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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I expect a lot of frothy hyperbole from Andrew Sullivan's website. But does Andrew really seriously believe that Juanita Yvette Lozano (the Bush campaign worker now indicted for sending the infamous debate prep video to Tom Downey - AS calls her a "democratic activist" … please) was part of a plot emanating from the Gore campaign? Really? At the risk of stating the transparently obvious, if the Gore campaign was behind pilfering the tape, why did they take the tape to the FBI?

Now, let's be candid. Or let me rephrase that: let me be candid. I'd love to find out that Karl Rove was behind this whole thing.

Why?

Human nature.

Original sin.

My fallen nature.

Wanting bad things to happen to my enemies.

Because Rove's BEEN CAUGHT DOING THIS KIND OF THING BEFORE and I'd like to see him get caught, etc.

(Okay, okay. Not quite proven. But read the link above about Rove, and draw your own conclusions.)

I'm going to be watching the Lozano case pretty close to see what comes up. But, regrettably, I've got to conclude that Rove probably didn't do it. If he did, we'll know soon enough, because it's hard to imagine that Lozano wouldn't give up her bosses if she could, since she's facing like 15 years - at least in theory.

Anyway, back to the point.

There's a very plausible scenario in which this tape sending episode was a dirty trick by the Bush campaign. One that went awry when Tom Downey didn't take the bait and took the tape to the FBI. It's also plausible that Lozano just came up with this on her own- presumably because of latent Dem sympathies. But it's really not plausible to conclude that the Gore camp hatched this plot and then betrayed its own plot to the Feds. I think that's a pretty safe bet unless and until we see some surprising new evidence to the contrary. And I feel pretty confident that Sullivan does not have any such evidence.

Way confident.

Here we have yet another sign that President Bush's tactic of reaching out with his fists may not be having the intended results.

This article from the Post says Democrats from Bush-leaning states don't seem particularly intimidated by his pushy visits to their states. And a number seem like they're getting pissed. Word is also that John Breaux, the Senator from Louisiana, is miffed at Bush. He apparently feels that the Bushies played him for a fool, trotting him out as a symbol of bipartisanship, and then pursuing a partisan, uncompromising agenda.

I've also gotten the impression, from a number of recent conversations, that the White House is increasingly looking at this whole effort on the Clinton 1993 model. That is to say, rely on near total support from your own party, little or no support from the opposition, and ram it through with only a vote or two to spare.

Democrats half fear that Bush will offer them a compromise later on, bring over a bunch of Dems, and then claim political credit for an improved bill. But they may not be figuring on how little room Bush has to compromise -- given the importance the tax cut has for keeping members of the conservative coalition in line and quiet about policy priorities he'd rather they not bring up.

To Bush, Rove, et. al. this is simply not a fight they can afford to lose or a struggle they can afford to give on; and that argument is one they'll be making VERY strenuously to wavering Senate Republicans a couple months from now.

More on this later.

The DLC looks to be facing a moment of truth. As I argued in this article a month ago, the DLC (Democratic Leadership Council) supports privatizing reforms of Social Security and Medicare. But many of the DLC's 'New Democrats' don't want anything to do with these positions. So that's their problem on the left.

But there's a new problem on the right.

The DLC has put forth a potent, intelligent critique of the Bush tax cut and proposed an alternative which mixes debt-pay-down and fiscal responsibility with support for a progressive, across the board tax cut centered on a refundable income tax credit tied to payroll tax liability.

So far so good.

But as this article in today's Times makes clear, a number of the card-carrying New Democrats in the Senate seem uncertain whether to play ball with Bush or not on the tax cut. I'm talking about Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, John Breaux, Mary Landrieu, etc.

This isn't an issue of whether the DLC can discipline these people; it's not that kind of organization. The question is whether there really is such a thing as a New Democrat. Or to put it another way, whether New Democrat politics has enough resonance and coherence to keep these people on the reservation in the face of Bush's bullying and cajoling.

If it does, if they can keep these Democrats from marginal states from hopping on the Bush bandwagon, then the DLC will have gone a long way to demonstrating its value as part of a broad progressive coalition opposing the Bush agenda.

