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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

When I first heard these stories about pranks and defacements at the White House from departing Clintonites, I confess, I felt a touch embarrassed. But if the Bushies are so keen on looking forward and not dwelling on the past, then why are they leaking about this to the media so profusely?

Karl Rove apparently leaked to various reporters that he had discovered a "hidden vanity mirror" in a bookcase in his new office - the office previously occupied by Hillary Clinton.

Isn't this a bit transparent? Lemme guess tomorrow's leak: sources close to Rove report he found secret bitch supplies apparently used by the former First Lady.

Come on! Isn't news about Karl Rove being an $%#hole news about Karl Rove, and not the former First Lady?

And it's very high-minded of the Bushies not to "prosecute" anyone for leaving cartoon pictures of George W. in printer trays. Please!

How does the political press get led around by the nose like this?

Sad to say it, but the Democrats seem to be losing the tactical battle to frame the tax cut debate. And there's simply no reason for it. Alan Greenspan's testimony yesterday is a setback. But it needn't have been and still needn't be a major one.

Every news story over the last month which points to support for a tax cut is chalked up as a victory for the president. Dick Gephardt says he's for a tax cut; so that's a victory for Bush. Alan Greenspan says he supports a major tax cut; so that's a victory for Bush.

But wait. Al Gore ran on a platform which supported a major tax cut. Not a megalithic one like Bush's. But one in the neighborhood of $500 billion. And for anyone who knows jack about economics, Gore's tax cut would have a greater short-to-medium term impact on the economy than Bush's since Gore's is focused on people who tend to spend the extra money rather than save it. (Whether navigating recessions is better done through monetary or fiscal policy is another matter entirely).

So the Republicans aren't the only ones supporting a tax cut. And, yes, you can find Dems who make these arguments. But that's just not how it's playing in the press. So the Dems tax cut talk is just trees falling in the forest.

Another point. As president Clinton ably demonstrated, you can never run against tax cuts per se. Never. You can make political arguments about who benefits from them. Or you can make arguments about priorities - tax cuts versus 'saving social security' or paying down the debt, etc. And why shouldn't that be so? All other things being equal, shouldn't we all be for everyone's taxes being as low as possible? I think we should.

But that's the point. All other things aren't equal. Too often Democrats get tangled up in abstract arguments about equity or spending qua spending. This will choke off all possibilities for activist government, etc. etc. etc. (Traditional libs will complain most about losing this tax cut debate. But they're actually most responsible for the problem.)

The conventional wisdom seems to dictate now that the public just isn't interested in major new government spending and thus - with the debt pay-off argument receding - the Dems have no available arguments at their disposal.

But this is foolish. With Bush arguing that Social Security and Medicare need to be reformed because baby-boomers are going to bankrupt the programs, isn't the issue money? If the programs are in such a bind why cut their potential sources of new revenue? Or let's think more immediately. How about a prescription drug benefit under Medicare? It's real popular. And, trust me, it'll cost a ton of money. So why not line up prescription drugs against tax cuts. The Dems' half a trillion dollar tax cut and a prescription drug benefit for your parents and grandparents versus Bush's cut for his wealthy campaign contributors (and, yes, our wealthy campaign contributors too). That sounds like good politics, doesn't it?

Ironically, the folks at the DLC (who I skewered in an article in the current issue of The New Republic) are actually the one's doing the most to get out in front of Bush in a tactically intelligent and principled fashion. But no one seems to be listening.

Anyway, I know I'm not the only one to think of these things. But it's not getting translated politically and there's really no time to lose. This ain't rocket science; but for most Dems you'd think it was advanced Relativity Theory.

Someone call Chappaqua! I think we need the old guy back. At least to call the shots.

Okay, so who's on this list of Senate Dems who are thinking of running for President in 2004 …

John Kerry:  thinks it's gonna happen, could happen

John Edwards:  everybody loves him, we'll see

Joe Lieberman:  Talking Points likes him, we'll see how he does

Joe Biden:  not a bad guy, maybe the first time was just a run through

Evan Bayh:  thinks it's gonna happen, not gonna happen

Tom Daschle:  just a small, small chance he runs

Paul Wellstone:  great guy, no chance, may run

Bob Torricelli:  may be deluding himself into thinking it's gonna happen, it's not

Dick Durbin:  the dark horse

What? No Hillary? You got it. Read this to see why.

And outside the Senate? Bob Kerrey (it really ain't gonna happen) and TPM's one and only, Al Gore (ahhhh ... we can dream).

We'll be talking more about this list?

Hey, now that I've been reminded of John Ashcroft's rationale for opposing James Hormel's ambassadorial nomination, I think I understand what his problem was with Judge Ronnie White. He didn't oppose White because he was black, he opposed him because he promoted the black lifestyle.

Don't get it? Read this.

