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.

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.

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 passing on 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.

We’ll say more momentarily about the rest of the president’s speech.

But what was the deal with Justice Stephen Breyer being the only member of the Supreme Court to show up for the speech? They had conflicting engagements? They didn’t hear about it in time? They didn’t know they were invited?

Please. Something weird was going on there. I can’t do any more than speculate. And I’m not saying there was anything sinister. But could it somehow be related to the on-going in-house rancor over Bush v. Gore?

And as long as we’re discussing the Supreme Court and Bush v. Gore, here’s something else worth noting.

You may have heard that Justice Scalia recently gave a speech at Princeton University in which he set forth his constitutional jurisprudence and charged that those who embrace the idea of a living constitution were “impoverishing democracy.”

What got less attention were Scalia’s near-comic attempts to bar almost any form of public scrutiny of his presentation. Scalia gave his speech at a conference about James Madison; and the conference was televised by C-SPAN. But when Scalia was presented with the standard release form given to all speakers who speak at the University, he refused to give permission for his remarks to be broadcast. So when it came time for Scalia to speak, the C-Span folks had to pack up and head out.

In fact, Scalia refused even to give permission for his speech to be broadcast on the University’s internal video feed, apparently because there was some chance the speech could then be picked up by local cable companies for public access viewing.

And even this wasn’t enough. Scalia also stipulated that during the question and answer session after his talk he would only entertain questions about his speech — nothing else (i.e., nothing about that whole recent unpleasantness down in Florida.)

Now when I called the Supreme Court Public Affairs Office, spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg told me that these sorts of restrictions amounted to Scalia’s standard policy. “It’s not unusual for a justice to do,” Arberg told me, “and it’s something he’s done in the past.”

Perhaps so. But ‘democracy’ and civil liberties should start at home, no?

And anyway, Clarence Thomas may be a self-pitying blowhard when he hits the speaking circuit. But at least he’s not afraid of the cameras.

As we’ve discussed earlier, McCain may end up playing a very important role in the tax cut debate — something that has as yet not gotten much attention. Tonight he’s beginning to tip his hand.

On CNN this evening, using roundabout language, he signaled his problems with the Bush plan and added an important detail. He said that the issue for him was less the size of the Bush tax cut than whom it went to. That’s striking, because if anything questioning the progressivity of the cut is the more leftish ground from which to oppose the cut.

And that has lotsa implications for the coming months.

Some sentences perfectly capture why their creators are masters of their craft. Here’s an example …

Bill Clinton has had exactly one good day since he became a full-time New Yorker, and even that one good day required a fiasco to set it up.

Peerless.

That’s the first line of Rick Hertzberg’s quick take on the pardon story in the new issue of the New Yorker – a few parts of which are now actually on line. This isn’t an exculpating run-down of the affair. But it’s human and realistic and mordant and punishing – more or less in the right amounts.

I nominate it as one of the best three pieces written yet on the topic – along with this piece by Jacob Weisberg and this one by Jonathan Rauch (which I want to discuss more in a future post).

Weisberg’s piece is the best on motive and foible. Rauch’s touches on the boundless overstatement of the critics and, more importantly, explains what the pardon power actually is – something most people in this debate seem unable to grasp.

Hertzberg’s piece covers a different question – the Clinton question – the question every real admirer of this guy (a group in which I very much count myself) has many times pondered. That is, why and how Clinton turns the Superman comic book metaphor on its head. How this empathetic, brilliant, supremely- politically-gifted, well-meaning man now and again ducks off into a telephone booth, wrestles off his tie, rips off his workaday suit, and pops back out again … a moron.

There’s simply no other way to put it. This isn’t a matter of trashing the former president. I’m as happy today as I ever have been to defend him against his critics who would puff up his screw-ups into criminality or treason.

But what makes this imperfection so interesting and trying and intractable is that Clinton’s lapses are cut from the same cloth as his greatness — looked at closely one is, unfortunately, hard to imagine without the other.

In the end, however, he often ends up looking better than his graceless accusers whose venality and malice and witlessness is planned, protracted and considered, whereas his offenses are more often merely impulsive, abrupt and foolish.

Not the way the cheap, one-trick-pony moralizers would put it. But, hey, this ain’t their site.

That’s my story — and I’m stickin’ with it.

Here’s a very disappointing column by Bob Herbert on the Times OpEd page. Count on it being embraced by Clinton-haters and the more feeble-minded run of Democrats.

Bill Clinton may have damaged himself on the way out of office – I’ll leave that question aside for the moment. But it’s simply pitiful to see Herbert saying things like this:

He was president for eight years and the bottom line politically is this: For the first time in nearly half a century, the Republican Party controls the presidency and both houses of Congress. Bill Clinton has been a disaster for the Democratic Party. Send him packing.

