Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

"It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely ... Two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, 'You must obey me.'" -- Mullah (James) Dobson, from Dare to Discipline and The Strong-Willed Child.

I know not everyone who reads these pages will find those words troubling. And I also realize that social mores on this question have changed greatly over the last half-century.

But -- and this isn't a criticism so much as a point of genuine curiosity -- I would be very curious to know the correlation between Blue/Red voting patterns and those who do or do not find those sorts of attitudes towards corporal punishment of children troubling or acceptable.

I suspect the correlation is pronounced.

Recently I suggested that the key strength for the Republicans (and weakness for the Dems) is the elasticity of their coalition. By that I meant the GOP's ability to field winning candidates in the Blue states, notwithstanding the unpopularity of Republicans from other parts of the country. The same doesn't seem true for Democrats, as the very poor results for a series of Red State Senate candidates last Tuesday showed.

But perhaps I haven't looked at the roll call enough recently.

Of the ten biggest states in the country, 6 are Blue (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey). Four are Red, but two of those are the main swing states (Texas, Florida, Ohio and Georgia).

Of the twelve senators from those six states, only two are Republicans (Specter and Santorum). And that makes a certain amount of sense since Pennsylvania is the most contested Blue State on that list.

This would seem to suggest that the North, or rather the Blue States, are going through a similar process to what we're seeing in the South.

But there are two problems in this for the Dems. Actually, more than two. But let's focus on two.

All through its history, the South has tended towards one-party-dom. So I doubt senate seats in the Blue states will ever be as free of contest as some are in the South.

Secondly, that list above dramatizes an important problem for the Democrats. Of the ten largest states, five are clearly Blue, three are Purple swing states, and only two are clearly Red. And one of those two Red states, Georgia, is number ten. In other words, if Blue and Red states vote to form in Senate races, that's not good news for Dems, since the Blue states tend to be larger* than the Red ones.

* [ed.note: Here we are using 'larger' in the secular, Blue State sense of the word to refer to people rather than acres.]

From the mailbag ...

Subject: Mullah Dobson

Why is it so acceptable to use Muslim religious titles and institutions as a slur against religious conservatives? This clearly conveys an anti-Islamic message as well as an anti-Dobson one.

Brian U.

I'm mulling it.

[ed. note: At Brian U.'s ex post facto request, I've linked his name to his blog.]

A Specter is haunting the 'Wingerdom ...

Actually, speaking of Sen. Specter, I want to make one point clear. Nothing I've written here should give anyone the impression that I feel any particular sympathy or concern for him in this brouhaha. He's very much made his bed. And I'm happy to see him sleep in it or, as the case may be, lose the privilege of sleeping in it, seniority notwithstanding.

I would even say that I would prefer to see him removed from his (entitled) post as Judiciary Committee Chair rather than see him accede to it.

Allow me to explain why.

First, this is not a case where I'm hoping for things to get worse ("heighten the contradictions", so to speak) so that they can get better. Not at all.

If I thought he would provide any moderating influence over the choice of Judicial Nominees in the next two or four years I would very much want him there. But everything that has happened over the last week (his public round of begging to be allowed to keep his post) suggests that he has been so thoroughly gelded that he will be a push-over for any and all nominees the White House might send up.

(If the White House is smart -- as I suspect they are but hope they're not -- they'll keep him right where he is since they have him right where they want him.)

I've heard it suggested that all he needs to do is get the gavel in his hand and then he can start to exert his own more moderate judicial philosophy, given that it would be much harder to strip a chairman of his post than deny it to him in the first instance. But little in Specter's background suggests to me that that is likely. And, to be frank, the current Bush-Frist axis doesn't seem like a team that is particularly hung up on procedure. Since they're already threatening to end the filibuster rules, I don't see why they would hesitate to strip Specter of the gavel the first time he tried to derail a particularly right-wing nominee.

In other words, I think Specter has already lost the job, whether he takes up the position nominally or not. If he becomes Chairman he'll hold the post at the sufferance of Mullah Dobson and the rest of the shura.

Given all that, better to have him stripped of the position since it would send a clear signal to the rest of the GOP moderates that their own power is equally contingent and their own status equally endangered.

I've always been a rather staunch small-'c' conservative when it comes to the federal constitution. The fact that we now have a 27th amendment covering the weighty and statecraft-worthy issue of how congress can raise its salary strikes me as close to a secular sacrilege. But I'm starting to warm to the idea of abolishing the electoral college.

My problem with it isn't that it's undemocratic, at least not in the sense that the winner of the popular vote can lose the election. That's a very big problem, certainly; but I think it will continue to be a relatively rare occurrence. The problem is that it makes the votes of too many Americans into an irrelevancy or a mere exercise in symbolism.

