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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

By all means read this excellent analysis in the Washington Post of the mix of internal Chinese politics and geo-politics at play in the current spy plane stand-off. The piece is particularly good in describing the unenviable position of Chinese President Jiang Zemin and the downside for the United States if this crisis leaves him weakened.

As far as fiscal policy goes, you really don't need Talking Points so long as you keep up with with Paul Krugman's 'Reckonings' column on The New York Times' Oped Page.

Sunday's installment provides an important reality check for anybody who's getting too excited about the rebuke the Senate gave the president last week -- slicing his $1.6 trillion tax cut to $1.2 trillion.

Unlike many of my friends, I'm quite happy to give Tom Daschle & Company real credit for succeeding at the art of the possible. Accomplishing even this was a major feat -- given that the filibuster is not available for tax and budget bills. And keeping all but one Democrat on board involved exceptional legislative skill on Daschle's part.

But, look, the real problem is that they only have fifty votes. And unless and until they get a few Republicans to work with them, there's just not that much they can do.

So, a great effort. But their power is just very limited. And as Krugman points out even a $1.2 tax cut -- organized along Bush's lines -- is still a disaster.

What's so important about Krugman's piece today is his willingness to state the obvious in unambiguous terms: the Bush tax cut package is premised on a bundle of lies, half-truths, and evasions. There is really no other candid way to put it. The cuts which go to the average family are paltry. The cuts it provides for the very wealthy are great. The danger it poses to the future solvency of Social Security and Medicare is profound. And if you're thinking about a prescription drug benefit under Medicare any time soon, well, you can just forget it.

Read the article. You'll be glad you did.

Wow! Did you just see Joe Lieberman on the Evans & Novak Show?

He talked a good game and made some interesting comments on a possible 2004 run.

More pointedly, though, he was the first marquee Democrat (at least the first I've seen) to openly make the 'Hey, you didn't really get elected anyway, bub' argument against George W. Bush. Yes, there was a touch of sugar-coating. But not much.

When I get a hold of the transcript, I'll post it.

P.S. Is there going to be an acronym for the 'Hey, you didn't really get elected anyway, bub' argument? No doubt. HYDRGEAB -- not exactly euphonious, but you can't have everything.

The Talking Points mailbag has been filling up with requests for a run-down of the potential Democratic standard-bearers for 2004. Who's up, who's down. All that.

One of these days I'm going to write up a long post on why a potential Evan Bayh candidacy - essentially an article of faith for many Washingtonians - is premised on an outdated view of the Democratic party, a view from an era when Democrats were so flat on their backs that they had to find their presidential candidates in states where virtually no one ever voted for Democrats

But for the moment just a preview.

Being a popular two-term Democratic governor from Indiana teaches you one thing - caution. And lots of it. But now even some of those who should be Bayh's natural supporters for a hypothetical presidential candidacy are wondering whether that Indiana-bred caution may run so deep that he just can't be an effective national leader in the Democratic party.

And consider one reason for those doubts. Much of Bayh's potential presdiential cachet is based on his association with the Democratic Leadership Council (the centrist, more pro-business faction of the Democratic party) - much is often made of the fact that he's just taken the post as chairman of the DLC, the same post Bill Clinton held when he ran for president … yada, yada, yada.

But so far the DLCers cannot seem to get him to sign on to their alternative to the Bush tax plan.

So here's what this means. Bayh is trying to position himself as the centrist Democrat for 2004. Much of this is premised on his association with the centrist, New Democrat DLC. Yet he won't even sign on to their tax cut plan because he presumably thinks it's too liberal.

The person who gets the nod in 2004 will be the one who can bridge the divide between the centrist and labor-liberal wings of the party. But apparently the centrist wing of the party is too far left for Evan Bayh.

Isn't this a problem?

Earlier I said I thought it would be a mistake even to try to ban 'coordination' between candidates and independent expenditure groups. Let me try to explain why.

Let's take a group at random. The Sierra Club or the Christian Coalition. Each group has deeply woven ties to the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. It's in the nature of things that the Sierra Club or perhaps the AFL-CIO will be in on-going close contact with the members of the Democratic party. The candidates, the leadership, etc.

It's in the nature of things, normal, expected and most importantly, right. They're ideological allies. They share common goals both in terms of whom to elect and what legislation to pass.

They will also discuss political strategy. They can't help working together towards common goals, even if they avoid explicit conversations on the topic.

Now I know this isn't exactly what the anti-coordination folks are talking about when they talk about cracking down on what they call "so-called independent expenditure groups." And I agree that among friends we might be able to agree on when someone crossed the line and when they didn't.

But that's the point.

These things aren't decided among friends. Quite the opposite. They're decided among prosecutors and their potential targets.

The problem with getting into this thicket is that politicians and political advocacy groups would, in the nature of things, constantly be operating in a gray area where they were either a) discharging their highest duties as citizens by participating vigorously in civic life or b) committing serial felonies.

Yes, some examples would fall easily into either category. But most would not, I suspect. And the serious players - game theory being what it is - would necessarily have to run close to the line.

