Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

"A crass, below-the-belt political strategy to attack the vice president's daughter."

Is that what John Kerry did in Wednesday night's debate? That's what President Bush's campaign spokesperson calls it.

People can interpret things differently. So perhaps you could say it was inappropriate or cynical or a bunch of other things. But an 'attack' on the vice president's daughter? That's just saying up is down.

And 'below-the-belt'? Like 'cheap and tawdry', why are all the criticisms coded in sexual language?

One way or another, the Republicans do seem to be playing most of the folks in the press like a fiddle on this one.

If you look at the words used by the Bush campaign's communications folks and their foot soldiers among the commentators, the issue is not so much the reference to the vice-president's daughter or her sexuality. (After all, Dick Cheney has repeatedly discussed his daughter's homosexuality on the campaign trail. And when John Edwards mentioned it during the vice-presidential debates, Cheney thanked him for doing so.) It is a fever over the use of the word 'lesbian', which these folks seem to feel is the equivalent to calling her by the name of a sex act itself.

It's a telling example of how the heavy-weights on the cable nets, the gilded and the gelded, can be played into running with genuflections to anti-gay panic as though it were a riposte to homophobia.

"Hannaford supermarkets, the Lee Auto Malls, and the law offices of Joe Bornstein withdrew their advertising indefinitely, according to the Portland Press Herald." That's from an AP story out this morning. Sinclair's stunt has also made TheStreet.com's list of 'The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week.'

Perhaps most important, I'm hearing from sources with inside knowledge at the local station and Sinclair national headquarters level that Sinclair is getting a lot more than it bargained for with this.

All those calls to advertisers are having a real effect.

Leave no election fraudster behind!

As we told you a few days ago, six Republican party staffers and campaign workers in South Dakota resigned over a burgeoning voter fraud scandal. Chief among them was Larry Russell, head of the South Dakota GOP's get-out-the-vote operation, the Republican Victory Program.

To date, no criminal charges have been filed. But the state Attorney General says the investigation is "continuing."

Today comes news, however, that Russell -- still under investigation in South Dakota -- has been reassigned to run President Bush's get-out-the-vote operation in Ohio. Russell will now "lead the ground operations" for Bush in Ohio, according to an internal Republican party memo obtained by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

And Russell's bringing along with him to Ohio three of the five other GOP staffers who had to resign in South Dakota and are similarly under investigation in that state.

Ya heard it here first.

And now the Manchester Union Leader comes on board.

The unindicted co-conspirator in a 2002 election fraud case, which has already yielded two felony guilty pleas, is none other than Jim Tobin, New England regional chair of Bush-Cheney 2004, according to court documents filed Thursday by the New Hampshire Democratic Party and now reported by the Manchester Union Leader.

Tobin is named, according to the Union Leader and TPM sources, in the plea agreements of Allen Raymond and Chuck McGee, the two men who have already pled guilty to felonies in the case.

Tobin, says the article, did not return calls requesting comment from the Union Leader Tuesday or Wednesday. Tobin has also not returned repeated calls over the last three months from TPM requesting comment on his alleged involvement in the case. TPM last attempted to contact Tobin on Sunday and Monday of this week.

Now the Justice Department is intervening to delay discovery and depositions that would almost certainly bring more of the facts to light before election day.

Tobin's alleged role has been an open secret for some time within the Bush campaign, political and journalistic circles in New Hampshire and, of course, among the lawyers involved in the case. But late Thursday the state Democratic party, which has been trying for months to get more information on what happened in this case, identified Tobin by name in a new court filing and the Union Leader ran the story.

A few questions ...

1. Why do Justice Department officials in Washington seem to be interfering in the legal proceedings surrounding this case to push depositions and discovery past November 2nd? (See the Union Leader article and today's court filing.)

2. When did the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign first learn of Tobin's alleged involvement in the phone-jamming case?

3. Does the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign believe that Tobin is an appropriate person to oversee the Bush campaign in New Hampshire and the rest of New England when his alleged involvement in this earlier election fraud case is still being investigated.

Kevin Drum has the details: as slimy and cynical as you might have imagined the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to be, they end up being even more shameless than you might have thought.

Exposed again as hacks, liars, puppets.

But then who escapes Rove with his soul in his own hands?

A thought.

I understand that George Soros is a rather wealthy man. Perhaps he should announce that he is interested in buying 90 minutes of prime time air time on Sinclair Broadcasting to show either Fahrenheit 9/11 or, even more appropriately, Going Upriver, the new movie out about John Kerry during the Vietnam era.

If Sinclair won't sell the time, they're exposed for what they already clearly are. If the FEC won't allow it, on the premise that it amounts to a de facto campaign contribution to the Democrats or the Kerry campaign, then the folly of our current campaign laws is exposed.

