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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

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!

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