Seems like the New York Times got it wrong about Tom Daschle … And it sounds like Ari Fleischer got it really, really wrong by trying to play Daschle in the press by quoting his alleged assurance to president Bush that Bush would get each of his nominees.

Of course, it's also possible that Daschle did give Bush an assurance and is now just backpedaling like crazy.

But, hey, same difference.

In his press conference today he seemed pretty unhappy with the White House …

I would hope that the administration would not make it a habit of quoting me. And if they do, I would hope that we (sic) would get it right
He later said that the quote in the Times was "not my message to the president yesterday."

Now, having said that, Daschle said that what he did say both privately and publicly was that "we will not filibuster any nomination."

Now, obviously if the Dems are not going to filibuster any nomination then that really does amount to a guarantee that Ashcroft gets confirmed since no one thinks 51 senators are going to vote against him. So, if Daschle is serious about this, his statement against a filibuster is tantamount to an assurance.

But how locked in is Daschle to opposing a filibuster?

What it means is that I will discourage Democratic filibusters, but it doesn't mean that any one of my colleagues may not still make the effort. It's not my expectation that there will be one. I have indicated I will oppose one if one were to occur. But again, I would reiterate, that's a matter left to each of my colleagues.
So what the hell is actually going on here? My assumption is that Daschle told Bush he wouldn't lead a filibuster against Ashcroft - which is tantamount to an assurance, since he can only be defeated by a filibuster. Rove and Fleischer and Hughes (and maybe even Bush if they let him in the planning session) figured they'd interpret Daschle's statement broadly and try to nudge him a bit or play him in the press to push things along.

That made Daschle, to put it mildly, look real bad in the eyes of his caucus and just about everyone else; and he flipped.

The real story? This was amateurish ball by the Bush crew. And it'll hurt them.

What to make of this New York Times article which says Tom Daschle assured George Bush that he'd get his nominees approved?

Bush Press Secy. Ari Fleischer quoted Daschle to that effect; and Daschle's office, according to the Times, didn't dispute it.

This is very choreographed, isn't it?

There's obviously some complicated footwork taking place here, especially considering the growing anti-Ashcroft mood in the Dem caucus. (See the article linked above for harsh words from Judiciary Committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein re: Ashcroft.)

The clearest explanation of what's going on here is that Daschle is signaling to Dems in and out of congress not to get their hopes up that Ashcroft is going to get filibustered.

But this still isn't the final word. Look who we're dealing with.

Hey, look! The Ashcrometer just took a tumble from 82% chance of confirmation to 69%. Okay, okay, I admit, it's still pretty damn likely he gets confirmed. But the last few days have not been particularly good ones for Ashcroft.

The big news of course is that Democrats have forced a delay of at least one week in a vote on Ashcroft. The New York Times came out strongly against the nomination. And there are some rumors swirling around Capitol Hill about possible surprises. But I don't expect anything on that front.

But the real issue is a simple hardening of resolve on the part of the Democratic caucus. Evan Bayh's stated opposition to the nomination probably brings with it most of the other Democrats who have even the slightest thoughts of running for president in four years. (Joe Biden was on Hardball this evening and left little doubt he was voting against.) The number of announced 'no' votes is currently six. But the actual number of assured 'no' votes is probably closer to 25. (One senate staffer told me yesterday that after the Democrats' caucus meeting yesterday his senator thought the Dems would do well to get 25 'no' votes against Ashcroft. But that doesn't sound right to me. Also, expect some high profile announcements next Tuesday.)

On the other hand several key Senators who seem inclined to vote against Ashcroft's nomination have stated publicly that they won't support a filibuster. Among others, these include Pat Leahy, Jean Carnahan and Tom Daschle.

So why the delay? Hard to tell. The best answer I can come up with is that you've got a number of senators who are truly undecided and find themselves in an extremely difficult position, namely - Tim Johnson, Max Cleland, Mary Landrieu, and a number of others. These are Senators who come from states where they have to downplay their party affiliation. The idea of getting dragged into a filibuster that has Teddy Kennedy's name all over it is very frightening for these guys (and gal) and for good reason. The last two, Cleland and Landrieu, also have the misfortune of serving with senior Senators who are signaling support for Ashcroft and thus making their situation that much harder.

(Note: Technically, Max Cleland is the senior senator from Georgia. But Cleland isn't particularly well liked back home among party regulars; he's in a heap of trouble in his reelection bid; and Miller is both chronologically older and a powerhouse of Georgia politics. So, in effect, Miller is the senior senator.)

Tom Daschle, both as Democratic Leader and as someone who himself comes from a conservative state, is very sensitive to the difficult spot these senators face and he's clearly trying to give them as much space and freedom as he can to make a decision they can live with.

