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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Talking Points has been worried for some time about over-playing George W. Bush's militant provincialism and penchant for verbal gaffes. (Really. No kidding, he has.)

Can't this just be a dressed-up form of cultural or regional pretension? Liberals wasted no end of time harping on Ronald Reagan's lack of intellectual curiosity and culture.

And what good did it do them? Not much. At best it further alienated them from their one time base of support among middling working families in the Midwest and the Northeast. And to some extent with good reason.

Still, it's hard to ignore the signs that our new president is an imbecile.

On NBC's Dateline, Tom Brokaw asked Bush if any White House invitation to Scalia could be construed as some sort of payback for handing him the presidency. Here's how Reuters reported the conversation:

"I don't know," he replied. "I do like him. (But) I guess we're going to have to scratch him off the invitation list now," he replied to interviewer Tom Brokaw.

When his wife Laura Bush protested that it was perfectly normal for the president and first lady to host the Supreme Court, Bush interrupted, saying, "He just teasing..."

"He was just trying to make sure Anthony didn't get a good meal," Bush said, correcting himself quickly, "Antonio."

But neither name was quite right.

The first name of the man appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986 by former President Ronald Reagan is "Antonin."

Is this some sort of cultural jujitsu? Is he suckering us into looking like East Coast, elitist snobs?

Unfortunately, no big news today from the Sunday talk shows, so the Ashcrometer falls only a measly two points -- to a clean 75% chance of confirmation.

At the same time, all the Democratic Senators who were saying nice things about Ashcroft have fallen silent. And a number that have always been silent have all but decided to oppose him.

The Conventional Wisdom in Washington still leans overwhelmingly in Ashcroft's favor. But Ronnie White's testimony will throw a heavy dose of volatility and unpredictability into the mix. And polls have already shown real misgivings about Ashcroft's nomination. In other words, strong shifts in public opinion could change the calculus rapidly and dramatically.

The real question now is whether the Senate Democratic caucus is willing to kill Ashcroft's nomination with a filibuster (i.e., with forty votes).

Talking Points three Democratic senators to watch are Joe Lieberman, Max Cleland, and Evan Bayh. They'll tell the story.

More on why soon.

The New York Times Op-Ed page has not always been friendly territory for Bill Clinton (to put it mildly). But the editors' obligatory final summing-up of Clinton's tenure in office is fair-minded and insightful.

Also see the Washington Post's analytically and morally stunted take on Clinton's eight years in office.

So … you think Talking Points only does gimmicky things like the Ashcrometer, do you?

Well, he's got the high-brow thing goin' too! Here's his verdict on Jim Lehrer and the 2000 presidential debates in the new issue of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Look at this! A new feature! The Ashcrometer! Until this afternoon I was going to start the Ashcrometer at 85% chance of confirmation.

But then I saw this Newsweek Poll that says, by a small margin (41% to 37%), more Americans want Ashcroft rejected than confirmed. That and the Stuart Taylor article mentioned below bumped him down a bit. So for now the Ashcrometer stands at 77%.

The further south his nomination goes the more scrunched he gets.

P.S. More Ashcroftiana coming soon, more Ashcrometer updates!

P.P.S. Return later on Sunday for a post-Sunday chat show update of the Ashcrometer.

Talking Points was ready to cut Katherine Harris some slack. She's gotten knocked around a lot after all.

But what's with the with Austin Powers outfit?

Is that a cravat?

The text of John Ashcroft's speech at Bob Jones University was pretty disappointing if you were expecting any wacko fireworks.

Ashcroft wasn't guilty of any racially tinged remarks. But he was guilty of bad history. Ashcroft said the American colonists routinely told emissaries from King George III, "We have no king but Jesus" when they were asked to pay taxes.

Hmmmm...  Talking Points spent the better part of his twenties studying this stuff, and his verdict is: no, not a common revolutionary battle cry.

Where'd they get this guy from?

Ever since the Ronnie White affair resurfaced in the news because of the Ashcroft nomination, there have been two schools of thought as to Ashcroft's motivation for opposing Justice White.

The simpler of the two has it that Ashcroft was motivated by racial animus against an African-American judge. The other says that Ashcroft wasn't racist, just a craven and vicious opportunist who smeared White in order to burnish his tough-on-crime credentials going into his 2000 reelection campaign.

(Yes, there is a third theory that Ashcroft was simply right on the merits with regards to White. But that one is reserved for boobs and miscreants and thus needn't concern us.)

Talking Points has always thought that the truth was probably a mixture of the two.

What's interesting, though, is that a number of Ashcroft's supporters have used explanation #2 in Ashcroft's defense. He's not racist! He just smeared that guy and lied about him to ramp up his election. Come on! Cut the guy some slack!

