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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Here is a very interesting article from the New York Times about states jumping into the breach and devising various ways to help seniors manage the rising cost of prescription drugs.

On the one hand this is a rather inspiring story of states devising pragmatic solutions to a pressing social problem. And there's even a nice 'laboratories of democracy' angle to it -- with different states using different devices and strategems to approach the problem.

But in the final analysis this is a story of failure, not success. For any number of reasons the provision of health care for seniors is inherently a matter for the federal government, not the state governments. The states are only getting into the act because Congress has failed to act.

Americans are fundamentally Americans, not Texans or Californians or New Yorkers. And as Crolian Progressives argued at the beginning of the last century there are certain problems that can't be solved by the states, or private enterprise, or voluntary associations, but only by concerted national action.

Health care for seniors is indubitably one of those cases.

Now as long as we're talking about national purpose and national action, I'm curious where those National Greatness Conservatives (who've got a touch of a Crolian streak in them) come down on this question. For a nation to be great, mustn't it be great as a nation?

And as long as we're talking about Evan Bayh, let's also say a few words about John Edwards.

Like Evan Bayh, John Edwards is up for reelection in 2004. Yet unlike Bayh it's quite clear that Edwards is very, very serious about running for president.

So what exactly does that mean?

One possibility, suggested by a friend of mine, is that Edwards really doesn't have plans of serving more than one term in the Senate. Maybe he'll run for president, maybe he won't. But he won't be a Senator in 2005.

On the face of it that's hard to figure. Being a Senator is a really sweet job for a pol. Just ask John Kerry. And unless you want to become governor of your state, what the hell else are you going to do?

(Sure, you could sort of imagine Edwards playing the Cosby-esque paterfamilias on a network sitcom. But for the moment, let's assume that's not where his heart is.)

On the other hand, my friend raises another possibility. The kind of voting record that Edwards would want to put together to run for reelection in North Carolina is quite different from the kind he'd want to run in the Democratic presidential primaries.

In fact, 'different' may be too gentle. They may be incompatible. So that's another argument for Edwards' possibly not seeing himself as more than a one-term Senator.

Of course there's one more reason you figure Edwards will definitely run. One of the reasons Evan Bayh likely won't run is that he's basically part of the same club as Joe Lieberman (and, for that matter, Al Gore -- yes, I know they're all mad at each other, but trust me it's still the same club). They're all New Dems. And there are all sorts of reasons why people don't want more than one of them in the race.

A similar logic applies on the liberal side of the Democratic spectrum, though they're less clubbish so there's more of a chance that more than one of them would run.

But Edwards really isn't in either of these camps (and of course that's precisely the reason that a lot of folks are into him) and so there's really not anyone else who could throw their hat in the ring and make Edwards drop out.

Next up, we'll discuss what Talking Points thinks of a potential Edwards candidacy ... Hint: It ain't pretty.

Maybe Evan Bayh's been reading Talking Points. I'm hearing that he may not be such a lock to run in 2004 after all.

As Talking Points has discussed earlier, Bayh has not done so well in the early positioning for 2004. But consider another point. Bayh is up in 2004 for Senate, his first shot at reelection.You can run for vice-president and senator at the same time, not president. Is he so committed to a run that he'll risk his Senate seat? That's hard to figure.

People with some knowledge of Bayh tell me they'd be surprised to see him challenge Al Gore, if Gore decided to make another run. They also tell me they'd be surprised to see him challenge Joe Lieberman if he decided to run.

Now who knows if the former Veep is going to run in 2004. But if he doesn't, Joe Lieberman definitely will. So maybe Bayh's just not going to run, period.

I'm normally content to leave carping and whining about popular culture to conservative hacks like Bill Bennet. But let's make an exception.

Last night I caught a few minutes of Weakest Link, the new game show which NBC has imported from the United Kingdom. And I must say it was the ugliest, most wretched thing I think I've ever seen on American television.

If you haven't seen it yet Weakest Link is a sort of hybrid of the Regis Millionaire show, Family Feud and Lord of the Flies. A group of contestants answer questions as a team and then at the end of each round they vote off the lamest member of the squad -- a process engineered to foster hurt feelings, petty quarrels and general lameness.

