Editor’s Blog

If youre thinking that

If you’re thinking that Democrats on the Hill are feeling emboldened of late, you’re right. As the AP reported on April 7th, Geoff Garin, a well-known Dem pollster, and Paul Begala met with a group of Dem Senators and basically assured them that — given the political situation, poll-numbers, etc. — they had little to fear from confronting the president on a wide-range of issues — particularly on the Budget/tax/Social Security front.

I don’t think this was mentioned in the original AP story, but apparently this was some sort of message group that Dick Durbin (Democrat of Illinois and a possible 2004 dark horse) has put together.

In any case, one person who was at the meeting tells me that the Senators seemed more focused, angry, and ready to fight than at any time in recent memory, which is nice to hear.

Let’s look a little more closely, though, at the ‘internals’ of the polls which were discussed.

Every marquee public poll routinely asks some version of this question: Does politician X care about/understand the problems people like you face?

Pollsters would undoubtedly come up with some more elegant, technically appropriate phrasing. But you get the idea.

In any case, Bill Clinton always scored very, very well on this question. Even when his job approval ratings (and certainly his personal approval ratings) weren’t so hot, this number remained strong.

This is a measurement of what we might call the politics of empathy, social science’s measurement of “I feel your pain,” etc. I’ve always thought, as many others have as well I suspect, that this was the secret ground of Clinton’s political resilience, his ability to bounce back from so many apparently fatal blows.

The late 1990s produced a quite false political truism which held that so long as the economy was growing at more than 4% annual GDP the president could snort coke, deflower cheerleaders, behave poorly at state dinners and still keep his job approval rating over 60%.

As a Clinton diehard, I’m not above conceding that Bill put this theory to the test a few times. But the thesis is simply false. The state of the economy is very important to a president’s approval rating, but not decisive. The politics of empathy were equally vital to Clinton’s political survival.

Which brings us back to the current occupant of the Oval Office. One of the numbers which got a lot of attention at the meeting noted above was this from the recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll: by a measure of about 2 to 1 Americans believe George W. Bush cares more about corporate interests than the people’s interest. That’s basically a proxy for the “feel your pain” question noted earlier.

This is a sign of a deep underlying vulnerability. If the public perception that Clinton understood and cared about ordinary people’s problems buoyed him through turbulent political waters, the lack of such a perception for Bush should make his popularity fragile when times get tough.

I am really not

I am really not a fan of Bill Gertz. Make that REALLY not a fan. Gertz, the defense writer for the Washington Times, has long been a mouthpiece for the more hysterical and over-the-top China hawks in Washington, DC. In a sense, I guess that’s unfair: Gertz IS one of the most hysterical and over-the-top China hawks in Washington, DC.

Having said all this, though, he’s actually been one of the more interesting people to read of late. Like him or not, he’s got impeccable sources among the more Sino-phobic members of the defense and intelligence communities. And these are the people — in many cases — whose role has been augmented by the change in administrations.

Here’s the update from Gertz’s own site on the administration’s post-crisis response to the China. So long as you keep the biases of the writer in mind, there’s still a lot of interesting information to be had.

Sometimes someone says something

Sometimes someone says something and you say (or I say), “Hey, I wanna make fun of that person.”

And then you say, “You know, on second thought, I don’t even want to talk about it.”

Then, on third thought, “I don’t even want to think about it.”

I’m going to have some more to say later on the whole China issue. But for the moment can we all just agree that the Weekly Standard’s David Brooks has come up with the uckiest metaphor to describe the recent turn in Sino-American relations?

Here’s Brooks describing our ‘position’ last night on The Newshour:

Well, the President responded in an honest way, and maybe he was right to tail back. You know, when you’re being pawed by a dirty old man and he’s got something you need, maybe you just have to sit and take it, but the – the mistake would be to treat this as a discreet event which, you know, we’ve got a result and so let’s be happy.

Satire? Ohhhhh the possibilities are endless…

P.S. You got something against David Brooks? No, not in the least. But how could I pass that one up?

Im always up for

I’m always up for a new art form since my tastes are so varied and such. And that’s one of the reasons I’m so into the most dynamic new American art form to come along in some time: merginalia.

Never heard of it? The unsubtle way of explaining this would be to say it’s when you go out of business, tank, go belly up, etc., and spin it to make it sound like you’re actually merging with another company or entering into some sort of corporate alliance. The Mona Lisa of the genre of course is the recent ‘merger’ of Inside.com with Brill’s Content.

But there are many other examples and there was another entry today. The new deal struck between Amazon and Borders Books. The headline at CNBC.com says “Amazon, Borders join forces.”

