Editors’ Blog

Asides ripostes and humorous

Asides, ripostes and humorous comments often tell you more about the direction of someone’s thoughts than their more considered pronouncements. That’s why I was intrigued by the intentionally comical secret list of right-to-sue provisions Marshall Wittman ‘found’ hidden away in the hastily slapped together bill-killing Bush-Norwood Patients’ Bill of Rights.

Here are faux right-to-sue provisions numbers 2,3,4,5 and 10:

2. Certification by the Florida Secretary of State.

3. Exhaustive personal investigation by an Independent Counsel.

4. A peer review by Senior Advisor to the President, Karl Rove.

5. A large certified check made payable to the Katherine Harris for Congress Committee.

10. Unanimous concurrence of the United States Supreme Court.

Florida, the OIC, Katherine Harris, oblique reference to the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision? Aren’t these Dem Talking Points? Our mantra of grievances? The tell-tale signs of the corruption of contemporary Conservatism?

What gives? Is there something you want to tell us, Marshall?

Wittman is certainly no liberal Democrat. Not any kind of Democrat really, at least not yet. But there are a number of us here on the other side of the aisle who believe in a progressive nationalism which isn’t that far removed from what Wittman calls National Greatness Conservatism. And the valence of this sort of McCainite reformism seems to inevitably trend away from traditional Conservatism and the Republican party — except on defense policy (which actually ain’t such a bad thing.)

I’m no fan of the insistent sinophobia and the vestigial attachment to National Missile Defense. But hey, a few years back he was working for the Heritage Foundation and even the Christian Coalition. So give ’em time, give ’em time.

Why hold back, Marshall? Take the plunge. The water feels just fine.

Here at Talking Points

Here at Talking Points we seldom let a day go by without some pithy comment or note. But some events are beyond our control. Early Saturday evening a ‘manhole explosion’ several blocks from the Talking Points world headquarters in Washington, DC cut off power to our offices for some thirty hours. That not only made it impossible to upload new posts; it also spoiled pretty much all the food in the official Talking Points world headquarters refrigerator.

P.S. No, I have no idea what a ‘manhole explosion’ is either.

A number of us

A number of us believe that the Democrats have still not placed sufficient emphasis on what has to be seen as the defining action of the Bush administration thus far: that it’s taken only six months for the administration to squander the budget surpluses it took such hard work in the 1990s to achieve.

(Yes, the economic downturn has something to do with it. But economic downturns happen; it’s called the business cycle. The real culprit is flawed fiscal policy.)

In case you missed it, this is from Jean Meserve yesterday on CNN’s Inside Politics:

And now, some scoops from our sources. The Congressional Budget Office now says it will release new revenue numbers on August 28, a week later than expected. Sources tell us GOP leaders told the CBO to sit on the numbers until Republicans can return from their vacations and be on hand to diffuse the expected fallout. According to one leadership staffer, the new revenue estimates mean, quote, “we’ll just barely miss having to dip into the Social Security trust fund.”

First cooking the books. Now leaving them in the oven too long!

President Bushs speech last

President Bush’s speech last night was pitiful — not in his delivery so much, as in the thinking of his communications staff, which went for a largely technical talk, when a more personal one was what the moment called for. Having said that though I actually thought that Bush’s decision, politically, may have been about the best he could do in a bad situation.

Few seem to be making the point, however, that the president’s decision simply fails to meet the standard of simple logic.

Everybody realizes that thousands upon thousands of ‘extra’ embryos now sitting on ice in fertility clinics are going to be destroyed. The principled pro-life stance says that even if good could come of destroying these embryos it’s still wrong to exploit the good that could come of it. I, of course, completely disagree with this position. But it’s not an incoherent one, if you buy into the principles of the pro-life argument.

The principle is not unlike that which makes us recoil from the alleged Chinese practice of scheduling executions to maximize organ harvesting. As ethicists would say, it’s the fruit of the poison tree. It doesn’t matter that some benefit may come of it. The underlying act is wrong, tainted, impermissible and thus benefiting from it is wrong.

Again, that’s not an incoherent ethical stance. The only problem is that that stance also prevents using stem cells already harvested from embryos. Precisely what President Bush has now endorsed.

All politicians play the

All politicians play the ‘outside the beltway’ card and talk about getting out and talking to real Americans. As well they should, since DC is a very weird place.

