Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

What's wrong with this picture? New budget numbers out today point to a $100 billion dollar federal deficit this year. That's not quite in the neighborhood of the bad old days of the Bush I presidency. But it's getting pretty close.

At the same time, Congressional Democrats can mount no more than a languid and ineffectual fight against making the Bush tax cut and the estate tax repeal permanent -- something which will even further balloon these numbers.

At the Crossfire party night before last, one of the Democratic party's shrewdest strategists -- for my money, the shrewdest actually -- told me that he thought that the Democrats' inability to make a more effective argument against the estate tax repeal cuts to the heart of their current problems.

I couldn't agree more.

PS. More later on the Republicans' ridiculous and pitiful threats to boycott the new Crossfire and why there weren't any Republicans at the Crossfire party.

Well, I have just been to the belly of the beast of the Washington schmoozacracy. Tonight CNN -- or maybe it was AOLTimeWarner? -- threw a coming out bash for the new Crossfire starring Jim Carville, Paul Begala, Tucker Carlson and Bob Novak. The party was held at Carville's restaurant West Twentyfour, which as you can see actually has its own website. I know this because there were little Crossfire goody-bags for guests as they left and somehow in my then-state of semi-drunkenness it occurred to me that it was somehow a terribly good idea to take two goody-bags instead of just one. So now I have two Crossfire mugs, two Crossfire baseball hats, two CNN pens, two one-week memberships to some health club and two postcards for Carville's restaurant which have the restaurant's website.

Normally I wouldn't mention this or feel particularly guilty. But Walter Isaacson, the head of CNN, was there. And the parent company just reported today that it lost $54.2 billion last quarter so probably he didn't want to spend any more on the goody-bags than he absolutely needed to. And I don't want him to get called on the carpet by the bigs at AOL or anything. I mean, Isaacson's got enough to worry about getting slapped around by the likes of Tom DeLay and Trent Lott up on the Hill to have to worry about this sort of thing.

Anyway, what surprised me is that you'd at least think there would be some sort of bizarre cajun food served given the owner and so forth. But no dice! No crawdads, no spicy, slimy things in big bowls, no po'boys, nuthin! It was garden variety seemingly-catered lunch meats, so-so cheeses, and bottles of Budweiser, among other things.

Anyway, I tried to chat up Lloyd Grove, the gossip columnist for the Washington Post, to see if he'd give me any insights on how to write up this sort of event. But he was clearly keeping all the professional secrets pretty close to the vest. So that wasn't much help.

I also spent quality time people watching with my talk radio host friend Victoria Jones who somehow got left out in the cold in a recent schedule reshuffle by those idiots at WMAL radio in DC. And that was a lot of fun.

McCain was there, Chris Shays, John Dingell of all people, Walter Isaacson, a few White House folks, more than a few Clinton folks, a slew of other people and an array of late twenty- and early-thirty-something Washington types hitting on each other and chatting each other up. Your standard coven of press secretaries and TV producers.

The people who were most eager to talk to me were the ones trying to get me to spill the beans on who my sources were for the article on Al Gore that I wrote in Salon a couple weeks back. Just a note to my treasured sources: needless to say I did not rat you out, even in the face of various blandishments.

What was striking was how many Gore 2000 veterans there tonight told me the piece was right on the mark, which is telling on many levels.

(On the other hand, take a look at this new Zogby poll which shows that Gore's recent round of speeches and appearances has pushed him back into a commanding lead over his 2004 Dem rivals. This is both a sign of Gore's strength and the inherent slipperiness of these numbers at such an early point in the cycle.)

Beside that it's all a blur of cheap red wine, Budweiser and prosciutto.

I'm not a Catholic, but I have a great deal of respect for Catholicism and the Catholic church. Having said that, though, the news out of Rome is disappointing and more than a touch bizarre. I think the statement that said it all came when the cardinals said they were "considering a zero-tolerance policy" for priests who sexually abuse children. Doesn't this get at the problem the church is struggling with. Considering? We already have a zero-tolerance policy in this country for child sexual abuse -- i.e., state criminal statutes. There's just some basic disconnect here that is difficult to fathom. I think Andrew Sullivan has it right when he writes "Abuse of children or minors is not a peccadillo. It's horrifying in anyone, appalling in the priesthood."

