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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

People of Earth, we come in peace …

(Translation: Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.)

More news soon from the scene of the festivities.

Ya know. From the sound of it, John Ashcroft is going to be such a staunch defender and enforcer of gun-control laws, abortion rights, and civil rights, that you sorta wonder why right-wingers want him so bad.

Is Ashcroft a lib now? Or is there some disconnect here? Or is Ashcroft just completely full of crap - and Senate Dems aren't doing a lousy job catching him out on it?

My, my. Democrats do seem to be pushing Andrew Sullivan right off the deep end. They're pushing all his buttons. Pat Leahy's a hypocrite. Ted Kennedy's a hypocrite. There's apparently no decent reason to vote against John Ashcroft at all. Sullivan has even picked up the Republican talking point comparing Janet Reno's confirmation to John Ashcroft's. Does anyone honestly think that Janet Reno was as ideological or extreme an appointment as John Ashcroft? Does Reno deviate from the centerpoint of American politics to the left just as much as Ashcroft does to the right?

Really. This doesn't even pass the laugh test, does it? That doesn't mean Ashcroft should be voted down. But let's do keep some quality control on the analogies, okay?

(I won't call Sullivan a friend, because I've only met him a couple times and corresponded with him briefly by email. But when I have met him he's been very kind and generous. So that's my two bits in that regard.)

For the last several weeks, on his very entertaining and insightful website, Sullivan has been pounding away at anyone and everyone who thinks something untoward happened in Florida, and even more ferociously whacking away at those who think that what happened in Florida should inform how Democrats treat Bush's presidency.

He takes particular aim at Rick Hertzberg (writing in the New Yorker) and Michael Sandel (writing in the New York Times) both of whom argue that George W. Bush isn't just any president and that Senate Democrats have both the right and the obligation to compel Bush to provide the moderate governance he promised during the campaign.

(Actually, I made much the same point, albeit more briefly, about six weeks ago in the New York Post. But, hey! That's just a right-wing tab, so it doesn't get so much attention. Anyway, back to our story …)

In passing, Sullivan notes the "unprecedented way in which Gore and his trial-lawyers tried to overturn the result of a presidential election through legal maneuvering" and generally ridicules the process of unofficial recounts going on down in Florida, especially the use of "the most liberal standards imaginable" for counting ballots - standards which, improbably, ended up giving Bush a few extra votes in Miami-Dade county this week.

Is it really irrelevant that half a million more Americans voted for Al Gore than for George Bush? Doesn't this and the Democrats' gains in the Senate call for and justify some added scrutiny of Bush's decision-making from those 50 Senate Dems? Anything else is sour grapes and cheating. The Democrats, according to Sullivan, are the ones playing at the edges of a coup.

Obviously, this stuff just makes my blood boil ... errr, Talking Points' blood boil ... errr, whatever. But, anyway, I've tried to give some thought to precisely why it does so. And now I think I've found out.

Sullivan's election model seems to be symbolic procedural formalism. It really doesn't matter how we got to Bush's inauguration. What matters is that we're there! If he got there with the most votes or the second-to-most votes. Or whether some people weren't allowed to vote. Or whether some others were allowed to vote but then didn't have their votes counted. This is all just ingredients tossed in the stew. Now let's just eat!

And anyway, if you wanted to vote so bad, why didn't you push the chad all the way through! Look, we had an election, everyone could vote, if %&$@# got weird, well, come on', an election's an election. Bush won and that's the end of it.

But an election isn't just symbolism. It's not an ordeal or a trial by fire. The underlying democratic process actually matters. Everybody gets to have their say, and then you count up the says, and whoever gets the most says wins. It's not shoddy or indulgent to actually try to find out what people said. That's the point!

True, a 'ballot' doesn't automatically become a 'vote.' But it should come pretty damn close.

Yes, George W. Bush gets to become president, with all the powers of the office. But this isn't the same as popular legitimation. And doesn't our constitutional system have enough play and flexibility in it (with things like the Senate's "advise and consent" authority) to grapple even with odd and unprecedented situations like these?

Which got me thinking … Is this that whole difference between virtual representation, which the Brits are into, and actual representation, which the Americans like?

You know, like during the American Revolution when the colonists said you actually had to be able to vote in order to actually be represented. (A radical concept!) Maybe that's where he gets this from.

But didn't we fight a war over this? Isn't this one settled? Hasn't anyone told him?

P.S. Do you hope Sullivan will take this whole thing in good humor? I certainly hope so … And if he attacks you in print and drives gobs of people to your website? That's the fallback ... But does he even read Talking Points? Good point, probably not.

No movement on the Ashcrometer today. Still holding steady at 75% chance of confirmation.

But did you notice how Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (one of the most underrated senators, in Talking Points' book) caught Ashcroft in a lie, and called him on it?

Sure, he didn't put it quite so baldly. But ... well, let me just get to the story.

The latest Republican angle is to frame the confirmation debate as though John Ashcroft's critics were saying that he either has the wrong religion (he's Pentecostal) or that he is too religious. So John Ashcroft becomes just one more potential victim in the on-going persecution of white Christian conservatives.

Here Orrin Hatch implies that some senators may be doing just that and Ashcroft responds with a self-serving, lametonian response.

HATCH: Doesn't matter to me whether you're Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, whatever, or an atheist or agnostic. I'm sure that goes for--I hope that I'm sure that that goes to the rest of our fellow senators. In fact, the Constitution of the United States specifically forbids religious qualifications for office.

Now, having gone through that type of, I think, offensive criticism, which is continuing right up to today, is there anything in your religious beliefs that would impair you from faithfully and fully fulfilling your responsibilities as attorney general of the United States?

ASHCROFT: Well, I don't believe it's appropriate to have a test based on one's religion for a job. I think Article V of the Constitution makes that clear.

Please!

A short time later Senator Leahy tried to clear up the libel Hatch had slipped into his remarks.

LEAHY: I just would not want to leave one of the questions from my friend from Utah to give the wrong impression to the people here and just, sort of, make it very clear. Have you heard any senator, Republican or Democrat, suggest that there should be a religious test on your confirmation?

ASHCROFT: No senator has said, "I will test you," but a number of senators have said, "Will your religion keep you from being able to perform your duties in office?"

LEAHY: I'm amazed at that.

ASHCROFT: Pardon?

LEAHY: Well, I'm amazed at that …

Yeah, me too.

You'd like to nudge down the Ashcrometer in honor of Martin Luther King Day. But it's not to be.

Today the Ashcrometer holds steady at 75% chance of confirmation.

P.S. Another update soon on the filibuster option.

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.

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