Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

"Long range changes need to be made" to Social Security to insure benefits can be paid. Did you know that? And with the baby boom generation about to double the number of seniors "changes will need to be made to Social Security" to keep the program solvent. And "most experts agree the sooner those changes are made the less they are going to cost." Did you know that? Or how about the fact that "some people mistakenly think there’s a special account" with their funds in it?

Just some of helpful facts you can learn about Social Security when you listen to the "on hold" recording while waiting to speak with someone at the Social Security administration.

Lots of new news on the Franklin-AIPAC espionage story from the JTA -- new details involving CBS reporter Adam Ciralsky, and how Franklin was flipped by the FBI and helped "set up a sting against AIPAC" as well as "initiating contact with some neoconservative defense experts, several of them Jewish, who supported Ahmad Chalabi ... [and] Chalabi’s political adviser," Francis Brooke.

This piece is lengthy, detailed and a must-read.

It's good to be da king ...

(Sam Rosenfeld on today's press conference)

The president got a tad petulant when fielding questions on Social Security. His emphatic response to any and all queries about his position on the subject was an indignant, righteous refusal to answer: “You’re not going to get me to negotiate with myself,” he repeatedly told the perplexed reporters. “I know what you’re trying to get me to do. You’re trying to get me to answer ‘Why this,’ ‘why that,’ to take positions -- don’t bother to ask me.” Rather than merely dodge the questions, Bush seemed intent on staking out an explicit, principled position in favor of dodging the question. There may have been a method to this madness above and beyond Bush’s stated explanation that “Congress writes legislation” <$NoAd$> and therefore he, as the president, shouldn’t be setting specific guidelines for a Social Security reform proposal. The president isn’t usually a big separation-of-powers, checks-and-balances kind of guy.

[Note to White House: Might be time to add a fifth stock answer.]

A reader writes in the following ...

re: Allen Boyd, I think it's a mistake to first assume that we can't convince him on the merits of the issue, rather than trying to intimidate him into submission.

I don't assume that. In fact, I would say that it would be foolish for anyone to commit themselves to voting Boyd out of office or punishing him in any way at all. I would say simply that anyone in Boyd's district who believes in Social Security should commit themselves to vote only for candidates who vote to keep Social Security.

Boyd has plenty of time to decide whether or not he qualifies.

I think Boyd's fellow Democrats have a very strong case to make to him on Social Security, both on the substance and the politics. If the issue were abortion or gay rights or guns, it would be foolish to think that Boyd is going to adopt the positions of Democrats from the coasts, given that he comes from a district that is very culturally red. But I simply don't buy the idea -- frankly, I can't imagine that anyone does -- that Social Security is a program that culturally conservative rural voters just won't abide.

As Ed Kilgore has been saying in a slightly different context, Democrats need to put much more focus as a party on persuasion. But as any sensible hawk knows, diplomacy is seldom truly effective without a credible threat of force backing it up. And that's all I'm recommending.

Nick Confessore has an important post here about why losing a few House seats by punishing reps. who agree to phase out Social Security wouldn't be the end of the world. Frankly, I doubt anyone will lose their seats. I think the process will change their minds before it comes to that. But if a few fall, so be it. The Democrats are in the minority. (Washington Dems should take a moment to absorb that.) Gaining or losing a few seats won't change much either way. What will change things is recasting the issue map in a way that can securely propel the Dems back into the majority. Read Nick's piece.

Following up on yesterday's call for some progressive organization to begin an online database stating where every representative and senator stands on Social Security, a short update.

It turns out that one individual had already taken the initiative on Saturday to set up a blog to compile the data. And I've already heard from a few TPM readers with technical expertise in doing this sort of thing eager to volunteer their time. So far, though, none of the progressive groups that come readily to mind seem interested.

Or, at least, I haven't heard anything about it if they are.

That's too bad. Because without aggressive, outside-the-box thinking and action, this will all go very badly. The same-old-same-old mix of press conferences and reports and 'coalitions' won't amount to anything.