If they can't, then there probably really isn't such a thing as a New Democrat - at least as the DLC has branded the term. And the DLC wouldn't be the head of a movement so much as an a la carte policy shop with no real constituency.

That wouldn't mean that individual New Democrat policies necessarily lack merit. It would just mean there's no such thing as a New Democrat politics.

P.S. Does the DLC necessarily own the term New Democrat? No, but let's leave that for another day.

P.S.S. Are you still optimistic on the tax cut front? Yes.

Here's a very interesting article in today's Washington Post. The title hits at the 'honeymoon is over' storyline (as though there ever really was a honeymoon between the president and the Democrats on Capitol Hill). The more interesting story is the brass tacks game the president and his Hill allies are playing on the tax bill and the way it's stiffening resolve among Democrats -- even conservative Democrats.

The big fear the Democrats have had from the start is that Bush would try to peel off enough conservative Democrats to pass his legislation and have the appearance of bipartisan cooperation. That would have put Dems in a very bad position -- and the prospect had them very scared. Especially after Zell Miller jumped ship without even being pushed.

But there are two ways for a Republican president to pursue this peel off strategy. One is to come to the center -- or the center-right -- and do business with just enough conservative Democrats to get the numbers he needs. He'd listen to them, make nice with them, compromise with them, and so forth.

The other way is to try to bully them, which is what the Post article says he's doing -- sending direct mail into the districts of conservative Democrats, trying to get their constituents to lean on them to get with the Bush program, etc.

But this latter approach is a high stakes game -- because it's very easy to piss people off by doing this, but not nearly as easy to get people to vote your way.

Bush has also had his House allies push through his tax cut on straight party-line votes in the House Ways & Means Committee, which again looks a 'my way or the highway approach.'

According to this article, this swaggering approach to legislative strategy has managed to get conservative Texas Democrat pretty peeved at the new president.

If Bush has managed to piss of Charlie Stenholm then Bush is really up a creek.

Looks like we're about to hear some new revelations on what Republicans were up to in Florida after the election. This time centering on the question of military absentee ballots. It'll be interesting to see whether the revealer has really got the goods on this one, or no.

More on this soon.

The Washington Post says George W. Bush is hawking an alternative statistical analysis of his tax plan which says that only 22% of his tax cut will go to the top 1% of earners as opposed to the 43% number which Democrats have been citing. As the Post notes, much of the difference is due to the fact that Bush's new analysis doesn't figure in the repeal of the estate tax (also known as the 'death tax' to many Republican whackos) or a number of other cuts which only kick in after 2006. And of course pretty much all of the estate tax repeal benefits go to the very wealthy.

Dishonest numbers aside though, this is a very positive development for opponents of Bush's plan. Very positive. Why? Simple. Because this is playing ball entirely on the Democrats' turf. As any Republican strategist will tell you, Republicans don't win tax debates with arguments over distributional equity. A sign of how they're getting dragged off message is that Bush's crew is getting into almost daily dust-ups with Talking Points' friends at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and Citizens for Tax Justice.

Second of all, to be frank, Bush's numbers are completely bogus. And I don't just mean the standard sense in which everyone's numbers are a bit different. I mean he's not including the estate tax! What's that about? This isn't fuzzy math. It's bull$&%@ math. And very easily exposed as such.

Therefore, not only is Bush starting to fight this out on unfriendly territory, he's also starting the fight with a batch of numbers that are transparently bogus. So before we even get to the argument over equity we're going to have a sub-argument about why Bush is trying to pass off these phony numbers.

P.S. If you're not bored to tears by this tax stuff, check out this new fact sheet from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities which notes how the numbers Bush himself is relying on are now showing that the true cost of the plan is roughly $2 trillion.

Hey, look at this groovy new feature just developed by the folks over at the Talking Points IT department.

In the long history of TPM we've often gotten complaints - well, that puts too hard an edge on it, let's say longing queries - about readers' inability to point friends to a particular post on the site. You've actually always been able to do so. But it's been complicated for a number of reasons.

