Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

So it seems the president's New Hampshire Bamboozlepalooza stop didn't pan out so well.

A piece in Tuesday's Union Leader announced that there were still plenty of tickets available for the president's event. In the event, however, only about half of the 2,000 free tickets got snatched up. Before the president hit the stage, White House aides had to scurry around collecting empty seats to avoid images of the president speaking to a half-empty room. With such low demand they may even have considered letting in folks who wouldn't sign a loyalty oath or didn't have relatives employed at Cato. But the reports provide no details on that count.

As the rather-less-than-liberal Boston Herald headlined it: "Bush strikes out in N.H. on Social Security."

Also a bit of a bummer is that Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) chose yesterday to restate his apparent opposition to Bush's phase out plan.

Bradley has been bouncing around the edges of the Conscience Caucus for some time. And, as we alluded to yesterday, we almost had to come up with an entirely new category for him after the president himself appeared to put Bradley in the Caucus by something like an impromptu executive order.

The president's visit was to Bradley's district and as an AP story from yesterday had it ...

Though Bush heaped praise on scores of local politicians, from the state's two Republican senators on down, he did not mention Bradley.

"You don't have to worry about your senators. They're people who understand we have got to address the problem," he said, conspicuously omitting Bradley.

As this and other passages in the article make clear, the president sure seems to think Bradley's in the Caucus. Indeed, a bunch of New Hampshire political observers seemed to think that was the reason he was there.

We were about ready to put Bradley in the Caucus, just on the president's say-so. Then later in the day he issued a statement saying: "In 2002, I opposed privatization, and I remain opposed to privatization."

Now, as we've noted many times, lots of phase-out supporters say they're opposed to privatization but mean by that they still support private accounts (sort of a big middle finger flipped to the English language.) Yet, all the New Hampshire papers had little doubt that Bradley was opposing the president. Since they headlined the story I think they were probably sure that his statement was what it appeared to be on the surface.

Just to be sure, I put a call in to the congressman's office today. When I asked whether his opposition to 'privatization' meant he was opposed to carved-out private accounts, the staffer I spoke to said she would check and get back to me. I haven't heard back yet. But I didn't get the impression there was any Heather-Wilson-like ducking and weaving going on, just an effort to check with the boss before answering a relatively technical question.

In any case, until we hear otherwise, on the president's say-so and taking his own words at face value, Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) of New Hampshire becomes the 21st member of the House Conscience Caucus. And subject to what we hear back from his office, he may even be Loud and Proud.

I sometimes wonder -- genuinely wonder -- how often some folks on the rightward side of the privatization debate simply repeat claims they know to be false or whether they simply shovel them up from the noise machine and dish them back out without making any attempt to find out whether what they're repeating is true or not.

A few moments ago, a TPM Reader sent me a link to this post on the site of Roger L. Simon.

He says many things in it on the Social Security debate which one may agree or disagree with. But what pops out to me is his flat claim that both Sen. Harry Reid and President Bill Clinton supported private Social Security accounts in the late 1990s. The point being that the two men are transparently hypocritical since they now attack President Bush for supporting what they endorsed less than a decade ago.

This is simply false, presumably because Simon simply isn't familiar with the subject. It's not an issue up for debate or a question of interpretation. It's simply a matter of the difference between what did happen and what did not happen.

There's no particular reason to pick on Simon. This stuff is ubiquitous. One might just as easily have chosen from a thousand other examples -- not a few of them on cable networks and other places that are supposed to have checks in place to prevent egregious error and misstatement of fact.

What Bill Clinton proposed was that rather than having the Social Security Trust Fund invest all its assets in Treasury bonds that it invest a relatively small portion of those assets in private securities. Again, no point of interpretation here: that's not private accounts, period. The president also proposed so-called USA Accounts, a universal 401k available to all Americans, but not part of Social Security. Again, completely different from what the president is proposing.

I am close to certain that this is exactly what Sen. Reid endorsed or proposed as well. My only reason for the slight qualification is that I cannot say that I am familiar with every quotation or press release that the senator put out in the 90s, though the ones I've seen purporting to show his support for private accounts are just what I described above in the case of Clinton. I can't say it in his case, but I can say it in Clinton's.

The pattern here is pretty much just the same with the intentional misconstrual or distortion of the quote from FDR which purports to show him supporting a transition to private accounts. Kevin Drum has a good run-down on that one here.

In both cases, the misinformation or lies continue to cycle through the echo chamber, apparently with no penalty for their falsehood or attempt to correct.

I'm not sure what there is to say about this really other than to observe the relative half-life of misinformation on the right today. But it seems worth noting it for the record.

Late Update: The specific target of this post, Roger Simon, quickly updated his post, correcting the error. So good for him. Nobody can keep up with every angle of every topic without sometimes hitting a false note. So correction is the key. The general point stands, however, since such timely, good faith correction is not the norm. Has Brit Hume corrected his whopper yet? Even though his tendentious error has now been pointed out probably as many times as his fellow chirpers have repeated it? Didn't think so.

Aha! No doubt the first of many online actuarial calculators that will let you see how big your Social Security benefit cuts will be under the first stage of the Bush phase-out plan. This one from Sen. Schumer of New York.

Frank Rich, perceptive and amusing, on what the surreal 'Jeff Gannon' saga all amounts to.

