David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

Referring to the senior senator from his state, a junior U.S. senator once told me, "He's had his head above the clouds too long."

I'm beginning to think the same thing about Joe Lieberman after reading this piece in the NYT on his tough primary battle. I'm ambivalent about the Lieberman-Lamont race, but people won't stay ambivalent for long if the picture painted of Lieberman in this piece--wounded by the slight of facing determined opposition--is accurate.

The senior senator referred to above wisely retired soon thereafter. You wonder whether Lieberman's exit will be as graceful.

How to explain the Democrats getting knocked back on their heels by Arlen Specter’s FISA proposal? I don’t have a complete explanation, but here’s what I think is a significant part of the answer.

After public outcry over domestic spying and other secret, extra-constitutional programs and a Supreme Court decision squarely against the Administration, many of us—myself included—at a deep and perhaps unconscious level presume that the Administration will have to cede some ground, compromise, reign itself it in.

The louder you argue, the more humble you should be when proved wrong, right? Argue loudly and wrongly enough times, and you start to lose credibility, right? By the unwritten Queensbury rules many of us live by, admission of error, of defeat, of poor judgment is the right and noble thing to do.

Democrats seem to have a highly evolved (and perhaps misplaced) sense of sportsmanship: magnanimous in victory; chastened in defeat. Whereas Dems will rise to a political fight when they deem circumstances warrant, Republicans consider politics nothing but a fight, with peace the exception, not the rule.

And so it is that many Democrats are unprepared to face an adversary who has a fallback position situated just inches behind the frontline, and a fallback position just inches behind that, and so on indefinitely.

When the Dems overrun a Republican position, they celebrate like drunken Hessians, only to sober up and realize they have gained very little ground at all and that the Republicans are still fighting.

I think Republicans have the more accurate view of politics. It is an ongoing battle. Power is a moving target, hard to seize, harder still to hold on to. So rather than viewing Hamdan as a sweeping victory to be relished as a vindication of principle, Dems need to see it, as Republicans do, as a starting point for negotiations. Negotiation, like diplomacy, is war by other means.

The Republicans have opened negotiations with a demand, in the form of Arlen Specter’s proposal, which is as much as they can hope to achieve, in an effort to tilt the range of possible outcomes in their favor.

Specter’s proposal dramatically expands presidential power at the very moment that many Dems and most commentators mistakenly perceive expansive executive power to be on the wane.

There is a lesson here, and a fight to be fought, if the Democrats will sober up.

The Washington Post editorial board nails Arlen Specter's capitulation on FISA and charts the path the Administration is taking to get Congress to legalize domestic spying.

TPM must draw 80s music fans. In response to my post below, readers have let me know that Toto is touring this summer and that the Go-Go's played L.A.'s Greek Theatre last night.

Rock on.


If Rip Van Winkle had fallen asleep under a cedar tree in Lebanon in 1982 and awoke today, you could hardly blame him for thinking he had snoozed for only a few minutes.

Israel is still in Lebanon. Iran is America's great nemesis. Russia-U.S. relations remain tense. An imperial power (Britain/U.S.) is conducting a military campaign in a farflung locale (Falkland Islands/Iraq) in what is maybe its last gasp of imperialism. There is a gathering threat in the East (Japanese economy/North Korea). The news even includes mention of the death of a popular princess (Grace Kelly/Diana) in a car accident.

The only things missing are Survivor, Toto, and Air Supply.

When critics of the Iraq War suggested it would set back progress in the Middle East for a generation, I didn't take it to mean we would revert to a generation ago.

From Reuters:

The head of Italy's military intelligence agency was questioned by prosecutors for the first time on Saturday on suspicion of helping the CIA kidnap a terrorism suspect in Milan, judicial sources said.

The development makes Nicolo Pollari the highest ranking official connected to the Italian investigation -- which has already led to the arrests of his No. 2 and another leader of his Sismi intelligence agency earlier this month.

Ah, serendipity. Reading Spencer Ackerman's much linked to TNR piece on House Intel Chair Pete Hoekstra's outlandish claim that al Qaeda fellow travelers have infiltrated the U.S. intelligence community, I was reminded of an intriguing essay titled "Stabbed in the Back," from the June issue of Harper's.

I went looking for the piece online to re-read it, but it wasn't up yet. Then, as if on cue, Harper's posted it Friday. If you haven't read Ackerman's piece, read it first, then go take a look at "Stabbed in the Back":

Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.

In the final analysis, I'm skeptical of unified theories of anything, perhaps especially of history, but they can be useful tools to explain some phenomenon. If you fish, you know polarized sunglasses cut the glare on the water and let you see the fish. Similarly, the "Stabbed in the Back" hypothesis is a useful lens to filter 20th and early 21st century events and distill modern American nationalism. Especially now.


WP: "The House Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed the former law firm of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff for records of any contacts he or members of his lobbying team had with the Bush White House."

Let's nip this whole "Bush is shifting to a more enlightened foreign policy" theme in the bud, shall we?

Time calls it "The End of Cowboy Diplomacy" in this week's cover story. A David Sanger piece in tomorrow's New York Times is headlined, "Bush's Shift: Being Patient With Foes."

The sad truth is that the Administration's foreign policy has run aground on the shoals of its own incompetence. As Kevin Drum noted last week, "the Bush administration literally seems to have no foreign policy at all anymore."

Afghanistan is reverting to the Taliban. Iraq is beyond the point of no return. North Korea is acting with impunity. Iran controls its own destiny.

Worse, for an Administration that has instinctively favored military action over diplomacy, the nation's military resources are depleted, bogged down, and largely unavailable for any further foreign adventures.

Yet we have stories emerging that suggest the current foreign policy dilemma is a deliberate course of action chosen by Bush. Time, in a mishmash of its news and style sections, calls it a "strategic makeover" led by Condi Rice.

The fact is Bush has boxed himself in, frittering away lives and treasure, and leaving himself with few options. He deserves no more credit for a policy shift than the man serving a life sentence who declares that he will henceforth be law-abiding.

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan . . . a top-notch account by Christina Lamb in the London Sunday Times of the “military and developmental anarchy” in that country:

“We need to realise that we could actually fail here,” warns Lieutenant-General David Richards, British commander of the Nato-led peacekeeping force. “Think of the psychological victory for Bin Laden and his ilk if we failed and the Taliban came back. Within months we’d suffer terror attacks in the UK. I think of my own daughters in London and the risk they would be in.”

Take a look. This is the sort of piece to which every foreign correspondent should aspire. Via Wolcott.