Folks in DC experience this reality more than anyone. But if you're living in Texas or New York or California or Alabama, national elections are really just a spectator sport. It's all about a half dozen or so swing-states and recently it all comes down to Florida and Ohio. If you really want to get involved you travel to a swing state to knock on the doors of those privileged few whose votes actually matter.

That's a bad state of affairs for all sorts of reasons. So maybe it's time to change it.

I know arguments for the electoral college. And though I'm constitutionally averse to mucking around with the pillars and cross-beams of the state, they don't seem to amount to much in comparison to its shortcomings.

The antique rationale of giving added weight to the votes of Americans who live in tiny states seems wholly unjustifiable today -- especially since the ratio of population difference between the largest and the smallest states is vastly greater than it was when the system was created. Besides, isn't it enough that they're already so overrpresented in the Senate?

The best contemporary argument for maintaining the EC is that it forces a lot of retail politicking and compels candidates to mount campaigns that do justice to the country's state and regional particularism. Without the EC, there'd never be any reason to go to the smaller states or even get out and do any barnstorming at all. National elections could become a vaster version of elections in California (my home state) where campaigns are waged entirely by 30 second ad.

The small state argument is obviously defunct since most of the small states aren't swing states and no candidates ever go to them. Did you see the candidates a lot in Wyoming? Idaho? Were you at that big rally in Alaska? I didn't think so.

New Hampshire is the exception. But no one goes there because it's small. They go there because it's teetering on the edge of Blue-state-dom. And as it continues to trend Blue, as I believe it will, candidates won't show up there anymore either.

The other argument -- that it forces candidates to focus in on individual political communities like South Florida or Wisconsin or Western Pennsylvania -- doesn't really hold up either, I don't think. Why do they get all the attention? What about California and Chicago or Upstate New York? Why do they get cut out of the action?

Had this last election been a truly national election, both candidates would have spent a good deal of their time trying to churn up enthusiasm and turnout in their core regions, not just begging and pleading in regions where their support is marginal.

Why is it, for instance, that Bush supporters in Upstate New York or Southern Illinois can't make their voices heard? Or Kerry supporters in New Orleans or South Texas?

I'm not doctrinaire on this issue. In fact, I'd say I've only recently come to this position. So I'd be eager to hear what others think and perhaps I'll change my mind. I'm sure there would be various unimagined consequences to the change, for good or ill, that are difficult to foresee. So I'm putting this out less in the mode of advocacy than to generate a discussion.

But for the moment why should there not be a movement to place the electoral college on the ballot in states that allow referenda? This couldn't be done directly, of course. But in most states that allow initiatives and referenda there could at least be ballot measures instructing their state legislatures to go on the record endorsing the abolition of the electoral college.

It would have no direct effect. An amendment to the constitution must first be approved by two-thirds majorities in the both the House and the Senate before states can ratify the amendment and write it into the constitution. But it would put states on record, informally at least, as supporting the change. And doing so would inject the question into the national political debate.

"The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved."

That and other delicious morsels from John Ashcroft's handwritten letter of resignation.

Why handwritten? "I have handwritten this letter so its confidentiality can be maintained until the appropriate arrangements mentioned above can be made."

I guess things haven't gone so well since Richard Clarke left the cybersecurity post ...

From the mailbag ...

What makes me uncomfortable in all this red state/blue state talk is that people like me who happen to be liberal in a red state just don't seem to count. We get written off because we're surrounded by conservatives.

I live in Kentucky. Kentucky went 60/40 for Bush. But 40% is a fairly sizable minority.

My family, my husband's too, have lived here in Kentucky since the early 19th century. We have very deep roots. Is our only hope to pull up and move to Massachusetts?

I was raised a Southern Baptist but so were Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore.

Most of my family are old-time Roosevelt Democrats but I have two brothers and some young nephews who voted for Bush. They can be pretty patronizing but they're not evil.

I don't know. I worry that this red/blue dichotomy is as oversimplifying as the black/white one.

Sherry C.

More responses on this <$NoAd$>topic later.

None too soon, an anti-Arlen Specter blog sponsored by Redstate.org.

Apropos of the previous post, take a look, if you can bear it, at this example of a fringe-right spasm of hatred committed to print at Human Events Online.

[ed.note: Courtesy of a link from Atrios, though I'm not sure whether to thank him or hold it against him.]

A few years ago, before the 2000 election, I did a lot of research for what I thought might be a long article or a book on the cultural and social distinctiveness of what we now call Blue and Red America. One motivating interest of mine at the time was a widespread perception in at least a segment of elite public opinion that the Red States were the source of the country’s moral ballast.

