P8kice8zq6szrqrmqxag

Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

So far George W. Bush has argued that his $1.6 trillion tax cut is desperately needed to make sure the cows come home. Of course, if they do come home then it's even more important to pass the tax cut to keep them home. And if the cows do come home, but then stay home too long, then there's no better way to get them to leave then to pass the tax cut, which should get them on their way.

Or something like that.

Call this Talking Points' poetic attempt to make sense of George W. Bush's multiple, moronic, and persistently contradictory explanations for why we need his $1.6 trillion tax cut.

So is Bush happy that the today's new unemployment numbers (holding steady at 4%) point toward the likelihood of a soft and not a hard landing? And does this mean his tax cut is more or less necessary?

Lemme guess ...

Good News for campaign finance reform!

Or at least that's how the story is running today as Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, has agreed to become the sixtieth vote in favor of allowing a free debate and vote on McCain-Feingold. Hell, they've even decided to rename it McCain-Feingold-Cochran. (Really! No kidding.)

This is actually more interesting than it looks.

All politics may be local. But in congress it's almost as often personal. And that clearly looks like what's up here. Thad Cochran and his fellow Mississippi Senator Trent Lott have known each other for almost their whole lives. They were actually both cheerleaders at Ole Miss back in the fifties. (Nope, I kid you not) And they've been rivals - sometimes friendly, often quite unfriendly - for years.

At first Cochran seemed like the star of the duo. He made the jump to the Senate a decade before Lott. But since then things have changed dramatically. And they've most all gone Lott's way. Lott made a name for himself in the House and then followed Cochran into the Senate in 1988. And Lott has been outpacing Cochran ever since.

When Bob Dole resigned from the Senate in 1996 Cochran and Lott ran against each for Majority Leader and, of course, Lott won.

Lott and Mitch McConnell have been stymieing McCain's bill for years now and they especially don't want it to come up now just after the inauguration in time to spoil the president's honeyman. The whole thing has made McCain and Lott something very close to arch-enemies.

So Cochran's decision to sign on as McCain's sixtieth vote isn't simply or even mainly about campaign finance. This isn't Cochran's campaign finance reform vote. It's his Trent-I've-Always- Been-Better-Than-You -So-Go-Eat-#$&@ vote.

The Talking Points moronic overstatement of the week prize goes to none other than Chris Matthews from Wednesday night on Hardball …

First of all … the most impressive Cabinet appointment in the world right now is Colin Powell  ...  Probably the most impressive Cabinet appointment since Jefferson or whatever, back in the early days of our republic.
You just can't make this stuff up.

Want some insight into what Washingtonians mean when they use words like 'shameless' and 'brazen' and 'disgusting'?

As you know, countless reporters continue to pore over the never-ending outrages of the various gifts the Clintons took with them when they left the White House last month. Brazen, tawdry, awful, shameless, yada, yada, yada …

Now let's look at what doesn't count.

For two years George W. Bush campaigned on promises of restoring the American military which, he argued, had dangerously deteriorated - in terms of morale, materiel, and readiness. He portrayed the military as overextended, under-funded, in desperate need of spare parts, unable to meet pressing needs. In his nomination speech he went so far as to (falsely) claim that two divisions of the army were currently unfit for duty because president Clinton had let things get so bad. In other words, the situation was critical and help was desperately needed.

Yesterday Bush decided he'll stick with Bill Clinton's defense budget after all. Instead he'll institute a 'review' of what additional spending might be needed. (This essentially means that any substantial changes in military spending and readiness won't occur until the third year of his administration.)

Needless to say the military brass is really unhappy about this. On the other hand The New York Times applauded Bush's prudence in not rushing ahead with "any major increases in military spending until his administration has a chance to review America's real defense needs."

Depending on your views on the military, you may or may not be happy that Bush is not rushing ahead with increases in defense spending. But let's be honest. This is hardly a moment of fiscal austerity. Republicans are talking about cutting literally thousands of billions of dollars in tax revenue over the next decade. There's plenty of cash to go around. And with all the hand-wringing there must have been some needs that had to be fixed even before the top-down review, right?

(In this editorial, Robert Kagan, a principled though sometimes outlandish hawk, explains why this argument about the need for a 'review' is ridiculous on its face.)

So what does it all mean? All that talk about Bill Clinton leaving American soldiers at risk because of supply shortages, America in danger because of a weakened military, all those ominous campaign trail warnings from Norman Schwartzkopf … that was apparently just … well, just crap. This is not only a broken campaign promise but a particularly egregious one since scare tactics and lies about imperiled soldiers and the nation at risk play on the most primal and volatile public passions. It's high-stakes manipulation and deception. You might even call this sort of lying and hypocrisy shameless, brazen, disgusting.