And there's another thing to consider as well.

In politics as in life, victory or success is seldom entirely within our control. As we noted a few days ago, the Democrats can't win this legislatively. They don't have the votes. The GOP has the White House and solid majorities in both chambers. If they can hold their troops together, they can write the bill, pass it, and sign it into law before anyone gets another chance at the ballot box. But, as important as winning is in this case (and I'm a good deal more optimistic than many of my friends and colleagues seem to be), winning isn't everything.

If Democrats have to lose this, they must be sure to lose well.

Do they spin and shuffle and whine and sputter on about how bad the whole thing is? Or do they make this into a clear choice -- where Democrats support Social Security for a clear set of reasons rooted in values and policy, and Republicans oppose it?

If the lies about the program's unviability are volubly refuted, the party division made clear, and the reasons why Social Security is good for America are ably argued, then let the chips fall where they may. But if it's all tactics, the outmoded bag of tricks and risk-aversion, playing at the margins and wringing of hands, that will truly be unforgivable.

Late Update: In response to the above, a reader writes in the following: "I think it's possibly all to the good to have independent operatives doing stuff like this: wasn't the use of arms-length surrogates a hallmark of the other side's tactics? Why does everything have to come from Party Central? is that a Democratic value I am missing? Oliver Willis' Brand Democrat effort is similar: he didn't ask permission, only provided minimal guidance and a banner to stand behind."

First, there's a lot here that I agree with. In fact, mostly I agree. These folks won't be moved or forced to change but from the outside. And I hope that continues to happen. At the same time, they have money. They have organizational infrastructure. They have media contacts. As much as I don't want those resources put to ineffectual uses, I also don't want it to go to waste since it's not like there is an excess of resources to go around.

To the extent that energy and insight is bubbling up from folks who haven't been involved before or new blood is coming up in the ranks, great! Frankly, that's the only hope. But I want those folks to start groups, get funding, get office space, get folks who can go on TV. Institutions and infrastructure matter. It's as simple as that.

Let me be as frank as possible. I know a lot of the people we're talking about. I also know very well that almost all of them have devoted a lot more of their lives to fighting for things that I believe in than I have. But I've also seen from the inside how many of the methods and approaches simply don't get the job done -- to put it mildly. But they have strengths and resources that would be foolish to ignore. And why not put them to use?

Administration Social Security lies round-up from yesterday's shows, from the AP (emphasis added) ...

Both Card and Snow, who appeared on "Fox News Sunday," said Social Security is beyond repair as it now stands. They said details of a plan to overhaul it remain to be worked out.


Asked whether Bush's ideas would remove guarantees of Social Security benefits to younger workers, Card said: "Under no one's plan will younger workers receive benefits they've been promised because the Social Security system doesn't have the financial underpinning, the foundation to support the expectations of social security 75 years from now, 50 years from now."

Straight-up lies, disinformation. I was going <$NoAd$> to say just like Iraq, but it's far more brazen since our knowledge in this case is much more certain. See this excellent post by Kevin Drum for more on the reality about Social Security's fiscal health and long-term viability.

Perhaps next there can be some effort to get the media to provide some check on demonstrably false statements made by administration spokespeople.

So many progressive organizations out there with time on their hands. Which one will put together the online database listing where every representative and senator stands on Social Security?

Who supports the program, who wants to phase it out, and who's keeping their cards close to their vest, trying to figure which way the wind will blow?

Only a bit of money and only a bit of staff resources -- and to such good effect. Who will step up to the plate?

On a related note, what about all those Republican members of congress who told voters only two years ago that they were dead-set against 'privatization'?

There was New Hampshire's Jeb Bradley in a debate in 2002: "We have to protect and preserve Social Security for today's recipients and tomorrow's recipients. I'm clearly not in favor of privatizing it, or raising the retirement age or reducing benefits."

Or Jon Porter out in Nevada from 2002. He told voters he was "adamantly opposed" to a private accounts plan. "The more I look and the more I research, the more convinced I am that there should be one focus: to preserve and protect Social Security."

