Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As I noted earlier, I think the debate spin -- if the Dems are even remotely sensible -- will turn heavily on the great number of straight-up falsehoods Cheney told during the debate. But who knew the first one to be pegged would be so gratuitous and easy to nail?

In a rather churlish moment, Cheney told Edwards that the two of them had never met before tonight's debate, despite the fact the Edwards is a serving senator and Cheney's the body's presiding officer.

But as Atrios and no doubt many others have now pointed out, one can easily find a citation on the web of a prayer breakfast the two men attended together in February 2001. And the Dems are already circulating a picture from the event showing the two standing right next to each other.

There was less than no reason to get into the fairly irrelevant topic of whether the two guys have ever met before. But Cheney did. And right like that, smack in the face, what he said turns out to be false.

The key for Democrats will be to drive into Cheney's falsehoods on Iraq and terror. But this is a nice addition. And Cheney has provided Dems with plenty of grist.

Oh ye Dems. That is your meme. Spin forth, spin I tell you.

[I can already hear the Dems' snark line: "Dick Cheney says he'd never met John Edwards before last night? I bet he wishes he still never had."]

As I did last week, I flipped off the volume on the television after the debate ended so that I could put down some unmediated impressions before hearing the spin and CW in the process of formation.

I hesitate to say this. But my basic impression was that Edwards didn't strike a false note for the entire 90 minutes. And I say this having been critical of him in the past.

After I saw him at a Town Hall meeting in late January in New Hampshire, I described how I was wowed by him during the event itself but then found myself not long after feeling the whole thing was somehow light and insubstantial.

Going into this debate I worried that I might see the same things. Specifically, I was concerned that everything else notwithstanding, Cheney might just outclass him on at least the perception of heft and seriousness.

But I didn't see that. Not at all. And the sharp on his feet quality I ascribed to Cheney late this afternoon didn't seem particularly evident.

Let me review some running impressions of the debate itself.

I thought Cheney started very weak and that Edwards started just as strong. Cheney recovered after not too long; but Edwards remained clean and on-message.

One thing I also noticed is that Cheney didn't look very good or even very healthy. Something like that can simply be a matter of bad make-up or unflattering lighting. So I'm not making any assumptions about Cheney's health based on what I saw. But the physical contrast between the two men was unmistakable from the outset.

Another point that I believe will ripple over the next few days is that Vice President Cheney told a number of just straight-up falsehoods during the foreign policy portion of the debate. And that creates lots of grist for Democrats in the on-going debate spin war.

I didn't take close notes and I don't have a transcript available. But there was the time when the VP said he'd never suggested Saddam was connected to 9/11 -- which will come back to haunt him. And there were a number of other Iraq, WMD and 9/11-whoppers.

Then there was the time when he said that a major reason for the decline of suicide bombings in Israel is that Saddam is no longer paying those $25,000 bounties to the families of the bombers.

That's got to be one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. No one believes that. And I'm sure he'll be ridiculed endlessly for saying it.

There were other moments when he tried out really silly number and word games. In response to Edwards' claim that the US has sustained 90% of the coalition fatalities in Iraq, for instance, Cheney insisted that Edwards wasn't telling the truth because he wasn't including all the Iraqi soldiers and police officers who are of course now dying in their hundreds. So Cheney said the number is only 50%.

If you want to change the definition of 'the coalition' that everyone has used for the last two years I guess this may be technically true. But it struck me as silly and drove home the President's and the Vice President's unwillingness to look reality in the face and level with the public.

The essential truth is that for whatever reasons we don't have many allies with us in Iraq and the overwhelming number of casualties are Americans. Word games don't change that.

Two other final points on Cheney.

Despite what we saw last week, and the lesson the debate prep folks must have taken from it, I thought that about a third of the way through the debate Edwards started to get under Cheney's skin. The VP seemed mad. And not in a flattering way.

The basic reason, I think, was the same as in President Bush's case. He didn't like hearing the fusillade of criticism about Iraq and the war on terror. There were no grimaces and rolling eyes like in the president's case. But something about him turned sour and snide. And, again, not in a way that helped him land any punches on Edwards or Kerry.

The final point is that in the final half hour or so of the encounter Cheney seemed to grow somehow philosophical in his responses. And I don't mean that in an altogether uncomplimentary way. I thought that was the case in his answer about dividing the country and in a couple other answers that I'm not remembering at the moment. He seemed to be honestly airing the question and thinking them over, tossing out this idea or that, but not with any particular energy or verve.