But here in DC? Apparently not.

P.S. A few Talking Points readers have reported early stages of withdrawal due to the recent infrequent rate of postings. Okay, okay, I'll keep you hooked up. Hope this does the trick!

Bob Herbert's Thursday column in the New York Times is the best piece of writing yet to appear on the John Ashcroft nomination.

As someone who works for a liberal political magazine I've often caught grief for my support of the Clinton administration's approach to monetary and fiscal policy. Today, though, those positive feelings about Bob Rubin et. al. only make me all the more worried about the wackiness that seems to be taking shape down in Austin, Texas.

For starters, Bush signaled on several fronts today that he plans to abandon Bill Clinton's policy of not commenting on Fed policy and return to Bush, Sr.'s fairly disastrous policy of trying to jawbone the Fed into doing the administration's bidding.

This is about more than sound bites. There's an ethic about politics and fiscal and monetary policy which is implicit in this policy of silence.

It's really not an exaggeration to say that everyone with a serious interest in economic matters thought Clinton's move was a move in the right direction. Not only did Bush today himself "break" this rule. But his Press Secretary said it's not a rule he intends to follow.

That's for starters.

Then you have the increasingly reckless talk from the president-elect. The nation is in need of an "economic recovery." The rate cut is good because it is a "strong statement that measures must be taken to make sure our economy does not go into a tailspin."

A recovery? For the moment at least the economy is still growing. When asked about this, Bush responded: "I say 'recovery' because a lot of folks in this room [i.e., his mini-economic conference] have brought some pretty bad news."

And, a tailspin? If one were inclined to be cheeky one might remind Bush, Jr. that this isn't Reagan's 1982 recession or his father's 1990 recession. But cheekiness aside, is anyone talking about a "tailspin"?

It's not too much to say that Presidents never use this kind of language. Never. It just doesn't happen.

Bush said he believes the Fed's rate cut is a signal to congress that they should pass his tax cut to further stimulate the economy. Actually, every analyst says that if there's any signal it's the opposite.

The Clintonites have complained volubly of late that the Bushies are trying to talk down the economy. And, admittedly, up until now there's been a lot of spinning going on on both sides of this little rhetorical battle. But there's something more going on in Bush's comments. Something more than kicking the economy a bit for political advantage - which would be bad enough. There's a recklessness at work here that transcends political calculation. An unseriousness about what the economy. Something juvenile.

Is it possible that the Bushies' intuitive understanding of supply-side tax policy and fiscal stimulus doesn't really compute outside the context of an economic downturn? Do they need a downturn? Are they stuck in a time-warp from the mid-seventies - when most of Bush's economic hands cut their teeth?

I'm not sure whether this is the case or not. What I am increasingly sure of, however, is that these reckless statements are not simply rooted in political calculation.

In recent years Democrats have indulged the conceit that they were now the party of fiscal responsibility, in contrast to the Republicans, who had abandoned that mantle. Honestly, though, I didn't know it had gotten this bad.

Next up, Bush's wacky economic summit.

Admirers of Senator John McCain (and Talking Points has to admit he's one of 'em) will be chagrined to learn that during McCain's primary campaign in South Carolina last winter his chief campaign strategist was none other than Richard Quinn, long-time editor of the oft-mentioned Southern Partisan magazine.

Outraged?

Well, turns out so was George W. Bush!

While Bush was fending off criticism for going to that rally at Bob Jones University his campaign lashed out at McCain for being so low as to associate with the likes of Richard Quinn and his magazine the Southern Partisan.

Take a peek at this clip from a February 18th, 2000 article in the Washington Post:

Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer called Quinn's writings "offensive," adding that McCain "was very critical of one of Bush's supporters who said something he believed was out of line. Now it will be interesting to see how he reacts now that it is one of his supporters who has said something that is very out of line."
Now here's where the story gets interesting. It was common knowledge at the time that the Bush folks were circulating copies of the Southern Partisan and trying to get reporters interested in pillorying McCain's outrageous behavior. (Maybe they even circulated the copy with John Ashcroft's interview in it?).

Someone should really ask Ari if he's had a change of heart.

My jaw almost dropped out of my mouth this morning on the subway when I looked down and saw this article about how the diabolical Katherine Harris is being considered for the post of president's special envoy for the Americas. It looks like she's actually gonna get her ambassadorship after all.

And guess what … This post doesn't require Senate confirmation. So no hearings, no questioning under oath, etc.

Jesus! She gets to have her cake and eat it too!

