Editors’ Blog

Heres a very disappointing

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

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

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

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

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

More on this topic later.

Okay lets be honest.

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

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

But is this true? Hardly.

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

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

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

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

Damn Oh the frustration

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

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

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

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

Alright. Lets be honest

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

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

Brouhahas like the Marc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey look Mickey Kaus

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

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

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

Hey Wait a second

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

Maybe Hanssen snagged it!!!

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

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

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

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

Robert Philip Hanssen seems

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

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

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

Top Ten Reasons why

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

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

4. Gives Jack Quinn someone to look down on.

3. Even drug traffickers need a break sometimes.

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

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

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


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

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

Hey Wait a second

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

Maybe Hanssen snagged it!!!

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

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

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

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

Robert Philip Hanssen seems

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

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

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

Hmmmmm … Looks like

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

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

As I wrote at the time:

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

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

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

This is the emerging MO.

Dana Milbank is such

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

If Dick Cheneys Chief

If Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Lewis Libby, is so outraged about President Clinton’s reference to him as a supporter of the Marc Rich pardon, then why won’t he express that outrage or deny the assertion on the record?

Much as I dont

Much as I don’t want to run out into the middle of the highway with a blindfold on, I think I must on the matter of the Marc Rich pardon.

Like so many other episodes in the Clinton saga, the profound folly of the ex-president’s original action is quickly buried in a heap of sanctimonious outrage and over-statement about it.

The driving story today is Bill Clinton’s New York Times Op-Ed defending the Rich pardon. The column has already unleashed yet another mini-blow-up – this over the former president’s statement that

the case for the pardons was reviewed and advocated not only by my former White House counsel Jack Quinn but also by three distinguished Republican attorneys: Leonard Garment, a former Nixon White House official; William Bradford Reynolds, a former high-ranking official in the Reagan Justice Department; and Lewis Libby, now Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff.

Referencing Jill Abramson’s article in today’s New York Times, my friend Mickey Kaus, calls this an “apparent astonishing lie.” And Kaus is hardly the only one saying this — just the easiest to link to.

Well, let’s start with Libby. We’ll get to Len Garment (“I don’t know why he did it, but I think Clinton did the right thing.“) and Brad Reynolds later.

Tom Brokaw, NBC Nightly News, on January 29th : “Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff,

Lewis Libby, also once represented Rich and also tried to

arrange a pardon for him during that time…”

On February 5th The New Yorker wrote that Libby had been one of the “most aggressive lawyers” seeking clemency for Rich and continued to work on his behalf until taking his new job at the White House.

As the New York Daily News blurbed the New Yorker story:

Mary Matalin, Cheney’s communications director, said when asked about Libby’s role in seeking a Rich pardon: “He was part of the team that represented Rich, but I don’t think he wants to talk about the particulars of the case. We’re moving forward, not looking back.”

We’ll talk later about the accuracy of the former president’s statement. But can repeating an undisputed statement in the public record be an “astonishing lie”?

Last Friday John Fund

Last Friday John Fund of the Wall Street Journal Editorial page went on the Geraldo Rivera show to chat about the brouhaha surrounding the Marc Rich pardon.

At one point, in exasperation, Rivera asked Fund, “Have you apologized yet for the [false] stories about White House vandalism? Have you apologized?”

Here’s the interchange that followed…

FUND: I never ran–I never ran any stories about it.

RIVERA: Have you apologized–has your newspaper apologized for the stories about…

FUND: We never–we never referenced it.

Now my understanding of this back-and-forth is that Fund first denied that he had ever written about the prank story. Then when he says “we” he’s talking about his publication, the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page and it’s public online incarnation Opinionjournal.com. So in the second run-through he’s denying that the editorial page had ever played up prankgate.

So is this true? They’d didn’t even mention it? Please! Not even close. How about the predictable Peggy Noonan on January 26th (Back to Normal) or Tunku Varadarajan on January 29th (No Joke)? Or do only unsigned pieces count? Well then how about this piece also from January 26th (Gary Aldrich Was Right)?

An editorial zinger to drive the point home?

Nope. I think this one speaks for itself.