The problem was that had I been one of the Bush Cheney strategists I would be thinking, "How does this answer hurt John Kerry or help the president? What is Cheney talking about?" He seemed just disengaged somehow.

I don't usually think much of the sort of comment that I'm about to make. But there was a moment during this 'philosophical' phase of Cheney's performance when I couldn't help but think: 'I just don't know if this guy's heart is really in it. I'm not sure they really want to win.' He was listless. It was like Cheney checked out of the debate about a half hour before Edwards did.

So that's Cheney. Now to Edwards.

As I said at the outset, I thought Edwards struck pretty much every note right. I'm not saying he was the best debater ever or that it was a bravura performance. But every answer seemed well-crafted and on point. He went right to Cheney's and Bush's weakest points on the issues of credibility and honesty about the war.

He also did the one thing that was most important for him to do in this whole exercise: he shored up his boss on the issues of vulnerability left open from the last debate, the ones the Bush-Cheney team has been hitting on ever since. Again and again, he pressed the point about Kerry's strength and resolution and sought to disentangle whatever messiness was left over from the 'global test' issue.

He followed the one dictate that was absolutely key for him: he was there to defend John Kerry. It wasn't about him. It was about his boss.

On foreign policy I thought he more than held his own with the VP. He made sharp and focused attacks and never got caught flat-footed by a man who has literally decades more foreign policy experience than he does. On domestic policy he was solid; and that provided a telling contrast to Cheney who seemed bored or lost on the issue.

Those again are my initial thoughts. Certainly we'll be returning to this topic over the next couple days. On balance I think Edwards held the momentum Kerry created last week and advanced the arguments of competence and honesty that worked against the president. Equally important, I thought Cheney's efforts to land punches against Kerry were only marginally effective at best. A friend who called me while I was writing this told me that he thought Cheney scored points attacking Kerry's foreign policy record reaching back to the 1970s. But I didn't think Cheney knocked those issues that effectively or with enough consistency.

The task for Democrats over the next forty-eight hours is to bang home with hammering detail and repetition just how many things Vice President Cheney said during the debate that were just flat-out false and to make the case that this is part and parcel of a general pattern of denial about what's happening in Iraq and failure, on so many fronts, to level with the American public.

I think the Kerry folks are pretty happy with what they saw; I doubt the Bush-Cheney folks are feeling the same way.

Same drill as last week, comments on the debate to follow shortly.

This is classic. From what one can gather from this late piece in the Post, the White House is having a hard time figuring out who to smear as a liar over the Bremer debacle.

In this morning's Post a "senior defense official" denied that Bremer had ever pressed for more troops in Iraq, as the former administrator claimed he had in various speeches (at least not until two weeks before the end of his tenure and then to secure the borders.)

The claim that Bremer was lying, however, only seemed to last about half a news cycle because in the follow-up piece that went online at 4:41 PM a Bush campaign spokesman, Brian Jones, confirmed that Bremer had in fact requested more troops.

The specific remark was a bit oblique, but clear enough: "Ambassador Bremer differed with the commanders in the field. That is his right, but the president has always said that he will listen to his commanders on the ground and give them the support they need for victory."

This later zig in the party line also effectively cuts off at the knees the regime-change dead-enders who spent the day zagging, or rather arguing that Bremer was only talking about the delay in the arrival of the 4th Infantry Division. (This sorry excuse is ably noted here by Andrew Sullivan.)

Once Bremer arrived on the scene, the delay in the arrival of the 4th ID wasn't a matter of policy but logistics. If the issue was one of policy disagreements between Bremer and the military commanders on the ground that means that he couldn't have been talking simply about the absence of the 4th ID during the early stages of the occupation.

Who would have thought that a crew that's done such a bang up job in Iraq would have so much trouble organizing a smear and damage control operation?

Allow me a few comments about tonight's debate.

I find this encounter much harder to predict than Kerry-Bush.

Both these guys -- Edwards and Cheney -- are very sharp on their feet rhetorically. But their styles and strengths are wholly different. Edwards is affable and engaging. He has the common touch. But he can also come off as a bit light. Cheney is sharp and can manage an uncannily reassuring and reasoned approach that belies his actual views and impulses. He also says a lot of things that aren't true and the whole baring your incisors as a debating tactic can be a downer in this feel-good era.

What Edwards should keep squarely in mind is that this debate isn't about John Edwards or Dick Cheney. Views of both of them are close to irrelevant. This is a proxy debate between John Kerry and George Bush. It's about defending Kerry and taking the fight to the president. Everything else is a distraction.

