Editor’s Blog

They say Peace Peace

“They say, ‘Peace, Peace,’ but there is no peace.”

That’s Jeremiah 6:14, for all you secular-humanist-non-Torah / Bible-reading TPM readers. But that verse came to Talking Points’ mind today when he was listening to a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) vainly trying to mouth some protest to the deeply wrong outcome of the November election.

Did you see Bob Filner there?

In case you’re wondering, Filner (who Talking Points sorta knows) was the white guy who spontaneously popped up in the middle of the whole thing to offer his “solidarity” to his CBC colleagues. I guess the whole sixties liberal thing just got the better of him for a moment. But God bless ’em!

As the cynical alter-ego of a Washington journalist (who is himself pretty damn cynical), Talking Points doesn’t like to get mawkish and sentimental about public events. But he has to admit he was very moved by the goings-on on the House floor today. And he also felt quietly ashamed on behalf of the fifty Senate Democrats, not one of whom could bring themselves to sign on to force a brief debate on the legitimacy of Florida’s twenty-five Bush electors.

As a political matter, not letting any debate get started was almost certainly the right thing to do. But watching the whole thing unfold made it clear that sometimes – pretty infrequently in Talking Points’ opinion – but sometimes the politically wise thing just ain’t the right thing to do.

Okay, no more mawkishness and sentimentality! Back to the snarky, cynical stuff  …   I hear Paul Wellstone was the one Senator they almost flipped. I’ll see what I can find out about this and report back soon.

P.S. As I said in this earlier post, the big loser today was obvious. It was John Ashcroft.

Did you see the

Did you see the surreal fireworks today in the joint session of Congress? A dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and three other reps were repeatedly ruled out of order by Al Gore when they were trying to plead Gore’s case. So who was the big loser?

Easy. John Ashcroft. It wasn’t even close.

CBC members were clearly VERY angry that not one Democratic Senator agreed to join their protests. This anger runs deep and it’s rooted in deep, latent fissures in the Democratic party. That will put even more pressure on Senators to oppose Ashcroft’s nomination. A lot more pressure.

And rightly so!

Yesterday on TV Sen.

Yesterday on TV Sen. Russ Feingold went out of his way to construe Pres-elect Bush’s remarks about campaign finance reform (CFR) in the most optimistic light. Does Feingold know something the rest of us don’t? Might something be in the works?

Not likely. Talking Points has learned that there has been no communication between Sen. McCain and George W. Bush since the two spoke a few days after Thanksgiving. None. (Sources good? Very.) When they spoke back then McCain pressed the importance of making some arrangement for bringing CFR to a vote. But Bush has not been in touch.

If Bush has some strategy for making this something less than a humiliating stumble he’s keeping it pretty close to his vest.

So far George W.

So far George W. Bush has argued that his $1.6 trillion tax cut is desperately needed to make sure the cows come home. Of course, if they do come home then it’s even more important to pass the tax cut to keep them home. And if the cows do come home, but then stay home too long, then there’s no better way to get them to leave then to pass the tax cut, which should get them on their way.

Or something like that.

Call this Talking Points’ poetic attempt to make sense of George W. Bush’s multiple, moronic, and persistently contradictory explanations for why we need his $1.6 trillion tax cut.

So is Bush happy that the today’s new unemployment numbers (holding steady at 4%) point toward the likelihood of a soft and not a hard landing? And does this mean his tax cut is more or less necessary?

Lemme guess …

Good News for campaign

Good News for campaign finance reform!

Or at least that’s how the story is running today as Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, has agreed to become the sixtieth vote in favor of allowing a free debate and vote on McCain-Feingold. Hell, they’ve even decided to rename it McCain-Feingold-Cochran. (Really! No kidding.)

This is actually more interesting than it looks.

All politics may be local. But in congress it’s almost as often personal. And that clearly looks like what’s up here. Thad Cochran and his fellow Mississippi Senator Trent Lott have known each other for almost their whole lives. They were actually both cheerleaders at Ole Miss back in the fifties. (Nope, I kid you not) And they’ve been rivals – sometimes friendly, often quite unfriendly – for years.

At first Cochran seemed like the star of the duo. He made the jump to the Senate a decade before Lott. But since then things have changed dramatically. And they’ve most all gone Lott’s way. Lott made a name for himself in the House and then followed Cochran into the Senate in 1988. And Lott has been outpacing Cochran ever since.

When Bob Dole resigned from the Senate in 1996 Cochran and Lott ran against each for Majority Leader and, of course, Lott won.

Lott and Mitch McConnell have been stymieing McCain’s bill for years now and they especially don’t want it to come up now just after the inauguration in time to spoil the president’s honeyman. The whole thing has made McCain and Lott something very close to arch-enemies.

So Cochran’s decision to sign on as McCain’s sixtieth vote isn’t simply or even mainly about campaign finance. This isn’t Cochran’s campaign finance reform vote. It’s his Trent-I’ve-Always- Been-Better-Than-You -So-Go-Eat-#$&@ vote.

The Talking Points moronic

The Talking Points moronic overstatement of the week prize goes to none other than Chris Matthews from Wednesday night on Hardball …

First of all … the most impressive Cabinet appointment in the world right now is Colin Powell  …  Probably the most impressive Cabinet appointment since Jefferson or whatever, back in the early days of our republic.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Want some insight into

Want some insight into what Washingtonians mean when they use words like ‘shameless’ and ‘brazen’ and ‘disgusting’?

As you know, countless reporters continue to pore over the never-ending outrages of the various gifts the Clintons took with them when they left the White House last month. Brazen, tawdry, awful, shameless, yada, yada, yada …

Now let’s look at what doesn’t count.

