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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As you're probably aware, Republicans commonly make the case for their tax cut plan by arguing it is simply wrong that people should give more than a third of their income to the federal government. They point to the highest tax rate of 39.5% and say that even for the very, very wealthy paying more than a third is simply wrong.

Now as a matter of fiscal policy and morality that may or may not be the case.

But critics of this dishonest argument know that very, very few people ever pay more than a third of their income to the federal government -- even including the extremely wealthy, and even including those who fall in that highest bracket.

And as luck would have it today we get a splendidly apt demonstration of this fact.

Today we find that George W. Bush and Laura Bush had a combined, adjusted gross income of $894,880. On this they paid the federal government $240,342.

Now Talking Points twice got Ds in high school math classes (long story!). But doesn't this mean president Bush paid significantly less than a third of his income to the federal government even though he's in the stratospheric zone of the income scale and even under the presumably confiscatory Clinton tax code?

Is anyone else noting this rather obvious point.

P.S. The Cheneys do seem to have paid more than a third of their incomes in taxes -- this on roughly $36 million they cleared last year by cashing in stocks and stock options from his old employer. So, okay, mega-plutocrats do occasionally pay more than a third when they cash in all their stocks.

As you're probably aware, Republicans commonly make the case for their tax cut plan by arguing it is simply wrong that people should give more than a third of their income to the federal government. They point to the highest tax rate of 39.5% and say that even for the very, very wealthy paying more than a third is simply wrong.

Now as a matter of fiscal policy and morality that may or may not be the case.

But critics of this dishonest argument know that very, very few people ever pay more than a third of their income to the federal government -- even including the extremely wealthy, and even including those who fall in that highest bracket.

And as luck would have it today we get a splendidly apt demonstration of this fact.

Today we find that George W. Bush and Laura Bush had a combined, adjusted gross income of $894,880. On this they paid the federal government $240,342.

Now Talking Points twice got Ds in high school math classes (long story!). But doesn't this mean president Bush paid significantly less than a third of his income to the federal government even though he's in the stratospheric zone of the income scale and even under the presumably confiscatory Clinton tax code?

Is anyone else noting this rather obvious point.

P.S. The Cheneys do seem to have paid more than a third of their incomes in taxes -- this on roughly $36 million they cleared last year by cashing in stocks and stock options from his old employer. So, okay, mega-plutocrats do occasionally pay more than a third when they cash in all their stocks.

If you're thinking that Democrats on the Hill are feeling emboldened of late, you're right. As the AP reported on April 7th, Geoff Garin, a well-known Dem pollster, and Paul Begala met with a group of Dem Senators and basically assured them that -- given the political situation, poll-numbers, etc. -- they had little to fear from confronting the president on a wide-range of issues -- particularly on the Budget/tax/Social Security front.

I don't think this was mentioned in the original AP story, but apparently this was some sort of message group that Dick Durbin (Democrat of Illinois and a possible 2004 dark horse) has put together.

In any case, one person who was at the meeting tells me that the Senators seemed more focused, angry, and ready to fight than at any time in recent memory, which is nice to hear.

Let's look a little more closely, though, at the 'internals' of the polls which were discussed.

Every marquee public poll routinely asks some version of this question: Does politician X care about/understand the problems people like you face?

Pollsters would undoubtedly come up with some more elegant, technically appropriate phrasing. But you get the idea.

In any case, Bill Clinton always scored very, very well on this question. Even when his job approval ratings (and certainly his personal approval ratings) weren't so hot, this number remained strong.

This is a measurement of what we might call the politics of empathy, social science's measurement of "I feel your pain," etc. I've always thought, as many others have as well I suspect, that this was the secret ground of Clinton's political resilience, his ability to bounce back from so many apparently fatal blows.

The late 1990s produced a quite false political truism which held that so long as the economy was growing at more than 4% annual GDP the president could snort coke, deflower cheerleaders, behave poorly at state dinners and still keep his job approval rating over 60%.

As a Clinton diehard, I'm not above conceding that Bill put this theory to the test a few times. But the thesis is simply false. The state of the economy is very important to a president's approval rating, but not decisive. The politics of empathy were equally vital to Clinton's political survival.