I'm sure the campaign strategists have thought through all sorts of good angles for Edwards to pursue. But what I'd like to see is the following.

The real vulnerability now for the Bush-Cheney team is the perception (very much based on reality) that they lied the country into war and even more that they're not being straight with the public now about what's happening in Iraq. More than anything, that was President Bush's undoing in the first debate. Not only were his answers on Iraq wobbly. But getting hit on the issue was, I think, what really got under his skin.

As I said above, this debate isn't about Dick Cheney. Yet Cheney has been the most foward-leaning in his deceptive comments (TPM secret decoder ring: 'biggest liar') on WMD, the phantom Iraq-al Qaida tie, the post-war situation in Iraq and just about everything else. So he is uniquely ill-situated to defend the White House on these grounds.

There's plenty of fresh ammunition this week -- even the material in the New York Times article on the Iraqi nuclear program, though most of that had appeared earlier elsewhere.

Cheney's awfully quick on his feet. But if Edwards zeroes in on this stuff, I think Cheney will have a hard time not either completely abandoning some of his previous positions or repeating some ridiculous whoppers that will provide plenty of grist for the inter-debate spin war on from tomorrow through Friday evening.

Charlie Rangel's (D-NY) statement on the draft bill <$NoAd$>brought to the House floor today ...

The Republican leadership decision to place the draft legislation on the Suspension Calendar is a political maneuver to kill rumors of the President's intention to reinstate the draft after the November election.

I am voting no, because my bill deserves serious consideration. It should be subject to hearings and to expert testimony. The Administration should come and tell us about our manpower needs, about recruitment and retention, about the extent to which out troops are overextended. And they should give us their views about shared sacrifice. If they did all of those things in a serious way, they would have to admit that my bill is an option.

But what we are seeing now is election-year politics. They are using the Suspension Calendar, which is reserved for non-controversial items, to make a cynical political statement. The American people are deeply concerned about this issue deserve more than this. So do our troops, who after we leave here today, will still be on ground, and left with the message that we couldn't take the time to discuss their situation and what should be done to relieve them.

This is hypocrisy of the worst kind. I would not encourage any Democrat running for reelection to vote for this bill.

More as the story develops ...

Et tu, Breme?

So here we go again: A former Bush administration official says -- after the fact -- that the central critiques of administration policy were entirely correct.

In this case, the admission is that the US never had enough troops in Iraq to get the job done. On top of that, there is a critical subsidiary point: that the US lost vital and perhaps irrecoverable ground in the first days and weeks of the occupation by not ending the widespread looting and not moving quickly enough to restore law and order.

"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," said Bremer, according to the Post, "We never had enough troops on the ground."

Needless to say, this wasn't just a critique mounted by political opponents but a prediction made far in advance of the outbreak of hostilities by many of the president's statutory advisors -- like Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki.

As Atrios notes, we're already hearing the chorus of Bush leakers whipping up the cry that Bremer is a liar and some sort of hopeless fool who was lucky not to get canned for all the mistakes he made -- a la, Clarke, O'Neill and all the rest.

What strikes me in the Post article is Bremer's contention, contained in an email he sent to the article's authors, that his contention that the US had insufficient troops applies to the immediate post-invasion period rather than to today.

Partly, this dodges the question. There's a lot of time between April/May 2003 and Sept./Oct. 2004. Most of that time, Bremer was in charge.

The key though is that it's hard to argue that the US had too few troops on the ground in June 2003 or December 2003 or March 2004 and yet has an adequate amount today when the situation has deteriorated so dramatically.

Not impossible, but very hard.

The whole point of coming in early with a robust occupying force is that you can establish law and order early with a number of troops that might not be able to re-establish order once things have spun out of control. The number of troops needed to put the genie back in the bottle, almost by definition, has to be greater than the number that would have been needed to stop it getting out in the first place.

Where was James Q. Wilson when these jokers needed him?

No, no, no ... we really really don't want a draft.

House Republicans, worried about the traction of charges that President Bush will be forced to reinstitute the draft in a second term, are rushing to the floor this afternoon to vote on the Draft legislation Charlie Rangel (D-NY) introduced early last year.

No hearings, no notice, no nuthin'.

I'll post more as the situation develops.

Marshall Unbound!

No, not this Marshall. But that one, Marshall Wittman.

As longtime readers know, way back in blog antiquity, Marshall ran a blog called the "Bull Moose." But it went into suspended animation when he took over as John McCain's Communications Director a couple years ago (I don't know the exact date; but it was something like that.)