For two years George W. Bush campaigned on promises of restoring the American military which, he argued, had dangerously deteriorated – in terms of morale, materiel, and readiness. He portrayed the military as overextended, under-funded, in desperate need of spare parts, unable to meet pressing needs. In his nomination speech he went so far as to (falsely) claim that two divisions of the army were currently unfit for duty because president Clinton had let things get so bad. In other words, the situation was critical and help was desperately needed.

Yesterday Bush decided he’ll stick with Bill Clinton’s defense budget after all. Instead he’ll institute a ‘review’ of what additional spending might be needed. (This essentially means that any substantial changes in military spending and readiness won’t occur until the third year of his administration.)

Needless to say the military brass is really unhappy about this. On the other hand The New York Times applauded Bush’s prudence in not rushing ahead with “any major increases in military spending until his administration has a chance to review America’s real defense needs.”

Depending on your views on the military, you may or may not be happy that Bush is not rushing ahead with increases in defense spending. But let’s be honest. This is hardly a moment of fiscal austerity. Republicans are talking about cutting literally thousands of billions of dollars in tax revenue over the next decade. There’s plenty of cash to go around. And with all the hand-wringing there must have been some needs that had to be fixed even before the top-down review, right?

(In this editorial, Robert Kagan, a principled though sometimes outlandish hawk, explains why this argument about the need for a ‘review’ is ridiculous on its face.)

So what does it all mean? All that talk about Bill Clinton leaving American soldiers at risk because of supply shortages, America in danger because of a weakened military, all those ominous campaign trail warnings from Norman Schwartzkopf … that was apparently just … well, just crap. This is not only a broken campaign promise but a particularly egregious one since scare tactics and lies about imperiled soldiers and the nation at risk play on the most primal and volatile public passions. It’s high-stakes manipulation and deception. You might even call this sort of lying and hypocrisy shameless, brazen, disgusting.

But here in DC? Apparently not.

P.S. A few Talking Points readers have reported early stages of withdrawal due to the recent infrequent rate of postings. Okay, okay, I’ll keep you hooked up. Hope this does the trick!

Bob Herberts Thursday column

Bob Herbert’s Thursday column in the New York Times is the best piece of writing yet to appear on the John Ashcroft nomination.

As someone who works

As someone who works for a liberal political magazine I’ve often caught grief for my support of the Clinton administration’s approach to monetary and fiscal policy. Today, though, those positive feelings about Bob Rubin et. al. only make me all the more worried about the wackiness that seems to be taking shape down in Austin, Texas.

For starters, Bush signaled on several fronts today that he plans to abandon Bill Clinton’s policy of not commenting on Fed policy and return to Bush, Sr.’s fairly disastrous policy of trying to jawbone the Fed into doing the administration’s bidding.

This is about more than sound bites. There’s an ethic about politics and fiscal and monetary policy which is implicit in this policy of silence.

It’s really not an exaggeration to say that everyone with a serious interest in economic matters thought Clinton’s move was a move in the right direction. Not only did Bush today himself “break” this rule. But his Press Secretary said it’s not a rule he intends to follow.

That’s for starters.

Then you have the increasingly reckless talk from the president-elect. The nation is in need of an “economic recovery.” The rate cut is good because it is a “strong statement that measures must be taken to make sure our economy does not go into a tailspin.”

A recovery? For the moment at least the economy is still growing. When asked about this, Bush responded: “I say ‘recovery’ because a lot of folks in this room [i.e., his mini-economic conference] have brought some pretty bad news.”

And, a tailspin? If one were inclined to be cheeky one might remind Bush, Jr. that this isn’t Reagan’s 1982 recession or his father’s 1990 recession. But cheekiness aside, is anyone talking about a “tailspin”?

It’s not too much to say that Presidents never use this kind of language. Never. It just doesn’t happen.

Bush said he believes the Fed’s rate cut is a signal to congress that they should pass his tax cut to further stimulate the economy. Actually, every analyst says that if there’s any signal it’s the opposite.

The Clintonites have complained volubly of late that the Bushies are trying to talk down the economy. And, admittedly, up until now there’s been a lot of spinning going on on both sides of this little rhetorical battle. But there’s something more going on in Bush’s comments. Something more than kicking the economy a bit for political advantage – which would be bad enough. There’s a recklessness at work here that transcends political calculation. An unseriousness about what the economy. Something juvenile.

Is it possible that the Bushies’ intuitive understanding of supply-side tax policy and fiscal stimulus doesn’t really compute outside the context of an economic downturn? Do they need a downturn? Are they stuck in a time-warp from the mid-seventies – when most of Bush’s economic hands cut their teeth?

I’m not sure whether this is the case or not. What I am increasingly sure of, however, is that these reckless statements are not simply rooted in political calculation.

In recent years Democrats have indulged the conceit that they were now the party of fiscal responsibility, in contrast to the Republicans, who had abandoned that mantle. Honestly, though, I didn’t know it had gotten this bad.

Next up, Bush’s wacky economic summit.

Admirers of Senator John

Admirers of Senator John McCain (and Talking Points has to admit he’s one of ’em) will be chagrined to learn that during McCain’s primary campaign in South Carolina last winter his chief campaign strategist was none other than Richard Quinn, long-time editor of the oft-mentioned Southern Partisan magazine.

Outraged?

Well, turns out so was George W. Bush!

While Bush was fending off criticism for going to that rally at Bob Jones University his campaign lashed out at McCain for being so low as to associate with the likes of Richard Quinn and his magazine the Southern Partisan.