Okay Talking Points has

Okay, Talking Points has gotten a touch earnest lately. So let’s lighten it up a bit. Let’s run down the official Talking Points Top Ten list of reasons why the Senate should reject Bush’s nomination of Ted Olson to be Solicitor General.

So, Anton, a drum roll please ….

The Top Ten reasons the Senate should neg Solicitor General nominee Ted Olson are …

10. Made his legal career attacking and dismantling federal environmental and anti-discrimination laws.

9. Successfully argued one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in American history.

8. Just squints too damn much.

7. Too big a buds with Kenneth Starr.

6. What would be big polluters and tobacco companies do without him?

5. Helped prep the Paula Jones legal team for their appearance before the Supreme Court.

4. One degree of separation from former federal prosecutor/Clinton-hating freak/Dan Burton crony/Hillary-bashing author Barbara Olson is just too close!

3. Spent mid-1990s organizing and overseeing multi-million dollar anti-Clinton dirty tricks campaign called the Arkansas Project.

2. Because it’s the right thing to do.

1. ‘Cuzz it would just feel so damn good.

P.S. This Top Ten list is so damn good won’t you please give me the exact link so I can forward it to my peeps? Sure, my pleasure … click here.

P.P.S. Hey, did I miss any? If you think so, send your reasons here. We’ll post the best. (Say whether I can use your name, or no).

John McCain is getting

John McCain is getting a lot of attention these days for his aggressive efforts in support of campaign finance reform, and to a lesser extent in favor of Patients’ Bill of Rights legislation. My hunch, though, is that he’s going to play a key role in the upcoming debate over the mammoth Bush tax cut – though this possibility has not yet garnered much attention.

During the Republican primaries McCain campaigned against the Bush tax cut on grounds quite similar to those Democrats are now using to oppose it – objections to its size, the effect on the country’s ability to pay off the national debt, and it’s skew toward the wealthiest Americans.

Sources close to McCain say he’s now revisiting the whole issue of the tax cut in the light of the rapidly decelerating economy. But from all the available evidence it seems to me that McCain will likely again oppose Bush’s bill (possibly in a slightly updated fashion), and perhaps make the case against it even more effectively than Democrats.

McCain has good reason to oppose the Bush bill on substantive policy grounds. He’s a debt hawk; he’s troubled that the Bush plan might prevent increases in military spending; and his positions on health care issues are not that different from those of many Senate Democrats. But don’t discount the intensity of animosity between McCain and his supporters and Bush and his. It’s a mix of ideological and personal enmities that runs very deep.

And now for something totally different (or at least kinda different).

Senator McCain is often associated with a Conservative splinter-movement called National Greatness Conservatism.

Even National Greatness types admit that the movement (if you can call it that) is quite amorphous. But broadly speaking, National Greatness types see themselves in the tradition of strong-state Progressive Nationalism often associated with Teddy Roosevelt. (They’re way into Teddy Roosevent.) Like McCain, one of their signature issues is campaign finance reform and they don’t think the world revolves around cuts in marginal tax rates for the extremely wealthy. They are genuinely reformist and unlike almost every other kind of Conservative there are a number of things that I agree with them about.

Or, to put it in more familiar Talking Points-style language, they’re unlike most other Conservatives in that they’re not completely full of crap.

In any case, Marshall Wittman, one of the made-men of the National Greatness crew, has just opened up a political commentary site.

(Between you and me, it looks suspiciously like Talking Points. But, hey, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Or maybe he just copied it from Kausfiles, where I got the idea?)

In any case, if you’re the typical Talking Points reader you’ll probably find a lot of stuff on Wittman’s site you’ll disagree with. (The hokey picture of Ronald Reagan was almost enough to do it for me. But I held my hand over my left eye and tried to focus on the picture of Teddy Roosevelt — you’ll understand when you see the site.) But this sort of McCainite conservatism is the most interesting and dynamic stuff going on in the Republican party today. So I’d say it’s worth taking a look. Hell, I’ll even give it the official Talking Points Seal of Approval.

P.S. If you go to Wittman’s site and then feel guilty about it afterwards, just tell people, “Hey, look … I was young. I was experimenting.”   Works every time.

P.P.S. I think on a number of issues McCain is actually moving further left, or further toward the Dems, than his National Greatness admirers. But we’ll leave that for another post.

