke for lunch. The meeting, notes Robert Baer, whose Sleeping With the Devil catalogs many others like it, "was the perfect metaphor for Washington's strange affair with Saudi Arabia."

Washington Post, July 27th 2003

I'm not a Saudi-basher. But it seems to me that there's some difficulty with this appointment.

We'll be talking more about this in coming days. But there are more and more signs of the IRS and other arms of the federal government taking a conspicuous interest in the finances and political spending of Democratic-leaning organizations.

Most establishment, mainstream Dems don't want to think this sort of thing is happening. But I've spoken to several in recent days who are starting to think that it is. The IRS, for instance, has just began a top-to-bottom audit of the NEA's (the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers' union) finances.

Here's a question for you.

How many prominent Democrats has Charles Krauthammer not publicly diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. (Krauthammer has an MD and trained as a psychiatrist, though I'm uncertain how long, or even if, he practiced beyond his residency.)

Clinton's out of the running; Gore's out; Dean's out; presumably others too.

Just the kind of shrink you'd want to go to -- the kind who uses the expertise as a cudgel ...

There's some interesting insidery stuff going on with an inter-agency tussle pitting -- contrary to form -- State and DOD <$NoAd$>against the NSC on Taiwan policy.

Bill Kristol and Gary Schmitt touched on it in a piece in the Standard on Tuesday. And in the Nelson Report this afternoon, Chris Nelson -- with his inimitable style and dazzling sources -- says the following ...

9. Finally for today, from last night's Report, we incorrectly stated that NSC Asia director Jim Moriarity spent all his time in Taipei before returning to Washington…sources say he also was sent to Beijing to personally explain the President's intentions in writing, privately, to Taiwan President Chen Shuibian.

-- we don't know if Moriarity carried a "second letter" from Bush to President Hu…Loyal Readers who may have such knowledge are reminded that e-mail works both ways.

10. But feedback today confirms that while the State Department certainly supports the intention of the NSC in trying to reign-in Chen's efforts to push the envelope in redefining Taiwan's position vis a vis China…that State, including Secretary Powell, is very, very unhappy with how the NSC handled the Moriarity visit.

-- no one wants to admit this…but it turns out that Powell felt constrained to send Bush a letter reminding him of the acceptable ways to discuss what the U.S. "opposes", and why any changes in the mantra can themselves be de-stabilizing.

11. Sources familiar with the Bush/Hu letter confirm our Report last night, that it did use the "approved" or "time tested" language that the U.S. "opposes" unilateral moves by either China or Taiwan which might upset the peaceful status quo.

-- but evidence of the tactical blood bath over Moriarity's visit comes with word that National Security Advisor Condi Rice had to personally order Moriarity to read the draft Bush/Hu letter to Deputy Secretary of State Randy Schriver.

12. And even at this late date, the Bush/Hu letter having been delivered in Taipei, and, apparently, discussed in Beijing, State has not been given an actual text of what Moriarity put together for the President's signature.

-- does any of this really matter? After all, the bottom line is that both State and the NSC are on the same page when it comes to concern over the risks posed now, and in the future, by Chen Shuibian.

13. Our guess is that it does matter, in that the fight isn't merely tactical, but is fundamentally conceptual. Our guess is that Moriarity's effort reflects a Bush White House which continues to view all foreign policy through the prism of counter-terrorism (and, in Asia, this includes dealing with N. Korea).

-- recall that Bush's personal anger with Chen goes back to at least August, 2002, as we reported at the time, when even pro-Taiwan officials were furious with Chen for "upsetting larger U.S. interests" vis a vis China.

14. Despite Bush's letter, this issue is not going away, and is likely to get a good deal more "difficult", not the least because the growing support for Taiwan on Capitol Hill is fundamentally based on support for democracy writ large…and a basic innocence of historical appreciation of the reasons for the Cross-Straits dialogue.

-- as one DOD wag put it today, "What happens when Wolfowitz decides that if we support democracy for Iraq, we can hardly turn our back on Taiwan?" How Capitol Hill might play with that is anyone's guess.

We can discuss later the fact that the president's brother, Neil Bush, is now in business with the son of the former President of the PRC, Jiang Zemin, and Neil's recent 'summit' meeting with Taiwanese President Chen in New York.

Not that any of these things have anything to do with each other of course ...

Okay, when can we all just admit that the Rosetta Stone of today's Washington (viz, the defense-intel -money-chase -homeland-security-lobbying mumbo-jumbotron) is the account book of Richard Perle's "Trireme Partners"?

Turns out now that Boeing (themselves now in a bit of military-industrial complex hot water) 'invested' $20 million too.

Here is a frightening and revealing article about protests and threats from Israelis and Palestinians against the architects of the new 'Geneva Accord.' (See this post below for more thoughts on what the Accord represents.)

Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin, hideously, called it "a Swiss golden calf," and an assembly of rabbis said the authors should be "cast out from human society and brought to trial."

Meanwhile, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades denounced the Palestinian authors as "collaborators" and someone opened fire on Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo's home.

A new TPM Featured Book: Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman by W. Montgomery Watt.

To specialists, it's no doubt dated, published as it was in 1961. But it's a short, concise and elegant account of Muhammad's life, the birth of Islam, and the religion's first decades.

An unadorned narrative with lots of informative detail -- I found it an excellent book and recommend it highly.

My God! I am always a bit leery of Zogby polls because about as often as his polls are dead right, they're dead wrong.

But even if his numbers can be erratic, there's no ignoring his new poll out of New Hampshire.

Dean 42%

Kerry 12%

Clark 9%

Lieberman 7%

A thirty point spread. That's amazing.

Zogby also gives Dean a 26% to 22% edge over Dick Gephardt in Iowa. That's basically neck-and-neck. But it's always better to be a neck ahead than a neck behind.

What's really telling about those New Hampshire numbers is that Dean's number (42%) has been right about there for the last month, going by the last several public polls. (I looked at three public polls from November -- two gave Dean 38%, one gave him 44%.)

The difference is in Kerry's number, which continues to fall. That's the lowest number he's ever tracked at in the state, judging from a quick scan of public polls stretching back to last spring.

I think this state records thing in Vermont is making Dean look foolish and the gaffes (Soviet Union for Russia) don't help either. But for the moment at least none of that is showing up in the polls -- at least not the top-lines; I haven't seen any internals.

Also, see this analysis of the race from MSNBC. For the moment, the most consequential battle is the Dean-Gephardt fracas in Iowa.