But if you read this article from the Washington Post it’s pretty clear the headline might have been written “Borders Bites the Dust, Avoids Utter Ignominy By Getting One Page at Amazon.com with Borders Logo at the Top.”

Now the question is, what company tanks next? And what’s their merginalia going to sound like? And why didn’t Pets.com get with the program and ‘merge’ with Hanes socks division?

P.S. Late Update. Now we know who’s next: Kozmo.com. As of this afternoon. But apparently they couldn’t even get a mercy ‘buyer.’ So they can’t even attempt a merginalia.

P.P.S. Aren’t you going to come up with a way to swing this merginalia concept into a slam on David Horowitz? Still workin’ on that.

Well I dont want

Well I don’t want to go too far off message here. But I just need to say that I don’t have too many complaints with how the Bush White House has managed to resolve this China stand-off. I think they flubbed it at first. And there are things that should have been done differently along the way (repeatedly saying this could damage relations was a touch feeble).

But all that said, I give the president reasonable marks. I’m no expert on the Chinese language obviously. But from a brief perusal of the papers it would seem we expressed a measure of apology without in any way admitting responsibility or wrongdoing. (The follow-on to this will be the key.)

The more important point, however, is that (to me at least) one of the measures of national power and greatness is the ability to suffer the insecurities and feebleness of weaker powers with a measure of grace. Pace my friend Michael Lind, but indulging someone else — in the right circumstances — is often a sign of power, not weakness.

Sort of like with David Horowitz. His flipping out over the Daily Princetonian’s calling him a racist isn’t a sign of power or prestige, only a sign that he’s pitiful and insecure. Or like when he flew off the handle because of a small comment about him in like the fifth or sixth article I ever wrote.

Anyway, you get the idea.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to go write a memo for some friends on the Hill about how to bash President Bush for humiliating the nation in the China hostage debacle.

Boy am I ever

Boy, am I ever proud of my Alma Mater. Or rather my Alma Mater’s campus daily, The Daily Princetonian.

As you may have heard, The Prince was one of the campus papers that agreed to run David Horowitz’s laughably amateurish anti-reparations for slavery ad. But they wisely went ahead and ran it with an editorial blasting Horowitz as a self-promoting cretin.

Horowitz has now turned around and refused to pay The Prince for running the ad because he says they slandered him.

(At the end of what is actually a pretty mild editorial The Prince said it was giving the ad money to the local chapter of the Urban League so as not to “profit from Horowitz’s racism.”)

Now what makes me so proud about this isn’t that they ran the ad or gave away the money or anything like that. It’s that the folks at The Prince have managed to give Horowitz quite enough rope to hang himself. And, boy, has he ever taken the bait.

Now even defenders like the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page and Andrew Sullivan are lining up to say what a complete ass Horowitz is making of himself.

Bottom line: if your whole racket is taking a stand on free speech rights you are in a very, very weak position trying to break a contract on the basis of someone else’s offensive speech.

(I mean, come on, David. Just open up the *$%&#@% checkbook and give these kids some of Richard Scaife’s money already.)

Yet Horowitz’s actions really aren’t so much offensive or brazen as they are comic. And that gets us back to a point that has been too little made in this whole brouhaha. Horowitz isn’t really so much a racial provocateur as he is a sort of freelance imbecile, a flesh and blood cartoon.

(If you want an example, take a peek at the hilarious letter he wrote to Andrew Sullivan. It’s a classic.)

If you haven’t actually read his “ten reasons” why reparations are a bad idea you really should. They’re less offensive than they are pitiful. Sure, several of the points are tendentious to the point of falsehood (see 1, 6, 9 & 10). But what’s more striking is that they’re written with the sophistication of an over-eager high school student. It’s not even fact-checked: item #6 refers to the “slave system that was ended over 150 years ago.” (This, presumably, is a reference to that little-known ‘other’ emancipation that occurred in 1851?)

As the folks at The Prince did a good job showing, the proper response to Horowitz isn’t offense but laughter.

Why does anyone take this guy seriously?

Well as you must

Well, as you must now know SlatePoints AG was just a ruse. The real reason the Slate.com link is there down on the left is that Slate has just started a new feature called Mezine Central, a portal (as the web jargon would have it) to what they call “the best in political weblogs.”

The best includes Kausfiles.com, AndrewSullivan.com, Virginia Postrel’s site vpostrel.com, and of course the grand-daddy of all political blogs Talking Points!