Which brings us back to the current occupant of the Oval Office. One of the numbers which got a lot of attention at the meeting noted above was this from the recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll: by a measure of about 2 to 1 Americans believe George W. Bush cares more about corporate interests than the people's interest. That's basically a proxy for the "feel your pain" question noted earlier.

This is a sign of a deep underlying vulnerability. If the public perception that Clinton understood and cared about ordinary people's problems buoyed him through turbulent political waters, the lack of such a perception for Bush should make his popularity fragile when times get tough.

I am really not a fan of Bill Gertz. Make that REALLY not a fan. Gertz, the defense writer for the Washington Times, has long been a mouthpiece for the more hysterical and over-the-top China hawks in Washington, DC. In a sense, I guess that's unfair: Gertz IS one of the most hysterical and over-the-top China hawks in Washington, DC.

Having said all this, though, he's actually been one of the more interesting people to read of late. Like him or not, he's got impeccable sources among the more Sino-phobic members of the defense and intelligence communities. And these are the people -- in many cases -- whose role has been augmented by the change in administrations.

Here's the update from Gertz's own site on the administration's post-crisis response to the China. So long as you keep the biases of the writer in mind, there's still a lot of interesting information to be had.

Sometimes someone says something and you say (or I say), "Hey, I wanna make fun of that person."

And then you say, "You know, on second thought, I don't even want to talk about it."

Then, on third thought, "I don't even want to think about it."

I'm going to have some more to say later on the whole China issue. But for the moment can we all just agree that the Weekly Standard's David Brooks has come up with the uckiest metaphor to describe the recent turn in Sino-American relations?

Here's Brooks describing our 'position' last night on The Newshour:

Well, the President responded in an honest way, and maybe he was right to tail back. You know, when you're being pawed by a dirty old man and he's got something you need, maybe you just have to sit and take it, but the - the mistake would be to treat this as a discreet event which, you know, we've got a result and so let's be happy.
Satire? Ohhhhh the possibilities are endless...

P.S. You got something against David Brooks? No, not in the least. But how could I pass that one up?

I'm always up for a new art form since my tastes are so varied and such. And that's one of the reasons I'm so into the most dynamic new American art form to come along in some time: merginalia.

Never heard of it? The unsubtle way of explaining this would be to say it's when you go out of business, tank, go belly up, etc., and spin it to make it sound like you're actually merging with another company or entering into some sort of corporate alliance. The Mona Lisa of the genre of course is the recent 'merger' of Inside.com with Brill's Content.

But there are many other examples and there was another entry today. The new deal struck between Amazon and Borders Books. The headline at CNBC.com says "Amazon, Borders join forces."

But if you read this article from the Washington Post it's pretty clear the headline might have been written "Borders Bites the Dust, Avoids Utter Ignominy By Getting One Page at Amazon.com with Borders Logo at the Top."

Now the question is, what company tanks next? And what's their merginalia going to sound like? And why didn't Pets.com get with the program and 'merge' with Hanes socks division?

P.S. Late Update. Now we know who's next: Kozmo.com. As of this afternoon. But apparently they couldn't even get a mercy 'buyer.' So they can't even attempt a merginalia.

P.P.S. Aren't you going to come up with a way to swing this merginalia concept into a slam on David Horowitz? Still workin' on that.

Well I don't want to go too far off message here. But I just need to say that I don't have too many complaints with how the Bush White House has managed to resolve this China stand-off. I think they flubbed it at first. And there are things that should have been done differently along the way (repeatedly saying this could damage relations was a touch feeble).

But all that said, I give the president reasonable marks. I'm no expert on the Chinese language obviously. But from a brief perusal of the papers it would seem we expressed a measure of apology without in any way admitting responsibility or wrongdoing. (The follow-on to this will be the key.)

The more important point, however, is that (to me at least) one of the measures of national power and greatness is the ability to suffer the insecurities and feebleness of weaker powers with a measure of grace. Pace my friend Michael Lind, but indulging someone else -- in the right circumstances -- is often a sign of power, not weakness.

Sort of like with David Horowitz. His flipping out over the Daily Princetonian's calling him a racist isn't a sign of power or prestige, only a sign that he's pitiful and insecure. Or like when he flew off the handle because of a small comment about him in like the fifth or sixth article I ever wrote.

Anyway, you get the idea.

Now if you'll excuse me I've got to go write a memo for some friends on the Hill about how to bash President Bush for humiliating the nation in the China hostage debacle.

