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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Last month Talking Points wrote a very high-minded column in the New York Post suggesting that Democrats turn over a new leaf in the increasingly acrimonious process of cabinet nomination hearings.

Why not ignore personal irrelevancies in a nominee's past and delve more deeply into the substance of their policy positions? This makes particular sense for George W. Bush's nominees since Bush has no real mandate to pursue a strong ideological agenda, and certainly no business doing so.

But Talking Points' admonitions have apparently been ignored. In the dingbat rules that govern official Washington, the fact that Linda Chavez had an illegal immigrant maid says more about her qualifications to be Labor Secretary than the fact that SHE DOESN'T BELIEVE IN THE MINIMUM WAGE - something which should on its face disqualify her.

But, hey, just because Talking Points is so high-minded doesn't mean he can't have some fun at Chavez's expense. So let's have at it  …

When Chavez claimed that what looked like wages paid to her illegal immigrant maid were actually "individual acts of compassion" Talking Points was all ready to say that this gave a whole new meaning to that Bush bromide 'compassionate conservatism'.

Ahhhh… So that's what it means!

But, wait ... could there be something more sinister afoot here? Let's take Chavez at her word. She had an illegal immigrant who lived in her home and performed menial chores for Chavez's family. Yet the woman was not an employee and was paid no money for performing these tasks. Don't we have a word for this sort of arrangement? Forget the IRS or the INS. This sounds more like a violation of the 13th Amendment!

Does Linda Chavez have any ties to the Southern Partisan?

Who says Talking Points is afraid to give himself a well-deserved pat on the back?

Last week Talking Points predicted that Senate Democrats with visions of White Houses in their future might start giving second thoughts to giving an easy ride to Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft.

And boy was he right!

Last week Joe Biden said he was inclined to vote for Ashcroft; yesterday he said he may oppose him. Biden also questioned why Ashcroft gave interviews to "white supremacist" magazines. "I don't say he subscribes to what they have to say, but he gives interviews to those magazines," Biden said on Meet the Press. "It makes a difference, the perception someone is going to project."

And John Kerry got into the act too. "It is a divisive, not a unifying nomination, and [Bush] has specifically said he is a uniter, not a divider."

Now let's hear from John Edwards and Joe Lieberman.

"They say, 'Peace, Peace,' but there is no peace."

That's Jeremiah 6:14, for all you secular-humanist-non-Torah / Bible-reading TPM readers. But that verse came to Talking Points' mind today when he was listening to a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) vainly trying to mouth some protest to the deeply wrong outcome of the November election.

Did you see Bob Filner there?

In case you're wondering, Filner (who Talking Points sorta knows) was the white guy who spontaneously popped up in the middle of the whole thing to offer his "solidarity" to his CBC colleagues. I guess the whole sixties liberal thing just got the better of him for a moment. But God bless 'em!

As the cynical alter-ego of a Washington journalist (who is himself pretty damn cynical), Talking Points doesn't like to get mawkish and sentimental about public events. But he has to admit he was very moved by the goings-on on the House floor today. And he also felt quietly ashamed on behalf of the fifty Senate Democrats, not one of whom could bring themselves to sign on to force a brief debate on the legitimacy of Florida's twenty-five Bush electors.

As a political matter, not letting any debate get started was almost certainly the right thing to do. But watching the whole thing unfold made it clear that sometimes - pretty infrequently in Talking Points' opinion - but sometimes the politically wise thing just ain't the right thing to do.

Okay, no more mawkishness and sentimentality! Back to the snarky, cynical stuff  ...   I hear Paul Wellstone was the one Senator they almost flipped. I'll see what I can find out about this and report back soon.

P.S. As I said in this earlier post, the big loser today was obvious. It was John Ashcroft.

Did you see the surreal fireworks today in the joint session of Congress? A dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and three other reps were repeatedly ruled out of order by Al Gore when they were trying to plead Gore's case. So who was the big loser?

Easy. John Ashcroft. It wasn't even close.

CBC members were clearly VERY angry that not one Democratic Senator agreed to join their protests. This anger runs deep and it's rooted in deep, latent fissures in the Democratic party. That will put even more pressure on Senators to oppose Ashcroft's nomination. A lot more pressure.

And rightly so!

Yesterday on TV Sen. Russ Feingold went out of his way to construe Pres-elect Bush's remarks about campaign finance reform (CFR) in the most optimistic light. Does Feingold know something the rest of us don't? Might something be in the works?

Not likely. Talking Points has learned that there has been no communication between Sen. McCain and George W. Bush since the two spoke a few days after Thanksgiving. None. (Sources good? Very.) When they spoke back then McCain pressed the importance of making some arrangement for bringing CFR to a vote. But Bush has not been in touch.

If Bush has some strategy for making this something less than a humiliating stumble he's keeping it pretty close to his vest.

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.

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