Actually, I think I may be the youngest of the bloggers who made the cut. And why is that important, you ask? I haven’t the slightest $%&#*#@ idea.

Anyway, part of the deal was that we each put a link to slate.com somewhere prominent on our sites. And that’s the answer to the mystery of the Slate.com link.

If youre interested in

If you’re interested in the broader issues involved in America’s policy toward China and East Asia then, by all means, read this article by John Judis, my friend and former partner in writing the Below the Beltway column for the American Prospect.

The essence of John’s argument is that liberals should get over the presumption that support for Taiwan vis-a-vis China is necessarily rooted in some reactionary form of McCarthyite Cold War militarism. And not just verbal support, but selling the Taiwanese the weaponry they need to defend themselves against Chinese threats of forced reunification.

About a year ago I wrote another Below the Beltway column which made something of a contrary argument — making the case against the wacky right-wing hysterics who want to roil up East Asia with a new Cold War. My point was that a very ill-begotten sort of American domestic politics was threatening to sow havoc in East Asia. I don’t think my piece is necessarily opposed to John’s. But I would say also that in the intervening year I’ve somewhat shifted my position more toward his.

Now, having said that, I do think there’s one part of the equation to which he gives too little attention. We should be willing to sell arms to the Taiwanese to help them defend themselves. We should probably also be willing to help defend thems directly should China seek to invade the island.

But as any sane person will realize, this second scenario is one we want to avoid at almost any cost.

We want to make clear our committment to defend Taiwan enough to prevent Chinese aggression but not so much as to encourage Taiwanese recklessness or efforts to secure formal independence. And that latter danger is much more than a theoretical possibility — as a number of events in the late 1990s demonstrated.

So, yes, sell the Taiwanese the weapons they need to mount a credible defense. But also realize the dangers of making our support for Taiwan too fulsome.

More on this later.

Alright weve been getting

Alright, we’ve been getting questions for a while about why there’s a link down there on the left to Slate.com. Now at last we can tell you.

Here’s the deal: as you know, these have been difficult times for online content providers. NBC just pulled the plug on NBC Internet — their lame online division with the commercials featuring that svelte, fetching brunnette. And little more than a week ago Inside.com, one of the most buzzworthy web ventures out there, pulled the plug on itself and ‘merged’ with Brill’s Content.

Well, even ventures with deep-pockets behind them can’t ignore the gusting winds roiling the online sea. So tomorrow we’re going to be announcing the merger of Slate.com and Talking Points Memo.

Now for the moment, we’d really rather not comment on any rumors you may have heard about this actually being a buy-out of one company by the other. As will be clear when we do the role-out tomorrow afternoon this is a true merger, as signified by the new merged company’s name: SlatePoints AG.

(The AG stems from some German financing we brought in to help float the deal. We’ll also be dropping the “.com” suffix from the new company name — on the reasoning that that’s just way to 1990s for 2001 and sort of has the whiff of death about it, given the NASDAQ crash, and so forth.)

Anyway, you’ll still get all the same great content from the new combined venture. Tim Noah’s Chatterbox column is slated to be renamed “Talking Points, Jr.” as of May 1st. But Kinsley and I still have to have a sit-down with Tim and iron that out. Aside from that, most of the existing features and columns will likely continue as they are.

P.S. So what’s the Slate.com link really doing there? Well, something cool; but not nearly as cool as SlatePoints AG. I’ll toss up a post with the real score later this evening.

By all means read

By all means read this excellent analysis in the Washington Post of the mix of internal Chinese politics and geo-politics at play in the current spy plane stand-off. The piece is particularly good in describing the unenviable position of Chinese President Jiang Zemin and the downside for the United States if this crisis leaves him weakened.

As far as fiscal

As far as fiscal policy goes, you really don’t need Talking Points so long as you keep up with with Paul Krugman’s ‘Reckonings’ column on The New York Times‘ Oped Page.

Sunday’s installment provides an important reality check for anybody who’s getting too excited about the rebuke the Senate gave the president last week — slicing his $1.6 trillion tax cut to $1.2 trillion.

Unlike many of my friends, I’m quite happy to give Tom Daschle & Company real credit for succeeding at the art of the possible. Accomplishing even this was a major feat — given that the filibuster is not available for tax and budget bills. And keeping all but one Democrat on board involved exceptional legislative skill on Daschle’s part.

But, look, the real problem is that they only have fifty votes. And unless and until they get a few Republicans to work with them, there’s just not that much they can do.

So, a great effort. But their power is just very limited. And as Krugman points out even a $1.2 tax cut — organized along Bush’s lines — is still a disaster.

