Hey, why is there a link down there on the left shilling for Slate.com? That’s the section where Talking Points usually shills for himself, right? Where he tries to get readers to send donations to keep the site up and running with wit and insight for the content-starved web masses? What’s up with that?

Interesting you should ask … Stay tuned for more soon on this puzzling development.

Few spectacles in politics are as fascinating or captivating as watching hacks and ideologues set about the delicate work of fashioning an argument that – in the normal course of things – should be impossible to make. In other words, an argument so improbable or nonsensical that it could only be meant for political consumption.

It’s almost like watching insects create some improbable structure on the Nature channel.

Anyway, for years now Republicans have been a little wary of going back to their circa 1993 argument that Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax increase would kill jobs, throw the economy into recession, and perhaps even destroy the planet.

For a while in the mid-90s they argued that the economy would be growing even faster if taxes hadn’t been raised. But when the economy started screeching out growth at a rate most economists consider too high – say 5% or so – even that argument started to seem a little shaky.

Now they’re taking another crack at it. And, no, don’t snicker! Because arguing that the fiscal policy which preceded the most sustained economic expansion in American history was in fact a job killer is no mean feat.

Anyway, the new emerging Republican argument (which you could hear mouthed on CNN’s Late Edition last Sunday by Jim Miller and Wayne Angell) goes like this: the Clinton tax increase was a terrible drag on the economy, just as Republicans said it would be. But it coincided with a technology-driven explosion in productivity. And this productivity bonanza masked the awful effects of the tax increase.

Miller put it thus:

And the last decade, because of the information technology revolution raising productivity, it masked a lot of bad decisions, including to increase tax rates. That’s sort of coming to an end and now the fiscal drag really is holding us back, and we need to reduce that.

So basically the predicted bad effects of the Clinton tax increase didn’t fail to appear as Republicans predicted they would in 1994 and 1995. They were just delayed half a dozen years. That is, until now!

I predict we’ll be hearing a lot more of this argument because it fulfills the basic requirements of the best bogus political argumentation. Though almost ridiculously improbable and quite nearly demonstrably false, the argument has enough logical structure to be at least theoretically possible. And that makes it more than serviceable for the normal run of fanatical ideologues, confirmed partisans and weak-minded bumpkins to make use of endlessly.

Trust me, we’ll be hearing a lot of this.

Here is a quite good run-down of the recent activities of the notorious self-promoter and opportunist David Horowitz. As you may know, Horowitz has recently taken it upon himself to bravely take on the virtually non-existent movement to pay reparations to African-Americans for the sin of slavery. I saw Horowitz (or rather heard him, he ‘appeared’ by phone) on C-Span this morning and the things he said were about as pitiful as one would expect.

One of the more tricky and beguiling aspects of Horowitz’s rhetorical style is that it is often difficult to decide whether his statements are more foolish than offensive, or more offensive than foolish. Sometimes it’s simply a tie; but it’s always a challenge disentangling the two, and measuring them one against the other.

There are actually a number of aging lefties — a number of whom I know — who still admire Horowitz, or at least refuse to dismiss him outright, because they admired him terribly when they were all in their twenties. But, ya know, many of these worthies dropped a lot of acid back in the day so you really can’t be too hard on them if they still can’t see the light about Horowitz.

In any case, two points seem worth making. One is that Horowitz in person is as obnoxious and unpleasant as he seems on all those talk shows. I got in a scrape with him a couple years ago because of a brief mention I made of him in an article in The American Prospect. (There are actually a few points I’d change in the article; but the description of Horowitz isn’t one of them.)

At that time I figured that — like many high-profile controversialists — Horowitz merely played an a–hole on TV. Yet after running into him at a Hillary-bashing conference last April, and having him repeatedly call me a liar and “disgusting” to my face, I concluded that he was actually the real McCoy.

Anyway, enough about my run-ins with him. Let’s get to that second point. These days, whenever he’s charged with anti-black animus, Horowitz insists that he’s got nothing against blacks, only what he calls the “black left.” Now one can certainly distinguish between blacks and the “black left.” But given what we know about this man, doesn’t this sound terribly reminiscent of that old hedge which anti-Semites love to employ: I’m not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist.