Has anyone registered potemkinrepublicanism.com yet?

And one more stab at this: I won't deny a certain discomfort at the vaguely lord-of-the-fliesian nature of the exposure of all this man's lurid ridiculousness. But if it turned out that any other president -- doesn't even have to be Clinton -- had a ringer 'reporter' stationed in the press pool to serve up soft-serve questions, and the same folks had already been caught paying off or buying or otherwise subborning other 'journalists' several times in recent months, AND evidence mounted that the ringer 'reporter' turned out to be a ringer 'reporter'/GI Joe-style male prostitute with what Sid Blumenthal rightly calls "enormous potential for blackmail", don't we figure that this would have ginned up a bit more big time press razzle-dazzle and gasps and awwws by now?

Some very bad news for Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) of Rhode Island ...

An independent poll - specifically, the Brown University poll -- shows potential challenger, Rep. Jim Langevin (D) beating Chafee 41% to 27%.

What catches my attention is that the sample size is small -- 384 voters. And, of course, you're almost two years from an actual vote.

Still, by definition, an incumbent senator who can't crack 30% is deep, deep in it.

Says the poll's director, Brown Professor Darrell West: "Langevin did very well because he has very few negatives and Lincoln Chafee's negatives are starting to rise. Chafee has alienated part of his Republican base but not yet won over Democrats so he's trapped between the left and the right."

(Obscure TPM Trivia: I once tried to install a modem in Professor West's home computer -- if memory serves, unsuccessfully. Long story -- one of my angles to use individual initiative to overcome graduate student poverty back in the day.)

If anything, I would think such bad numbers would push Chafee toward some conspicuous bucking of his party and president - presumably on Social Security.

But, honestly, with numbers so poor, it's hard to say. I think West has it right: he's trapped.

Is the Jeffords option the only answer?

The new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows some good news for the president on Iraq and very bad news on Social Security.

The Social Security numbers appear to be in line with other recent soundings on the key points: Opponents of the president's plan clearly, though not overwhelmingly, outnumber supporters (51% to 40%). And opponents are far more fixed in their opposition than supporters are fixed in their support (60% of opponents are "completely firm", only 31% of supporters.)

A difference slice of that last question suggests the unfirm ground on which the president's supporters are standing. Fully 68% of private accounts supporters are "open to changing [their] mind.

The 51% to 40% reading above is for the question: "do you think that it is a good idea or a bad idea to change the Social Security system to allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market?"

Further down into the poll (here's the full data) they ask the question in a slightly different fashion and this one gives a clearer sense of the downward trend of support over the last two months.

The question asks ...

Please tell me which of the following approaches to dealing with Social Security you would prefer––(A)making some adjustments but leaving the Social Security system basically as is and running the risk that the system will fall short of money as more people retire and become eligible for benefits, OR (B) changing the Social Security system by allowing people to invest some of their Social Security taxes in private accounts--like IRA's or 401k's--and running the risk that some people will lose money in their private accounts due to drops in the stock market?

Back in December the numbers were 45% to 39% in favor of private accounts; in January, it was close to tied, 46% to 44% in favor of private accounts. In this new poll, private accounts have dropped to 40% support while 50% favor the "basically as is" option.

Those numbers yield only one credible interpretation: the more the president talks about privatization the less popular it gets. One might more generously say that the longer the debate goes on, the less popular it gets. But politically speaking, same difference.

One other point.

The question is not included in the initial table of results (it says additional data will be published tomorrow). But the article (sub. required) on the front page of the Journal has this paragraph ...

Moreover, the poll shows that the values and priorities the public brings to the debate make it an uphill fight for the president. By 61%-32%, Americans say Congress should emphasize "guarantees for the future" rather than "more responsibility and personal control" in addressing Social Security. As outlined by White House aides, Mr. Bush's plan calls for workers to accept reductions in promised benefits in return for the establishment of private accounts that they could control.

Clearly, that's not good news for the president.

But it's more than that. It's not too much to say that conventional wisdom in Washington and in elite journalistic circles generally (not to mention right-wing-radio-jabberdom) would suggest that those numbers should be reversed. The private accounts model is not only held to be more 'modern'; the assumption is that Americans are increasingly disposed to prefer greater risk in exchange for greater individual control and the possibility of gain.

Now, opinions about Social Security are perhaps not the best ones on which to test these broader cultural questions since (as we've been arguing here for some time) Social Security is supposed to be extremely risk-averse. That's the whole point: it's the part of the retirement security pie in which there is supposed to be a flat guarantee, as opposed to employer pensions and private savings, in which there are greater levels of risk and the opportunity for greater gain.

Still, those numbers should prompt some real questioning on the part of many commentators about whether the cultural and ideological road map they're working from really describes American society today.

Kerry to speak out tomorrow on electoral reform at 12:45 with Sens. Boxer and Clinton and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones.

See the details here.

Just out from the The Hill:

"Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), the Democratic leaders of the Senate and House, plan to shake up the Democratic political consulting community and break the grip that a small number of consultants have had on strategy and contracts, party sources say. The Democratic leaders want to bring in new people with track records of success and innovation and look beyond the Beltway for message smiths to help guide the party."

Click here to read the whole thing.