What’s so important about Krugman’s piece today is his willingness to state the obvious in unambiguous terms: the Bush tax cut package is premised on a bundle of lies, half-truths, and evasions. There is really no other candid way to put it. The cuts which go to the average family are paltry. The cuts it provides for the very wealthy are great. The danger it poses to the future solvency of Social Security and Medicare is profound. And if you’re thinking about a prescription drug benefit under Medicare any time soon, well, you can just forget it.

Read the article. You’ll be glad you did.

Wow Did you just

Wow! Did you just see Joe Lieberman on the Evans & Novak Show?

He talked a good game and made some interesting comments on a possible 2004 run.

More pointedly, though, he was the first marquee Democrat (at least the first I’ve seen) to openly make the ‘Hey, you didn’t really get elected anyway, bub‘ argument against George W. Bush. Yes, there was a touch of sugar-coating. But not much.

When I get a hold of the transcript, I’ll post it.

P.S. Is there going to be an acronym for the ‘Hey, you didn’t really get elected anyway, bub’ argument? No doubt. HYDRGEAB — not exactly euphonious, but you can’t have everything.

The Talking Points mailbag

The Talking Points mailbag has been filling up with requests for a run-down of the potential Democratic standard-bearers for 2004. Who’s up, who’s down. All that.

One of these days I’m going to write up a long post on why a potential Evan Bayh candidacy – essentially an article of faith for many Washingtonians – is premised on an outdated view of the Democratic party, a view from an era when Democrats were so flat on their backs that they had to find their presidential candidates in states where virtually no one ever voted for Democrats

But for the moment just a preview.

Being a popular two-term Democratic governor from Indiana teaches you one thing – caution. And lots of it. But now even some of those who should be Bayh’s natural supporters for a hypothetical presidential candidacy are wondering whether that Indiana-bred caution may run so deep that he just can’t be an effective national leader in the Democratic party.

And consider one reason for those doubts. Much of Bayh’s potential presdiential cachet is based on his association with the Democratic Leadership Council (the centrist, more pro-business faction of the Democratic party) – much is often made of the fact that he’s just taken the post as chairman of the DLC, the same post Bill Clinton held when he ran for president … yada, yada, yada.

But so far the DLCers cannot seem to get him to sign on to their alternative to the Bush tax plan.

So here’s what this means. Bayh is trying to position himself as the centrist Democrat for 2004. Much of this is premised on his association with the centrist, New Democrat DLC. Yet he won’t even sign on to their tax cut plan because he presumably thinks it’s too liberal.

The person who gets the nod in 2004 will be the one who can bridge the divide between the centrist and labor-liberal wings of the party. But apparently the centrist wing of the party is too far left for Evan Bayh.

Isn’t this a problem?

Earlier I said I

Earlier I said I thought it would be a mistake even to try to ban ‘coordination’ between candidates and independent expenditure groups. Let me try to explain why.

Let’s take a group at random. The Sierra Club or the Christian Coalition. Each group has deeply woven ties to the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. It’s in the nature of things that the Sierra Club or perhaps the AFL-CIO will be in on-going close contact with the members of the Democratic party. The candidates, the leadership, etc.

It’s in the nature of things, normal, expected and most importantly, right. They’re ideological allies. They share common goals both in terms of whom to elect and what legislation to pass.

They will also discuss political strategy. They can’t help working together towards common goals, even if they avoid explicit conversations on the topic.

Now I know this isn’t exactly what the anti-coordination folks are talking about when they talk about cracking down on what they call “so-called independent expenditure groups.” And I agree that among friends we might be able to agree on when someone crossed the line and when they didn’t.

But that’s the point.

These things aren’t decided among friends. Quite the opposite. They’re decided among prosecutors and their potential targets.

The problem with getting into this thicket is that politicians and political advocacy groups would, in the nature of things, constantly be operating in a gray area where they were either a) discharging their highest duties as citizens by participating vigorously in civic life or b) committing serial felonies.

Yes, some examples would fall easily into either category. But most would not, I suspect. And the serious players – game theory being what it is – would necessarily have to run close to the line.

The problem here is not that the intent of the law is necessarily ill-conceived or constitutionally impermissible – though I suspect both are likely the case – but that the enforcement of the law would necessarily be arbitrary and political.

More on this later.

Let me just quickly

Let me just quickly comment on the campaign finance debate underway in the Senate. Like many people, I often think my friend Mickey Kaus stretches things a bit far in looking for cases where liberals have it all wrong.