Oh. And if this all seems a bit a bit heavy and you want to lighten things up, you can buy Horowitz’s risible autobiography on Amazon. Yes, I know it may be galling to send a few bucks his way by buying it. But trust me, it’s really funny.

P.S. Dying to read the offending passage in the aforementioned article? Okay …

That zeal to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to excoriate the entire progressive tradition for the misdeeds of the extreme left is an approach that Radosh shares with a slew of former left-wingers who jumped ship and became conservatives as their hair turned gray. David Horowitz, to take the prime example, was a second-string radical journalist in the 1960s and 1970s who shifted to the political right in the mid-1980s and, in midlife, fashioned himself a second career as a sort of Whittaker Chambers manqué for 1990s conservatism. Horowitz’s 1996 autobiography Radical Son chronicled the story of his life from youth as a “red-diaper” baby, through stints as co-editor of Ramparts and his association with the Black Panthers, to his eventual conversion to political conservatism. Almost all of Horowitz’s writing since he became a conservative has been dedicated to attacking the principles and persons of the left.

That Horowitz, with his radical left-wing history, has been so readily accepted into the right-wing fold goes to the heart of the matter and connects the McCarthyism of yesteryear with its tamer cousin today. The strength of the ex-communist’s supposed moral superiority was always based on a dubious premise: that someone who had been entirely taken in by the party, willingly spied against his country, and obediently followed every zig and zag of the party line was somehow more to be credited than the momentary fellow traveler who attended a few meetings, signed a few petitions, and then walked away after seeing the party for what it was. In other words, the more radical the conversion, the more moral credit the McCarthyite (or New McCarthyite) supposedly accrues. This suits the Horowitzes of the world just fine, because they feel it gives them the credibility to denounce the left—believing that they can make up for youthful credulity with middle-aged ferocity. But just because Horowitz got taken in by the Black Panthers—long after almost everyone else on the left had washed their hands of them—hardly means that the progressives of today’s generation have anything to apologize for.

Did you see what I just saw? EPA Administrator Christie Whitman was just interviewed on CNN’s Late Edition about administration environmental policy. Obviously not a pretty site on a number of levels.

But Wolf Blitzer repeatedly pressed her to say whether she supported drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Repeatedly. Two or three times in several different ways. But she wouldn’t answer. Not even not a straight answer. She simply refused to answer the question.

Aren’t the Democrats going to see this as blood in the water?

Cut to thirty-second TV ad … deep male voice intones: “The President wants to trash the Alaskan wilderness to help big oil. Even his own EPA Chief knows it’s wrong.”

Isn’t she in some trouble?

Boy, I really don’t want to be in the position of doing a good turn for crime-against- democracy indictee Katherine Harris. But I can’t help myself. Someone has to talk to this woman’s PR flak.

Quite contrary to what we heard back in November and December about the election mess making Harris untouchable as far as future elective office was concerned, she is very much interested in shinnying further up the political pole (climbing higher on the ladder, pick your metaphor).

I even hear she wants to run for congress in 2002. And that’s not so crazy, considering the Republican party will run the entire redistricting process in Florida next year and they have, I think, two new seats to play with.

Anyway, if she wants to make it in mainstream politics, should she really be giving the headline speech at the annual South Carolina Free Republic hoedown? I mean, I think she’s pretty much got the right-wing freak demographic nailed down, no?

Katherine, branch out! I mean, take a cue from George W. Start doing photo ops with black kids. Ask Karl Rove. He’ll show you how it’s done.

Have you noticed how the phrase “civil society” — already an often facile and over-freighted concept — is being hijacked by people who use it to signify a society where people have better manners, are nicer? In The Washington Times a few months back an article on the coarsening of society says ..

Some cultural observers might say the snickering smarm of “Drew Carey” is the least of the worries parents should have today in the arena of civility, what with road rage on the increase, profanity spewing from every playground and school bus stop and, of course, the specter of gun violence in the hallways. Against such a depressing backdrop, teaching children “the magic word” and the golden rule seems hopeless. Many parents do it anyway, hoping the little things at an early age will add up to a more civil society later.