So here's the question: If Dems are going to have a hard time getting to forty 'no' votes, and if even some of those 'no' votes won't support a filibuster, how exactly do you figure Ashcroft actually gets rejected?

Answer: If you assume all these contingencies then there's no way Ashcroft gets rejected. But my strong sense at this point is that these contingencies are far from locked in. A number of non-scandal, but possibly important, stories are bubbling to the surface (like this one) which touch upon Ashcroft's candor during the committee hearings. The mood seems to be gravitating strongly against Ashcroft in the Democratic caucus. And the delay itself shows that the Dems feel time is on their side.

It may just be.

By waiting, the Senate Democrats likely insure something close to an even partisan split on the Ashcroft vote which, politically, they feel works to their advantage. And with things so evenly they balanced, they figure, one more shoe drops and his nomination is sunk. So either way, they feel it's a win on partisan terms.

And one more thing. Daschle and the rest of the Democratic leadership clearly feels it's extremely important that the Democratic base not feel they caved, even if they're not able to block the nomination. So taking their time helps in that regard too.

So that's your utterly disorganized and formless Talking Points run-down of where we are on the Ashcroft nomination. And why the Ashcrometer stands at 69% likelihood of confirmation.

P.S. For those of you who feel disappointed that the Dems aren't fighting hard enough on this one, consider this: My sense is that Tom Daschle's hand is controlling the big picture here. And for what it's worth I've got immense confidence that Daschle has a very good sense of what is in the best medium and long term interests of the Democratic party and the principles and issues Democrats believe in. So just keep that in mind. Also, see this excellent recent article on Daschle for more info.

Is something brewing on the Ashcroft front?

Maybe so. Maybe so ... Check back this evening for a Talking Points update.

Okay, what do Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) and William of Ockham have in common?

You know, William of Ockham ... As in Ockham's Razor? … What? You don't know what Ockham's Razor is?!?! Geeeeezz!!! Okay, okay, don't worry, Talking Points will hook you up.

William of Ockham was a fourteenth century scholastic philosopher most remembered as the originator of what came to be known as Ockham's Razor. The Razor is a logical principle which states that "plurality should not be posited without necessity."

And what the hell does that mean? Basically it means that when a question needs answering the simplest explanation which covers all the data is the preferable one. Albert Einstein had a more aphoristic way of stating this principle when talking about scientific hypotheses. "Everything should be as simple as possible," he said, "but not simpler." (Smart guy that Einstein!)

Anyway Talking Points thinks Ockham's Razor rocks and he uses it all the time to find clarity through the muck of political obfuscation. Ockham's Razor helped Galileo demonstrate that his simple heliocentric model of the solar system was better than the weird-ass Ptolemaic system which the Middle Ages had inherited form Antiquity. And today you yourself can use Ockham's Razor to show that Evan Bayh is voting against John Ashcroft and Russ Feingold may vote for him because Evan Bayh wants to run for president and Russ Feingold doesn't. (Get that last one?)

Now you are probably asking yourself: where the hell is Talking Points going with this William of Ockham crap?

Bear with me!

Let's go back to our original question. What do Senator Zell Miller and William of Ockham have in common?

Answer? Not a damn thing. Because even with the clarifying magic of Ockham's Razor there's nothing that can explain why the new Georgia Senator is practically falling over himself to carry water for George W. Bush.

Last week Miller was the first Senate Democrat to officially announce he'd be voting to confirm John Ashcroft. That at least was understandable on political grounds. In a state like Georgia you get points for standing up to liberal, Washington-based interest groups. But yesterday Miller announced he was cosponsoring George W.'s megalithic tax cut with Phil Gramm.

Even a lot of Republicans are telling Bush that that just ain't gonna happen. Most people didn't even think Miller wanted to run for another term in the Senate. But if he does, he won't be up again till 2004. Bush's tax cut isn't even all that popular in Georgia. So it's hard to figure why Miller needs to back it to cover his right flank. And certainly he doesn't need to cosponsor it.

So why is he doing it?

That's what I mean: no one knows! Talking Points checked with some conservative Southern Dems today and some other folks from Georgia and even they can't figure out what Miller's up to. He couldn't find anyone to defend Miller's course. And it's not even like Miller was all that conservative during his two terms as governor of Georgia. By Southern standards he was pretty progressive.

The only thing Talking Points could come up with was this: When Miller was appointed to serve out the term of the late Paul Coverdell, a Republican, he kept on some of Coverdell's staff. (Miller and Coverdell were actually close friends.) In particular, he kept on Coverdell's Senior Policy Advisor, Alex Albert. In December, after Miller had won election in his own right, he appointed Albert his Chief of Staff. Coverdell was very tight with Phil Gramm and pretty much all the rest of more partisan Republicans.

Maybe Albert's just got Miller's ear. But it's hard to Zell.

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