But President Bush is pushing the envelope a bit. It’s not just outside the Beltway, but the “heartland.” And it’s becoming pretty clear that when Bush talks about the “heartland” he means the South and the rural and small-town Midwest, or in other words, the states he won. Here’s the President from yesterday in Waco, Texas:

I’ve told the people of the nation’s capital there that I was coming back to the heartland to herald the values of the heartland, the values that make America so different and so unique. And one of those values is neighbors helping neighbors … I’ve had the honor of traveling the — the world for our country — or went to Europe. And we’re different, in a positive way. We’re unique in an incredibly positive way. It’s important for our nation never to lose sight of that … We’re making great progress in Washington changing the tone of our country. We’re making great progress reminding people that the values of the heartland are the values that make America unique and different.

I won’t belabor the point that the Bush-defined heartland (especially the South) tops almost every recorded measure of social dysfunction and pathology — murder, poverty, illegtimacy, etc. — but I mean, what about the deracinated and cosmopolitan coastal strips? Aren’t we Americans too?

Lets follow up on

Let’s follow up on yesterday’s and the day before yesterday’s posts about Clinton and Maureen Dowd. When I asked Clinton spokesperson Julia Payne whether the inauguration day exchange between James Baker and Bill Clinton had actually taken place, she responded: “The former president did not say anything of the sort to Jim Baker.”

I followed up with Maureen Dowd too. Her assistant, Marc Santora, responded on her behalf: “Maureen says it is an anecdote with impeccable sourcing but she never discusses sources.”

Is an ‘anecdote’ different from a quote? And anyway aren’t there video tapes of the whole inauguration ceremony that would let us see if they chatted? Let’s go to the tapes!

Todays Maureen Dowd column

Today’s Maureen Dowd column is a good example of the problem mentioned in yesterday’s post. Today’s column, needless to say, is on the Bill Clinton book deal. And towards the end Dowd reveals a fictitious chapter she was ‘leaked’ in which the ex-pres dishes about what appears to be a first tryst with Monica Lewinsky.

It’s entirely clear from the context and the over-the-top quality of the leaked chapter that Dowd is putting us on. And that’s perfectly legit. Talking Points has even been known to do the same some time.

But the alleged exchange between Bill Clinton and Jim Baker in Sunday’s column kinda looks like it’s just a put-on too. But it’s not clear. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Is it a quote or is it made up? I’m not sure. Is anyone sure?

I’m not sure that we’re supposed to be sure.

A couple days ago

A couple days ago I took a harmless whack at Maureen Dowd for an error she made in her Sunday column on Al Gore. But I was even more interested in this paragraph.

At W.’s inauguration, as Bill Clinton and Al Gore walked down the stairs, Bill stopped at James Baker’s row. “You were good in Florida, man, damn good,” Elvis told the Velvet Hammer. Gesturing toward Mr. Gore, he went on: “But if this [epithet] would’ve listened to me and put me out on the trail, you’d of never had the chance to be good.”

Where’s that quote from? I follow politics pretty closely and I’ve never heard it before. Not even as scuttlebut. More to the point, the quote sounds a bit like what we sometimes call a story that’s too good to check. In other words, it sounds a bit too good.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Clinton didn’t say this. He very well may have. He certainly believes in the premise of the quote. But without a clue about the source it’s hard to evaluate its credibility.

So where’s the sourcing? Where’s the quote from? I doubt Hillary or Bill gave it to her. Was it Jim Baker? Al Gore? Who?

There are any number

There are any number of dishonesties and distortions trucked out to hide the essentially ideological nature of the stakes involved in the Social Security privatization debate. (If you want to see one of the more shambling and pitiful examples read this article.)

But one of the most enduring is the contention that Social Security makes about a 2% annual rate of return and that a privatized version of Social Security would make perhaps three times that rate — in the neighborhood of 6% or 7% annually.

The idea is that Social Security is so ineptly managed because it’s in the hands of the government rather than the market. But this is a classic example of an inherently dishonest analogy. One of the key reasons the “rate of return” for Social Security is low is that much of the money that goes into Social Security goes into payments that aren’t strictly for retirement, but rather ones that buffer or spread around the risks inherent in life.

Let me give you an example.

When I was twelve my mother died, rather suddenly. She was thirty-seven.

On my behalf, for the next six years, and on my sister’s behalf for the next fourteen years (i.e., until we were eighteen), my father received checks from the Social Security administration to help raise us.

I don’t remember precisely but I think these checks were for a few hundred dollars a month for each of us. Maybe two-hundred something; I’m not sure.

At the time she died my mother was thirty-seven, so in theory she had been of working age for fifteen years. But for much of my childhood she either didn’t work or worked part-time. So figure, rounding out, that there were perhaps ten years in which she was paying into Social Security, and all of those at relatively low-paying jobs.