Or take another example from our new president’s election victory acceptance speech …

We differed about the details of these proposals, but there was remarkable consensus about the important issues before us: excellent schools, retirement and health security, tax relief, a strong military, a more civil society. We have discussed our differences. Now it is time to find common ground.

What’s this about exactly?

I have a difficult time deciding if this is just an ignorant bastardization of the phrase and concept. Or whether it points to some deeper shallowness in the movement which often gathers behind the phrase.

More on this later.

Alright, I’ve thought for a while now that Talking Points was getting maybe a bit too consistently and endlessly anti-Bush, always criticizing something the new president was doing, and so forth. But on second thought, who gives a &$%#!

I’m going to leave the subtlety, balance and introspection to my paid gigs. So let’s get back to business.

Having said that, let’s chat about something that’s only half about Bush.

Here’s a very good article in the new issue of The New Republic about John DiIulio and the controversy breaking out between supporters of black inner-city churches — which DiIulio is generally in line with — and the white evangelicals who he is very much not in line with – and who are, of course, perhaps George W. Bush’s most important constituency.

DiIulio is the head of Bush’s new faith-based services office.

By all means, read it. It’s a clever and informative piece, precisely the sort that intelligent, enterprising young journalists are supposed to come up with.

Here’s the key issue with DiIulio, however. There’s something deeper at work here than just a disagreement over how faith-based services should function, even deeper than the obvious fissures over racial politics.

The whole debate over social services, poverty, welfare and so forth moves on two separate axes. One is the right vs. left axis that we’re all familiar with. But this is often the less interesting of the two.

There’s also the ‘give a #$%&’  vs. the ‘don’t give a @#&$’  axis.

I disagree with DiIulio on all sorts of points. But anyone who’s familiar with DiIulio’s career knows that he’s definitely in the ‘give a $%&#’ (GAF) category. I would say that someone like James Q. Wilson is also in the GAF category even though I disagree with him on many points.

And that’s the problem. What the Bush folks should have realized is that if you’re in the DGAF category (which the Bushies indubitably are on urban poverty and social disenfranchisement issues) the last thing you want to do is to hire a GAF to run your shop.

Bad, bad, bad decision. And now they’re going to pay the price for that mistake with really embarrassing stories which will almost certainly lead to DiIlulio’s eventually getting canned.

All of which suggests a contest.

Starting from today, March 22nd, how many days will we go before a major metropolitan daily prints an article with anonymous accusations of DiIulio’s mismanagement of the faith-based office (intended, of course, to lay the groundwork for DiIulio’s eventual firing)?

(For the purposes of the contest we’ll say that the papers which count are the New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Yes, good point, the Washington Times isn’t really a legit major metro daily. But it’s likely to be the place the White House folks first go to start trashing DiIulio. So we’ve kinda got to include it. And, in addition to mismanagement, charges of incompetence, bias, dereliction also count.)

And before we’re done let’s do a contest update. A little while back Talking Points ran a contest to be won by the reader who could tell which idea in this article by Andrew Sullivan was given to Sullivan by Talking Points. The answer: the reference to Chaucer’s Pardonner’s Tale. The winner was Jeff. H at the NYU (sorry, forgot to ask him if I could use his name) who gets a lunch with Talking Points – dutch, of course.

Only, only, only in South Carolina!

In late 1999 and early 2000 I spent a couple months trying to nail down some suspicions of mine that Ralph Reed was getting ready to bludgeon John McCain down in South Carolina if his boss, George W. Bush, stumbled in New Hampshire.

He did stumble of course. And the Bush operation did bludgeon McCain with all sorts of scurrilous accusations. The main one I was trying to track down were hints that the Bush operation was planning on pushing the line that McCain was gay, or overly friendly toward gays.

And, yes, they did end up using this line of attack — memorably spreading word that McCain was the “fag candidate.”

Here’s one example of my efforts; here’s another article looking a little more broadly at Reed et.al.’s nasty South Carolina shenanigans.

Anyway, those South Carolinians are apparently at it again. Only now it’s Dems bashing Republicans!