The problem here is not that the intent of the law is necessarily ill-conceived or constitutionally impermissible - though I suspect both are likely the case - but that the enforcement of the law would necessarily be arbitrary and political.

More on this later.

Let me just quickly comment on the campaign finance debate underway in the Senate. Like many people, I often think my friend Mickey Kaus stretches things a bit far in looking for cases where liberals have it all wrong.

But not this time. He's completely right about the amendment to McCain-Feingold which would ban ads by independent expenditure groups in the run up to an election.

As Mickey says, the issue isn't that this is a great idea but that there are some weird constitutional 'difficulties'. This is plainly unconstitutional and rightly so! It's a terrible idea. I understand the impulse. Sort of. But it's a terrible idea.

Contrary to the claims of many conservatives, I believe that the 1st Amendment applies to far more than narrowly political speech. But political speech is obviously the core of what the Amendment is about.

It can hardly be the case that the 1st Amendment guarantees your right to watch slippery nymphets writhing around on top of each other on the web (just an example that popped into Talking Point's head, feel free to supply your own pairing) and not the right to advocate political arguments on the eve of an election.

It stands both principle and logic on their heads.

This is a case where the antis have every argument on their side.

Next up, why even trying to ban 'coordination' been politicians and independent expenditure groups may be a bad idea.

Okay, now that I've finally thrown off the burden of having to hew to a party line, I can finally come clean! I really dig Joe Lieberman. (And this isn't just a matter of tribal affiliation.) He rocks. Actually I didn't use to have much use for him at all - especially when he used to be the darling of all the more reproachable people in DC, when he used to always be knocking his own party, and especially when he used to hang out with that cretin Bill Bennett. But, hey, let's let bygones be bygones, okay?

Now, here's the deal. There are at least a half a dozen Democratic senators who want to run for the big office in 2004 - including Lieberman, to put it mildly. But for the moment let's just focus on the two marquee New Dems who are in the hunt - Lieberman and Evan Bayh.

It's really not too much to say that in terms of positioning for 2004 Lieberman is just kicking Bayh's butt. It's almost painful to watch.

Any New Dem who hopes to be in the hunt in 2004 must at least give props to the liberal base of the party. They're not going to be the liberals' choice for the nomination. But they can't be unacceptable to them either.

Lieberman came out of the 2000 race with a strong sentimental bond with the base of his party. He didn't so much need to prove himself to them as he needed to keep those embers of affection burning.

But he's actually done much more than that by becoming the most conspicuous advocate of a progressive alternative to the Bush tax cut - focusing the debate on the importance of the payroll tax burden and advocating a substantial tax cut weighted towards working families.

Each of the presidential wannabes is carving out their own signature issue. Kerry's got environment. Edwards is taking up Patients' Bill of Rights. But the tax cut issue is really an issue apart - especially for a New Dem trying to broaden his appeal within his party. Why? Because to the left of the party - the part Lieberman needs to appeal to - its fiscal policy that is the big enchilada, the issue they always fear they're going to be sold out on.

And what's Bayh's angle? That would be ahhhhhhh … pretty much nothing. His big angle is the trigger mechanism - which has gotten almost no political traction, and which most observers now agree is a practical nullity.

Most importantly, it doesn't significantly depart from the Bush package.

Yes, Democrats argue that the surpluses may not materialize and that we could be plunged back into deficits. But the essence of the Democratic argument is that even if the surpluses do materialize, the Bush tax cut package still represents a massive misallocation of funds - both in terms of who gets tax cuts and what other priorities the money could be spent on.

Part of what's going on here seems to be a matter of staff. Lieberman's operation is A-list and Bayh's just isn't (we'll say more about why later). But equally important Bayh just doesn't seem willing to sign on with what the vast majority of Democrats are thinking when it comes to tax policy. He won't even sign on to the tax package put together by the DLC, the group of which he is now the chairman. He won't even really come out against the Bush package.

Hey, why is there a link down there on the left shilling for Slate.com? That's the section where Talking Points usually shills for himself, right? Where he tries to get readers to send donations to keep the site up and running with wit and insight for the content-starved web masses? What's up with that?

Interesting you should ask ... Stay tuned for more soon on this puzzling development.

Few spectacles in politics are as fascinating or captivating as watching hacks and ideologues set about the delicate work of fashioning an argument that - in the normal course of things - should be impossible to make. In other words, an argument so improbable or nonsensical that it could only be meant for political consumption.

It's almost like watching insects create some improbable structure on the Nature channel.

Anyway, for years now Republicans have been a little wary of going back to their circa 1993 argument that Bill Clinton's 1993 tax increase would kill jobs, throw the economy into recession, and perhaps even destroy the planet.

For a while in the mid-90s they argued that the economy would be growing even faster if taxes hadn't been raised. But when the economy started screeching out growth at a rate most economists consider too high - say 5% or so - even that argument started to seem a little shaky.

Now they're taking another crack at it. And, no, don't snicker! Because arguing that the fiscal policy which preceded the most sustained economic expansion in American history was in fact a job killer is no mean feat.

