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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Yesterday's Michael Grunwald article in the Washington Post does the best job so far at setting forth the 'campaign politics' explanation (as opposed to the 'racial bias' explanation) for John Ashcroft's decision to oppose the judicial nomination of Ronnie White.

But he also gives Ashcroft a pretty unequivocal, and largely unwarranted, clean bill of health on the racial bias front.

Grunwald writes:

In reality, a review of White's nomination -- the first defeated on the Senate floor since Robert H. Bork's -- provides no evidence of racism by the man who would be America's top law enforcement officer, but strong evidence of bare-knuckled opportunism.
And then later in the same article:
But no one has produced evidence that racial animus had anything to do with his efforts to stop White. And in the heat of a close election, there was a much more obvious explanation.
Grunwald allows Ashcroft to be guilty merely of opportunistic character assassination and political manipulation of the judiciary rather than racial bias. Now I'll admit that Grunwald's discussion of Ashcroft's political motives provides important context. But doesn't he let Ashcroft off a little easy? Does it really have to be either/or?

Sure, Ashcroft torpedoed the White nomination in part as a campaign ploy. But doesn't it seem like one of the things that made White such a juicy political target was the fact that he was black?

Also consider Grunwald's description of the Southern Partisan interview issue:

Ashcroft is taking heat for some seemingly pro-Confederate comments he made in the magazine Southern Partisan …
Does that really cover the issues at hand?

I really don't mean to be overly critical of Grunwald, who's an excellent writer and reporter, but how much special pleading does someone like John Ashcroft deserve?

P.S. If you're interested in Talking Points' case for opposing the Ashcroft nomination, it's in today's New York Post.

Hmmmm. Now we're talking. Today on Meet the Press Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (reported here by Reuters and Agence-France Presse) made it clear that John Ashcroft faces a very tough nomination hearing, and that his confirmation is anything but assured. This flies in the face of what seems like an utterly wrong-headed prediction in today's Washington Post that "barring a startling revelation, Ashcroft should win swift confirmation."

"I think it's very difficult for us as people who try to govern from the center to accept that kind of a nominee," says Daschle.

You gotta love Tom Daschle, a steel fist in a velvet glove.

Still more recount news dribbling out of Florida. And, not surprisingly, Al Gore picks up still more votes. This time 120 from undervotes in the largely Republican county of Hillsborough. Gore got 999 and Bush got 879 votes from 5,533 undervoted ballots that hadn't yet been counted.

And the obligatory Republican whining?

"We carried the county by 11,000 votes, so let Gore have his few votes. Who really cares?'' said Margie Kincaid, Hillsborough's GOP chairwoman. ``I think the media spent their money for nothing. It's all pretty silly and it's not going to change anything. It's just going to confuse a lot of people. It's just an exercise in futility."
So confusing, so confusing.

LATE CHAD UPDATE: In response to overwhelming pressure from Talking Points readers (okay, okay, actually in response to pressure from the editor of Kausfiles) I need to update this post. A chart which the Tampa Tribune included in its print version but not online shows the breakdown of the vote by chad standard - hanging chad, dimpled chad, two-point hanging, three-point hanging, etc.

The upshot is that it was only with dimpled chad and pinpricks that Gore comes out on top. If you exclude those, Bush picked up ten net. Here's the actual breakdown:

Overall 879/999

Dimpled 660/757
Pinprick 91/119
1-corner 11/16
2 corner 3/4
3 corner 67/61
"punched clearly" 47/42

So the question now becomes, should dimpled chad be counted. Or to put the question more finely: do dimpled chad actually show voter intent or are they just random dents on ballots, as Republicans argued?

Kausfiles (original author of the famed "Sloppy Dem" theory) says this new info casts doubt on the Sloppy Dem theory. He's currently put it under review.

But Talking Points doesn't quite understand this. The new data seems only to confirm the Sloppy Dem theory. Here's why: If dimples really didn't signify anything, if they were just random dents on ballots, they should be evenly distributed between the candidates -- the law of statistical averages being what it is. But in Hillsborough and in every other county they seem always to favor Gore.

How can that mean anything else but that Gore's voters much more often tried but failed to perforate their ballots for their candidate? The very fact that dimples so consistently favor Gore is prima facie evidence that they are not random dents but rather do show the intent of the voter.

So the new info out of Hillsborough not only strengthens the Sloppy Dem theory, it also strengthens the case for including dimpled chad.

In Tony Lewis' New York Times column mentioned below, Lewis prods Senator Joe Biden (a member of the Judiciary Committee) to reconsider his apparent intention to vote in favor of Ashcroft's nomination for AG.