This whole mess is presided over by Anne Robinson, a prim, starchy, offensive Englishwoman who asks the questions while berating the contestants with wooden taunts and denigrating comments.

This is apparently supposed to be entertaining. And perhaps it would be if Robinson were clever or original or witty and not such a dork herself. But her insults usually amount to the 'you're dumb' variety and don't get much more clever. Sort of Don Rickles without the comedic brilliance, if you get my drift.

Here you can visit the 'brutal truths' section of the show's website and vote for which of her insults has the "most bite." (The caption reads "Anne Robinson is notorious for delivering the Brutal Truth to the contestants before her.")

Watching the show I kept thinking of some episode of Seinfeld when some dolt keeps insulting Jerry. But, sorry, I couldn't quite place it.

In any case, who finds this crap entertaining?

I mean, let's be honest. Without the charm, just what do the Brits have to offer anyway?

Alright, I apologize to the throngs of Talking Points readers who wrote in asking why almost forty-eight postless hours went by on the site. But even if that weren't the case we'd still have to go on the air to issue a special Talking Points Schadenfreude Alert.

As you all know, Pat Robertson, one-time Pope of Christian Conservatism ain't much of a fan of abortion. In fact, he considers it murder and a sin and an abomination and all the rest.

Unless of course it's forced abortion in the interest of preserving racial purity. That's something else entirely!

That's what Robertson told Wolf Blitzer Monday night on CNN, as recounted here in this article in the Washington Post.

After telling Blitzer that forced abortion might be necessary to hold down China's population, Robertson went on to explain:

It's going to be a demographic catastrophe. When they're having abortions, they're picking the girl babies for the slaughter, and they're allowing only the males to be born. And in another, say, 10 or 20 years, there's going to be a critical shortage of wives. The young men won't have any women to marry. So it will, in a sense, dilute the -- what they consider -- the racial purity of the Han Chinese. And that to them will be a great tragedy because then they will have to be importing wives from Indonesia and other countries in order to fill up the population.
Mike Kinsley once said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that a gaffe is when a politician inadvertently tells truth, or at least, speaks candidly. But this assumes that the pol says something that we all know to be true in some sense and not just the prefab malarkey that their handlers feed them.

But when Robertson speaks candidly, again and again, he says things so deeply crazy that it's a wonder why he is still a figure in American public life. Remember of course that this same Pat Robertson who published a book which rehashed much of the vile craziness of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Lefties, being lefties, will often accuse their enemies of being 'reactionary.' And for them often this means simply being opposed to liberals -- against government spending, in favor of big tax cuts, yada, yada, yada. In other words, being what you might simply call a 'Republican.'

But this is hardly what the word means. 'Reaction' in this specific sense is a fairly complicated term. Websters defines it as "relating to, marked by, or favoring reaction; especially : ultraconservative in politics."

Even that's a rather thin definition, though. The word refers to a more specific anti-democratic impulse: a desire to turn back the broad Western trend toward democratic government and civic equality, often tied up with nostalgia for established militarized aristocracies, state churches, and so forth. This is why, say, Francisco Franco was a reactionary, as were, in a quite different way, some of the proto-fascist impulses in a European capital like Vienna at the turn of the last century -- as described in this book.

In any case, one seldom really sees anything quite like this in American politics, though the term is often tossed around pretty freely.

Seldom, but not never.

Lately the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page really is starting to seem a little reactionary. Tim Noah had a whole series a little while back about a Journal editorial praising the virtues of the idle rich. And today there's this really whacky column arguing that the problem with the British monarchy is that they've ... well, that they've made their peace with the 20th century essentially.

The best response to the Sophie "scandal"--for that is how the tabloids dub it--would be for the queen to withdraw her family from the throng. A popular embrace is fatal. The monarchy does not, and should not, reflect the latest opinion poll. Instead, as a source of authority, it must cultivate afresh a sense of suspicion--a suspicion, this time, of the people.
Yikes!

Is this some new obscurantist thread in American conservatism? Or has Robert Bartley just gone over the edge?

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.

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