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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I couldn't have asked for a better foil for my Salon article about Clinton-bashers comparing Condit to Bill Clinton in an effort to lay one more layer of spin on impeachment. Tucker Carlson's column in New York Magazine takes the argument a step further, though. Clinton isn't the same as Condit; he's much worse!

From my experience, this sort of thing is like the blue spot appearing on the home Clinton-hating test you can buy at your local drugstore: the ability to compare Bill Clinton to almost any other malefactor and find him not only a far more egregious evildoer but in some degree also contributing to the other fellow's undoing and suffering.

I remember a former boss once telling me how Bill Clinton was an unpardonable sleaze and (in the same breath) how Jack and Bobby Kennedy were great guys who inspired his generation. Never mind, of course, that Jack Kennedy did so many women in the White House that his exploits make Clinton look like the wallflower at the high school dance. What was even worse about Clinton, he said, was that his peccadillos had retrospectively tarred the Kennedy brothers. (No, I'm not sure I can explain that one either.)

Anyway, in Carlson's piece the superficial similarities between the Condit and Clinton cases belie the deeper reality: Condit is an essentially blameless rube caught in the headlights of a media firestorm bereft of all of Bill Clinton's advantages. He has no army of mindless, shillifying defenders, no media machine to crunch the bones of his adversaries, and no army at his beck and call to commit war crimes abroad to cover up his troubles at home. And thus Gary Condit is a sort of tragic figure, paying the price, as we all seem to do sooner or later for Bill Clinton's sins.

Am I missing something here? Bill Clinton's 'crimes' were manufactured ones; Gary Condit is under legitimate suspicion of involvement in the disappearance of his girlfriend. I've noted before that I think obstruction charges should be handed down only very sparingly. But if you want to talk about obstruction, Gary Condit has apparently obstructed a real investigation, not a cooked-up, bogus one headed up by Ken Starr. Could anything better expose the factual and moral myopia of Clinton's Monica-era critics?

Let's do a little due diligence on our friend Mitch Daniels, shall we?

Here's a quote from Daniels' appearance on NPR's Talk of the Nation last Wednesday (7/25/01):

It's very fascinating to me that people who argue against, for instance, this tax cut, have little or nothing to say about the payroll tax, which is a flat tax on the first dollar of income that the poorest American makes, essentially. It's very regressive, weighs much more heavily on people at the bottom than on the wealthy. And yet it seems to be fiercely defended by the same people who argue for higher taxes on the income side.
Really? Nothing to say about the payroll tax?

This is the sort of blithe dishonesty that seems to role off Daniels' tongue with distressing ease. I don't want to call Mitch a liar or anything (it's such an ugly word); but let's agree to call this a tour de force of disingenuousness.

Here's why.

During last Spring's tax cut debate the centerpiece of the Democrats' alternative tax cut plan was tax relief for Americans who pay most or all of their taxes in payroll taxes rather than income taxes -- roughly three-quarters of Americans.

The proposed mechanism for accomplishing this was a refundable income tax credit against a portion of payroll tax liability. This would have limited the bite of payroll taxation without harming the funding base of Social Security. Republicans vigorously resisted this approach by arguing that payroll taxes are somehow not real taxes in the way that income taxes are. As top economic advisor Larry Lindsey dismissively put it, "the tax cut proposal is designed to cut taxes for people who pay taxes ... if you don't pay taxes, it's very hard to get a tax cut." Or in Daniels' boss's slightly more candid phrase, the administration supported "tax relief for everyone who pays income taxes."

Which Democrats supported tax relief aimed at those who pay payroll taxes? Oh ... Joe Lieberman, the New Dem Democratic Leadership Council, the liberal Economic Policy Institute, basically all of them.

Or take another example. Ted Kennedy, who, in case you hadn't heard, opposed the Bush tax cut, has for several years been trying to reduce payroll taxes from 6.2% to 5.3%. He would fund the cut by eliminating the cap on payroll taxation which allows high-income earners to avoid payroll taxes on much of their income.

(It's fair to note that liberal Social Security wonks have in the past been leery about fiddling with payroll taxes for fear of either harming the fiscal integrity of Social Security or eroding popular support for the program -- something I've criticized in the past. But the trend among Democrats in the last few years has been very much in the opposite direction.)

I could cite numerous other examples. But suffice it to say that for anyone who's followed tax policy debates over recent years Daniels' comment is utter crap -- which suggests a pattern.

Personally, I can't stand roller coasters. And I haven't been on one since I was like six -- that experience was traumatizing enough. But one of the things you would think you wouldn't have to worry about is two roller coasters colliding. That's what happened today in Salem, New Hampshire. (I knew I was right not get on another one of those things.)

Don't these jokers have more important things to worry about?

Overland Park, Kansas-based artist Terry Aley put his Condit/Chandra collage painting (pictured here) up for sale on eBay recently. But the painting was ordered removed from the online auction site on Monday after Representative Condit complained about potential copyright infringement. The letter Aley received read in part:

We regret to inform you that your auction: 1448723501 NEW ABSTRACT ART-CHANDRA LEVY & GARY CONDIT has been ended at the request of Representative Gary A. Condit, a member of eBay's Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) Program, because they filed a sworn statement that it offers a product or contains material which violates their copyright, trademark or other rights.
Note to Condit, Dayton et. al: Don't sweat the copyright infringement. Concentrate on effective evidence disposal!