Lindsey Graham is an extremely popular South Carolina politician; he’s a congressman now fixin’ (as they would say) to run for Strom Thurmond’s Senate seat. Most Americans know Graham — if they know him at all — as one of the House impeachment managers. From that you’d probably think Graham is pretty much a whacko. And to an extent you’d be right. But not entirely.

Graham was a big supporter of McCain in the primaries last year. But he’s also a big supporter of campaign finance reform and a number of other McCainite type reforms. So let’s just say he may be a right-wing whacko. But also one with some important redeeming qualities.

So anyway, as I said, he’s gearing up to run for Senator.

Recently, Dick Harpootlian, the head of the Democratic party down in South Carolina, issued a press release (and apparently also said in a number of speeches) that Lindsey was “a little too light in the loafers” to succeed Strom Thurmond. (Graham is 45 and unmarried, but denies he’s gay. And, as far as I know, there’s no reason to think that he is.) Graham accused Harpootlian of slander for insinuating that he was gay.

Harpootlian said he didn’t know the phrase had that connotation.

Anyway, now I read in the Southern Political Report that this isn’t the first time Harpootlian has pulled this stunt with Graham. So reads the March 12th issue of the Report

At a Democratic luncheon last year, Harpootlian said, “Congressman Lindsey Graham criticized President Clinton for ‘having sex with a woman in the Oval office.’ Now, I don’t know about you but I can’t tell what part he objected to — having sex with a young woman or having sex in the Oval office?”

Southern politics. Gotta love it.

Since leaving the Clinton administration Gene Sperling’s new full-time job seems to be whacking the Bush White House with Op-Eds in major national dailies. But, hey, more power to him!

This one today in the New York Times is right on point in thrashing the president’s irresponsible evasion on Social Security. The insight of this very original argument is to point out that no matter where you are on the Social Security reform question (progressive, traditionalist, privatizer, etc.) you still can’t support the Bush budget plan.

Why?

Simple. Every honest approach to the Social Security reform issue will require substantial infusions of general revenue funds (i.e., money beside that which we get from payroll taxes) to make reform work.

Since the Bush tax cut bill more or less wipes out the surpluses with tax cuts (as Bush himself proudly proclaims) there’s simply nothing left for reform.

Okay, I’ve had a number of questions about this. So let me address it once and for all here on the site.

A week ago Monday I resigned my post as Washington Editor of the American Prospect. So now (or at least as of March 30th) I am officially a freelance writer.

What, you may ask, is a freelance writer?

Well it’s something between being an independent, top-of-your-game, call-your-own-shots writer who answers to no one and being unemployed. All depends on how many assignments you manage to get. I’m planning on the former option but we’ll see how it goes. For me it was a big step, but I think the right one.

And why did you quit your job exactly? Well, long story. But we can get to that later.

P.S. So are you psyched or bummed? Very psyched.

P.P.S. Enough personal revelation. Now back to the Talking Points persona!

Ahhhh … There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a nice, bracing glass of arsenic in the morning, no?

Don’t worry. Talking Points isn’t thinking of ending it all. Just trying to put the best spin possible on the Bush administration’s just-announced decision to scrap Clinton administration rules limiting the permissible amount of arsenic in drinking water.

Are you noticing a pattern here?

The president wants to gun up support for a mammoth tax cut which apparently has, at best, broad but tepid support. But he can’t make the case for it on practical or ideological grounds. So he starts talking up a dire economic slowdown to justify the tax cut.

If we don’t get the tax cut … Ohhhh is it gonna be bad!

Then he wants to overturn CO2 emissions guidelines, drill for oil in Alaska, and basically have government of, by and for fossil fuel producers. But his proposals aren’t very popular. So he and his minions start bellowing about the “energy crisis now sweeping the nation” — the worst since the 1970s according Energy Secretary Spence Abraham.

You noticing a pattern here?

There clearly is an energy crisis in California — though one of a quite specific nature. And high fuel prices are a threat to the economy and consumer pocketbooks nationwide.

But are we really in a national energy crisis? The worst since the early 1970s? Are you old enough to remember those gas lines? (Talking Points was just a little guy back then. But he remembers.) Isn’t this a vast — almost comical — overstatement?

You noticing a pattern here?

Is there any alarm bell this administration won’t sound in order to get its unpopular policies enacted?