I could run the numbers if I had more specific receipts and check-stubs here with me, but the point is pretty clear: Social Security paid out far, far more to my mother’s minor children than she ever paid in. So her extremely high “rate of return” – to use what is obviously in this case a fairly misleading phrase – was very high and it pulled everyone else’s down a bit.

Let’s think for a moment about why this is.

The idea here isn’t that her pay-in had accumulated such-and-such rate of return but that this was part of the money she would have put toward raising us had she not died (thus the cut-off at age eighteen). This is an ethical and public policy decision, not a market one. Not only could she not make that money, for obvious reasons. But the money she had paid in wasn’t enough to accomplish very much. So what happened was that, under the rules of Social Security, a bit of everyone else’s money was diverted toward her children, just as it routinely is for the surviving children of countless others around the country. A part of the financial consequences of her misfortune was spread out among everyone else. Social Security isn’t just a big investment pool, it’s also a social compact. Or, as public policy types would say, social insurance.

This is a good example of why the issues surrounding Social Security reform aren’t really computational as much as they are social and ethical and ideological.

Social Security – as currently structured – represents a sort of nation-wide social compact against the vicissitudes and tragedies of our existence. We know that a certain percentage of us will die early with obligations to our children still outstanding, or we will become disabled and unable to work, and many of those down the income scale won’t have made enough yet when they die to have built up funds of cash for their children. That’s where Social Security comes in. Social Security isn’t just a particularly poorly managed 401(k) plan it’s a vast social program in which we share risk, or to put it more immediately, in which we collectively look out for each other.

When privatizers say you could get much better returns in privatized accounts one of the things they’re saying is that this part of Social Security would just be dropped. That it’s every man and woman for him or herself. That for widows, and the disabled, and orphans or kids whose parents die, that it’s just tough *#$&. Or if your private account goes south? Well, that’s tough #@$* too. (Not only is privatized Social Security not secure, it’s also not social.)

Whether we should have the current kind of Social Security or the privatized version is a debate well worth having. But the privatizers are deeply committed to having the debate on dishonest terms.

Which makes sense, since it’s probably the only way they can win.

Among Dems today youve

Among Dems today, you’ve got plenty of Clinton loyalists and plenty of Gore loyalists. But not too many Clinton-Gore loyalists. In fact, hardly any. This is not just because they’re so different personally. It’s also because they now both carry a whole theory of Democratic politics trailing behind them like a string of tin cans trailing behind a newlyweds’ car.

To Clintonites, of course, Clinton provided Gore with might may have been the most well executed assist in political history: a roaring economy, a troubled opposition party, every negative social indicator down, every positive one up, etc. etc. etc.

To the Gore folks, Gore never really had a chance, given the bad feelings over impeachment. Clinton, through his own reckless indulgence and irresponsibility, screwed things up for all Democrats in 2000 and particularly for Al Gore. Even the party’s problems over social and cultural issues in the heartland — that’s really just about Clinton getting it on with Monica.

My problem is that I am a Clinton-Gore loyalist. I really, really like both these guys. Why that is I’m not completely certain, since they’re so very different, and in some sense liking the one should make liking the other an impossibility.

Perhaps Clinton appeals to my inner Clinton (protean, reckless, ingenious, indomitable, always waiting till the last minute) and Gore appeals to my inner Gore (clunky rectitude, loyal, genuine, self-mocking, ardent, serious, earnest, shy). Okay, let’s stop there. This is getting a bit too personal and more than a little embarrassing.

Back to the topic at hand.

Like so many long-standing differences of interpretation, the truth is that both of these theories of what happened in 2000 are true. Or at least both are true in parts. It’s a bad sign that more in the party don’t recognize this. And it’s something that needs to get worked out if Dems are going to be able to think clearly about 2004.

We’ll be saying much, much more about this.

This article in todays

This article in today’s Post by Susan Schmidt and Bill Miller says the US Attorney’s office is considering ramping up the obstruction investigation against Gary Condit and his top aides. The article doesn’t quite say so but there’s a pretty obvious implication to this: that the Feds do think Condit may be involved, since why else would pursuing the obstruction case help kick-start the Levy investigation.

On the other hand, now that Susan Schmidt’s heading up the case for the Post you’ve got to figure that the odds of Condit’s being completely innocent have just risen dramatically.

Ive always marveled at

I’ve always marveled at those not-infrequent Maureen Dowd columns that have a gazillion adjectives, three dozen clever phrases or riffs, and no discernible narrative structure or point whatsoever. But this example from this morning’s paper particularly caught my eye.