Dont miss the best

Don’t miss the best piece written so far on the Marc Rich pardon. It’s by Jacob Weisberg in Slate.

Are you suspicious about

Are you suspicious about whether the Bush tax cut would really give the average family a $1600 tax cut a year?

Well, you’ve got good reason.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities “85 percent of families would either receive a nominal tax cut of less than $1,600 or receive no tax cut at all” and “the median, or typical, family without children would receive a tax reduction of $266.”

Want more details? Check out the CBPP’s new fact sheet on how much the average family would really get under the Bush plan.

Damn Aint it just

Damn! Ain’t it just like Reuters to pinch a story from Talking Points like two days after we broke it?

Damn!

Reuters!?!?! Who’s Reuters!?!?

Be sure to read

Be sure to read this insightful piece on Senator Russ Feingold by New Republic editor Peter Beinart.

Ya know Dont believe

Ya know … Don’t believe the hype. The more people I talk to people in the Senate the less convinced I am that the Bush tax plan is such a slam dunk. That’s the conventional wisdom, of course: the Bush plan has the Big Mo. It’s only a question of Bush or Bush-plus, yada, yada, yada.

This isn’t to say that the Dems don’t have a helluva struggle ahead of them. Or that that struggle might not end badly. But I’m increasingly getting the impression that the DC press corps has gotten way out ahead of the facts on the ground on this one. And particularly they aren’t talking to a whole slew of moderate Senate Republicans who aren’t at all on-board with the Bush plan.

In the last paragraph

In the last paragraph of this otherwise uneventful Newsweek article by Mike Isikoff the author starts to get at what I at least find most interesting about the Marc Rich pardon.
That’s the way Jack Quinn seemed to play on Clinton’s experience with/paranoia/fury about federal prosecutors and what it is like to be caught in their sites.

Isikoff writes:

In their appeals to Clinton, Quinn and Denise Rich tried to win sympathy for Rich by tapping into the president’s own resentment toward the zealous prosecutors who had dogged him for years. Quinn portrayed Rich as the victim of a “highly publicized and aggressive investigation.” Denise Rich laid it on even thicker, saying she knew “what it feels like to see the press try and convict the accused without regard for the truth.” Sources close to Clinton say these arguments hit home. “I think Clinton wanted to pardon all of them,” says one lawyer of the applicants tugging on his sleeve. “He just can’t stand law enforcement.”

Each of the articles published on the Rich drama have either paraphrased or quoted the arguments that Quinn made to Clinton. And they are in the nature of … this man was persecuted by an out of control federal prosecutor, who just wanted to bring down Marc Rich, who tried him in the press, etc.

In other words, this poor Marc Rich fellow was in the same kind of jam you were in, etc., cut the guy the some slack!

Now Jack Quinn was Clinton’s White House Counsel until just months before the Lewinsky scandal and, if I recall rightly, extremely loyal to him and close to him during the scandal. On the one hand there’s an obvious payback angle here — Clinton felt he owed Quinn big time. But I get the sense that having weathered that storm together, Quinn had a lot of emotional pull with Clinton to equate the two cases and make Clinton feel a vicarious sympathy for the Rich.

Now there’s no sense diminishing the money and influence-peddling aspect of this. Without all the money that had changed hands these folks wouldn’t have been close enough to Clinton to make their case. And without his close relationship with Clinton Quinn wouldn’t have had the pull with him to make the case either. But looking at it all together these look much more like necessary than sufficient conditions. The access and frienships cemented through fund-raising and the Quinn connection got Rich to the door. And Denise Rich was clearly hard for Clinton to say ‘no’ to. But I suspect it was this more personal equation that actually got Clinton to pull the trigger.

I’ve also always heard from people who know Clinton that he’s just a bit of a sucker for rich people. Not so much in the craven sense of begging donations. But at some deeper level of personal insecurity or sense of being wowed by great wealth.

I don’t know if I completely buy into this latter explanation. But it’s likely part of the mix as well.

The preceding is a slightly-modified article pitch I wrote about ten days ago and it still pretty much captures my sense of what happened in the Rich case.