Following up on the ineptly-handled coup against Hugo Chavez, here's an interesting posting on the The United States Agency for International Development website. It's a job posting from the Office of Transition of Initiatives, an office at USAID which specializes mainly in countries transitioning from dictatorships to democracy or emerging from wars. It's a job posting for a new OTI posting in Venezuela and the job opening was listed on April 12th, more or less what turned out to be the day of the coup. (It doesn't close until the 26th, so you can still actually get an application in if you're interested.)

Among other things, the posting describes how ...

Since his election as President of Venezuela in 1998, Hugo Chavez has demonstrated increasing disregard for democratic institutions and intolerance for dissent. He has been slowly hijacking the machinery of government and developing parallel non-democratic governance structures. Corruption, supposedly targeted for elimination by Chavez, is alleged to be rampant.

The USAID Office of Transition Initiatives will establish a flexible program to address the deteriorating democratic institutions in Venezuela. OTI's program would be part of a comprehensive assistance program to shore up the democratic voices and institutions in Venezuela. The program will be managed by an OTI field representative reporting to the U.S. Ambassador in Venezuela and implemented through one of OTI's contract or international organization intermediaries. OTI's field representative will maintain close collaboration with other Embassy offices in identifying opportunities and selecting partners.

Now I don't think this entertaining coincidence proves anything. But I do think it provides a pretty revealing window into the approach the US was taking to Venezuela during the lead-up to the coup.

Everyone who I've talked to today believes that Karen Hughes is leaving the White House for the reasons she said. And I guess I do too. The one thing that raises a touch of suspicion for me is that this is a helluva a time for her to leave. Even administration yes-men concede that Bush has hit a rough spot.

Whatever we make of that, though, Hughes' departure does open up an interesting possibility. Get out some graph paper or maybe a protractor because this may get complicated.

Here goes...

There's been a rumor circulating through the White House press corps for the last week or two that Ari Fleischer was on the way out as Press Secretary. Not immediately but maybe over the next few months sometime. Whether it's to greener pastures or ones that are slushy and brown isn't clear. But the word was that Fleischer would be moving on to make way for the Pentagon's Tori Clarke who is a) more proficient at handling foreign policy and b) more of a Bush loyalist.

(TPM might have added 'c) not a risible hack like Ari' but that would have been strictly a TPM embellishment, and not part of the official rumor.)

I spent a bit of time yesterday trying to find out whether there was anything to this rumor. But as a number of members of the White House press gang noted, it's difficult to get to the bottom of 'Ari's on the way out' rumors because there are always rumors to this effect. And these rumors find a receptive audience among the White House press corps because these folks so dislike and disrespect him.

Winston Churchill once called the Soviet Union a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Fleischer's evil genius produces a similar effect. He has cloaked himself with such an aura of incompetence and disagreeableness that true signs of his professional demise are hard to distinguish from the normal background noise of derision and wishful thinking emanating from those who must cover him.

(One of the big parlor games in DC and particularly amongst the White House press corps is this: could Ari really be as out of the loop and incompetent as he seems? Or is he maybe just crazy like a fox? Or maybe in this case, an idiot like a fox? Could the higher-ups at the White House want him to play this game and take all the hits for the prez? Or maybe he really is as incompetent as he seems, but it's the same difference. They like having him there anyway to take the hits and the jabs? Apparently Howie Kurtz is working on an Ari profile -- and he is no doubt talking with fellow Postie Dana Milbank who has a mutual loathing society with Fleischer. So maybe Kurtz will get to the bottom of this mystery.)

Anyway I persevered and here's what I found out. I can tonight confirm to you that this is a bona-fide rumor. Whether there's any truth to it, that I'm not sure of. But it is a rumor. No question about it.