Think about it.

CNN has been going off at the mouth about it’s ‘exclusive’ photos of the now-semi -destroyed Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan (seen below).

But the Talking Points investigative staff has unearthed its own exclusive photos of one of the Bamiyan Buddhas. And in ours the statue looks pretty much intact.

And pretty good picture quality too, eh?

Bob Torricelli, the senior Senator from New Jersey, is now frequently getting named in press stories as the Democrat most likely to go along with Bush’s tax cut proposal. (Of course, Zell Miller has already signed on entirely. But he’s now in another category altogether.) The question is, why?

Yes, Torch is up for reelection in two years. But he’s from New Jersey, i.e., deep in Gore country. What’s more, he really has no obvious competition for the job.

So for him, there’s no obvious skin-saving calculus at work, like there is for Mary Landrieu or Max Baucus.

So, again, why?

I’d say there’re are a few factors at work here. Torricelli is a centrist and a tax-cutting type. He was on this game in the final session of the last congress. (You’ll remember he’s also come up with what must be the most bogus and foolhardy trigger proposal there is out there.) He’s very much a money Democrat — a big fund-raiser, in the more grievous sense of the phrase. And he wants to hold on to that ‘centrist’ credential — even though most of the Dems with unimpeachable centrist credentials have no difficulty saying they think the Bush plan is a disaster.

But I suspect the biggest factor is that Torricelli wants to be a player. Simple as that.

Here’s the question, though. If I were Torricelli, and I had federal prosecutors breathing down my neck for all sorts of fund-raising shenanigans, I’m not sure I’d be going out of my way to stick my finger in my party’s eye. Doesn’t he need all the friends he can get?

Obviously, warm feelings from Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy aren’t going to keep the Feds from indicting Torricelli. But when you’re in the soup you need all the friends you can get — especially if you want to weather an indictment, get acquitted, and come back politically.

It’s common knowledge that Torricelli doesn’t have many friends in the Senate. Actually, let’s restate that. It’s common knowledge that Torricelli doesn’t really have any friends in the Senate. His fund-raising prowess made him immune from almost any sort of criticism from his colleagues. But no friends really. And this is especially so, considering he’s no longer head of the DSCC — the Senate Dems campaign and fund-raising arm.

Could Torch be cozying up to Bush because he now controls the Justice department? Maybe. But I’ve never bought into this kind of reasoning. Didn’t believe it during the last administration, and don’t believe it now. And if that’s his angle, that’s just foolish.

If I were him I’d be sticking with my friends.

Think about it, Bob.

And now for something totally different. We haven’t gotten much into the subject of guns at TPM – a subject that I’m very into.

My interest isn’t so much along the standard gun control politics lines. I’m more interested in way the debate is structured in contemporary American politics. Particularly, the way conservatives push a return to traditional values as the antidote to gun violence while these conservatives themselves come from the parts of the country with the highest murder rates. Where? Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina. Places like that.

Anyway, last year a history professor named Michael Bellesiles wrote a book about America’s gun culture in which he made the argument that the American obsession with guns really only goes back to the mid-19th century. The myth of a Colonial and Revolutionary America chock full of guns is just that – a myth. Anyway, that was his argument.

The book received generally good reviews within academia and often savage reviews outside academia.

Now today I picked up the February issue of Brill’s Content in which Michael Korda did what amounts to a review of the reviews of the Bellesiles book. Korda’s argument is basically this:

Elite editors and book reviews and media types have confirmed anti-firearm views. And thus they gave the Bellesiles book warmly positive reviews even though the book could be shown, and was shown, to be misleading and based on poor scholarship. The article is a morality tale about East Coast elitists who are biased against the gun culture of the country’s heartland. And so they got suckered in by Bellesiles book.

Now Brill’s is a magazine about media criticism – and thus about fact-checking, and making sure your authors know what they’re talking about, in addition to much more weighty issues of bias, credibility, professional integrity and so forth.

Anyway, Korda was allowed to write this article even though he obviously had no idea what he was talking about. I’m not just saying I disagree with him. He says things that show he simply has no idea what he’s talking about.

Let me give you an example.