Take a peek at this clip from a February 18th, 2000 article in the Washington Post:

Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer called Quinn’s writings “offensive,” adding that McCain “was very critical of one of Bush’s supporters who said something he believed was out of line. Now it will be interesting to see how he reacts now that it is one of his supporters who has said something that is very out of line.”

Now here’s where the story gets interesting. It was common knowledge at the time that the Bush folks were circulating copies of the Southern Partisan and trying to get reporters interested in pillorying McCain’s outrageous behavior. (Maybe they even circulated the copy with John Ashcroft’s interview in it?).

Someone should really ask Ari if he’s had a change of heart.

My jaw almost dropped

My jaw almost dropped out of my mouth this morning on the subway when I looked down and saw this article about how the diabolical Katherine Harris is being considered for the post of president’s special envoy for the Americas. It looks like she’s actually gonna get her ambassadorship after all.

And guess what … This post doesn’t require Senate confirmation. So no hearings, no questioning under oath, etc.

Jesus! She gets to have her cake and eat it too!

What to say about

What to say about George W. Bush’s final three cabinet picks? Norm Mineta’s a decent enough guy, certainly. And he clearly decided that six months wasn’t enough time to spend as a cabinet secretary for one lifetime (I hear that before the election he was nudging Al Gore to keep him on.)

Linda Chavez has always struck me as a bit of self-promoter and someone with very bad politics. But she’s better than Jim Talent and about what I’d expect for a Republican Labor Secretary. Not someone who cares much about any of the issues that labor cares about. But, hey, that’s the price of acquiescing in Bush’s theft of the election. So what are you going to do?

But Spence Abraham … Now you’re talkin’. I’ve gotta give Spence a big thumbs up. Sure he’s a lousy pick to run the Energy Department (a department he voted to abolish). He’s got terrible politics. And he’s a complete oaf. But you’ve got to think of this one in terms of comedic potential.

Before the voters of Michigan tossed him out on his ear two months back, I always used to think of Spencer Abraham as the ‘Mikey’ of the Senate. You know, like ‘Mikey’ from those Life Cereal commercials from back in the 1970s.

I could just imagine it …

Trent Lott:  Who’s gonna carry water/eat $&%# for irredeemable corporate interest X?

Mitch McConnell:  I’m not gonna eat it (slides the bowl over to Trent)

Trent Lott:  Well I’m not gonna eat it (slides the bowl back over to Mitch)

Mitch McConnell:  Hey, I know, let’s get Mikey!

Trent Lott:  Yeah! He’ll eat anything.

And that pretty much tells you what Spence Abraham’s career in the senate was all about. He was the dorky little mascot for the most craven money-conservatives in the senate – the eager bumbler who the cool kids always kept around, if for nothing else than to give him noogies and have him man the keg at their parties.

Enough metaphors? Okay, I’ll stop. But you get the idea.

Abraham was always carrying someone else’s water, most often some corporate types who couldn’t find a first-tier senator to do their bidding. Which sort of tells you why Bush and Cheney put him at Energy.

I’m not saying that Abraham’s such a bad guy, or really any worse than anyone else Bush might have nominated. He’s really just a party man who happened his way into the senate when the Republicans destroyed the Dems back in 1994 and lost the seat in 2000 after the fever had passed.

My colleague Nick Confessore wrote an excellent piece on Abraham which is well worth a read. Okay, sure. Nick said Abraham was gonna win. But, hey, give the kid a break. He’s young. He can’t get ’em all right. And besides Nick was the only one to tell the comical tale of how Abraham’s senate buddies tried to pull out all the stops (and thankfully failed) to bring their bud over the finish line.

P.S. Extra laughs on the Abraham subject can be found in Tuesday’s article on him in the Washington Post. The article explains pretty nicely why, for Spencer Abraham, the phrase ‘pathetic hack’ isn’t so much derogation as painfully precise description.

The prospect of life outside government did not appeal to Abraham, some Senate sources say. His selection as energy secretary has baffled many environmentalists, political observers and even some of his closest colleagues. “I really think the answer is that once the cards were shuffled, that was the only one [Cabinet position] left,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst and editor of the Rothenberg Report, an independent newsletter. “It was one of the slots they had open, and this is a multicultural Cabinet if they ever had one.”

Remember, comedic potential.

I just got done

I just got done with a radio interview (the Bob Grant show in NY City) in which I debated the merits of the Ashcroft nomination with another guest. Apparently the Republican line on the would-be-AG is that he’s a man of integrity, spotless record, no one questions his honor, and so forth.

Do we really know that John Ashcroft is a man of integrity?

Who knows? In absence of evidence to the contrary (and I don’t know of any) I’m happy to believe that he’s personally honest and all that.

(I leave to another post the question of whether mercilessly slandering and defaming another honorable man of integrity, i.e., Ronnie White, diminishes one’s own integrity.)

But I’m happy to believe that John Ashcroft is a man of integrity.

But who cares?

That’s much better than not being a man of integrity. But it’s not a sufficient qualification for the job.

And who agrees with me? Well, who else? John Ashcroft.

Ashcroft has been a key figure in torpedoing numerous Clinton-appointees to the Justice Department and he’s often said his opposition had nothing to do with their character or integrity. No one ever said Bill Lan Lee lacked integrity; Republicans just said he had the wrong position on affirmative action.

Or listen to this from Mike Grunwald’s recent article in the Washington Post:

[Ashcroft] personally held up the nomination of California attorney Margaret Morrow, who had broad bipartisan support, and voted against her purely on philosophical grounds — even though he praised her integrity and intellect.

