Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Bill Clinton as Chairman of the DNC? So says this LA Times editorial. To me it sounds like a great idea. And I say that as someone who believes Hillary Clinton never should and probably (hopefully) never will run for president.

Surveying the scene today, one thing that occurs to me is that President Bush is remaking the government into something that is looking more and more like a parliamentary democracy. I don't mean in every specific, of course; the key feature of the Bush presidency is an extremely powerful executive that to a great degree coopts and controls his own congressional majorities.

But the similarities are important and worth understanding. The key elements are extremely tight party discipline (something political scientists have lamented the absence of for years) and a sharp diminishment of rivalries between the branches of government which used to cut against unified party control.

Party discipline is simple enough. President Bush's first term was replete with examples. And an instructive comparison is how much President Bush was able to accomplish with thin majorities in 2001-02 compared to what President Clinton was able to do with much more substantial majorities in 1993-94.

Today I'm struck by this most recent example with Arlen Specter.

Fresh from his successful senate reelection campaign, Specter (heir apparent to the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee) suggested he'd hold the line against anti-Roe v. Wade judges President Bush might appoint.

Then no more than a day later he beat a hasty and shamefaced retreat.

“Contrary to press accounts, I did not warn the President about anything and was very respectful of his Constitutional authority on the appointment of federal judges.

“As the record shows, I have supported every one of President Bush’s nominees in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor. I have never and would never apply any litmus test on the abortion issue and, as the record shows, I have voted to confirm Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice O’Connor, and Justice Kennedy and led the fight to confirm Justice Thomas.

“I have already sponsored a protocol calling for a Judiciary Committee hearing within thirty days of a nomination, a vote out of Committee thirty days later, and floor action thirty days after that. I am committed to such prompt action by the Committee on all of President Bush’s nominees.

“In light of the repeated filibusters by the Democrats in the last Senate session, I am concerned about a potential repetition of such filibusters. I expect to work well with President Bush in the judicial confirmation process in the years ahead.”

I assume the word came down from the White House to Sen. Specter that he simply wouldn't be Chairman if that were his attitude.

Then we have the incident we noted yesterday in which Sen. Frist may, at the president's say-so, change the cloture rules which require 60 votes to push through legislation.

Past presidents have usually had to deal with Majority Leaders who were much more solicitous of their chamber's independence and institutional prerogatives. But then again, President Bush all but appointed Frist to his post. So this should not surprise us.

There's even an element of parliamentarism in President Bush's post-election comments about his mandate and his right to expect others to fall in line behind views because he won a majority, even if a small one, at the ballot box.

It's fine to bemoan this. And there's much to bemoan. But Democrats also need to learn how to live with it, at least for the next four years. And that means realizing that for at least the next two years, the President can get passed almost anything he wants to. His congressional majorities are now sufficiently padded that he can even afford a few Republican defections. He simply doesn't need Democrats for anything.

And that means approaching most legislative battles not with an eye toward preventing passage or significantly altering legislation, but placing alternatives on the table that the party will be able use as contrasts to frame the next two elections. In other words, their only remaining viable alternative is to be an actual party of opposition.

The dollar ...

The dollar continued its decline in global currency <$NoAd$> markets yesterday, intensifying worries among some economists that mounting U.S. budget and trade deficits could send the U.S. currency into a tailspin.

But John B. Taylor, the Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, defended the Bush administration view that the deficits pose no danger of a dollar collapse. He issued a detailed rebuttal of what he called "scare stories."

The dollar fell yesterday to within a fraction of a cent of its all-time low against the euro of $1.2930 , trading as low as $1.2898 before rallying slightly to close at $1.2867. It fell modestly against the Japanese yen, and continued a sharp slide against the Canadian dollar, which rose to 83 U.S. cents yesterday for the first time in 12 years.

It was the second straight day that the dollar has fallen despite a surge in the stock market, continuing a trend that began in early October when it started slipping against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners. The decline rekindled the fears of some analysts that the dollar could be headed for a severe sell-off unless the White House and Congress make a major effort to shrink the budget gap.

The rest from the Post ...

This is reprinted from a post from last February ...

