Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The Post discusses the president's domestic policy plans and particularly the effort to phase out Social Security.

One nice passage: "To build public support and circumvent critics in Congress and the media, the president will travel the country and warn of the disastrous consequences of inaction, as he did to sell his Iraq and terrorism policies during the first term, White House officials said."

This would seem to be an analogy critics could use to some good effect.

The latest installment of 'Great moments in listening to Larry King say something and wishing you were a member of another species' ... Atrios has the details.

Did the ADL and Media Matters get under the skin of Bill O'Reilly, embattled champion of Christmas ("nobody sticks up for Christmas except me ...")?

As Bernard Kerik says, "Political criticism is our enemies' best friend." And we all know that what our enemies like best is overly aggressive Inspectors General. So, thank God, this guy, Clark Kent Ervin, the IG at Homeland Security, just got canned.

Late Update: I'd be curious to hear from people who are familiar with the backstory here. Ervin comes off the Bush-Houston-Texas ladder. So what happened?

When there's a lot of kindling on the ground, a few sparks can really start a fire ablazing. And that's what now seems afoot between the "DLC" and "the base" in Democratic blogdom. I did a post yesterday about one of my pet peeves about some in the leadership of the organization. So in the interests of having this fire generate more light than heat, let me briefly wade back into this debate.

If there is an institutional failing in the DLC, it is that some in its leadership -- or more specifically, its founder and CEO Al From -- have a habit of making public statements, often at what I consider to be opportunistic moments, that amount to saying that the problem with the Democratic party is that it has ... how can I say this, too many Democrats.

There is also a habit of deploying a highly elastic definition of what it means to be a New Dem which can be expanded or contracted for effect as the opportunities of the moment dictate.

In these intra-party disputes, I always try to get people to take the snarled edge of original sin off their polemics, wherever possible. So perhaps I should take that admonition to heart myself for yesterday's post. But however that may be, I stand behind the basic critique.

But my comments would be incomplete if I didn't note the crude, often silly, and in any case highly misleading caricature of the organization that I hear from readers in emails and on various sites.

The thinking goes that those behind the "corporate/DLC agenda" are simply closet Republicans, whose aim is to put a Democratic label on Republican policies or kow-tow and make nice to Republicans so much that the Democratic party becomes even more impotent and enfeebled than it already is. Whether these points are true or not, their model for successfully winning elections has been endlessly discredited and in any case all they're really about is serially abandoning the various groups that make up the Democratic party. And what right do they have to screw, or sell-out, of $%#& blacks or unions or the poor or gays or the environment, when these guys aren't even real Democrats anyway?

As I noted in my earlier post, over the last six or seven years I've had a few perches which gave me some unique perspective on this intra-party tussle. And I can see kernels of truth in the caricature. But this is a highly misleading portrayal of who almost all of these people are. And the caricature is sustained by a lot of people who only know what these folks are about from left-leaning anti-DLC polemics -- though I would say the DLC folks come in for a good deal of criticism for that being the case.

So before everyone goes off half-cocked, with misleading slogans and impressions, trying to purge this or that wing of the party, I would say, find out a bit more about the groups you're talking about. There are plenty of real differences to argue about without getting into shouting matches with folks who might agree with you about more than you imagine.

I should probably add here that there's also the running battle between From's DLC and Simon Rosenberg's New Dem Network over ownership of the 'New Democrat' label and various other stuff. I have no particular investment one way or another in the DLC as an institution. It certainly has its problems. I would just ask that people spend as much time finding out who these folks are as they do blasting them.

One final point, you'll notice I often link to the NewDonkey blog. It's run by my friend Ed Kilgore, who's the Policy Director for the DLC. If you want to know about what these folks are about, hearing what their policy director thinks is a decent place to start. And not just one visit. Spend some time there because that's the only way to get a sense of it.