Does Mr. Gore really think that all the Ken dolls — John Edwards, Evan Bayh, John Kerry — much less his eager ex-protégé, Joe Lieberman, will simply step aside and say, “Oh, O.K., Al, you go again”?

Maureen Dowd
August 5th, 2001
New York Times

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a charismatic midwestern moderate regularly mentioned as a leading prospect for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, took himself out of the running last week, saying he wanted to spend as much time as possible with his twin 5-year-old sons.

Ben White
June 17th 2001
Washington Post

Even frothy columns need fact-checking, right?

Hey whats the deal

Hey, what’s the deal with that beard!?!? Is that Al Gore? I mean, look, I’ve gotta admit, I think it looks pretty good.

Anyway, on more substantive matters, Gore does seem to be making his first tentative steps out of his wisely self-imposed post-election exile. He’s apparently going to start out by campaigning for New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Jim McGreevey this Fall.

I was talking to a New Dem friend of mine a few days ago who wonders whether Gore will “torment” Democrats with another run at the White House in 2004. He’s certainly not the only one who feels that way. But I’ll be honest, I’ve still got a very soft spot in my heart for the guy. And it ain’t just because of the beard!

We’ll be saying more about this.

As I explained last

As I explained last night a number of readers have written in questioning what I earlier said about Lisa DePaulo, the author of the buzzful article on Chandra Levy and Gary Condit in the new issue of Talk magazine. They had read a post on Bob Somerby’s Daily Howler site and wondered whether I hadn’t gotten it wrong. To recap: I said she was wonderful and very knowledgeable about the whole Chandra-Condit story; Somerby thinks she’s neither.

Many of the things Somerby says are simply ad-hominem remarks. So in those cases there’s nothing for me to say but that I disagree with him. Let me also say that I really don’t like knocking Somerby because his column was so good last year during the presidential campaign, knocking down countless half-truths and untruths about Al Gore. Having said that, though, let me just give one example of how a little knowledge and lots of attitude has allowed Somerby to say some unkind and untrue things about DePaulo.

In the post in question Somerby lays out the following facts. In a Larry King interview a few nights ago Chandra Levy’s uncle said they first told the police about Chandra’s affair with Condit on May 15th. Yet a short time later on the same broadcast DePaulo repeated her claim that Levy’s aunt and uncle had told the cops about the affair from “day one.”

Here’s what Somerby said about the apparent contradiction:

But, if Katz is to be believed, “Aunt Linda” did not come forward on “Day One,” and neither, it would seem, did the Levys. DePaulo has repeatedly claimed on King’s program that the police knew about the affair “from Day One.” Last night, she continued to make the melodramatic claim even after Katz seemed to say it wasn’t true.

Does any of this matter? It only matters if you’re trying to determine what has actually gone on in this case. But it matters in a different way too; it makes a difference in the hagiography which pseudo-journalists like DePaulo have been peddling. In truth, DePaulo has been functioning like a novelist; she wants to tell a morality tale, and she wants it to work Just One Way. She wants the Levys to be Totally Righteous, and she wants Condit to be a mustachio-twirling villain. Therefore, she doesn’t want you to think that the Levys, like Condit, may have initially withheld what they knew of the sexual affair. When Katz suggests that the Levys did not tell police about the affair, she rushes to clean up the story.

In other words, Somerby says that DePaulo is either ignorant of the facts of the case or indifferent to them.

Let me explain Somerby’s mistake.

There are two issues here. One is whether the Levys suspected the affair with Condit from the first or only made these charges much later. I know the former is true because they told numerous people so at the very outset of the case.

In his post Somerby says the Levys first called police on May 5th (ten days before the uncle says the matter of the affair was broached.) That’s true. But Somerby seems only to know the date with little of the context.

On May 5th, the Levys first called police but were basically blown off. Again the following day they called, this time more intently and begged police to visit Chandra’s apartment. They did so, but conducted no search. Then several more days went by until police warmed to the idea that something was seriously wrong and conducted a full forensic search of Levy’s apartment. I don’t have the precise dates in front of me. But the point is that by the time the police were taking the case seriously — doing searches, conducting interviews with Chandra’s aunt and uncle, and so forth — it was a good week later. In other words, pretty close to May 15th.

Somerby’s idea seems to be that the first frantic phone call Levy’s father made to the police on May 5th should have gone something like this:

Officer, we’re terribly worried about our daughter. She hasn’t responded to our calls in days. We’re very worried. It’s not like her. Can you please send someone to her apartment? And … oh yeah, officer, by the way, she’s been doing the wild-thing with our Congressman Gary Condit.