Good for John Podesta

Good for John Podesta, Clinton’s former Chief of Staff! Podesta went on the This Week show this morning to go head-to-head with about ten minutes of witheringly-moronic questioning from Cokie Roberts. I don’t know what else to call it. Podesta seemed to become visibly impatient, even angry with Roberts’ questioning. When the transcript comes out, I give some details.

Roberts also apparently has little, if any, idea what’s going on in the tax cut debate. Democrats agree on an across the board cuts in marginal rates? And the only debate is about size? Really? Does she do any reporting? Or is this just what she hears at cocktail parties?

This stuff defies critical analysis. Only vituperation can really do it justice.

And we’ll be saying more about Sen. Arlen Specter and his outrageous claim that former President Clinton can still be impeached even after he’s left office. I know most reporters say Specter is insufferable in person. But when did he become such a Tom DeLay-clone in public life?

Okay tonight were reporting

Okay, tonight we’re reporting directly from the official Talking Points sickbed. Anyone care to join me for another poke at the egregiously regressive GWB tax cut plan? Sure ya do. So here goes.

When faced with criticisms that the bulk of their tax cut plans go to the very wealthy, Republicans are apt to argue that it could hardly be otherwise since the great proportion of taxes are paid by the wealthy. Now there are all sorts of problems with this argument (which we’ll say more about later). But for the sake of discussion let’s accept the argument: which would mean that high-income earners would be entitled to a percentage of the tax cut bill equal to the percentage of federal taxes which they now pay.

Well it turns out that under the GWB plan high-income earners receive twice that amount. “The top one percent of the population,” says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in a recently released analysis, “would receive about 40 percent of the tax cuts from the proposal, which is double the share of federal taxes that they pay.”

So, in other words, the Bush tax cut plan is wildly inequitable even on the largely bogus terms conservatives say we should use when judging the fairness of tax cuts. Go figure.

And now to another subject.

A couple posts back I said that Jonah Goldberg seemed like a decent enough guy when I met him in person on C-Span, despite his Clinton-hating political views – most all of which I find execrable.

Well in response to that post I got a few … well, let’s just say a few not-uncritical emails from normally adoring Talking Points readers.

This got me to thinking. Before I moved to Washington it was easier for me to insult individual conservatives in print because there was little chance I’d ever run in to them. On the other hand one of the biggest problems with the “Washington establishment” or “the inside-the-beltway mentality” or whatever you want to call it is that the journalistic community here is too incestuous. People know each other and they’re afraid to criticize each other. And even more insidiously they become part of the same political milieu, with a shared set of political and values assumptions, and all the rest of it. And as I’ve written any number of times this is one of the greatest evils of our contemporary politics and political dialog, and contributes mightily to the persistent disconnect between politicians and journalistic elites and the public at large.

At the same time, though, there is a difference between levelling personal attacks and being willing to say that 9/10ths of what Cokie Roberts, for instance, says each Sunday on the This Week show is facile, protective of her class (the DC establishment/cave dweller tribe), and moronic — which is all true.

Anyway there are clearly pitfalls to be avoided on both sides of the equation.

But look! Enough of this rumination. Clearly there is an appetite out there among the Talking Points readership to toss some obnoxious conservative to the wolves, no? Well, hey, come on, I’m happy to oblige. From my experience of one very unpleasant personal encounter with conservative blowhard (and columnist) David Horowitz, I am happy to attest, affirm and stipulate to the fact that he is just as big a cretin in person as the one he plays on TV and in print. So there you go. More details? Stay tuned.

One of the biggest

One of the biggest adjustments that congressional Democrats have had to make in the last month is not having the Clinton White House there to churn out economic analyses of Republican proposals … pie-charts, data-sheets, how this or that proposal affects people in your state or your district.

There are a lot of more obvious (and, yes, more important) reasons why it’s nice to have one of your own in the Oval Office. But this one turns out to be really important. That’s made it all the more important for Democratically-inclined think tanks and policy shops to pick up the slack. And the doing more on this count than any other at the moment is the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. CBPP is turning out to be the number-crunching arsenal of the Democratic counterattack on the Bush tax plan. If you’re interested in finding out all the details about Bush’s plan their site has a series of briefing papers which give all the ugly details.