Maybe GOPers can defend Ashcroft on other grounds. But this one doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

Yesterdays Michael Grunwald article

Yesterday’s Michael Grunwald article in the Washington Post does the best job so far at setting forth the ‘campaign politics’ explanation (as opposed to the ‘racial bias’ explanation) for John Ashcroft’s decision to oppose the judicial nomination of Ronnie White.

But he also gives Ashcroft a pretty unequivocal, and largely unwarranted, clean bill of health on the racial bias front.

Grunwald writes:

In reality, a review of White’s nomination — the first defeated on the Senate floor since Robert H. Bork’s — provides no evidence of racism by the man who would be America’s top law enforcement officer, but strong evidence of bare-knuckled opportunism.

And then later in the same article:

But no one has produced evidence that racial animus had anything to do with his efforts to stop White. And in the heat of a close election, there was a much more obvious explanation.

Grunwald allows Ashcroft to be guilty merely of opportunistic character assassination and political manipulation of the judiciary rather than racial bias. Now I’ll admit that Grunwald’s discussion of Ashcroft’s political motives provides important context. But doesn’t he let Ashcroft off a little easy? Does it really have to be either/or?

Sure, Ashcroft torpedoed the White nomination in part as a campaign ploy. But doesn’t it seem like one of the things that made White such a juicy political target was the fact that he was black?

Also consider Grunwald’s description of the Southern Partisan interview issue:

Ashcroft is taking heat for some seemingly pro-Confederate comments he made in the magazine Southern Partisan …

Does that really cover the issues at hand?

I really don’t mean to be overly critical of Grunwald, who’s an excellent writer and reporter, but how much special pleading does someone like John Ashcroft deserve?

P.S. If you’re interested in Talking Points’ case for opposing the Ashcroft nomination, it’s in today’s New York Post.

Hmmmm. Now were talking.

Hmmmm. Now we’re talking. Today on Meet the Press Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (reported here by Reuters and Agence-France Presse) made it clear that John Ashcroft faces a very tough nomination hearing, and that his confirmation is anything but assured. This flies in the face of what seems like an utterly wrong-headed prediction in today’s Washington Post that “barring a startling revelation, Ashcroft should win swift confirmation.”

“I think it’s very difficult for us as people who try to govern from the center to accept that kind of a nominee,” says Daschle.

You gotta love Tom Daschle, a steel fist in a velvet glove.

Still more recount news

Still more recount news dribbling out of Florida. And, not surprisingly, Al Gore picks up still more votes. This time 120 from undervotes in the largely Republican county of Hillsborough. Gore got 999 and Bush got 879 votes from 5,533 undervoted ballots that hadn’t yet been counted.

And the obligatory Republican whining?

“We carried the county by 11,000 votes, so let Gore have his few votes. Who really cares?” said Margie Kincaid, Hillsborough’s GOP chairwoman. “I think the media spent their money for nothing. It’s all pretty silly and it’s not going to change anything. It’s just going to confuse a lot of people. It’s just an exercise in futility.”

So confusing, so confusing.

LATE CHAD UPDATE: In response to overwhelming pressure from Talking Points readers (okay, okay, actually in response to pressure from the editor of Kausfiles) I need to update this post. A chart which the Tampa Tribune included in its print version but not online shows the breakdown of the vote by chad standard – hanging chad, dimpled chad, two-point hanging, three-point hanging, etc.

The upshot is that it was only with dimpled chad and pinpricks that Gore comes out on top. If you exclude those, Bush picked up ten net. Here’s the actual breakdown:

Overall 879/999

Dimpled 660/757
Pinprick 91/119
1-corner 11/16
2 corner 3/4
3 corner 67/61
“punched clearly” 47/42

So the question now becomes, should dimpled chad be counted. Or to put the question more finely: do dimpled chad actually show voter intent or are they just random dents on ballots, as Republicans argued?

Kausfiles (original author of the famed “Sloppy Dem” theory) says this new info casts doubt on the Sloppy Dem theory. He’s currently put it under review.

But Talking Points doesn’t quite understand this. The new data seems only to confirm the Sloppy Dem theory. Here’s why: If dimples really didn’t signify anything, if they were just random dents on ballots, they should be evenly distributed between the candidates — the law of statistical averages being what it is. But in Hillsborough and in every other county they seem always to favor Gore.

How can that mean anything else but that Gore’s voters much more often tried but failed to perforate their ballots for their candidate? The very fact that dimples so consistently favor Gore is prima facie evidence that they are not random dents but rather do show the intent of the voter.

So the new info out of Hillsborough not only strengthens the Sloppy Dem theory, it also strengthens the case for including dimpled chad.

In Tony Lewis New

In Tony Lewis’ New York Times column mentioned below, Lewis prods Senator Joe Biden (a member of the Judiciary Committee) to reconsider his apparent intention to vote in favor of Ashcroft’s nomination for AG.

This brings up a delicate, but important, point. And one that’s worth considering.

African-Americans are an extremely important Democratic constituency. Despite all the hot-air you’ve been hearing about Republicans reaching out to the African-American community, the percentage at which African-Americans vote for Democrats has actually been increasing in recent years. And even more important, black voter turnout has risen dramatically in the last two election cycles – particularly in a series of Southern states like Georgia and Florida.

And as important as African-Americans are for Democrats in general elections, they’re even more important in primary elections – where they make up twice as large a percentage of the electorate.

In short, support from African-Americans is extremely important to any Democrat who wants to run for president.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden.