Somehow I don’t think this is what Lisa meant. By “day one” I think she meant that from their first conversations with the police the Levys told them that they suspected Chandra had been having an affair with Condit. Not only do I believe this is true; but the timeline DePaulo mentioned makes perfect sense if you have more than a passing understanding of the details of the case.

Ive gotten several emails

I’ve gotten several emails this evening from readers pointing me toward the July 31st Daily Howler by Bob Somerby as evidence that I’m wrong in my estimation of Lisa DePaulo, whom I called “wonderful” and one of the most knowledgeable folks about the Chandra case in this afternoon’s post.

I went and read Somerby’s criticism in which he calls Lisa, among other things, a “pseudo- journalist.” It pains me to say this, because I usually really like Somerby’s column, but in this case he’s simply wrong. About the person (DePaulo) and about the facts he supposedly calls her out on.

Unfortunately, I’m writing on deadline tonight and don’t have time to go into all the particulars. But I’ll be jumping into the fray either later this evening or tomorrow to set the record straight and defend Lisa (not that she needs defending, but you know what I mean) from these churlish and unfounded attacks.

Yes, Talking Points is just that chivalrous!

On Star Trek they

On Star Trek they call it ‘synaptic breakdown,’ the fatal, final, flickering of neural firing that marks the collapse of coherent brain wave activity and the onset of death. Media marathons often end in a similar manner. And the long-running Gary Condit-Chandra Levy saga has apparently arrived at just that point.

Need some examples? Well, how about Greta Van Susteren’s show tonight about how the foreign media is reporting and interpreting the Chandra story … (Hmmmmmm. What do the Sri Lankans make of all this. The Nepalese?) Or the running stories across all the cable nets today about parents getting leery about sending their fetching daughters off to be interns in Washington (Hint: don’t do the fifty-something pol, and you’ll be just fine).

Yesterday’s apparently-now -discredited report of Levy’s body being buried down on a military base near Richmond, Virginia seems less like the much-awaited third act and much more like one of those cliched scenes from a mid-century Hollywood melodrama where the on-the- edge-of-death hospital patient rouses him or herself for one final revealing utterance before finally giving up the ghost entirely.

There are a few good things out there worth watching still. Larry King has the wonderful Lisa DePaulo on tonight. Her much awaited Talk magazine article will be out next week (you’ll definitely hear some new and revealing info from her tonight). For at least part of the show Lisa will have to share the stage with the motley crew of Garegos, Olson, Epstein, et.al., who have little if any idea of any of the facts of the case. But Lisa is one of the few folks in this whole media circus who is chock full of info and has a pretty clear understanding of everything that is knowable about the case.

There’s certainly more facts to discover about this whole ugly, sorrowful story. And no end of leads worth following up. But the prospect of ever truly knowing what happened to Chandra Levy is beginning to look distant indeed. And the chances of justice for whomever did her harm look bleaker still. We may never know with absolute certainty whether Chandra Levy is alive or dead. The fate of this story, though, looks much more clear.

The story late this

The story late this afternoon is that President Bush managed to ink a deal with Patients’ Bill of Rights pooh-bah Charlie Norwood. The story is a little less than meets the eye, though. Not only did Norwood not have his House and Senate allies on board for this compromise; but those allies seem to think Norwood just got rolled — squeezed until he popped by the folks at the White House, my Senate sources tell me.

Of course, this could suit the White House’s purposes just fine, because the chief goal for the White House is not to pass its own bill. That might be nice. But their paramount goal is to prevent the existing PBOR bill from getting to the president’s desk, and thus forcing him either to sign it or veto it. If Norwood’s defection helps bring over enough moderate Republicans to pass a Bush-acceptable bill through the House then maybe they can just let the whole thing languish and die in conference and be done with it.

Maybe we should be calling this an ABR administration — anything but reform. How’s that sound to you, Marshall?

Ive had a number

I’ve had a number of folks write in commenting on the glories of private accounts and the wonders of individual ownership of assets. This seems like a good opportunity to dispel a widespread myth.

Looking at the current Social Security debate you could easily get the impression that the debate is over private accounts. That’s actually not true. There’s a pretty wide consensus in support of private accounts — stretching across most of the ideological spectrum from the right to the left. The Clinton administration had a private accounts proposal called USA accounts.

The debate isn’t really over private accounts so much as it’s about where the money comes from. Or more specifically, whether private accounts are instituted on top of Social Security or whether they replace Social Security. A very big difference.