But not this time. He’s completely right about the amendment to McCain-Feingold which would ban ads by independent expenditure groups in the run up to an election.

As Mickey says, the issue isn’t that this is a great idea but that there are some weird constitutional ‘difficulties’. This is plainly unconstitutional and rightly so! It’s a terrible idea. I understand the impulse. Sort of. But it’s a terrible idea.

Contrary to the claims of many conservatives, I believe that the 1st Amendment applies to far more than narrowly political speech. But political speech is obviously the core of what the Amendment is about.

It can hardly be the case that the 1st Amendment guarantees your right to watch slippery nymphets writhing around on top of each other on the web (just an example that popped into Talking Point’s head, feel free to supply your own pairing) and not the right to advocate political arguments on the eve of an election.

It stands both principle and logic on their heads.

This is a case where the antis have every argument on their side.

Next up, why even trying to ban ‘coordination’ been politicians and independent expenditure groups may be a bad idea.

Okay now that Ive

Okay, now that I’ve finally thrown off the burden of having to hew to a party line, I can finally come clean! I really dig Joe Lieberman. (And this isn’t just a matter of tribal affiliation.) He rocks. Actually I didn’t use to have much use for him at all – especially when he used to be the darling of all the more reproachable people in DC, when he used to always be knocking his own party, and especially when he used to hang out with that cretin Bill Bennett. But, hey, let’s let bygones be bygones, okay?

Now, here’s the deal. There are at least a half a dozen Democratic senators who want to run for the big office in 2004 – including Lieberman, to put it mildly. But for the moment let’s just focus on the two marquee New Dems who are in the hunt – Lieberman and Evan Bayh.

It’s really not too much to say that in terms of positioning for 2004 Lieberman is just kicking Bayh’s butt. It’s almost painful to watch.

Any New Dem who hopes to be in the hunt in 2004 must at least give props to the liberal base of the party. They’re not going to be the liberals’ choice for the nomination. But they can’t be unacceptable to them either.

Lieberman came out of the 2000 race with a strong sentimental bond with the base of his party. He didn’t so much need to prove himself to them as he needed to keep those embers of affection burning.

But he’s actually done much more than that by becoming the most conspicuous advocate of a progressive alternative to the Bush tax cut – focusing the debate on the importance of the payroll tax burden and advocating a substantial tax cut weighted towards working families.

Each of the presidential wannabes is carving out their own signature issue. Kerry’s got environment. Edwards is taking up Patients’ Bill of Rights. But the tax cut issue is really an issue apart – especially for a New Dem trying to broaden his appeal within his party. Why? Because to the left of the party – the part Lieberman needs to appeal to – its fiscal policy that is the big enchilada, the issue they always fear they’re going to be sold out on.

And what’s Bayh’s angle? That would be ahhhhhhh … pretty much nothing. His big angle is the trigger mechanism – which has gotten almost no political traction, and which most observers now agree is a practical nullity.

Most importantly, it doesn’t significantly depart from the Bush package.

Yes, Democrats argue that the surpluses may not materialize and that we could be plunged back into deficits. But the essence of the Democratic argument is that even if the surpluses do materialize, the Bush tax cut package still represents a massive misallocation of funds – both in terms of who gets tax cuts and what other priorities the money could be spent on.

Part of what’s going on here seems to be a matter of staff. Lieberman’s operation is A-list and Bayh’s just isn’t (we’ll say more about why later). But equally important Bayh just doesn’t seem willing to sign on with what the vast majority of Democrats are thinking when it comes to tax policy. He won’t even sign on to the tax package put together by the DLC, the group of which he is now the chairman. He won’t even really come out against the Bush package.

Hey why is there

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

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

Few spectacles in politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miller put it thus:

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

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

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

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

Here is a quite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you see what

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

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

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

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

Isn’t she in some trouble?

Boy I really dont

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

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

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

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

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

Have you noticed how

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

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

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

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

What’s this about exactly?

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

More on this later.

Alright Ive thought for

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of which suggests a contest.

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

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

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

Only only only in

Only, only, only in South Carolina!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southern politics. Gotta love it.

Since leaving the Clinton

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

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

Why?

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

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

Okay Ive had a

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

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

What, you may ask, is a freelance writer?

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

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

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

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

Ahhhh … Theres nothing

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

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

Are you noticing a

Are you noticing a pattern here?

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

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

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

You noticing a pattern here?

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

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

You noticing a pattern here?

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

Think about it.

CNN has been going

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

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

And pretty good picture quality too, eh?

Bob Torricelli the senior

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

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

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

So, again, why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about it, Bob.

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