You may not know this (I didn’t until recently) but Joe Biden is actually interested, very interested, in running for president again.

Really interested.

(Historical Note: Biden ran for president in 1988 but had to leave the race amid allegations that he had plagiarized a speech first given by then-British Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock … and for what it’s worth, Talking Points actually thinks pretty highly of Joe Biden, and thinks the whole plagiarism charge was a bit overdone.)

Anyway, back to my story.

Let’s assume that Ashcroft is confirmed. If he does I suspect he’ll become a lightening rod for criticism from African-Americans and supporters of abortion-rights, somewhat along the lines of Antonin Scalia, only about twenty times more. (Ashcroft’s militantly pro-life stance hasn’t yet gotten as much attention as it should.)

So … fast forward three years and we’re in the Democratic primary and Joe Lieberman and John Kerry and Joe Biden and John Edwards are duking it out. Needless to say, the one’s who voted against Ashcroft will beat up on the ones who voted for him. And if they don’t, activists and constituency groups will do the job for them.

I’m not saying that this is still going to be a burning national issue four years from now. But primary races are funny things. How else are you going to distinguish these characters from each other?

True, if Ashcroft gets confirmed and we never hear another peep from him again, none of this will matter. But I don’t really think that’s going to happen.

So when you start watching where senators line up on the Ashcroft vote, don’t forget about 2003 and 2004. Trust me, they won’t be forgetting either.

Today Tony Lewis has

Today Tony Lewis has a column (pointed out to me by one loyal Talking Points reader) on the Times OpEd page which focuses in on a topic that I’ve left either implicit or unmentioned in my previous discussions of the Ashcroft nomination, both here and in other publications. The point has to do with the torpedoing of the judicial nomination of Ronnie White. As we’ve discussed earlier, it seems very hard to see how race was not a major factor in Ashcroft’s decision to go against White’s nomination.

But was it the only one? Or was it really that simple? Likely not.

Lewis makes the argument – already rehearsed in a number of articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – that White was the victim of John Ashcroft’s reelection campaign against Mel Carnahan.

At the request of the Pope John Paul II, then-governor Carnahan had commuted the sentence of a death-row convict. Ashcroft wanted to make a campaign issue of this commutation, arguing that Carnahan was soft on the death penalty (and, one must assume, also soft on the Pope).

To make the point more forcefully, Ashcroft decided to fight President Clinton’s appointment of Ronnie White – whom Carnahan had earlier appointed to the Missouri Supreme Court – because he was allegedly also, like Carnahan, soft on the death penalty. (Still with me?)

By the way, Lewis also concisely details Ashcroft’s scurrilous and baseless attacks on White’s character and record as a judge.

So does this mean that Ashcroft isn’t guilty of attacking White because of his race but only guilty of shamelessly politicizing the judiciary?

No. Honestly, I think it shows he was guilty of both. Ronnie White’s race just added to the political effect Ashcroft was trying to achieve. So it may be less that Ashcroft had a gut-level problem with White’s race and more that he was trying to use it for political effect.

But think about it this way: Is it worse to have racial animus in your heart? Or just exploit racist fears and animosities to further your political career? Sort of a tough call, isn’t it?

I just received an

I just received an email from the Bush/Cheney press flaks with the list of official “surrogates” (what a concept) for Don Rumsfeld.

In alphabetical order they are:

Dr. Ken Adelman
Senator Bill Bradley
Frank Carlucci
Dr. Henry Kissinger
John Robson
Dr. George Shultz

Wait a second. BILL BRADLEY. I thought he was a Democrat. A Democrat who wanted to freeze or cut defense spending.

Al Gore spent much of the primaries arguing that Bradley wasn’t a loyal party man. Geez, I guess he was right.

The only answer I can think of is that both Bradley and Rumsfeld went to Princeton, which would mean that Bill Bradley is more loyal to Princeton University than the Democratic party. (Not a big surprise) Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any beef with Princeton (honestly, I went there too, and here’s the embarrassing evidence). But couldn’t Bradley hold off on making it clear just one more time that he’s just not much of a team player, and a bit of turncoat.

P.S. And in case you’re wondering. No, Talking Points is not a big fan of Bill Bradley.

Okay a few thoughts

Okay, a few thoughts on the Bush cabinet. The more I look at this crew I give Bush pretty high marks. Not on substance but on strategy. Let’s assume what I hope is not the case: that every one of Bush cabinet appointments gets approved. Let’s also assume that Bush nominates James Talent (mentioned earlier in TPM) as his Labor Secretary, which is what I’m hearing.

You have what looks like a pretty moderate cabinet, which in many respects it is. But conservatives get pretty much all the choice slots they wanted. Ashcroft, needless to say, is beloved by hardcore right-wingers. He’s virulently pro-life, no friend of civil rights enforcement, has no concept of the separation of church and state, the list goes on and on.

(An old Newsweek article by Howard Fineman, which I have in front of me, says Ashcroft literally had his head anointed with oil as prescribed in the Old Testament just prior to be being sworn in as senator – I presume religious conservatives will derive some pleasure from this too.)

But it’s more than just Ashcroft.

Don Rumsfeld is a perfectly reasonable choice for Defense Secretary. It’s pretty hard to say he’s not up to the job since he’s already done it once before. And Rumsfeld is known as basically a get-along-go-along moderate in Republican ranks. But … and this is a big ‘but’ … he’s also joe-missile-defense.

He was the head of the commission which a couple years back said that the US was much more vulnerable than commonly thought to attacks from rogue states and thus was in great need of rapid moves toward deploying a missile shield. That report had a decisive effect on the missile defense debate and played a big role in the Clinton administration’s support of a limited missile defense option.