However, on Monday another person who covers the White House told me that Tori Clarke was a no-go at the White House because she'd gotten cross-wise with Karen Hughes. (Over what I'm not sure, but I'm led to believe that may be a story in itself.)

Anyway, with Karen out of the picture, could Ari be on the way out too? Or might the skids at least be greased? Could the moment for Fleischer & Gheith have finally arrived? And might they too colocate with Shrum, Devine & Donilon? The questions are ... well, endless.

Here's an entry for the annals of incomplete reporting. The MSNBC report throwing cold water on the idea of 'John McCain for President as a Democrat' noted that in 1995 McCain ...

displeased environmentalists — another important Democratic Party constituency —by voting against an amendment to keep the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska closed to oil drilling.

I noted earlier that references of even so comparatively recent a vintage sort of miss the point with McCain since most of his political shift is in 2000 and after.

This business with ANWR turns out to be a case in point. On the very day the MSNBC went online McCain was voting against drilling in ANWR, as had been expected for some time. So the 1995 reference was perhaps a touch out of date.

On Thursday I was talking to a Latin America expert in DC about rumors of possible US involvement in the unsuccessful coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. She called my attention to an intriguing development which few or no US media sources have reported: despite the apparent calming of the situation in the country, the State Department is asking family members of embassy officials in Caracas and other non-essential employees to leave the country; and it's paying their way.

Let me wade into this McCain as a Democrat talk. First, this MSNBC article points to various interest group score cards and litmus test votes which should supposedly knock McCain out of contention in a Democratic primary. Look closely though because it's a somewhat misleading list. On its face it's damning but most of the votes and scores are lifetime scores or ones that are several years out of date. The AFL-CIO, for instance, apparently gave him a zero rating in 1999.

The problem with all these numbers is that McCain's serious leftward tilt pretty much all comes from during and after his 2000 presidential run. Before that, campaign finance reform was still pretty much his only break from mainstream conservative Republican orthodoxy.

Thus, statements or votes prior to that date simply beg the question of where McCain is politically today. Plus, candidates who've had political conversion experiences need be far less troubled with past votes and actions than conventional politicians.

Mickey Kaus notes talk that McCain is still most likely to run as an Independent.


But if there are good reasons McCain would not or could not run as a Democrat there are even better reasons why he wouldn't or couldn't as an Independent.

Here's the best one: as I told Green while he was writing the article, if you actually want to become president as opposed to run for president, you'd never do it as an Independent because they never win.



Look at the data.

Last time an Independent was elected president since the creation of the two-party system in the 1820s?

It's never happened. Some interesting test cases include the lead-ups to the election of 1844 and perhaps also the election of 1868, when vice-presidents who had become president considered it.

The last time a third-party candidate became president?

Abraham Lincoln in 1860. And the proximate cause was sectional, not ideological, disintegration of the party system.

So, does the McCain as a Dem idea face a lot of hurdles? Absolutely. But the reason McCain would choose to run as a Democrat rather than an Independent would simply be that he is interested in winning.

I've just been reading Robert Wright's contrarian view of the Arafat-Barak Camp David negotiations while the idiot news coverage of the arrest of Robert Blake plays in the background.

The essence of his argument is that we're wrong to stick with the conventional wisdom that Arafat turned down a generous deal at Camp David and everything that follows from that assumption. The main conclusion that follows from it, of course, is that Barak's offer put the lie to Arafat's pretensions to be a true peace partner. If Arafat wouldn't bite when Barak offered him the whole cake, the reasoning goes, then that must not have been what he was interested in in the first place. The cake being an equitable peace, of course, and ... well, perhaps not the best metaphor or analogy, but let's move along.

I think Wright is far more right than wrong. And I really, really recommend that you read it. It's not that I think his analysis is correct in every respect. I disagree with a number of points he makes. But he's right to bust open the simplistic way in which this whole drama is generally understood in the US.

More on this later.