Much of Bellesiles research is based upon a review of probate inventories from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These are the catalogs of what a person owned at death, taken for probate purposes. Bellesiles found that very few people actually had guns in their inventories.

Follow me so far?

For Korda, this is a key example of Bellesiles bogus research methods. “But this seems to me a dubious method,” writes Korda, “since in the 18th century it seems unlikely that Massachusetts or any other state would have tried to inventory the ownership of privately owned weapons, as opposed to those owned by or on loan to members of the militia…”

Really? It’s seem like a dubious method to Korda? Really? It so happens that I’ve read literally hundreds of probate inventories from 17th and 18th century New England. And, yes, they do routinely list weapons and other pieces of property far more menial and of far less value.

This method may have seemed like a dubious method to Korda. But that’s because he’s clearly never looked at the documents in question.

Now I know this is all getting a bit technical. But why did Brill’s let Korda write something that’s transparently ridiculous on its face to anyone who has the vaguest understanding of the topic? And why do authors with pro-gun views get such leeway to talk about things they obviously know so little about?

The new twist in the campaign finance reform battle is Senator Chuck Hagel’s decision to introduce a watered-down “compromise” bill, which the president has signaled his willingness to sign.

What’s interesting here is that Chuck Hagel is a good friend of John McCain’s. He’s at least been a supporter of campaign finance reform. He supported McCain’s presidential bid last year. And he’s one of only two or possibly three others in the Senate who might be considered a McCain bloc. So why is he — or why does he at least seem to be — cutting McCain off at the knees?

Now that’s rich. As you know, the closest thing Talking Points has to a recurring feature is when he takes some particularly boneheadian post on Andrewsullivan.com and makes fun of it on TPM.

(Does that mean TPM is a weblog parasite? Sort of, I guess. On the other hand, I gave Sullivan one of the ideas that appeared in this article. So, hey, I do my part! — Lunch with Talking Points for the first person who can identify which part of the piece it is — Got the email to prove it? You bet.)

Anyway, today on his site Sullivan picks up on a piece in the Post about how the top 400 taxpayers pay as much income tax as the bottom 40 million taxpayers.

“Interesting piece today in the Washington Post, pointing out that the richest 400 tax payers pay as much to the feds as the poorest 40 million in taxes,” he says.

The first point here is that Sullivan either misstates or misunderstands the actual case. What the Post is talking about is income tax, not all taxes. And as every good Talking Point reader knows, the poorest Americans often pay no income tax but a relatively high rate of payroll taxes. Only the top quarter of tax payers pay more income taxes than payroll taxes.

So apparently Sullivan is with George W. Bush in not considering payroll taxes to be “real” taxes. Just thinking over the statistics I wouldn’t be surprised if the bottom 40 million pay much more in payroll taxes than the top 400 do in income taxes – since every one of those 40 million pays 15 percent of earnings in payroll taxes. But that may be wrong since a few of the very top payers pay insanely high amounts. Anyway, I’ll leave that to someone who knows how to add.

But here’s the real kicker. For Sullivan, the tragedy of this statistic is how rough it is for the insanely wealthy in today’s “lopsided” economy. For most Americans the increasing level of wealth inequality (as opposed to income inequality) is a fairness issue for working Americans who hold a declining relative share of the nation’s wealth. For Sullivan, it’s a fairness issue for plutocrats.

The more the “dependent” classes can squeeze the lords and high gentry for social services, the more irresponsible they’ll become!

“If we have one-person-one-vote and you can always vote for higher taxes and spending, knowing you won’t ever have to pay for it,” says Sullivan, “why not do so?”

And you wonder why they call them Tories.

Here’s another instance of Dick Armey’s egregious lying — straight from the Talking Points oppo research department.

As described on this web page (and more exhaustively in a February 21st, 1995 article in the Washington Post) Armey used to pepper his speeches with a cloying tale a mildly retarded university janitor who lost his job and got tossed onto food stamps because those heartless congressional Democrats went and raised the minimum wage.

Turns out there never was a Charlie. Armey made the whole thing up. As James Carville said a couple years later, “if a man is willing to lie about a retarded janitor, what would he tell the truth about?”