This brings up a delicate, but important, point. And one that's worth considering.

African-Americans are an extremely important Democratic constituency. Despite all the hot-air you've been hearing about Republicans reaching out to the African-American community, the percentage at which African-Americans vote for Democrats has actually been increasing in recent years. And even more important, black voter turnout has risen dramatically in the last two election cycles - particularly in a series of Southern states like Georgia and Florida.

And as important as African-Americans are for Democrats in general elections, they're even more important in primary elections - where they make up twice as large a percentage of the electorate.

In short, support from African-Americans is extremely important to any Democrat who wants to run for president.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden.

You may not know this (I didn't until recently) but Joe Biden is actually interested, very interested, in running for president again.

Really interested.

(Historical Note: Biden ran for president in 1988 but had to leave the race amid allegations that he had plagiarized a speech first given by then-British Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock … and for what it's worth, Talking Points actually thinks pretty highly of Joe Biden, and thinks the whole plagiarism charge was a bit overdone.)

Anyway, back to my story.

Let's assume that Ashcroft is confirmed. If he does I suspect he'll become a lightening rod for criticism from African-Americans and supporters of abortion-rights, somewhat along the lines of Antonin Scalia, only about twenty times more. (Ashcroft's militantly pro-life stance hasn't yet gotten as much attention as it should.)

So … fast forward three years and we're in the Democratic primary and Joe Lieberman and John Kerry and Joe Biden and John Edwards are duking it out. Needless to say, the one's who voted against Ashcroft will beat up on the ones who voted for him. And if they don't, activists and constituency groups will do the job for them.

I'm not saying that this is still going to be a burning national issue four years from now. But primary races are funny things. How else are you going to distinguish these characters from each other?

True, if Ashcroft gets confirmed and we never hear another peep from him again, none of this will matter. But I don't really think that's going to happen.

So when you start watching where senators line up on the Ashcroft vote, don't forget about 2003 and 2004. Trust me, they won't be forgetting either.

Today Tony Lewis has a column (pointed out to me by one loyal Talking Points reader) on the Times OpEd page which focuses in on a topic that I've left either implicit or unmentioned in my previous discussions of the Ashcroft nomination, both here and in other publications. The point has to do with the torpedoing of the judicial nomination of Ronnie White. As we've discussed earlier, it seems very hard to see how race was not a major factor in Ashcroft's decision to go against White's nomination.

But was it the only one? Or was it really that simple? Likely not.

Lewis makes the argument - already rehearsed in a number of articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch - that White was the victim of John Ashcroft's reelection campaign against Mel Carnahan.

At the request of the Pope John Paul II, then-governor Carnahan had commuted the sentence of a death-row convict. Ashcroft wanted to make a campaign issue of this commutation, arguing that Carnahan was soft on the death penalty (and, one must assume, also soft on the Pope).

To make the point more forcefully, Ashcroft decided to fight President Clinton's appointment of Ronnie White - whom Carnahan had earlier appointed to the Missouri Supreme Court - because he was allegedly also, like Carnahan, soft on the death penalty. (Still with me?)

By the way, Lewis also concisely details Ashcroft's scurrilous and baseless attacks on White's character and record as a judge.

So does this mean that Ashcroft isn't guilty of attacking White because of his race but only guilty of shamelessly politicizing the judiciary?

No. Honestly, I think it shows he was guilty of both. Ronnie White's race just added to the political effect Ashcroft was trying to achieve. So it may be less that Ashcroft had a gut-level problem with White's race and more that he was trying to use it for political effect.

But think about it this way: Is it worse to have racial animus in your heart? Or just exploit racist fears and animosities to further your political career? Sort of a tough call, isn't it?

I just received an email from the Bush/Cheney press flaks with the list of official "surrogates" (what a concept) for Don Rumsfeld.

In alphabetical order they are:

Dr. Ken Adelman
Senator Bill Bradley
Frank Carlucci
Dr. Henry Kissinger
John Robson
Dr. George Shultz

Wait a second. BILL BRADLEY. I thought he was a Democrat. A Democrat who wanted to freeze or cut defense spending.

Al Gore spent much of the primaries arguing that Bradley wasn't a loyal party man. Geez, I guess he was right.

The only answer I can think of is that both Bradley and Rumsfeld went to Princeton, which would mean that Bill Bradley is more loyal to Princeton University than the Democratic party. (Not a big surprise) Don't get me wrong. I don't have any beef with Princeton (honestly, I went there too, and here's the embarrassing evidence). But couldn't Bradley hold off on making it clear just one more time that he's just not much of a team player, and a bit of turncoat.