Fulmination, purism and hypocrisy. The familiar talk of souls sold. All sound and fury.

If Democrats can’t grasp the truly pitiful state they were in in the eighties and early nineties they really are up the creek without a paddle. Say what you will about Clinton’s sometimes poor judgement. But he did no end of good for the Democratic party. If the people who don’t grasp this get back at the helm, well … then Democrats really are in trouble.

More on this topic later.

Okay, let’s be honest. If your bit is defending Bill Clinton this ain’t been the best week. Or two. Or three. Well maybe three weeks ago was good because then we were still talking about the prank story which turned out to be completely bogus. But let’s not lose our train of thought. If your bit is defending Bill Clinton it’s been rough going.

But this is also supposed to have been rotten for Democrats because it’s kept them from making their case against the Bush agenda and given Bush a free reign on the tax cut front. They’re on their heels. On their backs. Etc. Pick your metaphor.

But is this true? Hardly.

While Bill Clinton has been on the ropes, the outlook for the Bush tax plan has grown steadily worse. Recent opinion polls have shown not so much strong opposition to Bush’s proposal as a persistent lack of enthusiasm for the touchstone of Bush’s agenda. More Republicans are coming out against Bush’s current plan. And – as yet – no Democrats have followed Zell Miller’s impetuous and now obviously embarrassing move in supporting the Bush plan.

So the pardon stuff may be a big embarrassment for Bill Clinton but it’s not clear to me that it’s been so bad for the Dems.

And there’s more. So far the tax cut has been on the table with only the goodies. Now Bush has to lay out his whole budget – with it’s budget cuts, it’s lack of funds for Medicare and Social Security or debt pay down. In other words, the road doesn’t get easier from here, it gets harder.

P.S. Next up … What’s the Dems’ endgame for the tax cut debate? Don’t know? Don’t worry. Neither do they.

Damn! Oh the frustration! Sometimes I just feel like our new president cares about tax cuts a hundred times more than he cares about the important priorities which matter to most Americans.

Hyperbole? Well, not exactly. On Wednesday the Washington Post reported that Bush is calling for an increase of “$1.6 billion, in spending on elementary and secondary education.”

$1.6 billion per year more in education for the kids and $1.6 trillion over ten years in tax cuts. Hmmmm … Guess Karl Rove must have taken the day off the day they came up with that line item.

P.S. Why do I have to spoon feed this stuff to the Dems? Come on, guys!

Alright. Let’s be honest with ourselves about the real question in the evolving Hugh Rodham pardon flap, the real journalistic contest afoot.

Don’t play dumb with me! You know what it is: the contest to see which news organization can come up with the most unsightly picture of Hugh Rodham. I was going with this beaut from MSNBC with Hugh on the golf course with a cigar. But they took it down so now we’re on to this one. But it’s not over yet. Entries are still pouring in!

Brouhahas like the Marc Rich pardon often become so lavish and baroque that they generate sub-brouhahas that innocent and well-meaning opinion journalists like Talking Points get sucked into.

I’m now in a tete-a-tete with Mickey Kaus over just such a sub-brouhaha about Bill Clinton’s NYT Op-Ed piece in which the former President wrote “the case for the pardons was reviewed and advocated not only by my former White House counsel Jack Quinn but also by three distinguished Republican attorneys.”

The lawyers in question jumped up to deny Clinton’s statement and my friend Mickey, with an assist from the New York Times, accused Clinton of an “astonishing lie.” Then I jumped into the fray and whacked Mickey and now Mickey has made his second jump into the fray and whacked me back, charging among other things, that what I said just doesn’t hold up and that, in any case, I never got around to talking about two of the lawyers in question – something I’d promised to do.

I don’t want to rehearse the whole episode again. So if you’re interested you can see what I wrote here and what he wrote here.

So what’s my defense? Honestly, I think Mickey is talking around what I said. If you read my original post I think it’s rather clear that I left the door open to the possibility that the president’s statement may have been in error. (“We’ll talk later about the accuracy of the former president’s statement. But can repeating an undisputed statement in the public record be an ‘astonishing lie’?”)

My point from the start was that Mickey and others had committed what the clinicians refer to as a CACOS (Classic Anti-Clinton Over-Statement).

Since the beginning of the Marc Rich pardon saga it’s been widely believed and discussed that Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Lewis Libby was an attorney for Rich in the pardon matter until he started working in the White House. With a simple Nexis search I found two clear references to this and another in a copy of the New Yorker which I found in a slightly mangled state under my nightstand.

In his post, Mickey picks apart the New Yorker reference and says it’s not as clear as I said it was. But Mickey ignores the other reference I found which is far more clear and direct. That would be when Tom Brokaw said “Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, also once represented Rich and also tried to arrange a pardon for him during that time.”