More on this later.

Ive seen a number

I’ve seen a number of published responses, rebukes, and so forth, to my article in Salon over the weekend about Republicans conflating the Condit drama with impeachment. And I’ve just noticed Andrew Sullivan posted a response too.

You can read it yourself to decide what you think. But this sentence jumped out at me.

“Condit has been accused of no crime whatsoever, and his sex life has been conducted entirely with individuals (so far as we know) who don’t work for him.”

Really? The woman’s name is Joleen McKay. She had an affair with Condit in the mid-1990s when she was a low-level staffer in his Capitol Hill office. She’s discussed this with the FBI and several news organizations. The watch box disposed of in Virginia was a gift from her.

Andrew, maybe it’s a bogus story. But if you’re going to criticize, you’ve at least gotta keep up.

Let me make this

Let me make this site true to its name for a moment and suggest a pretty obvious question for any intrepid political reporter or Democratic pol or flack:

Mr. Lindsey (note: insert name of other administration mouthpiece as appropriate), why should Americans trust the Bush administration to protect Social Security when the administration has already broken its promise not to spend the Social Security surplus on tax cuts?

It’s a difficult question for them to answer. So why not ask it? Over and over and over.

There was a rumor

There was a rumor swirling around Washington last week that Abbe Lowell might be out as Rep. Gary Condit’s attorney. I mention it now because nothing seems to have come of it. And presumably the rumor was unfounded.

But if it had been true it would have had some obvious implications quite apart from Mr. Lowell’s professional prospects. Sometimes when a defense attorney bows out of a case it is because he or she has either come to know too much, has said too much, or has committed him or herself to too much to effectively defend the client.

No, don’t worry. This isn’t another Gary Condit post.

But the logic suggests a connection to Talking Points’ other big obsession: Social Security.

I’ve wondered for a while why Mitch Daniels has been out front and center on the administration’s efforts to justify dipping into the Social Security surplus funds. After all Larry Lindsey is the big privatization guru and he’s the one who penned the tax cut bill. So why not Larry?

Could it be because he’d already committed himself too squarely and fulsomely to keeping those funds off-limits (the promise Daniels has now said the administration will break)?

Here’s a clip from a Jules Witcover column of March 14th:

some Democrats argue that as the Bush administration spends more for defense, education and other programs, it may have to dip into Social Security surpluses to give Mr. Bush’s cuts to income tax payers. Larry Lindsey, Mr. Bush’s presidential assistant for economic policy, denies it, saying Social Security money will “never” have to be touched for this purpose.

Ask not for whom the box locks, Larry. It locks for thee!

Ive had a number

I’ve had a number of letters on my article which appeared in Salon, asking, frankly, what I was saying. This is an ambiguous comment on my writing skills; but I appreciate the interest. So here goes.

Anti-Clinton Republicans always said that defending Bill Clinton was just a matter of defending anyone with a ‘D’ after their name from any charge whatsoever. Or perhaps defending anyone named Clinton from any charge whatsoever. Speaking for myself at least I can assure that wasn’t the case. It would be better to say that it was about defending a good person against a politically motivated witch-hunt even if that person had himself had done some boneheaded things which had greatly complicated his situation.

Do I think Democrats should jump on the self-righteous Bob Barr bandwagon? No.

Do I think Gary Condit should resign because he had one or a hundred extra-marital affairs? No.

Do I think Gary Condit should resign because he’s impeded the investigation into Levy’s disappearance? I’m uncertain on this; but I don’t think so. Not yet at least. (I’ll explain more on that in a later post).

Do I think (given the larger factors in play here) that congressional Democrats should be giving any consideration to the fact that this could lead to the loss of Condit’s congressional seat? No.

Do I think elected Democrats should (without moral posturing or grandstanding) say that Gary Condit should cooperate in every way possible with the police investigation (personal embarrassment and political fallout notwithstanding) and that to date he doesn’t appear to have done so? Absolutely.

Another splendid column today

Another splendid column today by Paul Krugman about the Bush tax cut in the NYT. By all means read it. By two grafs are so important that I’m going to reproduce them here:

On the other hand, there are some people who think very hard about the future budget picture, like bond traders — which brings us to Alan Greenspan. On Tuesday Mr. Greenspan was trying to explain to a Senate hearing why repeated interest- rate cuts have not yet turned the economy around. An important part of the explanation, as he noted, is that while the Fed has reduced short-term rates, long-term rates have stayed stubbornly high. Why?