It all reminds me of a line from a famous, or rather infamous, memo Pat Buchanan, then a White House staffer, wrote for Richard Nixon in, I believe, 1972 when their idea of the moment was what they called 'positive polarization'.

At the end of this confidential strategy memo laying out various ideas about how to create social unrest over racial issues and confrontations with the judiciary, Buchanan wrote (and you can find this passage on p. 185 of Jonathan Schell's wonderful Time of Illusion): "In conclusion, this is a potential throw of the dice that could bring the media on our heads, and cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half."

And there you have it. Tear the country apart. And once it's broken, our chunk will be bigger.

Apropos of the <$NoAd$>moment.

In an article at Foxnews.com on possible Supreme Court nominations, C. Boyden Gray, former counsel to the first President Bush said the following about the filibuster rules in the Senate ...

As it stands today [Democrats] can block [a nominee] ... But I also believe that the president and majority leader may well decide to change the rules given the elections ... The president has a very strong political support, potential support, for asking for and getting this change.

What does this mean exactly?

Certainly, a reelected president with an expanded senate majority has a lot more <$NoAd$> leverage to get his judicial nominees confirmed. There's no getting around that. And it will be very difficult for Democrats to hold their whole caucus together to stymie a judicial appointment with a filibuster. Moreover, the 60 vote rule, on the merits, is subject to a lot of very valid criticism.

But what is it about the president's victory on Tuesday that provides a moral authority or logic to changing the rules under which nominations are now approved?

This is a critical difference.

Democrats have to deal with the fact that President Bush is now no longer a minority president, however slim his majority may have been. They also need to contend with his expanded senate majorities.

But this is what I fear will be a growing pattern in this second term: an effort to use a narrowly secured majority not only to govern, even govern aggressively, but to make institutional changes that strip away the existing powers and rights of large minorities. These formal and informal checks and balances constitute the governmental soft-tissue that allows our political system to function.

An earlier example of this was the DeLay double-dip redistricting from last year. I believe we'll see much more. And it's a pattern that everyone should be watching closely.

Take a look at Ed Kilgore's take on the post-election intra-Democratic party issues at his NewDonkey website. For those of you who don't know, Ed is the Policy Director of the DLC.

"I think a large part of the public likes the conservatives' theme music. Now they will be tested on whether they like the lyrics."

-- Barney Frank, Brookline TAB, Nov. 4th, 2004.

After the Massachusetts court decision in favor of gay marriage, I remember writing that though this was good for civil rights, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that it's anything but bad for the Democratic party. I thought I'd written that in TPM. But when I used the TPM search engine yesterday I couldn't find it using the obvious keywords. So it's possible that I wrote it somewhere else or even in a private letter. Who knows ...

In any case, over the last 7 or 8 months I think I managed to convince myself that this wasn't the case, which was obviously wrong.

Let me start by making an important distinction. Recognizing that a certain position cost a lot at the polls is not the same as saying the position should be discarded for political reasons. I know that on the surface it may seem that way. But they're not the same thing. And it's foolish to ignore these realities if you're going to make any headway at coping with them.

As many other have already noted, Rove and Co. cleverly managed to get anti-gay marriage initiatives and referenda on the ballot in a number of key swing states. And that seems to have played an key role in mobilizing 'peripheral' evangelical and culturally conservative voters.

Once they were at the polls, of course, they voted for George W. Bush.

Looking back over the week before the campaign I realize that I should have been more attentive to the reports I was picking up from readers about a wave of push-polls or robo-calls on the gay marriage issue -- some hitting the issue itself while others dug deeper and insisted that the issue was really whether homosexuality would be 'taught in schools' and so forth.

This issue clearly had potency without a phone-call campaign. But that added to it. The decision to get the initiatives on the ballot, followed by a carefully orchestrated campaign of push-polls and the like amounted to a effective campaign pincer movement. And it was one that, to be honest, I think fairly few on the Democratic side even saw coming. Gay marriage -- and the whole cluster of issues that surround it -- became the sub rosa issue of the campaign.

It may have provided Bush with the crucial turnout boost on the right that allowed him to remain in office.

Memory hole watch: the LA Times has the first interviews with soldiers who watched as looted dragged away those high-grade explosives from the al Qaqaa munitions complex.