Now perhaps Brokaw got it wrong (though I think he got it exactly right.) But let’s go back to what I said. The question here is what’s an error and what’s an “astonishing lie.” Repeating what everyone else also thinks to be true may involve you in a misstatement; and it may be sloppy or unwise. But to call it an “astonishing lie” seems ridiculous to me.

Now Mickey also points out that Clinton said this was one of the reasons for giving the pardon. And he did that before Tom Brokaw said anything. So maybe this is another lie. He’s saying that it was a reason for the pardon as opposed to an after-the-fact justification?

But let’s look at the facts. Lewis Libby was an attorney of record for Marc Rich in his efforts to get a pardon and remained so until just recently when he entered government service. If Libby is a remotely competent lawyer I assume he reviewed the pardon application and if he’s an ethical one I assume he advocated his client’s position. Libby’s defense seems to be that he did not personally put in a call to Bill Clinton to push for the pardon. But this sounds a bit like what the anti-Clinton folks call ‘parsing’, doesn’t it?

(In short, with regards to Libby, I think there’s far more truth in Clinton’s statment than Libby’s response. And I’m quite comfortable diagnosing Kaus’s original post as a CACOS.)

Now, let’s go to the stronger part of Mickey’s argument: that I never got around to discussing the other two lawyers, Brad Reynolds and Len Garment – which I had promised to do way back when in what now apparently counts as the Pleistocene Age back on February 18th.

This isn’t a bad point. I have let four days go by without following up. And from what I know Reynolds and Garment are in a different category from Libby. Though both were intimately involved in constructing the arguments contained in Rich’s application for a pardon, neither, it seems, has recently been in Rich’s employee. So the accurate statement would have been “these two prominent Republican attorneys devised the argument that convinced me to pardon this scofflaw Marc Rich.” Did Jack Quinn tell Clinton they’d been involved more recently? I don’t know. (And if I did, I couldn’t say anyway.)

Again, some statements are wrong, some are misstatements, some are “astonishing lies.” I feel pretty comfortable in how I originally categorized this one, though I’ll let you be the judge.

But let’s not move off this matter quite so quickly. Len Garment has at least been a pretty stand-up guy about this. He says he didn’t have anything to do with the current lobbying for a pardon. But he thinks it was the right thing to do. But what about these other Republican lawyers running for the hills, saying they never heard of this guy Marc Rich? I think Lewis Libby obviously used Ari Fleischer to lie for him. And Brad Reynolds? Well, he’s just getting an easy pass from his buds in the press. Big surprise.

P.S. Oh, sorry. I forget to recite the pro-Clinton anti-Marc Rich oath …. I, Josh Marshall, disagree with the Marc Rich pardon but …

P.P.S. So what’s deal with Kaus? A good guy? A friend? Totally.

P.P.P.S. Is this just a case when you’re being diplomatic on the web because you don’t want to make an enemy? No, No way. He rocks and he’s been very good to me. A veritable Yoda to my Skywalker.

Hey, look! Mickey Kaus is taking me on for my earlier whack at him over the Bill Clinton New York Times Op-Ed sub-brouhaha to the Marc Rich pardon brouhaha.

P.S. So are you going to respond? Definitely. But it’s late so it’ll have to wait till tomorrow.

P.P.S. Hey, this is important! Why can’t you give us your response now? Dude! It’s 2:30 in the morning! Gimme a break!

Hey! Wait a second! Does Talking Points have to connect all the dots here? Remember that laptop that went missing from the State Department last year?

Maybe Hanssen snagged it!!!

According to this article just posted on MSNBC: “From February 1995 until January, Hanssen was the FBI’s senior representative to the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions, where he oversaw an interagency counterintelligence group.”

So maybe the problem wasn’t Madeleine Albright running a loosey-goosey, slipshod operation. Maybe it was Louis Freeh sending a spy over to help ‘oversee’ State Department intelligence. Louis, good goin’, dude!!!

P.S. Could Hanssen have been connected to that Russian diplomat who got caught working on an eavesdropping device outside State Department headquarters back in ’99? Sure. Why not. Put that on the list too.

P.P.S. Do you have any reason to believe, or does it even make sense, that Hanssen could have been involved in either one of these incidents? No idea. But, hey, we’re talkin’ about Louis Freeh here so we can use his rulebook, no? Let’s wait and see what Walter Pincus and Vernon Loeb come up with.

Robert Philip Hanssen seems so obviously guilty that the only mystery remaining now in this espionage case is who Louis Freeh will find to pin the blame on and how he’ll do it.

Washington is filled with people who have mastered the art of ‘failing up.’ But no one has mastered this art quite as well as Louis Freeh.

