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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Talking Points was ready to cut Katherine Harris some slack. She's gotten knocked around a lot after all.

But what's with the with Austin Powers outfit?

Is that a cravat?

The text of John Ashcroft's speech at Bob Jones University was pretty disappointing if you were expecting any wacko fireworks.

Ashcroft wasn't guilty of any racially tinged remarks. But he was guilty of bad history. Ashcroft said the American colonists routinely told emissaries from King George III, "We have no king but Jesus" when they were asked to pay taxes.

Hmmmm...  Talking Points spent the better part of his twenties studying this stuff, and his verdict is: no, not a common revolutionary battle cry.

Where'd they get this guy from?

Ever since the Ronnie White affair resurfaced in the news because of the Ashcroft nomination, there have been two schools of thought as to Ashcroft's motivation for opposing Justice White.

The simpler of the two has it that Ashcroft was motivated by racial animus against an African-American judge. The other says that Ashcroft wasn't racist, just a craven and vicious opportunist who smeared White in order to burnish his tough-on-crime credentials going into his 2000 reelection campaign.

(Yes, there is a third theory that Ashcroft was simply right on the merits with regards to White. But that one is reserved for boobs and miscreants and thus needn't concern us.)

Talking Points has always thought that the truth was probably a mixture of the two.

What's interesting, though, is that a number of Ashcroft's supporters have used explanation #2 in Ashcroft's defense. He's not racist! He just smeared that guy and lied about him to ramp up his election. Come on! Cut the guy some slack!

This has always struck Talking Points as a pretty odd defense. And now Stuart Taylor, Jr of National Journal is saying the same thing. In his new column from the January 13th issue Taylor argues that Ashcroft is no racist but shouldn't be confirmed because he's a "character assassin."

Normally, Talking Points would link to the article. But National Journal prides itself on being available to almost no one outside of DC. A subscription costs like $1500 a year or something. And you have to subscribe to access their site. (In other words, they're a real piece of work).

[LATE UPDATE: Turns out, National Journal has linked this article for non-subscribers, which sort of makes all this anti-National Journal trash-talk a little irrelevant. But hey, let's have our cake and eat it too! Enjoy the TPM content and here's the link.]

So, with deference to the copyright laws, here are some quotations form the article ....

...no president is entitled to put a character assassin in charge of law enforcement.

...it does appear that Ashcroft was deliberately engaging in inflammatory racial politics [when he fought White's nomination] ...

Ashcroft must have known that accusing a black judge (falsely) of being "pro-criminal" and of a "tremendous bent toward criminal activity" would stir the worst instincts of those voters who stereotype criminality as black.

For Ashcroft to call [Justice White's legal opinion in question] "pro-criminal" was obscene.

The smearing of Judge White makes the many testimonials to Ashcroft's integrity ring a bit hollow.

Obviously Talking Points would like to show you the whole article word for word. But he thinks these quotes pretty fairly characterize Taylor's indictment.

Now here's the deal. This article is extremely important -- less because of the quality of the argument, which is high -- but because of who the author is. It's difficult to convey how important Taylor is in shaping Conventional Wisdom in Washington, DC.

Why?

Well, that's a bit more difficult to explain. Part of it is that Taylor is the kind of liberal (supposed liberal) who specializes in pointing out why conservatives -- by golly -- are actually right after all, and why libs are shameless hypocrites. People in DC love that.

(Actually, come to think of it, he kind of reminds me of a Friend of Talking Points (an FOTP) who's also in the snarky, self-published political web site bizz ... But Talking Points likes that guy a lot; Taylor, he's not so crazy about. But enough of this self-indulgent personal digression.)

Another reason for Taylor's popularity is that he became a big-time critic of Bill Clinton over Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and just about everything else. And people in DC love that too. Why else? I have no idea. Funny mustache? Earnest speaking style? Who knows?

But it doesn't matter. The point is that he's that important. I guarentee you he'll be on the Sunday shows chatting this up. And his article will give cover to moderates -- possibly in both parties -- to give another, more critical look, at the nomination.

Forget what the NAACP says, Stuart Taylor says he's a bad apple! And that's serious!

Or something like that.

Anyway, it's important. More important than ten press conferences by People for the American Way.