At the moment the lead post is a smack-down of David Sirota's "Da Vinci Code" piece in the Prospect. So maybe this isn't the most auspicious moment for trying to get everybody to get along. But then, a core argument of David's piece was blaming the DLC for what ails the Democratic party and trying to write them out of the same. So what do you expect?

In any case, the Dems got 48% last month. Whatever else you can say about that number, it suggests we don't have the luxury of having enough of us that we can start purging anyone. There are serious issues that divide us -- and they'll be argued over. But I don't believe that any of them are deep enough to prevent both sides from coexisting within the same party, especially considering what we are up against.

You’ve probably already seen much discussion of Peter Beinart’s “A Fighting Faith” piece in The New Republic. So let me add a few comments and start by making some broad points that I hope I’ll be able to follow up on in subsequent posts.

To review, Peter’s argument is that Democrats face a similar challenge to that they faced in 1947 when the founders of the Americans for Democratic Action (a group which, I’m sure they’ll want you to know, still exists) pushed the Democratic party --- and its various institutional bastions --- into foursquare support for the Cold War. Anti-Communism, they argued, and argued successfully, was inseparable from liberalism.

Peter says Democrats face a similar challenge today: to transform themselves into a movement that puts the fight against terrorism at the center of their agenda and root out or purge those who are indifferent to the war against terror or doubt that American power --- military and otherwise --- can be a force for advancing liberal goals of democracy, openness and individual liberties around the globe.

I should start with what I agree with. In fact, I should begin by declaring a prejudice. Like Peter, I see that moment in 1947, the birth of the ADA, and more generally Cold War liberalism as a defining moment and one of the proudest moments of the liberal political tradition in the United States. It is a touchstone against which I measure my own political views.

I also agree with Peter that Democrats have a basic and non-cosmetic problem with national security policy. I wrote a number of articles about this in 2002 and had a hand in a couple of others. The problem is not principally dovishness but rather --- as Peter notes --- that Democrats are by and large simply not sufficiently interested in national security policy, as such. This is at least as much a problem in the Democratic operative world as it is at the grassroots. As I’ve written before, lack of interest in national security policy leads to lack of knowledge. And lack of knowledge leads to tactical and mutable political decisions on national security --- which is both bad on principle but also feeds public perceptions that Democrats aren’t serious about the issue and that they’re not trustworthy guardians of the national security in dangerous times.

To the extent that Peter’s piece can spark further discussion of this essential problem, great.

But I also have some major disagreements, which I’ll try to note here and hopefully expand on in later posts. Basically, I think Peter's diagnosed a key problem for Democrats. But the cure he prescribes is the wrong one, largely, I think, because several of his premises and assumptions are flawed.

First, the War on Terror is not comparable to the Cold War. Let’s focus the point a little more closely and say that the war against militant Islam is not comparable to the Cold War.

Let’s survey the world stage the ADA folks faced in 1947 for some points of comparison. Having vanquished fascism, the democratic world faced in world communism a political movement that in its basic hostility to democracy and liberalism was more similar to than opposed to fascism. Russia, half of Europe and (in a couple of years) China were all communist. The communists controlled the largest land army in the world and would soon have nuclear weapons. Communism had substantial minority support across Western Europe, including vast support (active or passive) among the most articulate in society. And in the United States many on the left saw communists less as enemies than as errant allies, with whom cooperation was possible on common goals.

Placing context or limits on the danger posed by Islamic terrorism is a hazardous business these days. But unlike communism in 1947, militant Islam simply does not pose an existential threat to our civilization. It just doesn’t. It puts us all physically at risk. And especially for those of us who live in DC, New York or other major urban areas, it could kill us tomorrow.

But aside from middle eastern immigrants in western countries, this ideology has close to no support anywhere outside the Muslim world. As an ideology it controls at best a few small states; and it has possible access to Pakistan's small nuclear arsenal. But where is the danger of the Islamist takeover of any of the world’s great powers? China? The US? Europe? India? Japan? Brazil? Will Germany or Canada becomes ‘finlandized’ by Islamist power? That doesn’t mean the danger doesn’t exist, only that it’s different. And those are fundamental differences we shouldn’t ignore.