What to say about George W. Bush's final three cabinet picks? Norm Mineta's a decent enough guy, certainly. And he clearly decided that six months wasn't enough time to spend as a cabinet secretary for one lifetime (I hear that before the election he was nudging Al Gore to keep him on.)

Linda Chavez has always struck me as a bit of self-promoter and someone with very bad politics. But she's better than Jim Talent and about what I'd expect for a Republican Labor Secretary. Not someone who cares much about any of the issues that labor cares about. But, hey, that's the price of acquiescing in Bush's theft of the election. So what are you going to do?

But Spence Abraham … Now you're talkin'. I've gotta give Spence a big thumbs up. Sure he's a lousy pick to run the Energy Department (a department he voted to abolish). He's got terrible politics. And he's a complete oaf. But you've got to think of this one in terms of comedic potential.

Before the voters of Michigan tossed him out on his ear two months back, I always used to think of Spencer Abraham as the 'Mikey' of the Senate. You know, like 'Mikey' from those Life Cereal commercials from back in the 1970s.

I could just imagine it …

Trent Lott:  Who's gonna carry water/eat $&%# for irredeemable corporate interest X?

Mitch McConnell:  I'm not gonna eat it (slides the bowl over to Trent)

Trent Lott:  Well I'm not gonna eat it (slides the bowl back over to Mitch)

Mitch McConnell:  Hey, I know, let's get Mikey!

Trent Lott:  Yeah! He'll eat anything.

And that pretty much tells you what Spence Abraham's career in the senate was all about. He was the dorky little mascot for the most craven money-conservatives in the senate - the eager bumbler who the cool kids always kept around, if for nothing else than to give him noogies and have him man the keg at their parties.

Enough metaphors? Okay, I'll stop. But you get the idea.

Abraham was always carrying someone else's water, most often some corporate types who couldn't find a first-tier senator to do their bidding. Which sort of tells you why Bush and Cheney put him at Energy.

I'm not saying that Abraham's such a bad guy, or really any worse than anyone else Bush might have nominated. He's really just a party man who happened his way into the senate when the Republicans destroyed the Dems back in 1994 and lost the seat in 2000 after the fever had passed.

My colleague Nick Confessore wrote an excellent piece on Abraham which is well worth a read. Okay, sure. Nick said Abraham was gonna win. But, hey, give the kid a break. He's young. He can't get 'em all right. And besides Nick was the only one to tell the comical tale of how Abraham's senate buddies tried to pull out all the stops (and thankfully failed) to bring their bud over the finish line.

P.S. Extra laughs on the Abraham subject can be found in Tuesday's article on him in the Washington Post. The article explains pretty nicely why, for Spencer Abraham, the phrase 'pathetic hack' isn't so much derogation as painfully precise description.

The prospect of life outside government did not appeal to Abraham, some Senate sources say. His selection as energy secretary has baffled many environmentalists, political observers and even some of his closest colleagues. "I really think the answer is that once the cards were shuffled, that was the only one [Cabinet position] left," said Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst and editor of the Rothenberg Report, an independent newsletter. "It was one of the slots they had open, and this is a multicultural Cabinet if they ever had one."
Remember, comedic potential.

I just got done with a radio interview (the Bob Grant show in NY City) in which I debated the merits of the Ashcroft nomination with another guest. Apparently the Republican line on the would-be-AG is that he's a man of integrity, spotless record, no one questions his honor, and so forth.

Do we really know that John Ashcroft is a man of integrity?

Who knows? In absence of evidence to the contrary (and I don't know of any) I'm happy to believe that he's personally honest and all that.

(I leave to another post the question of whether mercilessly slandering and defaming another honorable man of integrity, i.e., Ronnie White, diminishes one's own integrity.)

But I'm happy to believe that John Ashcroft is a man of integrity.

But who cares?

That's much better than not being a man of integrity. But it's not a sufficient qualification for the job.

And who agrees with me? Well, who else? John Ashcroft.

Ashcroft has been a key figure in torpedoing numerous Clinton-appointees to the Justice Department and he's often said his opposition had nothing to do with their character or integrity. No one ever said Bill Lan Lee lacked integrity; Republicans just said he had the wrong position on affirmative action.

Or listen to this from Mike Grunwald's recent article in the Washington Post:

[Ashcroft] personally held up the nomination of California attorney Margaret Morrow, who had broad bipartisan support, and voted against her purely on philosophical grounds -- even though he praised her integrity and intellect.
Maybe GOPers can defend Ashcroft on other grounds. But this one doesn't even pass the laugh test.

TPMLivewire