This has always struck Talking Points as a pretty odd defense. And now Stuart Taylor, Jr of National Journal is saying the same thing. In his new column from the January 13th issue Taylor argues that Ashcroft is no racist but shouldn't be confirmed because he's a "character assassin."

Normally, Talking Points would link to the article. But National Journal prides itself on being available to almost no one outside of DC. A subscription costs like $1500 a year or something. And you have to subscribe to access their site. (In other words, they're a real piece of work).

[LATE UPDATE: Turns out, National Journal has linked this article for non-subscribers, which sort of makes all this anti-National Journal trash-talk a little irrelevant. But hey, let's have our cake and eat it too! Enjoy the TPM content and here's the link.]

So, with deference to the copyright laws, here are some quotations form the article ....

...no president is entitled to put a character assassin in charge of law enforcement.

...it does appear that Ashcroft was deliberately engaging in inflammatory racial politics [when he fought White's nomination] ...

Ashcroft must have known that accusing a black judge (falsely) of being "pro-criminal" and of a "tremendous bent toward criminal activity" would stir the worst instincts of those voters who stereotype criminality as black.

For Ashcroft to call [Justice White's legal opinion in question] "pro-criminal" was obscene.

The smearing of Judge White makes the many testimonials to Ashcroft's integrity ring a bit hollow.

Obviously Talking Points would like to show you the whole article word for word. But he thinks these quotes pretty fairly characterize Taylor's indictment.

Now here's the deal. This article is extremely important -- less because of the quality of the argument, which is high -- but because of who the author is. It's difficult to convey how important Taylor is in shaping Conventional Wisdom in Washington, DC.

Why?

Well, that's a bit more difficult to explain. Part of it is that Taylor is the kind of liberal (supposed liberal) who specializes in pointing out why conservatives -- by golly -- are actually right after all, and why libs are shameless hypocrites. People in DC love that.

(Actually, come to think of it, he kind of reminds me of a Friend of Talking Points (an FOTP) who's also in the snarky, self-published political web site bizz ... But Talking Points likes that guy a lot; Taylor, he's not so crazy about. But enough of this self-indulgent personal digression.)

Another reason for Taylor's popularity is that he became a big-time critic of Bill Clinton over Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and just about everything else. And people in DC love that too. Why else? I have no idea. Funny mustache? Earnest speaking style? Who knows?

But it doesn't matter. The point is that he's that important. I guarentee you he'll be on the Sunday shows chatting this up. And his article will give cover to moderates -- possibly in both parties -- to give another, more critical look, at the nomination.

Forget what the NAACP says, Stuart Taylor says he's a bad apple! And that's serious!

Or something like that.

Anyway, it's important. More important than ten press conferences by People for the American Way.

No one wants to see the Ashcroft nomination go down more than Talking Points. But the interest groups opposing Ashcroft need to wise up a bit. This battle may require more of the shiv than the sledgehammer. If the Bushies can spin this as a gaggle of "liberal special interest groups" beating up on John Ashcroft then he almost certainly pulls through. On the other hand, if senators are carrying the water, then maybe he doesn't.

Unfortunately, what I am hearing is that the interest groups spearheading the fight have not opened up good lines of communication with the middle-of-the-road and moderate Democratic senators they're going to need to pull this thing off.

Am I saying they should back off? Of course not. Just that they need to handle it with a bit more finesse.

P.S. I had assumed that the Democrats would not be willing to win this with a filibuster, i.e. with 40 votes instead of 50. But now I'm hearing that that option may not be off the table after all.

P.P.S. Let's keep an eye on where freshman Senator Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island comes down on Ashcroft -- more on this later.

P.P.P.S. Which Democratic Senator (not widely identified with the interest groups opposing the Ashcroft nomination) is going to step forward and take point on the nomination?

P.P.P.P.S. One well-known moderate Dem may be getting ready to get out in front on the Gale Norton nominaton.

Phew! All Done.

And now for something totally different. You simply must read this article in today's New York Times about the widespread practice of adopting Western names among Chinese youth. The article manages to be anthropologically fascinating, profoundly human, and almost transcendently hilarious - without being in the least condescending. And it gives a hint of the unruly spice of globalism.

A snippet?

Atypical Western names among Chinese students also reflect different attitudes that the cultures have toward naming. "Chinese names are often chosen for their meaning, but English names are often chosen for their sounds," observed Ye Chongguang, 20, a junior at Beijing University who chose the name Magic Johnson, after the basketball star, whom he says he worships.

Most of the time, he tells people to call him Johnson. "Only in formal situations, like signing documents, do I use my full name, Magic Johnson Ye," he explained.

As I said, it's a must read.

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