So Rumsfeld looks like a moderate, and in many respects he is. But he’s a big missile defense man. And conservatives LOVE missile defense. So they love him.

Clever, very clever.

(Who’s doing Bush’s thinking for him? Can’t be him, can it?)

Then take Jim Talent, the possible Labor Secretary. Talent looks like an inoffensive enough fellow. But he’s about as anti-labor as they come. Hopefully Democrats will mount a strong fight against him (certainly big labor will insist on it). But unfortunately he probably gets confirmed.

So the upshot of it all is that Bush gets the image of a pretty moderate cabinet (which, as I said, is partly accurate) and yet he gave conservatives a lot – a whole lot – of the plums they wanted.

Sure, they didn’t get a complete wing-nut at HHS. But, hey, you can’t have everything, can you? And besides Tommy Thompson ain’t no Donna Shalala.

P.S. Several editors have been asking me to come up with the unifying principle that pulls together all of Bush’s nominees. I think I’ve got one: people who were just rejected by the voters of Missouri! John Ashcroft lost for Senate last month; Jim Talent lost for governor. It’s almost like a jobs program for Republican losers from the Show-Me-State. And in case you think I’m beating up on Missouri — Back Off! Talking Points was born there.

Damn Is this a

Damn! Is this a great article, or what? You’ve got to read this installment of Slate’s Chatterbox by Tim Noah. It’s about the supposed Democratic elder statesman Bob Strauss, an elder statesman and a wise man who’s not really an elder statesman or a wise man, but more like a fixer, a sly self-promoter, and a hack.

(Come to think of it, maybe we should come up with a word for this Washington breed. We could call them hack-men or wise-hacks or elder-fixers. Personally, I think it’s a close call between hackmen and wisehacks, and I probably go for the former.)

But anyway, back to my story. Do read Noah’s article. It’ll tell you more about Washington and the Democratic party and the new administration and influence-peddling than you’ll get from a whole month of the New York Times and the Washington Post combined.

P.S. Tim, no thank you note required. Just spread the word about Talking Points. That’ll do just fine.

P.P.S. Hackmen, Wisehacks, Elderfixers? Which one sounds best? Anyone else wanna take a stab at this? Should it be a contest?

Don Rumsfeld may be

Don Rumsfeld may be a decent choice for Defense Secretary.

But between you and me, his George W. Bush imitation leaves a lot to be desired.

Is Robert Torricelli running

Is Robert Torricelli running for the role of Senate-Democrat-Most-Likely- to-Stab-His-Own-Party-in- the-Back-for-No-Good-Reason? The position is open after all, what with Bob Kerrey and Pat Moynihan retiring, and Joe Lieberman adopting a more partisan, team-player tone.

Just think. Bob Torricelli … First Senate Dem to call on Al Gore not to file any lawsuits in Florida. First Senate Dem to call on Al Gore to drop out of the race. First Senate Dem to publicly say Al Gore blew it and shouldn’t run again. First Senate Dem to give John Ashcroft a thumbs up for AG.

Do I need to go on?

P.S. Next post, what did then-congressman Bob Torricelli tell Talking Points in 1990 when Talking Points interviewed him for his low-budget college radio station public affairs show?

Alright now were talkinIt

Alright, now we’re talkin’!

It took a few days for the mainstream media to pick up my story about John Ashcroft’s interview with the Southern Partisan magazine (first published here five days ago, thank you.). But finally we’re off and running.

This article published overnight by the Associated Press covers the story in some detail. And, yes, in case you’re wondering they came out with it after my piece appeared in Slate, and gave no credit.

But enough of my pathetic whining! It’s actually a pretty solid piece. Well worth reading.

Now the fun part starts. We get to listen to the Ashcroftians spin the story and explain why the whole thing’s really not a big deal.

Attempt Number One

Bush spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss (whom Talking Points remembers as being quite helpful back when she was spokeswoman for Steve Forbes) said Ashcroft’s comments reflected that he “believes in an exact reading on history.”

He believes in an exact reading on history … And that means what exactly?

Attempt Number Two


The Bushies and the Ashcroftians told the AP:

As Missouri governor from 1985 to 1993, Ashcroft signed into law a state holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., the slain civil rights leader; established musician Scott Joplin’s house as Missouri’s only historic site honoring a black person; created an award honoring black educator George Washington Carver; named a black woman to a state judgeship; and led a fight to save Lincoln University, which was founded by black soldiers.

You know, I also hear he once went to dinner with a black guy from Kansas City.

Okay, sorry, that was uncalled for. But really. So Ashcroft was not wacky enough to be one of the one or two governors who tried to veto an MLK holiday bill. And he appointed one black woman to be a judge. I mean, geez, no one’s saying Ashcroft is a Klansman after all. I would hope he’d named one African-American to the bench during eight years as governor of a state with a large African-American population.

But, wait, there’s more! When Ashcroft thought of running to be the head of the RNC in 1993 he said the party should be “tolerant” and avoid being “mistakenly portrayed as petty, divisive and mean-spirited.”

That’s bold — way bold.

More on point is the fact, reported in the AP story, that George Bush, Sr. appointed Ashcroft to his commission on race and minorities in America. And Ashcroft was one of only two of the forty commission members who refused to sign the final report. Ashcroft said the report’s “generalizations about setbacks in progress are overly broad and counterproductive.”

Hmmm.