I doubt somehow that Soros would ever end up having to spend the money. But he has a big enough checkbook to force the issue.

Well, now that we've had the primaries, <$NoAd$>the convention, and the nail-biting debates, all that's really left now is the Karl Rove dirty tricks portion of the campaign, right?

As Josh Green writes in the current issue of The Atlantic (finally available free online), Rove's trademark is ferocious dirty-tricksterism in the final few weeks of dead-even campaigns ...

If this year stays true to past form, the campaign will get nastier in the closing weeks, and without anyone's quite registering it, Rove will be right back in his element. He seems to understand-indeed, to count on-the media's unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove's skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others.

With Kerry coming out of the debates with the momentum, it really does come down to Karl now.

The voter registration shredding seems to have gotten upended, though a lot are probably already shredded. And I suspect we'll be hearing some interesting news out of New Hampshire in the next day or so.

But what else? It'll be like a 'where's Waldo' thing: Karl Rove Dirty Trick's Watch. (For examples, see the Green piece.) Who will be able to spot Karl's dirty tricks first? Who has the sharpest eye? Sit back in your seat. Get out the popcorn.

A couple more points about the Mary Cheney brouhaha. First, Mary Cheney isn't simply the vice-president's daughter. She's managing her father's campaign. She's Bush-Cheney '04's 'Director of Vice Presidential Operations.'

A reader (RS) notes another point -- a very perceptive one that I'm surprised no one else has noted. Lynne Cheney called Kerry's mention of her daughter "cheap and tawdry." Those are words redolent of associations with sexual deviance, not rough campaign tactics. She might have said what he did was 'mean-spirited', 'underhanded', 'devious', 'inappropriate', 'wrong'. She chose 'cheap and tawdry'. Interesting ...

And one other thing: how long will the Bush campaign push this issue since they've already made the strategic choice to run as the anti-gay campaign? That's a tough balance to hold.

A number of folks have noted an underlying <$Ad$>disagreement that came up several times in last night's debate. Namely, that in President Bush's worldview states remain central. Once terrorists are separated from their state sponsors -- as al Qaida was from the Taliban after the Afghan War -- the danger they pose diminishes dramatically.

Kerry, meanwhile, disagrees, believing that what is genuinely novel and dangerous about the post-Cold War world is the breakdown of sovereignty itself, which allows terrorist networks to practice catastrophic violence with little or no support from states.

The issue is discussed in an article in The Atlantic Monthly from this summer ...

From its inception the Bush Administration has viewed states as the key actors on the world stage, and relations among them as the primary concern of U.S. foreign policy. It is a mindset rooted in the realities of the Cold War, which defined U.S. foreign policy at the time when most of the president's key advisers gained their formative experience in government. The fixity of this mindset also explains why the Bush Administration spent its first months so heavily focused on the issue of national missile defense, and seemed so surprised by al-Qaeda's transnational terrorism. The Bush team didn't discount the problem of weapons of mass destruction; it simply expected trouble to come from an ICBM-wielding "rogue state" like Iraq or North Korea rather than from Islamic terrorist groups.

Viewed through this lens, the Administration's fixation on Iraq after 9/11 becomes somewhat easier to understand. As Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith explained to Nicholas Lemann, of The New Yorker, on the eve of the Iraq War, "One of the principal strategic thoughts underlying our strategy in the war on terrorism is the importance of the connection between terrorist organizations and their state sponsors. Terrorist organizations cannot be effective in sustaining themselves over long periods of time to do large-scale operations if they don't have support from states."

To the Democrats ha Kerry's orbit, this approach is at best inefficient and at worst akin to fighting fire with gasoline--for example, it has created terrorism in Iraq where little or none previously existed. Last fall, when I asked the presidential candidate General Wesley Clark about Feith's characterization of the threat, he said it was the "principal strategic mistake behind the Administration's policy." Clark went on, "If you look at all the states that were named as the principal adversaries, they're on the periphery of international terrorism today."

First as a military negotiator in Bosnia and later as NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during the second Clinton Administration, Clark was one of the figures at the center of the process that shaped current Democratic foreign-policy views. In its early years, rhetoric aside, the Clinton Administration hewed closely to George H.W. Bush's policy of studied non-involvement in the Balkans, even as Yugoslavia slid into chaos. But over time that region became a forcing ground for re-evaluating Democratic beliefs about foreign policy. The Balkans proved that soft-sounding concerns like human-rights abuses, ethnic slaughter, lawlessness, and ideological extremism could quickly mount into first-order geopolitical crises.