No one wants to see the Ashcroft nomination go down more than Talking Points. But the interest groups opposing Ashcroft need to wise up a bit. This battle may require more of the shiv than the sledgehammer. If the Bushies can spin this as a gaggle of "liberal special interest groups" beating up on John Ashcroft then he almost certainly pulls through. On the other hand, if senators are carrying the water, then maybe he doesn't.

Unfortunately, what I am hearing is that the interest groups spearheading the fight have not opened up good lines of communication with the middle-of-the-road and moderate Democratic senators they're going to need to pull this thing off.

Am I saying they should back off? Of course not. Just that they need to handle it with a bit more finesse.

P.S. I had assumed that the Democrats would not be willing to win this with a filibuster, i.e. with 40 votes instead of 50. But now I'm hearing that that option may not be off the table after all.

P.P.S. Let's keep an eye on where freshman Senator Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island comes down on Ashcroft -- more on this later.

P.P.P.S. Which Democratic Senator (not widely identified with the interest groups opposing the Ashcroft nomination) is going to step forward and take point on the nomination?

P.P.P.P.S. One well-known moderate Dem may be getting ready to get out in front on the Gale Norton nominaton.

Phew! All Done.

And now for something totally different. You simply must read this article in today's New York Times about the widespread practice of adopting Western names among Chinese youth. The article manages to be anthropologically fascinating, profoundly human, and almost transcendently hilarious - without being in the least condescending. And it gives a hint of the unruly spice of globalism.

A snippet?

Atypical Western names among Chinese students also reflect different attitudes that the cultures have toward naming. "Chinese names are often chosen for their meaning, but English names are often chosen for their sounds," observed Ye Chongguang, 20, a junior at Beijing University who chose the name Magic Johnson, after the basketball star, whom he says he worships.

Most of the time, he tells people to call him Johnson. "Only in formal situations, like signing documents, do I use my full name, Magic Johnson Ye," he explained.

As I said, it's a must read.

As you know Talking Points was pretty taken with the protests/objections raised by the members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) on January 6th during the formal counting of the Electoral College vote. And also chagrined that no Senator would agree to sign on with one of their objections, and thus force a brief debate on the merits of the Florida electors.

But I was talking to some folks in the Senate today. And maybe there's a little more to say about this. I talked to a source close to one of the Senators you'd really expect would have been high on the list of senators to go to. And apparently no member of House spoke to this senator and asked him to join the objection.

None. Not one.

Now there were apparently some contacts between staffers, informal discussions, and so forth. But not the sort of request directly from a member of House that would signal that they're serious. Is this source trying to cover for the Senator in question? Yeah, sure, there's some of that. But you'd think one of the CBC members would have tried to up the ante by making a direct request.

(In fairness, I didn't get the sense this Senator would have agreed anyway. But the point is they say he wasn't really asked.)

Frankly, I not sure quite what to make of this. I've no doubt the members of the CBC were angry. And I think they had a right to be angry. But maybe their lobbying wasn't quite as intense as they implied.

P.S. Any of Talking Points' congressional readers want to add some more info to the mix here? Send a message. Your absolute confidence will be assured just the way it would be when he's doing his day job as Washington Editor of the American Prospect.

I guess it'd be too much to ask to find out that Interior Secretary nominee Gale Norton also made warm-n-fuzzy remarks about the Confederacy, right?

Well, hey, it's your lucky day!

Turns out in a 1996 speech Norton said ""We lost too much" when the South lost the Civil War.

Now, in fairness, Norton did explicitly say she was not referring to slavery but rather states-rights -- something that didn't occur to John Ashcroft to say. Norton referred to that whole slavery thing as " bad facts" which clouded the merits of states-rights.

Give her credit for at least making this clear. Sure it's a clumsy and foolish way to make the point. But it's different from what Ashcroft said. (Can't Bush find cabinet secretaries who aren't clumsy and foolish. Come on! How's Bush gonna apply a standard like that!?) But let's make some other points clear as well.

Slavery was the chief evil of the Confederacy, not the only one.

It's one thing to march around in Confederate uniforms before heading back to the barn for a couple dozen bottles of Michelob. But to praise the Confederacy's ideology is deeply suspect.

The doctrines of Nullification, Interposition, States-Rights, and Secession were fundamentally anti-Democratic and they were heretical perversions of the nation's constitutional order. And in case you're really into this stuff, no, they can't be justified with reference to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798-99! (What is he talking about? Fugghedaboutit! More history grad school stuff.)

