Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Everyone and everything, of course, is on hold until we get the results tonight out of Iowa. But one sense I get about this race right now is that no one understands just why John Kerry is surging so fast in the polls. I don't think the other campaigns understand it. And I half suspect, though I haven't spoken to them yet, that even the Kerry folks themselves don't.

I don't mean this in the sense that it defies comprehension that voters could be rallying to Kerry. I've always been a fan of his. But why now? What's changed? Especially when many of the voters Kerry is picking up now must be ones he once had only to have them abandon him. For the other campaigns, you really need to know why people are turning to Kerry to figure out how to stop them from doing so.

The ARG poll today is unchanged, but the analysis says ...

While the 3-day results are unchanged and the daily trends show ballot preference for Howard Dean holding steady, John Kerry continues to gain at Wesley Clark's expense. Win or lose in Iowa, the attention Kerry is receiving from Iowa should be enough to push him in front of Clark for second place.

That sounds right to me. At least for the couple days out of the gate in New Hampshire. But as the last week or two have shown, all but the last week or two of a campaign in a small state like Iowa or New Hampshire can be prologue.

Kerry versus Clark could be the most intense battle in New Hampshire. Because they, I suspect, are in many ways fighting over the same few slices of the pie.

Those mortar rounds found by the Danish soldiers earlier this month turned out not to have any chemical weapons in them. A false alarm.

Frankly, I'm a bit surprised. They seemed to have a fairly high degree of confidence in the initial field tests. And it wouldn't surprise if there were other shells that did have chemical munitions buried somewhere in the parts of Iraq that were combat zones during the Iran-Iraq war.

After all, many thousands of them were used at the time. And perhaps there was some situation (one can speculate in various directions) in which a small cache was buried as a crude means of battlefield disposal.

Who knows?

In any case, while it would be an important safety issue to dispose of such stuff properly, it would of course be irrelevant to the question of what weapons or weapons capacities Iraq maintained in 2002 and 2003.

Amazing. Look at these numbers. From the highly respected Des Moines Register poll, out late this evening ... Kerry 26%, Edwards 23%, Dean 20%, Gephardt 18%.

Amazing how well Kerry's doing when we all know his campaign was over months ago, right?

Kevin Drum's got a great, great catch here that you'll want to read. Believe me, you've gotta see it.

I think we can say this is getting interesting.

The new ARG New Hampshire poll out late this evening has Clark and Kerry in a virtual tie (Numbers: Dean 28%, Clark 20%, Kerry 19%).

A couple new sites to check out.

The Dean campaign has put together a section of their site ("Bloggerstorm") which has RSS feeds from people with blogs who are on the ground in Iowa. I figure they're probably mostly Dean supporters, volunteers who've come into the state, and so forth, but not exclusively. In any case, it's a neat idea -- a fun way to get different perspective on what's going on on the ground in Iowa. Take a look.

The Columbia Journalism Review has a new site ("Campaign Desk") with on-going media criticism and watch-dogging of 2004 campaign coverage.

Kevin Drum has the most concise, on-point run-down on the Clark testimony silliness.

As Drum says, "The nickel version is that Clark testified before Congress in 2002 that Saddam was a dangerous guy and it was appropriate to put a lot pressure on him. Then after the war was over he wrote an op-ed for the London Times congratulating everyone involved for having fought a brilliant campaign."

The issue here is what it means to be 'anti-war'. I've said I suppose a million times now that Clark was a consistent opponent of the president's policy. But I've also said that calling him 'anti-war' misses the mark. I say this because in our politics this phrase 'anti-war' has a meaning that goes beyond one's position on a given use of military force. It signals a general tone -- one that simply doesn't apply to Clark and leads to all sorts of innocent and in other cases not so innocent misunderstandings.

So for instance this very anti-Clark editorial in the Florida Times-Union says Clark now has no credibility because his congressional testimony "hardly sound[s] like the words of a war protester."

A 'war-protestor'. You get the idea where this goes.

Similarly, Mickey Kaus says "it's impossible to square this London Times article with Clark's current antiwar criticism. Not only is the tone the opposite of Bush-bashing, but Clark seems to have forgotten that it was "the wrong war at the wrong time," as his adviser Jamie Rubin characterizes his current position."

This is priceless on a couple levels. Apparently, if a pundit decides you're a 'bush-basher' and then finds you've said something generous about the president, it means you've been untrue to your bush-bashing values. I don't know quite what to make of that.

More to the point, though, I think we've got a more muted version of the Times-Union's 'war protestor' line here.