An obvious answer is that bond traders, who not long ago expected the government to rapidly pay down its debt, now see the projected surplus dwindling rapidly because of the tax cut. So it’s just supply and demand: estimates of the future supply of bonds are rising, so bond prices are falling — and that means higher long-term interest rates (including mortgage rates). When asked by Senator Charles Schumer whether this was a factor in the economy’s sluggish response to Fed policy, Mr. Greenspan replied, “Oh yes, no question.”

This could scarcely be more important. And we’ll be saying more about why. But suffice it to say it not only relates to our current predicament but also touches directly upon Bill Clinton’s 1993 deficit reduction/tax increase bill, and why folks on the right and the left have been wrong to ignore the role it played in spurring and sustaining the boom economy of the 1990s.

I couldnt have asked

I couldn’t have asked for a better foil for my Salon article about Clinton-bashers comparing Condit to Bill Clinton in an effort to lay one more layer of spin on impeachment. Tucker Carlson’s column in New York Magazine takes the argument a step further, though. Clinton isn’t the same as Condit; he’s much worse!

From my experience, this sort of thing is like the blue spot appearing on the home Clinton-hating test you can buy at your local drugstore: the ability to compare Bill Clinton to almost any other malefactor and find him not only a far more egregious evildoer but in some degree also contributing to the other fellow’s undoing and suffering.

I remember a former boss once telling me how Bill Clinton was an unpardonable sleaze and (in the same breath) how Jack and Bobby Kennedy were great guys who inspired his generation. Never mind, of course, that Jack Kennedy did so many women in the White House that his exploits make Clinton look like the wallflower at the high school dance. What was even worse about Clinton, he said, was that his peccadillos had retrospectively tarred the Kennedy brothers. (No, I’m not sure I can explain that one either.)

Anyway, in Carlson’s piece the superficial similarities between the Condit and Clinton cases belie the deeper reality: Condit is an essentially blameless rube caught in the headlights of a media firestorm bereft of all of Bill Clinton’s advantages. He has no army of mindless, shillifying defenders, no media machine to crunch the bones of his adversaries, and no army at his beck and call to commit war crimes abroad to cover up his troubles at home. And thus Gary Condit is a sort of tragic figure, paying the price, as we all seem to do sooner or later for Bill Clinton’s sins.

Am I missing something here? Bill Clinton’s ‘crimes’ were manufactured ones; Gary Condit is under legitimate suspicion of involvement in the disappearance of his girlfriend. I’ve noted before that I think obstruction charges should be handed down only very sparingly. But if you want to talk about obstruction, Gary Condit has apparently obstructed a real investigation, not a cooked-up, bogus one headed up by Ken Starr. Could anything better expose the factual and moral myopia of Clinton’s Monica-era critics?

Lets do a little

Let’s do a little due diligence on our friend Mitch Daniels, shall we?

Here’s a quote from Daniels’ appearance on NPR’s Talk of the Nation last Wednesday (7/25/01):

It’s very fascinating to me that people who argue against, for instance, this tax cut, have little or nothing to say about the payroll tax, which is a flat tax on the first dollar of income that the poorest American makes, essentially. It’s very regressive, weighs much more heavily on people at the bottom than on the wealthy. And yet it seems to be fiercely defended by the same people who argue for higher taxes on the income side.

Really? Nothing to say about the payroll tax?

This is the sort of blithe dishonesty that seems to role off Daniels’ tongue with distressing ease. I don’t want to call Mitch a liar or anything (it’s such an ugly word); but let’s agree to call this a tour de force of disingenuousness.

Here’s why.

During last Spring’s tax cut debate the centerpiece of the Democrats’ alternative tax cut plan was tax relief for Americans who pay most or all of their taxes in payroll taxes rather than income taxes — roughly three-quarters of Americans.

The proposed mechanism for accomplishing this was a refundable income tax credit against a portion of payroll tax liability. This would have limited the bite of payroll taxation without harming the funding base of Social Security. Republicans vigorously resisted this approach by arguing that payroll taxes are somehow not real taxes in the way that income taxes are. As top economic advisor Larry Lindsey dismissively put it, “the tax cut proposal is designed to cut taxes for people who pay taxes … if you don’t pay taxes, it’s very hard to get a tax cut.” Or in Daniels’ boss’s slightly more candid phrase, the administration supported “tax relief for everyone who pays income taxes.”

Which Democrats supported tax relief aimed at those who pay payroll taxes? Oh … Joe Lieberman, the New Dem Democratic Leadership Council, the liberal Economic Policy Institute, basically all of them.