P.S. And in case you're wondering. No, Talking Points is not a big fan of Bill Bradley.

Okay, a few thoughts on the Bush cabinet. The more I look at this crew I give Bush pretty high marks. Not on substance but on strategy. Let's assume what I hope is not the case: that every one of Bush cabinet appointments gets approved. Let's also assume that Bush nominates James Talent (mentioned earlier in TPM) as his Labor Secretary, which is what I'm hearing.

You have what looks like a pretty moderate cabinet, which in many respects it is. But conservatives get pretty much all the choice slots they wanted. Ashcroft, needless to say, is beloved by hardcore right-wingers. He's virulently pro-life, no friend of civil rights enforcement, has no concept of the separation of church and state, the list goes on and on.

(An old Newsweek article by Howard Fineman, which I have in front of me, says Ashcroft literally had his head anointed with oil as prescribed in the Old Testament just prior to be being sworn in as senator - I presume religious conservatives will derive some pleasure from this too.)

But it's more than just Ashcroft.

Don Rumsfeld is a perfectly reasonable choice for Defense Secretary. It's pretty hard to say he's not up to the job since he's already done it once before. And Rumsfeld is known as basically a get-along-go-along moderate in Republican ranks. But … and this is a big 'but' ... he's also joe-missile-defense.

He was the head of the commission which a couple years back said that the US was much more vulnerable than commonly thought to attacks from rogue states and thus was in great need of rapid moves toward deploying a missile shield. That report had a decisive effect on the missile defense debate and played a big role in the Clinton administration's support of a limited missile defense option.

So Rumsfeld looks like a moderate, and in many respects he is. But he's a big missile defense man. And conservatives LOVE missile defense. So they love him.

Clever, very clever.

(Who's doing Bush's thinking for him? Can't be him, can it?)

Then take Jim Talent, the possible Labor Secretary. Talent looks like an inoffensive enough fellow. But he's about as anti-labor as they come. Hopefully Democrats will mount a strong fight against him (certainly big labor will insist on it). But unfortunately he probably gets confirmed.

So the upshot of it all is that Bush gets the image of a pretty moderate cabinet (which, as I said, is partly accurate) and yet he gave conservatives a lot - a whole lot - of the plums they wanted.

Sure, they didn't get a complete wing-nut at HHS. But, hey, you can't have everything, can you? And besides Tommy Thompson ain't no Donna Shalala.

P.S. Several editors have been asking me to come up with the unifying principle that pulls together all of Bush's nominees. I think I've got one: people who were just rejected by the voters of Missouri! John Ashcroft lost for Senate last month; Jim Talent lost for governor. It's almost like a jobs program for Republican losers from the Show-Me-State. And in case you think I'm beating up on Missouri -- Back Off! Talking Points was born there.

Damn! Is this a great article, or what? You've got to read this installment of Slate's Chatterbox by Tim Noah. It's about the supposed Democratic elder statesman Bob Strauss, an elder statesman and a wise man who's not really an elder statesman or a wise man, but more like a fixer, a sly self-promoter, and a hack.

(Come to think of it, maybe we should come up with a word for this Washington breed. We could call them hack-men or wise-hacks or elder-fixers. Personally, I think it's a close call between hackmen and wisehacks, and I probably go for the former.)

But anyway, back to my story. Do read Noah's article. It'll tell you more about Washington and the Democratic party and the new administration and influence-peddling than you'll get from a whole month of the New York Times and the Washington Post combined.

P.S. Tim, no thank you note required. Just spread the word about Talking Points. That'll do just fine.

P.P.S. Hackmen, Wisehacks, Elderfixers? Which one sounds best? Anyone else wanna take a stab at this? Should it be a contest?

Don Rumsfeld may be a decent choice for Defense Secretary.

But between you and me, his George W. Bush imitation leaves a lot to be desired.

Is Robert Torricelli running for the role of Senate-Democrat-Most-Likely- to-Stab-His-Own-Party-in- the-Back-for-No-Good-Reason? The position is open after all, what with Bob Kerrey and Pat Moynihan retiring, and Joe Lieberman adopting a more partisan, team-player tone.

Just think. Bob Torricelli … First Senate Dem to call on Al Gore not to file any lawsuits in Florida. First Senate Dem to call on Al Gore to drop out of the race. First Senate Dem to publicly say Al Gore blew it and shouldn't run again. First Senate Dem to give John Ashcroft a thumbs up for AG.

Do I need to go on?

P.S. Next post, what did then-congressman Bob Torricelli tell Talking Points in 1990 when Talking Points interviewed him for his low-budget college radio station public affairs show?

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