Boy, am I ever proud of my Alma Mater. Or rather my Alma Mater's campus daily, The Daily Princetonian.

As you may have heard, The Prince was one of the campus papers that agreed to run David Horowitz's laughably amateurish anti-reparations for slavery ad. But they wisely went ahead and ran it with an editorial blasting Horowitz as a self-promoting cretin.

Horowitz has now turned around and refused to pay The Prince for running the ad because he says they slandered him.

(At the end of what is actually a pretty mild editorial The Prince said it was giving the ad money to the local chapter of the Urban League so as not to "profit from Horowitz's racism.")

Now what makes me so proud about this isn't that they ran the ad or gave away the money or anything like that. It's that the folks at The Prince have managed to give Horowitz quite enough rope to hang himself. And, boy, has he ever taken the bait.

Now even defenders like the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page and Andrew Sullivan are lining up to say what a complete ass Horowitz is making of himself.

Bottom line: if your whole racket is taking a stand on free speech rights you are in a very, very weak position trying to break a contract on the basis of someone else's offensive speech.

(I mean, come on, David. Just open up the *$%&#@% checkbook and give these kids some of Richard Scaife's money already.)

Yet Horowitz's actions really aren't so much offensive or brazen as they are comic. And that gets us back to a point that has been too little made in this whole brouhaha. Horowitz isn't really so much a racial provocateur as he is a sort of freelance imbecile, a flesh and blood cartoon.

(If you want an example, take a peek at the hilarious letter he wrote to Andrew Sullivan. It's a classic.)

If you haven't actually read his "ten reasons" why reparations are a bad idea you really should. They're less offensive than they are pitiful. Sure, several of the points are tendentious to the point of falsehood (see 1, 6, 9 & 10). But what's more striking is that they're written with the sophistication of an over-eager high school student. It's not even fact-checked: item #6 refers to the "slave system that was ended over 150 years ago." (This, presumably, is a reference to that little-known 'other' emancipation that occurred in 1851?)

As the folks at The Prince did a good job showing, the proper response to Horowitz isn't offense but laughter.

Why does anyone take this guy seriously?

Well, as you must now know SlatePoints AG was just a ruse. The real reason the Slate.com link is there down on the left is that Slate has just started a new feature called Mezine Central, a portal (as the web jargon would have it) to what they call "the best in political weblogs."

The best includes Kausfiles.com, AndrewSullivan.com, Virginia Postrel's site vpostrel.com, and of course the grand-daddy of all political blogs Talking Points!

Actually, I think I may be the youngest of the bloggers who made the cut. And why is that important, you ask? I haven't the slightest $%&#*#@ idea.

Anyway, part of the deal was that we each put a link to slate.com somewhere prominent on our sites. And that's the answer to the mystery of the Slate.com link.

If you're interested in the broader issues involved in America's policy toward China and East Asia then, by all means, read this article by John Judis, my friend and former partner in writing the Below the Beltway column for the American Prospect.

The essence of John's argument is that liberals should get over the presumption that support for Taiwan vis-a-vis China is necessarily rooted in some reactionary form of McCarthyite Cold War militarism. And not just verbal support, but selling the Taiwanese the weaponry they need to defend themselves against Chinese threats of forced reunification.

About a year ago I wrote another Below the Beltway column which made something of a contrary argument -- making the case against the wacky right-wing hysterics who want to roil up East Asia with a new Cold War. My point was that a very ill-begotten sort of American domestic politics was threatening to sow havoc in East Asia. I don't think my piece is necessarily opposed to John's. But I would say also that in the intervening year I've somewhat shifted my position more toward his.

Now, having said that, I do think there's one part of the equation to which he gives too little attention. We should be willing to sell arms to the Taiwanese to help them defend themselves. We should probably also be willing to help defend thems directly should China seek to invade the island.

But as any sane person will realize, this second scenario is one we want to avoid at almost any cost.

We want to make clear our committment to defend Taiwan enough to prevent Chinese aggression but not so much as to encourage Taiwanese recklessness or efforts to secure formal independence. And that latter danger is much more than a theoretical possibility -- as a number of events in the late 1990s demonstrated.

So, yes, sell the Taiwanese the weapons they need to mount a credible defense. But also realize the dangers of making our support for Taiwan too fulsome.

More on this later.

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