Or take another example. Ted Kennedy, who, in case you hadn’t heard, opposed the Bush tax cut, has for several years been trying to reduce payroll taxes from 6.2% to 5.3%. He would fund the cut by eliminating the cap on payroll taxation which allows high-income earners to avoid payroll taxes on much of their income.

(It’s fair to note that liberal Social Security wonks have in the past been leery about fiddling with payroll taxes for fear of either harming the fiscal integrity of Social Security or eroding popular support for the program — something I’ve criticized in the past. But the trend among Democrats in the last few years has been very much in the opposite direction.)

I could cite numerous other examples. But suffice it to say that for anyone who’s followed tax policy debates over recent years Daniels’ comment is utter crap — which suggests a pattern.

Personally I cant stand

Personally, I can’t stand roller coasters. And I haven’t been on one since I was like six — that experience was traumatizing enough. But one of the things you would think you wouldn’t have to worry about is two roller coasters colliding. That’s what happened today in Salem, New Hampshire. (I knew I was right not get on another one of those things.)

Dont these jokers have

Don’t these jokers have more important things to worry about?

Overland Park, Kansas-based artist Terry Aley put his Condit/Chandra collage painting (pictured here) up for sale on eBay recently. But the painting was ordered removed from the online auction site on Monday after Representative Condit complained about potential copyright infringement. The letter Aley received read in part:

We regret to inform you that your auction: 1448723501 NEW ABSTRACT ART-CHANDRA LEVY & GARY CONDIT has been ended at the request of Representative Gary A. Condit, a member of eBay’s Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) Program, because they filed a sworn statement that it offers a product or contains material which violates their copyright, trademark or other rights.

Note to Condit, Dayton et. al: Don’t sweat the copyright infringement. Concentrate on effective evidence disposal!

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!

A reader passes on

A reader passes on a very speculative but very interesting thought. Personal items can often be receptacles of evidence in crimes of violence. We know all about the watch box Gary Condit tossed into a trash can over in Arlington, Virginia hours before police searched his apartment. This was the box for the watch given to him by a former girlfriend who worked on his staff in the mid-nineties.

It was very important to Gary Condit to throw away the watch box. Which raises an obvious question ….

So where’s the watch?

Oops The New York

Oops! The New York Times has done precious little reporting on the Condit case; perhaps to their credit, perhaps not — you be the judge. It’s always a little sad, though, when one of the bigs ignores the story for weeks and then manages to get a big fact wrong once they actually take a whack at it.

James Risen’s article in today’s Times reports on Gary Condit’s refusal to meet with private investigators working for the Levy family. (Given the acrimony between Condit and the Levys it’s actually not hard to blame him, but that’s another story.) At the tail end of the piece Risen reports that the Levy investigators are combing over the Condit timeline.

Here’s the last graf (emphasis added):

In the Condit timeline, first made public in June by ABC News, Mr. Condit said that at 12:30 p.m. on May 1, he met with Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House. He returned to his office that afternoon for meetings and phone conversations with his constituents, had a doctor’s appointment at 5 p.m., voted on the House floor at 6:30 p.m., and then met with a reporter at a restaurant in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood of Washington, near his home. He and his wife later had dinner at home.

Met with a reporter on May 1st? Really? Has Risen caught any other reporting on the Condit-Levy story in say the last month or so?

Apparently Risen didn’t catch my story on this meeting from two weeks ago or Jake Tapper’s piece last week. Because we both reported what everyone else now knows: that that meeting took place on the second, not, as the Condit team first alleged, on the first — a pretty important difference when you consider that that’s the day Levy disappeared.

But don’t take our word for it. Check out when the Modesto Bee reported on it. Or when ABC News finally reported on it. Or maybe just ask the Condit legal team — they DISAVOWED it about a month ago.

I mean, c’mon guys, this ain’t the Wen-ho Lee story. You’ve actually gotta report this stuff out.

It may not have

It may not have been the most eye-popping piece on the Condit craziness but this article in today’s USA Today may turn out to be one of the more significant. The article reports that the obstruction of justice investigation of Gary Condit seems to be focusing in on two of his long-time aides: Mike Lynch, Condit’s Modesto-based Chief of Staff, who’s been with Condit since his days in the California State Assembly back into the early 1980s, and Mike Dayton, Condit’s Washington-based Administrative Assistant.

We’ll be saying more about this very soon. But remember, it’s a classic prosecutorial tactic to indict the small-fry on ancillary charges and then squeeze them into rolling on their higher-ups.

And, yes, this probably has a lot to do with that watch-box tossed in the trash can in Arlington, Virginia and the person who drove him there to do the tossing.

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