Talking Points hasn’t seen the report. But he imagines that since it was sponsored by President Bush it probably wasn’t a particularly afro-centric document, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, the point isn’t that Ashcroft’s a racist. But then that’s not the standard, is it? Given all the evidence, let’s just say that civil rights enforcement just doesn’t really seem like John Ashcroft’s cup of tea.

And since the AG is the head civil rights enforcer. Maybe he just ain’t the right guy for the job.

Today Talking Points finally

Today Talking Points finally got his hands on an actual copy of John Ashcroft’s interview with the Southern Partisan magazine.

If anything the quote in question is even more damning than the clipped version noted previously. (If nothing else, it’s funnier: the intro praises Ashcroft for being “a jealous defender of national sovereignty against the New World Order.”)

Speaking on the evils of historical revisionism, Ashcroft said:

“Your magazine helps set the record straight. You’ve got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonewall] Jackson and [Jefferson] Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I’ve got to do more. We’ve all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we’ll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.”

So, in other words, if you really want the straight scoop on the nation’s past read the revisionist, crypto-racist claptrap printed in the Southern Partisan.

Man! This guy’s got civil rights written all over him, doesn’t he?

If you want Talking Points two-bits on this latest development, check out this article he wrote today in Slate.

Ya know, for the first time I’m actually starting to think Ashcroft may not make it.

P.S. I can’t name him because I didn’t ask his permission, but Talking Points would like to send out an extra special Talking Points ‘thank you’ to the reader who faxed him a copy of the Ashcroft interview.

By all means read

By all means read this excellent column by USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. After rehearsing the valid and increasingly well-known reasons for rejecting John Ashcroft’s nomination for Attorney General on the merits, Chemerinsky proposes a broader, strategic rationale … considering how many judicial nominations are likely to be coming down the pike, Senate Democrats should take this opportunity to make the ground rules clear: no hardcore right-wingers on the bench or as AG, period. No ‘ifs’, ‘ands’, or ‘buts’ about it.

Chemerinsky says the Dems should even be willing to filibuster the nomination if need be (and the need probably will be.)

That makes good sense both substantively and politically.

This December 8th New York Post column (by none other than Talking Points himself!) makes the point more broadly. George W. needs to understand that there’s a price to be paid for jimmying the lock and sneaking into the Oval Office by the back door. If Bush wants smooth sailing during the cabinet confirmation process, the Dems need to tell him: only moderates and mainstream conservatives get appointments to the important posts, period. This isn’t payback; just a recognition of the reality of this election.

And finally, why hasn’t more been said about Ashcroft’s interview with the Southern Partisan magazine? I’d like to take heaps of credit for being the first to mention this story late on the evening of December 22nd. But, honestly, a few Nexis searches are all that’s required to get all the details. But a quick search on the self-same Nexis reveals that only one article (that by Tom Edsall in the Washington Post) has even mentioned the Southern Partisan interview since Ashcroft’s nomination (and even then only in passing).

Isn’t this sort of a big deal? Is it really too much to ask that nominees for Attorney General not give interviews to crypto- (or not-so-crypto) racist publications like the Southern Partisan?

I was just going

I was just going to lead off with another hit on Attorney General designee John Ashcroft by telling you how he once received an honorary degree from Bob Jones University. (During this year’s Senate campaign the late Mel Carnahan challenged Ashcroft to return the degree. Ashcroft said he’d do so if Carnahan returned campaign contributions from pro-choice groups — an equation which tells you a lot about John Ashcroft.)

But then I thought: hey, maybe I’m being too hard on the guy. It’s not like he’s off giving interviews to borderline-racist, Neo-Confederate magazines after all. Right?

Well, okay, maybe he is.

Back in 1998 Ashcroft gave an interview to Southern Partisan magazine in which he said that ”traditionalists must
do more” to defend Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee. ”We’ve all got to stand up and speak in this respect,” Ashcroft continued, “or else we’ll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.”

Talking Points thought slavery was a “perverted agenda.” But, hey, let’s not quibble.

So what is the Southern Partisan magazine? The Southern Partisan is a leading publication of the Neo-Confederate movement which extols the Confederacy, Southern culture, and at least flirts with the idea of Southern secession from the United States. It also has some rather disturbing things to say about African-Americans.

Talking Points doesn’t want to label the magazine racist; but it does publish many articles which most people would likely find deeply racially offensive.

Some examples?

A 1984 article in the Southern Partisan argued that “Negroes, Asians, and Orientals (is Japan the exception?); Hispanics, Latins, and Eastern Europeans; have no temperament for democracy, never had, and probably never will…. It may be impolite and unpolitic to bring the subject up, but can our democratic system endure unless we close up the frontiers to peoples who are not … predisposed to honor its assumptions?”

In 1990 an article called David Duke “a candidate concerned about `affirmative’ discrimination, welfare prolifigacy [sic], the taxation holocaust … a Populist spokesperson for a recapturing of the American ideal.”

A 1996 article claimed “slave owners … did not have a practice of breaking up slave families. If anything, they encouraged strong slave families to further the slaves’ peace and happiness.”

(These quotes come courtesy of this excellent article on the Southern Partisan and its editor by Benjamin Soskis in The New Republic.)

And George W. wants this guy in charge of enforcing the country’s civil rights laws?

Lets say a little

Let’s say a little more about John Ashcroft and Ronnie White.

(Who’s Ashcroft? Who’s White? See this post.)

A Talking Points Reader took me to task for implying that Ashcroft’s opposition to the White nomination was based on White’s race. This was a fair criticism. Had White been a black conservative, this reader argued, Ashcroft wouldn’t have had any problem with him. The problem was that White was a black liberal or, perhaps better to say, a black non-conservative.