As the master profilographer David Plotz explained last Fall, what’s most fascinating about Freeh is not that his agency has managed to blow many of the high profile cases it’s been involved in over recent years (Waco, Richard Jewel, Wen Ho Lee, etc.). The real intrigue is that he’s managed to pass almost all of it off as someone else’s fault. Who takes the fall for this screw up? Janet Reno? Bill Clinton? Denise Rich? Bernie Sanders? Who? Think fast! Who?

Top Ten Reasons why Hugh Rodham (Hillary’s brother) getting $200,000 (now returned) to lobby in favor of pardons and commutations for convicted drug trafficker Carlos Vignali and herbal supplement king Almon Glenn Braswell ain’t as bad as it looks.

5. Hugh Rodham won’t need those secret payments from Marc Rich anymore.

4. Gives Jack Quinn someone to look down on.

3. Even drug traffickers need a break sometimes.

2. Makes clear Bill ain’t the only one with a loser brother.

1. Gets that whole Marc Rich thing outta the headlines.

P.S. Hey, you said Top Ten! What happened to 10 through 6? Hey, it’s *&#$%&@ free site. Gimme a break!


P.P.S. So Talking Points, are you still a big fan of Bill Clinton’s. Yeah, no doubt. But this one’s at least good for a laugh, isn’t it? And sometimes, hell, if you can’t beat ’em join ’em.

P.P.P.S. Is your face a deeper shade of red right now then it normally is? Absolutely.

Hey! Wait a second! Does Talking Points have to connect all the dots here? Remember that laptop that went missing from the State Department last year?

Maybe Hanssen snagged it!!!

According to this article just posted on MSNBC: “From February 1995 until January, Hanssen was the FBI’s senior representative to the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions, where he oversaw an interagency counterintelligence group.”

So maybe the problem wasn’t Madeleine Albright running a loosey-goosey, slipshod operation. Maybe it was Louis Freeh sending a spy over to help ‘oversee’ State Department intelligence. Louis, good goin’, dude!!!

P.S. Could Hanssen have been connected to that Russian diplomat who got caught working on an eavesdropping device outside State Department headquarters back in ’99? Sure. Why not. Put that on the list too.

P.P.S. Do you have any reason to believe, or does it even make sense, that Hanssen could have been involved in either one of these incidents? No idea. But, hey, we’re talkin’ about Louis Freeh here so we can use his rulebook, no? Let’s wait and see what Walter Pincus and Vernon Loeb come up with.

Robert Philip Hanssen seems so obviously guilty that the only mystery remaining now in this espionage case is who Louis Freeh will find to pin the blame on and how he’ll do it.

Washington is filled with people who have mastered the art of ‘failing up.’ But no one has mastered this art quite as well as Louis Freeh.

As the master profilographer David Plotz explained last Fall, what’s most fascinating about Freeh is not that his agency has managed to blow many of the high profile cases it’s been involved in over recent years (Waco, Richard Jewel, Wen Ho Lee, etc.). The real intrigue is that he’s managed to pass almost all of it off as someone else’s fault. Who takes the fall for this screw up? Janet Reno? Bill Clinton? Denise Rich? Bernie Sanders? Who? Think fast! Who?

Hmmmmm … Looks like still more confirmation of the Talking Points doctrine on the quickly diminishing prospects of the Bush tax cut bill. And now it’s coming from the New York Times editorial page. It must be true.

The question now is whether anything has really changed at all or whether people just got spun by a good bluff from the Bush communications office. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Think back to last November when Karl Rove had his man spend precious time in sure-lose states like California and New Jersey on the eve of what promised to be a squeaker on November 7th.

As I wrote at the time:

Coming into the campaign’s final week, Karl Rove, George W.’s oily Svengali sold the governor’s campaign on a pet theory of his that went like this: Not having much of a mind of their own, late-deciding voters look to see who’s out front in the waning days of a campaign and cast their lots with the winner. Call it a bandwagon effect. The implication is clear: Act like the winner and you’ll become the winner, and maybe even a big winner. And that’s just what the Bush campaign did for the first week of November. Rove told the traveling press that the governor would win the popular vote by six or seven percentage points, and the electoral college even more comfortably. Bush coasted in and out of states like California and New Jersey, which he hadn’t a prayer of winning, and kept a planeload of canny political reporters squinting their eyes and wondering whether Bush’s chief strategists were magicians or morons.

They turned out not to be magicians, of course. Bush didn’t win big. In fact, he didn’t win at all, at least not if you’re figuring the popular vote. Rove’s bandwagon theory turned out to be just what it looked like: a souped up version of an old-fashioned confidence game. Only the Bush folks had conned themselves.

Something very similar happened after the election when Bush hung out in Austin for the first few days of the Florida stand-off assuming people would just agree he was president-elect if he pretended like he was.

This is the emerging MO.

Dana Milbank is such a good political reporter. Since when does he write pieces as sycophantic as this one about White House CoS Andy Card?