‘Elite’ has many meanings. But here I was thinking of the talking heads on the Sunday shows, the best-read newspaper columnists, authors of well-read books and so forth. It was certainly the self-perception of the political voices of Red State America (Remember Newt Gingrich’s claim that Susan Smith, who murdered her two young sons in South Carolina and then tried to pin the blame on a black man, was a product of the Great Society.) But what struck me even more was that it was a perception shared by many --- at least many of the elite opinion-makers of the sort I discussed above --- in Blue America.

It was a window into an odd sort of self-loathing or self-critique that interested me greatly.

The oddity of this Red State moralism argument emerges most clearly when you look at statistics for virtually every form of quantifiable social dysfunction. Divorce, out-of-wedlock birth, poverty, murder, incidence of preventable disease --- go down the list and you’ll see that they are all highest in the reddest states and lowest in the bluest.

There are exceptions certainly --- the Prairie states being the key examples. But the pattern is striking and consistent.

The issue that interested me most were the statistics on murder, in part because they seemed to have the most interesting historical roots. Murder rates are also least affected by cultural bias. For instance, non-reporting of rape varies widely from country to country and region to region. The same can be true of assault. Murder, on the other hand, tends to get reported, regardless of the cultural context.

Thankfully, murder rates in the United States have dropped rapidly over the last decade. But the regional patterns remain. Broadly speaking, New England and the parts of the country originally settled by New Englanders have low murder rates --- some only a fraction of the national averages. The South on the other hand, and the parts of the country originally settled by Southerners, have higher murder rates. (The highest homicide rates are in the Old Southwest --- Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.)

The regional patterns get even more interesting when you drill down deeper into them.

Commonsense would probably tell most of us that big cities have higher murder rates than suburbs and small towns. And that’s true. But not everywhere. In the North and in much of Blue State America, for instance, big cities have higher rates of homicide. But in the South the pattern is turned on its head. The murder rate is highest in the small towns and rural areas.

Digging deeper still we find another difference --- though here the evidence becomes a bit murkier and less definitive. In the North, where murder rates are higher in urban centers, they tend to track with the commission of felonies.

In other words, people get killed by people who are in the process of committing felonies --- whether those be drug sales, muggings, robberies gone bad, organized crime, or something else. But in the Southern states, where murder rates are higher in small towns and rural areas, this isn’t the case. Rather than happening in the process of committing other crimes, these murders tend to be rooted in what are best described as violations of honor, personal slights that escalate into violence or in the simplest sense, rage.

The role of honor, or rather status and respect, caught my attention because it dovetailed with issues I’d dealt with in my academic research in graduate school --- comparisons between how the early northern and southern colonies were organized in the 17th and 18th centuries, really obscure stuff like how violence was used to organize society and discipline labor.

In any case, with the regional political cleavages so marked now and apparently even more entrenched than before, it got me to thinking over these issues again, about the historical roots of the cultural cleavages we now see before us.

I want to return to that point. But let me finish this post on a slightly different, but related, note.

Coming out of this election we hear again and again that folks in the Blue states have to give up their attitude of condescension toward those in the Red. The story comes in different flavors and intensities, ranging from admonitions to ‘reach out’ to folks in the Red states to more acidy claims that folks in the Blue states need to get over their alleged hatred of religion and Red state culture.

At some level, something like this is certainly necessary. I can do the math as well as anyone. And what these last two elections have shown (particularly this last one) is that if the country is divided more or less evenly, that ‘more or less’ isn’t working in our (i.e., the Blue states) favor. We’re in the minority for the moment, even if it’s a close run thing. And Democrats can’t keep going into elections in which so many states are simply out of play. As I wrote a couple days ago, Democrats need to find a way to put a good half dozen more states into play in every election.

Yet, the immediate political question isn’t the only one to discuss.

The talking point about Red State ‘culture’ is often bandied about as though the Red States were the only ones which had one --- as though the Blue States were living in some deracinated post-cultural secular-dom. But at the risk of stating the obvious the Blue states --- to the extent we can talk in such broad brush strokes --- have one too.

You can define it in a variety of ways. I’d say it’s based in modernity and tolerance. But once you see it in that light, is it simply a matter of the Blue States having an attitude of condescension toward the Red ones? The country has become sufficiently divided that there is a good deal of mistrust and animosity on both sides. And I think it is fair to say that that ill-will on the part of the Blue state America does sometimes express itself as condescension.

But the bad feeling of Red State America toward the Blue is just as often expressed as contempt, moral denunciation or simple rage. To the extent that one hears Blue Staters dissing Red Staters as holy-rolling trailer park denizens, the Red staters routinely portray their fellow countrymen as corrupt, deviant, rootless perverts who express their flipflopper-dom by oscillating between being limp-wristed whiners on the one hand and signing up to work for Osama bin Laden as terrorist fifth-columnists on the other.

All joking aside, I don't think either side in the Blue-State/Red-State face off has a monopoly on unkind views of the other, though given the 51%-48% it is a more pressing concern for those on the Blue parts of the map.