But this sort of makes my point, doesn’t it? The question isn’t whether White would have sailed through if he were a black conservative. The question is whether White, with his judicial philosophy, would have faced any problems if he were white. The answer, I think, is almost certainly ‘no.’

So the problem does seem to have been White’s race.

Let’s mention some other details.

In the course of Ashcroft’s campaign against White, he accused the judge of being ”pro-criminal and activist,” exuding ”a serious bias against . . . the death penalty,” and even ”a tremendous bent
toward criminal activity.”

Pretty ugly charges.

Ashcroft also lobbied Missouri law enforcement associations to oppose White’s nomination. And then used their opposition as a justification for his opposition.

But here’s what really puts the lie to Ashcroft’s argument.

Ashcroft’s main charge against White was that he was too soft on the death penalty. But consider this paragraph from an article by Stuart Taylor from the National Journal in October 16th, 1999:

Judge White has voted to uphold 70 percent (41) of the 59 death sentences he has reviewed, while voting to reverse the other 18, including 10 that were unanimously reversed and three in which he was the only dissenter. That’s a bit below the 75 percent to 81 percent averages of the five current Missouri Supreme Court judges whom Ashcroft himself appointed when he was Governor, according to numbers compiled by the Missouri Democratic Party. It’s well above the 53 percent average of Elwood Thomas, the now-deceased Ashcroft appointee whom White replaced in 1995.

In other words, White was at best only marginally more ‘lenient’ than the judges Ashcroft himself had appointed while governor.

The best way to state the role race played in Ashcroft’s decision comes from one of Ashcroft’s former supporters. Gentry Trotter, a black Republican who raised funds for Ashcroft’s earlier candidacies, resigned from Ashcroft’s 2000 Senate campaign effort because of what he called Ashcroft’s “marathon public crucifixion and misinformation campaign of Judge White’s record as a competent jurist.” He said he suspected Ashcroft had used a “different yardstick” to measure White’s record (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 8th, 1999). That is to say, one yardstick for whites, one for blacks.

Sounds about right.

Next up, the politics behind Ashcroft’s opposition to Ronnie White and some more trash talk about how John Ashcroft just loves Jefferson Davis.

Well maybe I was

Well, maybe I was wrong. But in this case I’m glad to be.

In the last post, I noted today’s nomination of John Ashcroft, the thoroughly odious out-going Senator from Missouri, as Attorney General.

Senators and former Senators are usually given an extremely soft ride in cabinet confirmation hearings. And on first blush I, despairingly, predicted it would be the same for Ashcroft.

But perhaps not.

Turns out Ashcroft was not so popular among his colleagues in the Senate, though he’s real chummy with Trent Lott. And key constituencies within the Democratic party are already mobilizing, heatedly, in opposition. (On this one I’m not kidding. Friday before Christmas, or no, phones and beepers and faxes are ringing off the hook for liberals all over DC.)

Item One? Ashcroft’s almost-single-handed torpedoing of the nomination of Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White to a federal judgeship.

Ashcroft argued that his opposition to White’s nomination was based on White’s insufficient commitment to the death penalty (White affirmed the death penalty in only 71% of the cases which came before him.) But Ronnie White is black and race was widely believed to have played a role in Ashcroft’s opposition. Colleagues of mine who have looked into the case (and who don’t make the charge lightly) believe that it was really more like the sole reason for Ashcroft’s opposition.

To say that Ashcroft has a lousy record on civil rights is rather generous. Add to this the fact that Ashcroft is thoroughly hostile to women’s rights, gay rights, and abortion rights and you’ll start to get a feel for why more than a few Dems may decide to vote against him.

More anti-Ashcroft muckraking to follow.

P.S. Oh yeah, almost forget to mention it. After Ashcroft’s defeat last month he went on a sort of self-congratulation tour making invidious comparisons between himself and Al Gore, arguing that he had done the right thing by not contesting his close defeat to the late Mel Carnahan. He neglected to mention that he lost to Carnahan by a bit more than 2% of the vote. In other words, Ashcroft, unlike Gore, had no business even thinking about contesting the vote. And the supposed legal claims he might have pursued were flimsy. Slate’s Tim Noah effortlessly dispatches Ashcroft’s moronic gambit here.

So its John Ashcroft

So it’s John Ashcroft for Attorney General.

Christian conservatives really wanted the Justice Department for themselves; and it looks like they’re going to get it. Most Republicans divide into four categories: principled moderates, principled conservatives, wackos, and hacks. Ashcroft covers categories three and four. John Ashcroft is really, really not a good guy. But he’s an out-going (as in voted-out-of-office) senator, so he’ll be confirmed in a second.

Montana Governor Marc Racicot (frequently made fun of by Talking Points) was in line for AG but – according to press accounts – pulled himself out of the running.

This is a good example of one of the flaws of contemporary journalism. Racicot didn’t pull himself out. He got negged by Bush (even after working hard for the job by abasing himself shamelessly in Florida last month) because of pressure from conservatives. But the Bushies say he pulled himself out. And Racicot says the same. So no one reports the obvious: that he got negged by Bush.

We can now get ready for the really odious appointees to get tapped by Bush for Interior, Labor, Defense, Justice, etc.

But before we go on. Let’s give credit where credit is due. Tommy Thompson for HHS and Christie Whitman for EPA are rock-solid appointees. Would I have appointed them? Of course, not. But that’s not the standard to expect. Both are mainstream conservatives who actually have real concern and knowledge about the areas of public policy they’ll be working on. So credit where credit is due.

Next, return to the usual nastiness.