Some examples:

The one percent of the population with the highest incomes would receive between 36 percent and 43 percent of the tax cut, depending on the calculation used. The bottom 80 percent of the population would receive 29 percent of the tax cut.

Approximately 24.1 million children – 33.5 percent of all children – live in families which are excluded from the tax cut entirely.

While one-third of all children would not benefit from the Bush tax plan, more than half of black and Hispanic children would not receive any assistance. An estimated 55 percent of African-American children and 56 percent of Hispanic children live in families that would receive nothing from the tax cut.

White House officials have claimed that lower-income families would receive the largest percentage tax reductions. Such claims focus only on income taxes. Low- and moderate-income families pay more in other federal taxes – principally payroll taxes – than in income taxes. It is possible to eliminate a large percentage of the small income tax liability that many moderate-income families incur and register only a small impact on the total federal taxes that such families pay.

Again. This stuff ain’t for the faint of heart. But if you really want to understand the details of what’s going on here by all means check out their site. Start with this overview and then go from there.

For a much more bare-bones run down of the details see this graph from the Center for Tax Justice.

And to hear some of the Democrats’ counter-proposals for a progressive, across-the-board tax cut see this floor speech that Joe Lieberman gave earlier this week in the Senate.

P.S. Next up, Talking Points reveals some new info on the Democrats emerging counter-attack on the Bush tax plan.

Ahh How cool is

Ahh! How cool is this? If you missed Talking Points this morning on C-Span’s Washington Journal you still have a chance — and not just in the endless reruns on C-Span today. They have it available online if you’ve got Real Player installed on your computer.

It’s Talking Points v. National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg, a pretty fire-breathing Clinton-hater, but actually a pretty decent guy on a personal level. (Am I just saying that to be polite online — like I often do about other people? No, in this case, believe or not, it’s really true).

And does Talking Points still keep flogging smear-gate? No doubt. No doubt.

Youd be surprised at

You’d be surprised at how knocked on their heels Senate Dems have been acting for the last couple weeks while they’ve been waiting for Bush to send up his tax bill. But today’s news that Senators Jim Jeffords, Olympia Snowe and Linc Chafee want to scale back the president’s $1.6 trillion tax cut should let them all breathe a big sigh of relief.

(Keep in mind that Jeffords and Snowe are both close to John Breaux (D) and he may be a force behind this.)

Each of the three announced their opposition to Bush’s bill in its current form with rationales quite similar, at least in their outlines, to the ones Democrats have been making: not enough left for domestic priorities, not enough help to those who need it most, too reckless in assuming those future surpluses will arrive.

Yet the real issue, the real dividing line, may be less over the size of the cut than over its structure. One thing that’s left Dems struggling over recent weeks is a flood of polling data (some of which the Dems’ commissioned for themselves and heard at their caucus meeting last week) all showing the same conclusion: Bush’s campaign trail critique of Gore’s targeted tax cut plan – that it ‘picked and choosed’ who would get a tax cut – was very effective. (Simply paying down the debt also no longer seems an effective argument against tax cuts.)

That’s left Dems without one of their key tax policy weapons – Clintonite targeted tax cuts. So they’ve been trying to come up with ways of crafting an ‘across the board’ tax cut which doesn’t play with marginal rates. The key in every case is giving everyone the same size cut (or close to it), but in dollar terms, not percentage terms — which is much more progressive (and, yes, vastly more honest).

The best idea making the rounds is to give a rebate on payroll taxes out of your income tax. So say, for instance, that everyone gets to deduct a percentage of their payroll taxes from their income tax. That’s across-the-board (everyone gets it) but it focuses the benefit on middle and lower income families, not the very wealthy, like Bush’s plan.

Some of them are even catching on to the idea of pitching this as eliminating the ‘work penalty’ – like this article said a few years back.

P.S. Wow. That was pretty earnest, wasn’t it? Next we’ll do some pictures.

Ha You thought that

Ha! You thought that measly six minutes on Reliable Sources was cool. How ’bout this. Tomorrow Talking Points takes a turn on C-Span’s Washington Journal from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM (and presumably at odd times throughout the day).

P.S. The topic? News of the day with an as-yet-to-be-named right-winger.

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