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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

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.

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