Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A big surprise on Bolton: Voinovich says he wants to hear more, delays the vote.

Hagel too, it turns out.

I guess that leaves someone from Rhode Island holding the water pail yet again.

Wow. Cardinal Ratzinger becomes Pope Benedict XVI. I know he was spoken of frequently as a possible, even one of the most likely successors to John Paul II. But I'm still a bit stunned to see it.

Our fundraiser for the new site gets under way later this week. So stay tuned for more.

I spent way more time than I should have this weekend trying to distill my thoughts about the strategies and tactics Democrats should use to advance their agenda and unseat the Republican majority on Capitol Hill. Though my point was fairly straightforward -- forget about strategy and tactics, in so many words -- for some some reason I couldn't pull it together in a couple thousand words.

So let me, a bit more briefly, address how it applies to Social Security -- the issue that's on the table right now.

For starters, you may have seen this AP story that ran over the weekend, which read: "House Democrats have decided to quit emphasizing that they will not negotiate changes to Social Security until President Bush drops his idea for private accounts. The switch in strategy comes after Democrats learned from focus groups that people frown on the lawmakers for being obstinate."

Where to start?

The problem Democrats have is not bad tactics or bad strategies or poor framing. The problem is an over-reliance, even an addiction, to tactics and strategies.

For years I've argued that the Democrats' problem on national security issues is not so much that they aren't 'tough enough' or that they lack new ideas. The problem is a now-deeply-ingrained habit of approaching national security issues not so much as policy questions to be wrestled with but as a political problem to be dealt with and moved on from.

That has a host of damaging consequences, the most serious of which is that if you chart your policy course so as to avoid political damage, always casting about for the sweet spot of political safety, you tend to lack any greater programmatic consistency. And that tells voters (as it probably should) that you’re inconstant and unserious. It also muddles effective communication by confusing the communicators themselves about just what it is they are trying to say or accomplish.

What the last year has taught me -- both in good ways and bad -- is that this malady isn't limited to the national security domain but applies to Democrats pretty much across the board.

We hear a lot today about framing or being tougher or being united or dumping the failed consultants. But while each of these prescriptions has some element of merit, each also recapitulates the existing problem -- only dressing it up in clothes -- because each mistakes the disease for the cure.

When it comes to strategy and tactics, the current Democratic party is like a drunk in the early stages of recovery or a man or woman who keeps ending up in the same bad relationship again and again with different people. For folks like that, strong medicine is required. Indeed, they usually require steps, correctives, lists of dos-and-don'ts more drastic than anybody would ever need who didn't have a problem.

Today we hear Democrats asking whether they should take a hard line on Social Security or a soft line, stand in opposition or come up with a contending plan. Here's what I propose whenever Democrats have a question about just what stance to take on the Social Security debate.

One question ...

What is the actual policy outcome that would be most preferable on Social Security (to protect, preserve or augment it -- whatever) and how important is it that it take place in this Congress?

That's the first, second and third question.

That answer should drive everything else.

If add-on accounts are important to preserve Social Security or expand opportunities for middle class families to save for retirement, and if it’s important enough on the merits to make it a priority in this Congress, then let’s do it. Otherwise, I’d say forget it. Stick with opposing phase-out and take it to the voters. End of story.

If the demon rum of optics or tactical too-clever-by-halfism tries to slither its way back even into second or third, slap your wrist and get back with the program.

I'm not saying that the Democrats need to get in touch with their political or ideological roots or hold to orthodoxies. Nor is this an argument for political purism. My point is entirely agnostic on what the policy should be -- only that it should drive the politics.

Nor do I pretend that this will always generate the most effective political approach or the most supplely played tactical game. What I think is that we are dealing with a sick patient, one whose reasoning and judgment are often untrustworthy and one apt to slide back into the same old destructive habits without some firm and concrete correctives in place.

For a party so quick to get lost in the fog, this should be the compass.

I opened the CNN website tonight to see a story about an American humanitarian aid worker killed by a car bomb in Iraq. And after I opened the story and glanced at the picture, I was reading the text, and suddenly I thought, "That's Marla!" Marla Ruzicka. I can't say I knew her particularly well. She lived in my building in DC for a while; I hung out with her at parties in town a handful of times. Nothing more.

Perhaps there's something or someone I'm forgetting. But thinking it over now I believe she's the first person I could say I knew in any real way who was killed over there.

I didn't know her nearly well enough to have any business describing her to you. I was always fuzzy about just what it was she did over in Iraq -- something you can find more information about in the various articles describing her death. I will leave it at sharing that memory. And may she rest in peace.

Carl Pope, the executive director of The Sierra Club, has started his own blog. Click here to take a look.

He just wants to be understood.

Tom DeLay: "It is unfortunate in our electoral system, exacerbated by our adversarial media culture, that political discourse has to get so overheated that it's not just arguments, but motives are questioned."

The second-coming of Manuel Miranda? The operator still being investigated for stealing Democratic staff memos seems to have resurfaced to help his old boss press ahead with the 'nuclear option.'

Victims ...

Josh, You have to tell the whole story of anything or you are not credible. I never take anything democrats say because in the last 10 years the Minority is trying to force everything down our throats. You speak in such disrespect about Delay, the bug man, that I have suggested to many senators by email, that Delay should quit and start running or the presidency. He is just what we need. With his style we could ram down your throats. DELAY FOR PRESIDENT

DeLay in '08.

The LA Times and the Post today both have run-downs of President Bush's invitation-only Bamboozlepalooza event in Ohio yesterday. And at the end of the article in the Times there's this odd passage ...

In a pitch directed to Democratic lawmakers, who are nearly unanimous in opposing Bush's plan to create Social Security personal accounts, the president called for "political amnesty" for those who joined his drive to retool the retirement program.

"All ideas are on the table," he asserted at several points in his remarks.

His declaration appeared to reinforce a suggestion made Thursday by his top economic advisor, Allan B. Hubbard, that the voluntary retirement accounts might be acceptable to Bush even if they were offered as an "add-on" to Social Security, instead of being financed by current payroll taxes, as the president was advocating.

Political amnesty? Is he trying <$NoAd$> to help Rep. Allen Boyd cop a plea? Or get off with time served? There are so few other Fainthearted members of Congress left that I was really a little unsure who the president was talking about. Perhaps it's private accounts men, who now want to get on the add-on bandwagon, who need a pardon? Perhaps we need a Social Security Phase-Out Truth and Reconciliation Commission?