P.S. Special thanks to the member of the TPM oppo research department that clued me in to this gem.

— Josh Marshall


(March 15th, 2001 — 12:09 AM // link)


Shouldn’t President Bush be held to account for spreading uncertainty and even panic about the economy?

I’m not saying he’s responsible for what’s happening. There have been numerous concrete factors leading to this downturn — energy prices, trillions pulled out of the economy by the burst stock market bubble, ill-considered interest rate hikes last year.

But there’s almost no way to figure that the president’s promiscuous pessimism hasn’t further depressed the quickly dropping rate of consumer confidence. (This column by Paul Krugman gives a good run-down of the delicate competition of forces now operating in the economy — and, implicitly, how susceptible the economy may be to small influences, even to the president’s jaw-boning.) Bush’s influence may be a major cause of the problem or a minor one — we can’t really know. What’s significant, though, is that he’s making the situation worse in order to fulfill the short-term political goal of generating support for his tax cut.

Presidents’ soothing words in times of economic difficulty may not have much effect. But when a president throws gas on the fire he takes on a certain responsibility for everything that happens afterward because he was part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. And we can’t really know how far his malign influence has spread.

The fact that we can’t know how much damage his recklessness has caused doesn’t obsolve him, it implicates him.

Doesn’t this self-serving recklessness suggest a character flaw, a lack of seriousness, some failure of judgement?

Hmmmmm … Doesn’t seem like there’ve been too many posts recently on Talking Points, have there? Some big changes are coming to TPM. Stayed tuned.

Hmmmmm … Doesn’t seem like there’ve been too many posts recently on Talking Points, have there? Some big changes are coming to TPM. Stayed tuned.

A number of readers have written in to ask whether I knew of another place on the web where they could find Paul Krugman’s article on Dick Armey’s book about wealth inequality which I linked in this earlier post.

(Phew! sort of an ungainly sentence, wasn’t it?)

Regrettably the answer is ‘no’. But apparently it’s contained in his book The Accidental Theorist. So if you’re really interested, pick it up in a book store. Or if you’re only kinda interested, keep trying the link and it’ll probably come up eventually.

Democrats are making a lot of the 1981 Reagan tax cut as a cautionary tale — leading as it did to a generation of budgetary red ink.

But isn’t there an even better example more close at hand? A few years back Governor George W. Bush passed a hefty tax cut in Texas.

(No doubt Bush was into the bill on its own merits. But passing the bill was a key part of proving his tax-cutting, conservative bona-fides going into the 2000 Republican presidential primaries. So we can call it the Rove-Bush bill.)

In order to push through this whopper cut they low-balled estimates for future spending requirements, relied on fanciful budgeting projections, and assumed continued swollen tax receipts from a roaring economy.

And now, you guessed it, the chicken has come home to roost. According to this helpful article in Time the state faces a potential budget shortfall of some $700 million dollars. The Texas state constitution bars deficit spending. So state budgeteers are going to have to cut spending on all sorts of programs for road construction, health care, education. Or even conceivably raise taxes. (But don’t bet on that.)

Any of this sound familiar? Doesn’t the comparison seem really on point? And, if so, why aren’t DC Dems talking about it more?

So I guess the Bush strategy is to do the best they can getting a bill out of the Senate – whatever compromises Bush needs to make to get 51 votes. Then the repubs will take the bill into conference and rewrite it like they want. And then they’ll bring it back and figure that pretty few of those Republican Senate moderates have the guts to vote against Bush’s bill when it comes to an up or down vote. This is what I hear from a very astute conservative in DC. It could work.

Wow, the Talking Points oppo research department is just churning out examples of Dick Armey’s public policy dishonesty.

Here’s a great column by Paul Krugman in which he neatly unpacks and explains numerous instances of intentional distortion and simple, out-right lying in a book Armey published a few years back. And as Krugman points out, Armey has a Ph.D. in economics. So Armey isn’t just the average congressional rube who may not even know that what he’s saying isn’t true.

Democrats certainly must realize that they need to be careful how far they get into this debate over ‘triggers.’ The substance of the Democratic argument is that even if the rosy budget predictions prove true, the Bush plan still doesn’t leave sufficient funds for important domestic priorities like a prescription drug benefit; and too much of the cuts go to the very wealthy. The fact that the plan will throw us back into deficits if the predictions don’t pan out is just icing on the politico-economic cake.