Anyway, the new emerging Republican argument (which you could hear mouthed on CNN's Late Edition last Sunday by Jim Miller and Wayne Angell) goes like this: the Clinton tax increase was a terrible drag on the economy, just as Republicans said it would be. But it coincided with a technology-driven explosion in productivity. And this productivity bonanza masked the awful effects of the tax increase.

Miller put it thus:

And the last decade, because of the information technology revolution raising productivity, it masked a lot of bad decisions, including to increase tax rates. That's sort of coming to an end and now the fiscal drag really is holding us back, and we need to reduce that.
So basically the predicted bad effects of the Clinton tax increase didn't fail to appear as Republicans predicted they would in 1994 and 1995. They were just delayed half a dozen years. That is, until now!

I predict we'll be hearing a lot more of this argument because it fulfills the basic requirements of the best bogus political argumentation. Though almost ridiculously improbable and quite nearly demonstrably false, the argument has enough logical structure to be at least theoretically possible. And that makes it more than serviceable for the normal run of fanatical ideologues, confirmed partisans and weak-minded bumpkins to make use of endlessly.

Trust me, we'll be hearing a lot of this.

Here is a quite good run-down of the recent activities of the notorious self-promoter and opportunist David Horowitz. As you may know, Horowitz has recently taken it upon himself to bravely take on the virtually non-existent movement to pay reparations to African-Americans for the sin of slavery. I saw Horowitz (or rather heard him, he 'appeared' by phone) on C-Span this morning and the things he said were about as pitiful as one would expect.

One of the more tricky and beguiling aspects of Horowitz's rhetorical style is that it is often difficult to decide whether his statements are more foolish than offensive, or more offensive than foolish. Sometimes it's simply a tie; but it's always a challenge disentangling the two, and measuring them one against the other.

There are actually a number of aging lefties -- a number of whom I know -- who still admire Horowitz, or at least refuse to dismiss him outright, because they admired him terribly when they were all in their twenties. But, ya know, many of these worthies dropped a lot of acid back in the day so you really can't be too hard on them if they still can't see the light about Horowitz.

In any case, two points seem worth making. One is that Horowitz in person is as obnoxious and unpleasant as he seems on all those talk shows. I got in a scrape with him a couple years ago because of a brief mention I made of him in an article in The American Prospect. (There are actually a few points I'd change in the article; but the description of Horowitz isn't one of them.)

At that time I figured that -- like many high-profile controversialists -- Horowitz merely played an a--hole on TV. Yet after running into him at a Hillary-bashing conference last April, and having him repeatedly call me a liar and "disgusting" to my face, I concluded that he was actually the real McCoy.

Anyway, enough about my run-ins with him. Let's get to that second point. These days, whenever he's charged with anti-black animus, Horowitz insists that he's got nothing against blacks, only what he calls the "black left." Now one can certainly distinguish between blacks and the "black left." But given what we know about this man, doesn't this sound terribly reminiscent of that old hedge which anti-Semites love to employ: I'm not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist.

Oh. And if this all seems a bit a bit heavy and you want to lighten things up, you can buy Horowitz's risible autobiography on Amazon. Yes, I know it may be galling to send a few bucks his way by buying it. But trust me, it's really funny.

P.S. Dying to read the offending passage in the aforementioned article? Okay ...

That zeal to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to excoriate the entire progressive tradition for the misdeeds of the extreme left is an approach that Radosh shares with a slew of former left-wingers who jumped ship and became conservatives as their hair turned gray. David Horowitz, to take the prime example, was a second-string radical journalist in the 1960s and 1970s who shifted to the political right in the mid-1980s and, in midlife, fashioned himself a second career as a sort of Whittaker Chambers manqué for 1990s conservatism. Horowitz's 1996 autobiography Radical Son chronicled the story of his life from youth as a "red-diaper" baby, through stints as co-editor of Ramparts and his association with the Black Panthers, to his eventual conversion to political conservatism. Almost all of Horowitz's writing since he became a conservative has been dedicated to attacking the principles and persons of the left.

That Horowitz, with his radical left-wing history, has been so readily accepted into the right-wing fold goes to the heart of the matter and connects the McCarthyism of yesteryear with its tamer cousin today. The strength of the ex-communist's supposed moral superiority was always based on a dubious premise: that someone who had been entirely taken in by the party, willingly spied against his country, and obediently followed every zig and zag of the party line was somehow more to be credited than the momentary fellow traveler who attended a few meetings, signed a few petitions, and then walked away after seeing the party for what it was. In other words, the more radical the conversion, the more moral credit the McCarthyite (or New McCarthyite) supposedly accrues. This suits the Horowitzes of the world just fine, because they feel it gives them the credibility to denounce the left—believing that they can make up for youthful credulity with middle-aged ferocity. But just because Horowitz got taken in by the Black Panthers—long after almost everyone else on the left had washed their hands of them—hardly means that the progressives of today's generation have anything to apologize for.

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