The leaders of the Confederacy were, of course, also traitors.

The point here isn't history, though. The fact that Norton has an antediluvian and perverted states-rights understanding of the constitutional order isn't offensive, or obscene. But it's extremely significant in judging whether she's fit to serve as the custodian of the national domain.

P.S. The ironically named Independent Institute was the venue where Norton gave her speech. And they got in a bit trouble back in Fall of 1999. In the summer of '99 the Institute purchased full page ads in the New York Times and the Washington Post signed by 240 academics arguing in support of Microsoft against the government anti-trust suit. Well, turned out Microsoft had used the Independence Institute as a front and Microsoft had purchased the ads. Ouch! Not clever. Not clever at all.

P.P.S. Next up, Talking Points explains why Bill Bennet is an irredeemable, pretentious blowhard. What does this have to do with Gale Norton? Nothing. It's just time to say it.

Now Republicans are organizing "grassroots" groups to support the Bush cabinet nominees. And, hey, they're coming to Talking Points for support!

Well kinda.

About a year ago, Talking Points and the guy who worked with him in his office at the time dropped by the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. He loved it. Missile defense and cocktails. Grover Norquist talking about his plan to cut the size of government by 2/3 in twenty-five years, or something like that. And a lot of T-shirts with Clinton with Pinnochio noses. Great stuff.

Anyway, on the way out he stopped by the Citizens for a Sound Economy table and in exchange for giving his name and email address got a Trial Lawyers are Sharks T-shirt and a small plastic Citizens for Sound Economy football (he goes in for this sort of stuff) that he threw at people in the office for several months.

Well, now they're getting into the nomination game.

They sent along this email ... And who is Citizens for a Sound Economy? Standard wacked-out Washington pressure group pushing for no taxes and no regulation. They're run by C. Boyden Grey, longtime Bush associate, Bush Sr's White House Counsel, and also heir to some sort of tobacco fortune.

Aren't some pictures just too good for words?

And how would you characterize Bill Cohen's expression?

Just when I think I'm out, they PULL ME BACK IN!

Will Talking Points' work exposing the multiple villainies of John Ashcroft and his imbecile minions never be done?

Apparently not.

Talking Points thought he liked Ashleigh Banfield, the Starbucksian-looking reporter on MSNBC. But does she have to repeat the Ashcroftians' ...well, talking points word for word?

Banfield led this evening with a stunning new controversy embroiling freshman Senator Jean Carnahan. During her late husband's campaign against then-Senator Ashcroft, the Carnahan campaign did opposition research on Ashcroft. And now Carnahan's campaign consultant Marc Farinella has made that opposition research available to those preparing the opposition to Ashcroft. (Actually, he said he'd make it available to whomever wanted it.)

This is shocking!

Except it's not shocking.

So what? Every campaign does "oppo" research. In fact it was well-known that Ashcroft and Carnahan both did a lot of it.

Banfield also noted that Carnahan's decision was particularly unexpected after the gentlemanly way Ashcroft chose not to contest her election.

Do we really need to rehash this canard one more time? (Need a refresher? See Tim Noah's concise dispatching of this moronic argument.)

Ashcroft lost the race by two percentage points. He lost. He had no case with a recount or a court case, period. He made the best of the situation and made a gracious concession. (Of course, saying how gracious it was and using it as a cudgel sort of makes it a little less gracious, right?) Handing over the opposition materials was "troubling, given the class and dignity that was shown by Sen. Ashcroft in conceding the election," said David Israelite, political director of the RNC. And because of this Carnahan needs to carry water for him?

Please.

This non-story story is a good example of a common reportorial phenomena. Press flaks dress up an utterly known set of facts as a discovery, and lazy or foolish reporters report it as though it were news. Even when it's clearly not news.

Did you hear the one about how Rick Lazio ran television ads designed to suppress turnout among Hillary Clinton supporters? Or how George W. Bush assisted pro-Bush voters to the polls and systematically avoided providing the same service to Gore suppporters?

You get the idea.

As nearly as I can tell, if one is not a complete moron this is a pretty obvious effort to shift the focus onto Carnahan's widow. In fact according to the AP "GOP operatives asserted late Tuesday the loan reflects poorly on the governor's widow, Sen. Jean Carnahan, who was appointed to replace her dead husband."

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh .... That's class and dignity for you.

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