Mickey's line is that opposition to the president's policy is inconsistent with cheering a stunning military victory once the decision for war has been made. For an ex-General I don't think it's that surprising at all. As I said, Mickey's point is similar to the Times-Union's point. Since Clark is running as some sort of war protest candidate how could he enthuse over the success of the military's rapid victory in Iraq?

But whatever people think of Clark, I don't think most people in this country would find that a contradiction. I do think that will cause Clark some difficulties in the Democratic primaries. But the slices of the electorate that will decide this election will, I think, share that ambivalence.

The Zogby poll out of Iowa continues to have Dean, Gephardt and Kerry grouped in pretty much a tie (Numbers: Kerry 23%, Dean 22%, Gephardt 19%, Edwards 18%). But the bigger news is out of ARG's New Hampshire poll (Numbers: Dean 28%, Clark 22%, Kerry 18%) Clark remains a half dozen points behind Dean. But look at Kerry -- back at 18%. A week ago he was at 10%.

Now, of course, the precise numbers in these tracking polls are volatile. But trends over time are usually on the mark.

A couple days ago over lunch I was talking to a friend about the Kerry campaign. And I said the big question about Kerry was whether an unexpectedly strong showing in Iowa could whip Kerry back into contention in New Hampshire.

My friend said no, can't happen. And though I'd proposed it as the big question, I instantly agreed.

But clearly I shouldn't have.

The reason it seemed improbable (to me at least) that Kerry could surge back in New Hampshire is, paradoxically, precisely because he used to be so far ahead there.

I can see Clark surging there, or perhaps Edwards, or even Gephardt. But that's because their support was never that high. Someone who's left Candidate X and is looking for someone new will probably look for someone ... well, new, not someone they were supporting before they moved on to candidate X.

Nice theory. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be true. Kerry is quickly moving back into contention in New Hampshire.

Also on the Kerry front, see this article in The New Republic about Kerry's field organizer Michael Whouley -- who may be playing an important role in the shift.

A quick note on some game-playing on Andrew Sullivan's site on the Drudge/Clark business.

I don't want to get into all the particulars. But two points stand out to me.

One is that Sullivan doesn't seem bothered by the fact that Drudge not only took the quotes out of context but actually reordered them to change their meaning. Why no concern over that? That seems like a problem.

Then he goes on to tendentiously misconstrue most everything Clark said. His final judgment is that Clark's stance was basically identical to Bush's but that at the key moment he wimped out and got cold feet about the war. He also tosses in the self-justifying canard that the whole issue was one of getting the permission of France.

I'll leave it to you to read the testimony or not read it and make your own judgments about what Clark says. My read is that it's pretty clear that Sullivan's readings in several cases are just tendentious misconstruals.

But this really isn't about Clark, who can stand or fall on his own. (Like any candidate he has inconsistencies in his positions over time -- just not the extreme, cartoonish ones that certain operatives keep trying to push.) This is about a bigger question, a more fundamental debate.

To Sullivan and those who share his view, if you believed that Iraq remained a serious and unresolved security question for the United States which had to be confronted, and you didn't support the war that the president chose to fight, that means that you had a failure of nerve (add in here, of course, the standard Munich references.)

But that's only true if you had an extremely myopic view of the Iraq question and believed that quite literally everything had to give way before it.

That was always a foolish read of the situation, and for some it was a dishonest one too.

For my part, the fundamental issue and the issue of urgency was finding out the status of Iraq's WMD programs. Once we'd done that (and we'd largely done that before we went to war, particularly on the nuclear arms front) the question became one of much less urgency -- one which we had to balance against a series of other priorities.

What priorities? Al Qaida, for one -- which the Iraq adventure set back. More importantly, I think, was creating an international order in which American power is durable and enduring.

As Fareed Zakaria (another weak-willed peacenik) wrote about a year ago, in the process of solving the Iraq problem the administration created an America problem. As he wrote ...

[T]he administration is wrong if it believes that a successful war will make the world snap out of a deep and widening mistrust and resentment of American foreign policy. A war with Iraq, even if successful, might solve the Iraq problem. It doesn’t solve the America problem. What worries people around the world above all else is living in a world shaped and dominated by one country—the United States. And they have come to be deeply suspicious and fearful of us.

I think it's pretty clear now that we haven't solved the Iraq problem -- or perhaps we got rid of one Iraq problem and created another. But even if we had solved it, I think the bargain that Zakaria sketches out was a bad one, especially after it'd become quite clear that the threat from Iraq was minimal.

These are complex questions, ones not easily reasoned through by the standard nah-nah-nah. But there are some folks who can't get over their 1939-envy, their hunger for the Orwell moment. But this wasn't one of them. It never was. And the failure to understand that -- whether by deception or myopia or an honest mistake or the simple need for drama that is the curse of intellectuals -- has done us real harm.