By the mid-1990s this had led the Clinton Administration to focus on terrorism, failed states, and weapons proliferation, and as it did, its foreign-policy outlook changed. The key threats to the United States came to be seen less in terms of traditional conflicts between states and more in terms of endemic regional turmoil of the sort found in the Balkans. "The Clinton Administration," says Jonathan Winer, "started out with a very traditional Democratic or even mainstream approach to foreign policy: big-power politics, Russia being in the most important role; a critical relationship with China; European cooperation; and some multilateralism." But over the years, he went on, "they moved much more to a failed-state, global-affairs kind of approach, recognizing that the trends established by globalization required you to think about foreign policy in a more synthetic and integrated fashion than nation-state to nation-state"

As Winer argues, the threats were less from Russia or China, or even from the rogue states, than from the breakdown of sovereignty and authority in a broad geographic arc that stretched from West Africa through the Middle East, down through the lands of Islam, and into Southeast Asia. In this part of the world poverty, disease, ignorance, fanaticism, and autocracy frequently combined in a self-reinforcing tangle, fostering constant turmoil. Home to many failed or failing states, this area bred money laundering, waves of refugees, drug production, gunrunning, and terrorist networks--the cancers of the twenty-first-century world order.

In the Balkans, Holbrooke, Clark, and other leading figures found themselves confronting problems that required not only American military force but also a careful synthesis of armed power, peacekeeping capacity, international institutions, and nongovernmental organizations to stabilize the region and maintain some kind of order. Though the former Yogoslavia has continued to experience strife, the settlement in the Balkans remains the most successful one in recent memory, and offers the model on which a Kerry Administration would probably build. As Holbrooke told me, the Bush Administration's actions in Iraq have shown that the Administration understands only the military component of this model: "Most of them don't have a real understanding of what it takes to do nation-building, which is an important part of the overall democratic process."

A key assumption shared by almost all Democratic foreign-policy hands is that by themselves the violent overthrow of a government and the initiation of radical change from above almost never foster democracy, an expanded civil society, or greater openness. "If you have too much change too quickly," Winer says, "you have violence and repression. We don't want to see violence and repression in [the Middle East]. We want to see a greater zone for civilization--a greater zone fur personal and private-sector activity and for governmental activity that is not an enactment of violence." Bush and his advisers have spoken eloquently about democratization. But in the view of their Democratic counterparts, their means of pursuing it are plainly counterproductive. It is here, Holbrooke says, that the Administration's alleged belief in the stabilizing role of liberal democracy and open society collides with its belief in the need to rule by force and, if necessary, violence: "The neoconservatives and the conservatives--and they both exist in uneasy tension within this Administration--shift unpredictably between advocacy of democratization and advocacy of neo-imperialism without any coherent intellectual position, except the importance of the use of force."

Because Afghanistan was the Bush Administration's first order of business following the 9/11 attacks, the results of this policy have advanced the furthest there. And because Kerry is on record as saying he would increase the number of U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, it's probably the clearest measure of how a Kerry Administration would differ from Bush's. Afghanistan is a subject that Kerry's advisers and other senior Democrats turn to again and again. When I interviewed Joseph Biden in late March, he recounted a conversation he'd had with Condoleezza Rice in the spring of 2002 about the growing instability that had taken hold after the Taliban was defeated, in late 2001. Biden told Rice he believed that the United States was on the verge of squandering its military victory by allowing the country to slip back into the corruption, tyranny, and chaos that had originally paved the way for Taliban rule. Rice was uncomprehending. "What do you mean?" he remembers her asking. Biden pointed to the re-emergence in western Afghanistan of Ismail Khan, the pre-Taliban warlord in Herat who quickly reclaimed power after the American victory. He told me: "She said, 'Look, al-Qaeda's not there. The Taliban's not there. There's security there: I said, 'You mean turning it over to the warlords?' She said, "Yeah, it's always been that way.'"

Biden was seeking to illustrate the blind spot that Democratic foreign-policy types see in Bush officials like Rice, who believe that if a rogue state has been lid of its hostile government (in this case the Taliban), its threat has therefore been neutralized. Democrats see Afghanistan as an affirmation of their own view of modern terrorism. As Fareed Zakaria noted recently in Newsweek, the Taliban regime was not so much a state sponsoring and directing a terrorist organization (the Republican view) as a terrorist organization sponsoring, guiding, and even hijacking a state (the Democratic view). Overthrowing regimes like that is at best only the first step in denying safe haven to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Equally important is creating the institutional bases of stability and liberalization that will prevent another descent into lawlessness and terror--in a word, nation-building.

For all those who say there's no difference between the candidates on foreign policy, this is a critical one.

RNC payments this year to Sproul & Associates. About 125k, according to FEC records.

But they didn't do anywhere near as well as [all caps] SPROUL & ASSOCIATES,INC. They got about a half a million RNC dollars.

Special sleuthing thanks to TPM reader JW.

Also check out this petition about the RNC's registration shredding wizards.