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!

A reader passes on a very speculative but very interesting thought. Personal items can often be receptacles of evidence in crimes of violence. We know all about the watch box Gary Condit tossed into a trash can over in Arlington, Virginia hours before police searched his apartment. This was the box for the watch given to him by a former girlfriend who worked on his staff in the mid-nineties.

It was very important to Gary Condit to throw away the watch box. Which raises an obvious question ....

So where's the watch?

Oops! The New York Times has done precious little reporting on the Condit case; perhaps to their credit, perhaps not -- you be the judge. It's always a little sad, though, when one of the bigs ignores the story for weeks and then manages to get a big fact wrong once they actually take a whack at it.

James Risen's article in today's Times reports on Gary Condit's refusal to meet with private investigators working for the Levy family. (Given the acrimony between Condit and the Levys it's actually not hard to blame him, but that's another story.) At the tail end of the piece Risen reports that the Levy investigators are combing over the Condit timeline.

Here's the last graf (emphasis added):

In the Condit timeline, first made public in June by ABC News, Mr. Condit said that at 12:30 p.m. on May 1, he met with Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House. He returned to his office that afternoon for meetings and phone conversations with his constituents, had a doctor's appointment at 5 p.m., voted on the House floor at 6:30 p.m., and then met with a reporter at a restaurant in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood of Washington, near his home. He and his wife later had dinner at home.
Met with a reporter on May 1st? Really? Has Risen caught any other reporting on the Condit-Levy story in say the last month or so?

Apparently Risen didn't catch my story on this meeting from two weeks ago or Jake Tapper's piece last week. Because we both reported what everyone else now knows: that that meeting took place on the second, not, as the Condit team first alleged, on the first -- a pretty important difference when you consider that that's the day Levy disappeared.

But don't take our word for it. Check out when the Modesto Bee reported on it. Or when ABC News finally reported on it. Or maybe just ask the Condit legal team -- they DISAVOWED it about a month ago.

I mean, c'mon guys, this ain't the Wen-ho Lee story. You've actually gotta report this stuff out.

It may not have been the most eye-popping piece on the Condit craziness but this article in today's USA Today may turn out to be one of the more significant. The article reports that the obstruction of justice investigation of Gary Condit seems to be focusing in on two of his long-time aides: Mike Lynch, Condit's Modesto-based Chief of Staff, who's been with Condit since his days in the California State Assembly back into the early 1980s, and Mike Dayton, Condit's Washington-based Administrative Assistant.

We'll be saying more about this very soon. But remember, it's a classic prosecutorial tactic to indict the small-fry on ancillary charges and then squeeze them into rolling on their higher-ups.

And, yes, this probably has a lot to do with that watch-box tossed in the trash can in Arlington, Virginia and the person who drove him there to do the tossing.

If you want some good fact-packed backgrounders on the Bush Social Security Commission's interim report, here's where to find them.

The Century Foundation has been carrying the ball on the anti-privatization front for several years now and they've got a series of papers online refuting, responding to, and rebutting various arguments and assertions put forward in the interim report. The folks TCF has doing this work -- Henry J. Aaron, Alan S. Blinder, Alicia H. Munnell -- are unparelleled experts in this field. (Peter R. Orszag I'm not as familiar with, but I'm sure he's top-flight too.) Trust me, these folks are the superstars, the Estella Warrens and Elle MacPhersons of dry-as-bones, but important, public policy wonkery.

And, in case you're wondering, I was an editor for three years at The American Prospect, so I know my dry-as-bones, but important, public policy wonkery!

From the beginning of the Chandra Levy case, some of the best reporting on the subject has been done by Mike Doyle, the DC reporter for Condit's hometown newspaper The Modesto Bee. Today he's got a thoroughly reported piece in the Fresno Bee on the woman who gave Gary Condit the now-infamous watch (later ditched over in Virginia). The story of their affair is strikingly similar to that Condit carried on with Chandra.

Okay, let's walk this through. Soon after being sworn into office President Bush sent a $1.6 trillion tax cut package to Capitol Hill. The bill was made up of cuts in marginal rates (heavily weighted toward high-income earners), an end to the marriage penalty, and a repeal of the estate tax.

Democrats pressed instead for an immediate tax rebate which would a) be more progressive and b) have a more immediate stimulatory effect in a decelerating economy. The administration lampooned the rebate concept and resisted it strenuously. In late March Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill ridiculed the rebate- for-stimulus idea as a once-tried gambit that "just didn't work." (Wash Times, 3/28/01) Democrats forced the rebate into the president's bill and it soon became the most popular part of the tax cut package.

Now the administration is holding carefully choreographed rebate celebrations around the country. At the rebate pep rally in Kansas City on Friday O'Neill (now a born-again rebateer) marvelled at how the rebates were coming "at exactly the right time to give the softening economy a much-needed shot in the arm. This is a rare instance when fiscal policy hits exactly when it was needed most." (Gannet, 7/20/01) In other words Republicans are harvesting the political benefit of a policy initiative forced upon them by the Democrats.

This is:

a) A shameless hypocrisy on the part of Republicans.

b) Extremely shrewd politics on the part of Republicans.

c) An inexplicable public relations failure on the part of House and Senate Democrats.

d) All of the above.

How many guesses ya need?

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