But as long as ‘triggers’ are the subject du’ jour, let’s look at some of the lamer ideas being tossed around.

Senator Bob Torricelli is hawking a trigger that the president can waive. As this article by Bob Novack explains, Torricelli would have a trigger kick in if the surplus numbers don’t pan out. But the president could waive the trigger (sort of uncock it, I guess) if he made a ‘finding of fact’ that holding off on the tax cuts would not be in the best interests of the economic health of the country.

Now let’s just start with the most obvious reasons this is boneheaded idea.

If you’re a Dem you’ve got to wonder why Torricelli feels the need to cover Bush’s rear when even Republican moderates aren’t wild about the size of Bush’s tax bill.

More importantly, can anyone really imagine any situation in which George W. would not make ‘a finding of fact’ that postponing tax cuts would not be in the best interests of the country.

But forget about George W. Bush. Given the loaded phrasing of the waiver language and the vagueness of the standard, this wouldn’t be a ‘finding of fact.’ More like a finding of ideology. What it really means is that in the latter years of this decade the president would make fiscal policy by executive order.

It’s really hard to think of a stupider idea. If you can think of one, send it here.

(And as far as Torch is concerned, doesn’t he worry that if he keeps sticking his finger in his party’s eye, they may decide to stop carrying water for him on all those indictments hanging over his head … Just a thought.)

Now let’s go to the second anti-trigger argument making the rounds. Republicans have responded to calls for a tax-cut trigger with their own calls for a spending-cut trigger. If the surpluses don’t come in, cut spending, not taxes, they say. This of course is because spending is out of control, government’s the problem not the solution … yada, yada, yada.

But wait a second. George W. is president now! Legitimate or not, he is president. We’re having this whole debate on the basis of his numbers. His budget projections, his tax cut, his projected spending — the whole kit-and-caboodle, as my Dad would say.

So Bush can’t pretend that we’re talking about some hypothetical, future Barney Frank-Maxine Waters budget bill. You can barely make the numbers to work with Bush’s pinched budget. And this raises the obvious question: which spending that Bush has called for does he think should be cut if the surpluses don’t pan out. The new education spending, the promised new spending on the military, NIH funding? What?

Bush’s opponents say he puts his tax cut before domestic priorities his budget doesn’t fund – a prescription drug benefit, new education spending. But that’s only the half of it. It turns out that Bush even puts his tax cut before domestic priorities he does fund.

In any case, the tax cuts are spelled out, so none of this everything-in-general ‘cut spending’ line. Let’s get it on the table, which of Bush’s own spending priorities don’t matter enough to get in the way of his tax cut.

Can we talk? As you know, we like to keep a civil tone here in the Talking Points newsroom. But, hey, let’s be honest: it’s just hard to overstate how profoundly dishonest a person House Majority Leader Dick Armey really is.

Armey is the poster boy for a particularly troublesome Washington phenomenon: because of the canons of journalistic objectivity, it is generally okay to lie brazenly as long as it’s about public policy. (If it’s about your personal life, watch out!)

Why is this so? In general, because every story is supposed to have two sides to it. And journalists are very hesitant to say so when one side’s argument is true and the other’s is simply false. In any case, Dick Armey is a big beneficiary of this rule.

This afternoon he was on CNN lying about the Democrats’ alternative tax plan, and roughing up and/or getting fresh with the truth on a half a dozen other counts as well. (Here’s the transcript.) Maybe it’s time to start spreading the word about just how wretched Mr. Armey’s politics really are. You know, thing like being against Medicare. Stuff like that. Let’s crank up the Talking Points oppo research machinery.

(Normally I don’t like using words like ‘lying’ and ‘dishonest.’ I like to leave words like those to anti-Clinton scum. But for Armey I’ll make an exception.)

And, oh yeah, while we’re at it, this new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities exposes why the Treasury Department’s analysis of the Bush tax bill sounds so good. They changed the scoring methodology, cooked the books, pick your metaphor. Go take a peek.

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.