Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

It seems most advocates of phasing out Social Security let out a squeal worthy of Deliverance when you insist they own up to naming their plan for what it does: namely, end Social Security. Yes, I know, many of them only want to 'partially' end the program. But anybody with the fiscal roadmap in front of them and a decent handle on policy geography can see that the 'partial' pretty quickly leads to the total.

But back to the main question again. Let's take a hypothetical and see if we can clarify matters. We'll call it 401k reform. And it's a good one since so many folks have a 401k.

Under my hypothetical 401k reform we change all the stuff about different companies deciding how much or how little they want to contribute. And we also change the part about your having a choice about how much or whether you contribute; now, it's all mandatory.

There's also a change in the part about your choosing which sort of investments you want to place your funds into. Under the reformed 401k everybody's money goes into government bonds in one lump sum pool. When you retire you can get your money, or rather, your slice of the pie back, with a few adjustments depending on how much you really need the money after all. Other folks may need it more.

And one final thing: the income now gets taxed when you earn it, not at retirement.

Now, if this 401k reform plan were on the table, wouldn't pretty much everyone say: 'Give me a break. You're getting rid of 401ks and replacing it with some sort of weird government pension plan where all the money goes into low yield investments and it's not even clear whether I get my return on what I put in.' Most people would say -- and most journalists would undoubtedly follow their lead -- that calling this '401k reform' was some cheap rhetorical hoodwink. As indeed it would be.

And that's just what the advocates of 'Social Security reform' with private accounts are up to. They want to phase out the program; but they're just too cowardly to say it. They lack the confidence of their ideological ambitions.

Even worse, I suppose, are the journalists who parrot this nonsense because they've never given the actual issue enough thought, or are too cowed by the parrot-masters. But let's save that for another day.

Time to change the website?

"Nothing builds confidence in a leader more than a willingness to take responsibility for what happens during his watch."

Rudy Giuliani, as quoted on the Giuliania Partners website, explaining 'accountability', one of 'six fundamental principles' underlying the professional guidance GP imparts to clients.

[ed.note: I found the reference to this choice quote in today's Newsday.]

Great first impressions.

Sunday's Times has an article about the Bush-Kerik relationship that is damning without quite saying so.

The upshot is that Bush and Kerik bonded at some very basic level when Bush toured ground zero just after 9/11 -- something that seems both very believable and very human. Kerik embodied traits, says the article, that Bush instinctively admires -- toughness, a clear sense of right and wrong, being down to earth rather than a phony or an elitist. The headline of the article says "In Kerik, Bush Saw Values Crucial to Post-9/11 World."

Bush's admiration grew as Kerik first accepted the summons to go to Baghdad to run the Interior Ministry and then campaign aggressively for his reelection.

It was on the basis of his instincts about Kerik, much more than Rudy's prodding, that prompted Bush to nominate him to run DHS.

It's a great example -- almost a morality play -- of one of the key flaws in the president's leadership. He gets clear first impressions and makes judgments based on instinct. And then there's almost no follow-up, no challenging instinct with the harsh light of facts. And certainly no accountability. More often than the not, or course, the instinct turns out to just be wrong. As with Iraq, and Putin's soul and now Kerik.

The turn in Baghdad? Even his supporters concede that it was at best a wash and by many measures it was a disaster. Whether there were any sweetheart contracts he might have signed off on, as some reports suggest, remains to be seen. The rest of his career -- as a bit of nexis research and reporting reveals -- is a string of scandals, unethical behavior, self-dealing and various other sorts of soft or hard corruption. And it seems you can't go far down the corridors and entry-ways of the guy's life without bumping into mafiosi or this or that mob racket to which he happened to be in close proximity.

I trust there's no need to belabor the point, with all we've reported here in recent days, that the president would judge Kerik a man of the sort of values that we need in the post 9/11 world. (If that's true, I guess 9/11 really did change everything.)

You can trust your instincts too much -- particularly if you have bad instincts.

Okay, this one's a challenge. I'm not sure whether to file it under Kerik: subsection mob or Kerik: subsection Jersey condo that led to arrest warrant.

But here goes.

Remember the New Jersey condo for which Kerik fell behind on payments? This is the one that led to an arrest warrant being issued for him in 1998.

Well, apparently the bills went overdue because the girlfriend that he moved into the condo with, attorney Linda George, stopped paying the fees after he moved out. And right about the time she and Kerik split up, she, her estranged husband and slew of other folks were indicted in a multimillion-dollar, mob-run gambling ring.

So says today's Bergen Record.

Yeah, I'm having a hard time keeping up too.

[ed.note: Thanks to this blogger for pointing me toward the story.]

From this morning's <$NoAd$>gaggle ...

QUESTION: Just getting back to the earlier topic about Secretary Rumsfeld. Last night Bill Kristol, of the Weekly Standard, was telling everyone within earshot, the White House really is encouraging him in writing these editorials, and wants the Secretary of Defense --

MR. McCLELLAN: I was within earshot; I didn't hear him say that.

QUESTION: I did. I'm sure you've heard him say things like that. What's your reaction to it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what he's referring to. The President believes that Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person for the challenges that we face going forward in the war on terrorism. And he remains firmly supportive of the actions that he has taken to win the war on terrorism and to defeat those who seek to do harm to America.

QUESTION: So there's no question whatsoever he'll stay on as Secretary?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President made that very clear recently when we said that he had -- the President asked him to continue serving, and he's pleased that Secretary Rumsfeld agreed to continue serving. These are very challenging times that we face as new threats have emerged in the 21st century. And Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a great job leading the Department of Defense forward to confront the threats that we face and to transform the military so that we're better prepared to confront the threats of the future.

So was the reporter bluffing? No idea.

Bill, can you help us out on this?

If only it were so!

TPM reader LE sends word that the Social Security page on Sen. Sununu's website is "under construction."

The page maybe. But as the co-sponsor of the Sununu-Ryan partial Social Security phase-out bill, we figure he's pretty much made up his mind about eliminating the program.

Viacom: Lobbyist Wanted. Must be Republican and have penis. (And no, they don't mean it metaphorically). Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility has the details.

And just a little note on the DeLay Rule too. Many of you had representatives who were 'letter-writers' -- to use the lingo from a few weeks back. And now many of you, it seems, have actually gotten your letters. If your little piece of DeLay Rule history has come in the mail, can you let us know that too? We're eager to hear from you.

On checking where your Reps. and Senators stand on Social Security, if you drop us a line, tell us how you know. Did you see a press account? If so, drop us a link to the article in your email. If you called their office, let us know that. On their website? Send us the page.

And let me add that each of these emails gets read and noted. And your help with this is truly appreciated.

As I write this, I'm looking at an email from a moderate Republican congressman sent in response to a TPM reader query on Social Security. This guy's clearly right on the fence, or rather, he's keeping all his options open.

Finding out where people stand now matters.