Well, no more. See that little 'link' link up there by the date? Just click on that and it will take you to the precise URL for that particular post. Simple as that. And that link will stay current in the TPM archives permanently.

(There's no super-flashy graphical gizmo connected with this new feature since the calling card of TPM is elegant design minimalism.)

I've also gotten a number of questions from readers about whether TPM is going to start taking donations for the upkeep of the site like AndrewSullivan.com and Kausfiles are doing. Answer? I'm not sure. That's really not what I started this site for. But, hey, man does not live by buzz alone! So I'm thinking about it.

Haven't the Republicans in the House potentially opened up a big tactical opportunity for Democrats? The Bush tax bill is heavily tilted toward tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. But it does include meaningful cuts for many middle-income families. But the great proportion of those cuts aren't related to drops in marginal rates. They're tied to the expansion of the child tax credit from $500 to $1000.

The version of the tax bill currently racing through the House doesn't include that; and that makes the tax cut for middle-income families almost laughably paltry.

First, some rather devastating news which will hopefully help you, the Talking Points reader, avoid future heartbreak.

It turns out that if you fully submerge your Palm V handheld computer in water it will no longer work. (Was Talking Points foolish enough to intentionally conduct such an experiment? Well, no. Not exactly. But let's just say: now I know.)

Now to other news of the day.

A few days back, you may remember, we were talking about the case of Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, and his level of involvement in the Marc Rich case. I even got in an argument about it with Mickey Kaus.

At the time I didn't take a definite stand on whether Clinton was correct when he said that "the case for the pardons was reviewed and advocated" by Libby. I only argued that Libby's involvement in Rich's pardon efforts seemed to have been common knowledge -- even if possibly incorrect common knowledge -- and thus one could hardly say that Clinton was guilty of an "astonishing lie" (Mickey's phrase) when he was was repeating what I took to be common knowledge. Follow all that?

Well, today's New York Times adds some new information that makes it look like Clinton was pretty close to the mark. It turns out that a couple days after Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, Libby called him up to congratulate him on his good fortune. More importantly ...

A lawyer familiar with Mr. Libby's efforts said he had tried to persuade federal prosecutors in New York to drop the 1983 indictment against Mr. Rich. This lawyer and others familiar with Mr. Libby's involvement said that shortly after Mr. Quinn was hired by Mr. Rich, he met with Mr. Libby to be briefed on the merits of Mr. Rich's case.
So let's unpack this. Libby left Rich's employ "last spring," according to the Times. After Quinn came on board he met with Libby and Libby brought him up to speed on the case. Now, if I'm not mistaken, we all assume that there was only one reason Marc Rich hired Jack Quinn -- to help him get a pardon from Quinn's bud Bill Clinton, right?

So when Quinn met with Libby "to be briefed on the merits of Mr. Rich's case," what did they talk about? About Quinn's efforts to get Rich pardoned, of course.

Now I'll admit I've made a number of inferences here. But I don't think you've got to go too far out on a limb to make them.

And let's go back to what our friend Ari Fleischer said about Lewis' involvement in the Rich case. "While Mr. Libby was involved in the original case concerning Mr. Rich," Fleischer told the Times on February 18th, "he was in no way, shape, manner or form involved in the pardon."

Now the above-mentioned "lawyer familiar with Mr. Libby's efforts" is pretty clearly someone in Libby's camp. So there may well be more we don't know. But even from what we have here from the Times I think we can pretty clearly say that Ari Fleischer LIED (or at a minimum unintentionally repeated someone else's lie).

In fact, you might even call it an astonishing lie.

P.S. Why would someone in Libby's camp spill the beans on him? Easy. Libby has to testify tomorrow before the Burton committee so he's trying to get the bad info out ahead of time.

P.P.S. Special thanks to special Talking Points correspondent Mr. Z for pointing out the new Libby info.

P.P.P.S. Wouldn't it be kinda devastating for a slick, young political reporter like Talking Points to lose all the notes and phone numbers and extra-double-secret contact information he has on his palm-top? You could say that.

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