Admittedly, the lack of Islamist power, in this sense, will be cold comfort for many of us if al Qaida brings us cargo ship with a nuclear weapon into New York harbor tomorrow. But the difference between an existential threat and a physical one is an important one for thinking about its impact on our politics. Particularly, whether it should lead us to purge folks from the Democratic party or from American liberalism who haven’t yet come around to a sufficiently serious view of the threat of terrorism or a coherent and tough-minded national security policy.

Peter rightly points out some instances where groups like Moveon and such consorted with some very illiberal outfits. And they shouldn’t have. But I agree here with John Judis when he says that Peter is wrong in comparing Moveon or Eli Pariser to the old fellow-traveling left. And calling these folks the modern-day heirs of Henry Wallace is just bad history and bad reasoning.

I think many of the points Peter makes in his piece are more appropriate to the intra-Democratic debate over US military action in the Balkans in the late 1990s. That was a defining debate and one I think the right side generally won. This current debate is too muddled by the militaristic and neo-imperial policies of the Bush administration to make it as black and white a picture as Peter wants.

Much of the debate about how to practice anti-communism in liberal circles in the 1940s came down to basic questions about which errors were products of naiveté or political inexperience and which represented something more sinister or a deeper failing of attachment to liberal principles. And here’s where the differences between then and now become quite important.

I would argue that it is precisely those differences between today and fifty years ago which explain why we don’t need and really can’t afford to start to define ourselves by instituting any purges. To the extent that there is any analogy between Moveon and anything that happened half a century ago, the analogy should be to organized labor more generally. The ADA Democrats didn’t try to purge labor. They mounted a campaign within organized labor to get unions to separate themselves from illiberal forces. In any case, whatever disagreements I may have with them on policy --- and particularly foreign policy --- I think Moveon is part of the solution not part of the problem in restoring a center-left in American politics that embraces liberal values both at home and abroad. And this comes from someone who vociferously attacked Dems and liberals who opposed US military involvement in the Balkans and is, I’m sure, more of a foreign policy hawk than the majority of the people who read this site.

So, to summarize, the war on terror is not the Cold War. Tying the two together in too tight analogies leads to errors in judgment and prescribed policy.

A few other points.

I think Peter raises Kerry’s vote against the $87 billion Iraq supplemental to an ideological significance it simply won’t bear. This wasn’t a vote for isolationism or against democratization abroad. It clearly did hurt Kerry in the general but it was a mix of political calculation and even more than that --- and something that couldn’t really be discussed in the campaign --- it was an effort to exercise some control over a president who was well on his way to creating the disaster we’re now saddled with by placing restrictions and oversight of his conduct of the reconstruction. He didn’t really vote against that money in way Peter implies.

Iraq. I don’t think we can deal with the issue of Democrats, national security policy and the war on terror, without addressing Iraq front and center and recognizing just what a disaster our enterprise there has become. This isn’t a secondary issue.

Finally, I should confess that ideally I would like to see the Democratic party unify behind a thorough and coherent TPM agenda, with TPM views on national security, social policy, fiscal policy and all the rest of it. Those who wouldn’t go along with the proper TPM doctrine I’d probably expel, I guess.

In the absence of that TPM party, though, I’m happy to consider myself one more fallen and perhaps disagreeable member of the Democratic party, filled with people I disagree with but with whom I think I share some core political values and beliefs. And I’ll work to point them in what I think is the right direction.

If you've ever lived in the Boston area (and for many who never have) you'll know David Brudnoy, the WBZ radio talk-show host, who has long been one of the fixtures of the city. According to this morning's Globe, David is standing at the threshold of death at Mass General, with cancer, once in remission, that has spread through his vital organs.

Principi out at VA.

(This is almost like bowling.)