And Chip Pickering down in Mississippi? Here's how the AP summed up his stance in '02: "Pickering recently dropped his support for President Bush's plan to allow Americans to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market, but he said that plan is not privatization. He said he never supported privatization."

It'd be interesting to see if there have been any changes of heart.

Hmmm ... This may be the best entry to the Kerik-Rudy TPM T-shirt contest yet, which TPM reader JP sends our way from Newsweek.

Giuliani said repeatedly that Kerik's role in the firm is very limited, representing "less than 5 percent" of its business. He also said that Kerik's position was largely limited to their joint venture, Giuliani-Kerik. "He's not part of Giuliani Partners," the former mayor said. But at the firm's Web site, Kerik is described as a "Senior Vice President at Giuliani Partners." Giuliani later explained the discrepancy by saying: "Senior vice president of the group is what Bernie was when we started. I think that remains his title, but that's not the way we primarily relate to him. As you know, he does some work for a few of our clients." He added: "We should probably straighten it out and point out where his ownership interest is and primary work is done."

No, it's not exactly 'I hardly knew him'. But it <$NoAd$> sure is, 'That guy, we barely do any business together.' So, I figure, give him time. The (metaphorical) night's still young. And next week, as The Daily News just reported, Kerik's ex-buddy Lawrence Ray will give the New York City Department of Investigations emails that apparently "show Kerik offering a company inside details of a city investigation into its mob links and advance notice of upcoming city contracts." So, like I said, the night is still young.

On Social Security, Democratic unity is an absolute prerequisite for success. And as I wrote a few days ago, Democrats should, probably must, "consider pulling together the major funders of the party, the official committees, the major organizations, basically the entire infrastructure of the Democratic party and making clear to individual members that if they sign on to the president's plan to phase out Social Security, those various institutions and individuals won't fund their campaigns. Not in 2006, not ever. Similar committments can come from voters, activists and volunteers. And free rein to primary challengers. If a couple folks lose their seats because of underfunding or tough primaries, so be it."

And as we noted the next day, there's already a test case: Allen Boyd of Florida.

Boyd was just reelected by a 62% margin in November; but Kerry only pulled 43% in his district. So he wins by comfortable margins. But it's certainly a competitive district. Indeed, after the election, Boyd told the Tallasassee Democrat that he was "for the first time pessimistic" about the Democratic party's future in rural Florida. "In the 2nd District, John Kerry got 43 percent of the vote, and almost half of that came out of Leon and Gadsden counties. We're getting killed in the rural areas, and I'm very concerned about that. We have to change that."

When I see Democrats running in districts that elect Republican presidents, I figure they must have strong reasons for being Democrats, even if their district profile makes their politics different than mine. As I said, though, I don't think Social Security is a compromisable issue -- especially when the campaign against it is built on disinformation and lies. The funny thing is, when you consider the demographic profile of rural America I really don't think phasing out Social Security is a vote-driving issue there. Guns? Abortion? Sure. Ending Social Security? I doubt it.

So, I figure there must be some aspiring Democrats in the 2nd District who might be interested in challenging Boyd in the 2006 primary, though few such contests lead to the challenger actually getting elected to the office in question.

Who are they?

Who runs the local Democratic party committee? What are the big local organizations?

And what about Boyd's funders? Here's the FEC listing of all his PAC or committee funders in the last cycle. The total comes out to just under $900,000. As you'd expect, a lot of the money comes from various business groups that are represented in his district and others with national concerns. But there are a lot of union PACs listed there too. Just scanning the list I see AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the trainmen, firefighters, etc. And plenty of Democratic members of congress. Barney Frank chipped in a grand. Robert Wexler gave the same (and he has big ambitions -- so he's reachable).

This is only one part of the equation. But unity is essential. And achieving it not only means a lot of work on persuasion, but also an assurance that Democrats who vote to end Social Security will be out in the cold.