I've known Marshall for, I think, about five years. He and I first met, if memory serves, in his then-office at the Heritage Foundation for an interview I was doing on ... well, honestly I can't remember what the article was even about. Thinking back on it, I think it was supposed to be for an article on McCain and the reformist conservatism that was then growing up around him. But given the constraints I was then operating under I think it never got written. In any case, I note the location to give some sense of the ideological terrain Marshall's covered over the last few years.

After that, Marshall became central (even that may be understating his importance to it) to what was then coming to be called National Greatness Conservatism -- a set of ideas that was perhaps as inchoate as it was compelling.

Bill Kristol was part of that. But Marshall was always its core. The political darling, of course, was McCain. And Marshall played a big idea role in McCain's 2000 campaign.

After McCain got dug under by President Bush, Marshall went to the Hudson Institute to work on the idea of National Greatness Conservatism. But after a relatively short stint there, he signed up with McCain.

Now, 'National Greatness Conservatism' grew out of the uncertainties and drift created within the Republican party by Clintonism, the end of the Cold War and the porkification of the congressional GOP after their 1994 sweep.

It's more complicated than that, of course. But it was an effort on the part of a group of conservative (probably fair to call them neo-conservative) intellectuals to build a new political synthesis around two basic planks: a hawkish internationalism which placed a heavy emphasis on American values and an abandonment of Norquistian anti-governmentism at home.

It wasn't liberal. But it was progressive -- at least in the old Rooseveltian (TR, that is) sense of harnessing the federal government to accomplish great things and become an engine of national unity. And perhaps it also contained some progressive elements in the more contemporary sense. But that was always the ambiguous part.

My own semi-outsider's sense of this -- and Marshall bears no responsibility for this interpretation -- was always that the post Marshall got at Hudson was in some very broad sense akin to what a venture capitalist or perhaps a major corporation will do when they buy equity in some start-up with a new technology.

So, in my sense of this, the GOP was like GM and Marshall was like some small tech company with a very promising technology for solar fuel cells or something. And they're figuring, 'Well, the internal combustion engine [the Nixon/Reagan coalition] is near the end of the line. So let's buy into this guy's new idea [National Greatness Conservatism] and see where it goes."

But then something went wrong.

The National Greatness thing was based on a belief that Bush represented a tired and vacuous politics of moneyed power -- perhaps preferable to the Democrats, but nothing to get excited about for the future. But then 9/11 came along. And most of those who'd classed themselves with the McCainiac/National Greatness clique decided that as long as Bush could rack up the votes that they could live with Karl Rove, Texas style conservatism and plutocracy just fine.

And with that, there just wasn't much need for National Greatness Conservatism any more -- no need for investments in speculative and innovative new ideas when George W. Bush was making a going concern of money politics and cynicism.

In fairness to those like Kristol, who jumped eagerly on to the Bush bandwagon, Marshall's vision of National Greatness Conservatism was also beginning to look more and more like Cold War Liberalism.

In any case, last week was Marshall's last week with McCain. He's taken a post at the DLC/Progressive Policy Institute. He's bringing back the Moose. And in his first public statement since he got his voice back, he's endorsing Kerry-Edwards.

Says Marshall in the first graf of the piece ...

I am an independent McCainiac who hopes to revive the Bull Moose tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, and I support the Kerry-Edwards agenda. Don't get me wrong -- this Bull Moose is not completely in agreement with the Democratic donkey. But the Bush administration has betrayed the effort to create a new politics of national greatness in the aftermath of 9/11.

Marshall's political views probably aren't in line with the majority of TPM readers, though in many respects I'd say that they probably differ in ways that mine also differ from the majority of TPM readers. But Marshall is at the top of my list of those who straddle the line between being political thinkers and political operators. I think the world of him.

Okay, we've now got six new post-debate polls.

One shows a very slight Kerry lead: Newsweek (Kerry by +3).

Three are basically a tie: Zogby (Bush +1), CNN/USAT/Gallup (Tied), CBS/NYT (Tied).

Two show a modest but measurable Bush lead: Pew (Bush +5), ABC/WaPo (Bush +5).

We now have enough data to make some general conclusions. Kerry got a big bounce out of the debate. He's now even or close to even with Bush. With Bush as the incumbent and under 50%, that puts him squarely back in the danger zone. But Kerry clearly still has his work cut out for him. The remaining debates are crucial and beating back the Bush campaign's 'Kerry Doctrine' lies is imperative.

[ed.note: In the numbers above I've used 'likely voter' numbers where possible and straight Bush-Kerry numbers were possible. I'll be waiting for Ruy and others to crunch the internals.]