Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

So on exporting democracy ...

1. President encourages supporters to accuse newspaper reporters of treason: check.

2. President mandates systematic use of torture: check.

3. President routinely asserts right to ignore laws passed by Congress: check.

What am I missing?

Actually, I think it's more one of those trick questions. Like, we're not exporting 'democracy' but our democracy. So, as we send it to them, we lose ours.

Last week I linked to a post by Paul Begala about what Dems should be saying on Iraq. But it was on a day when we were having some server issues at TPMCafe. So a number of people wrote in to say they hadn't been able to read it. Here it is. If you missed it, definitely give it a read.

Following up on the post immediately below, I think we're likely going to start tracking some positions here on Social Security, now that the president has announced he's going to take another stab at phasing out Social Security next year. So, for starters, if you live in Rep. Chocola's (R-IN) district, let us know the latest about what he's saying his position is on phasing out Social Security.

And if you're not in Indiana's second district, let us know the latest you've heard from your member of Congress.

Here's Rep. Chocola's current position on Social Security from his congressional website: "Social Security has long been, and continues to be, a critical resource for millions of Americans entering retirement. While the system can be maintained in the short-term, it is clear that reforms must be made without jeopardizing the payments that current and future retirees need and deserve. The President recognizes the undeniable challenges created by the pending retirement of the baby boom generation and is leading necessary debate. I look forward to participating in this debate while working towards a bi-partisan solution."

I think that means he's pro-phase-out. But he's trying to keep it fuzzy.

President Bush pledges to try to phase out Social Security again after the November election.

From his speech this morning (emphasis added) ...

As you might recall, I addressed that issue last year, focusing on Social Security reform. I'm not through talking about the issue. I spent some time today in the Oval Office with the United States senators, and they're not through talking about the issue either. It's important for this country -- (applause) -- I know it's hard politically to address these issues. Sometimes it just seems easier for people to say, we'll deal with it later on. Now is the time for the Congress and the President to work together to reform Medicare and reform Social Security so we can leave behind a solvent balance sheet for our next generation of Americans. (Applause.)

If we can't get it done this year, I'm going to try next year.
And if we can't get it done next year, I'm going to try the year after that, because it is the right thing to do. It's just so easy to say, let somebody else deal with it. Now is the time to solve the problems of Medicare and Social Security, and I want your help. I need the Manhattan Institute to continue to agitate for change and reform. You've got a big voice. You got creative thinkers, and if you don't mind, I'd like to put this on your agenda, and let you know the White House and members of the Senate and the House are anxious to deal with this issue and get it done once and for all.

At least he's being up front about it. Where does everyone else stand? Where do Rep. Chris Chocola (R-IN) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) stand? They never gave straight answers in 2005.

Remember Chocola was for completely phasing out Social Security in 2000. Then he was against phasing out Social Security in 2002. Then in 2005 he was either for it or against it, depending on which day people asked him.

Actually, it got still better. In 2005, while he was hiding from voters who were trying to get a straight answer out of him, South Bend's First Unitarian Church was planning to hold a community discussion about Social Security with Notre Dame Professor and pension policy expert Teresa Ghilarducci. Chocola got the head of the Indiana GOP to call the pastor of the church and threaten that her church's tax exempt status might be revoked if she held the meeting.

I can't wait to see what he comes up with this year.

TPM Reader PB on the Siegel Meltdown ...

Isn't the basic problem with Siegel that he is an elitist whose relevancy is being challenged by people he considers his "lessers"? Isn't the issue for Siegel's ilk that people who didn't go to the "right" schools and get the "proper" journalistic training are now being allowed a place at the table? There is more than a whiff of classism in his take down of Markos.

I do find the hostility and the "I'm right, you're wrong" tone of Daily Kos tiring. But it is clearly a long way from being fascist. And there is too much intra-left squabbling that goes on there to consider the site even vaguely authoritarian. But given that anyone can participate in the dialogue on sites like Daily Kos, I see it as a kind of democratization of political discourse, which is exactly what Seigel has a problem with.


Completely out of the blue, Capitol Hill TPM Reader RM wrote in a short while ago and asked what kind of coffee TPM prefers. In any case, I answered. So I thought I'd share the answer. No contest, TPM prefers French Market Coffee & Chickory. Nothing else like it. Though, beware, if you're used to standard coffee, it's strong stuff.

French Market, as the name sort of implies, is made down in New Orleans. So after Katrina, my wife and I went online and ordered several months' supply since we weren't sure when they be able to start making the stuff again. We got an email saying they wouldn't be able to ship for some time. So I went out to various markets in our New York neighborhood and bought as much as I could find. In any case, they're apparently back up and running now.

What coffee do you prefer?

A few years ago I wrote this review ("The Orwell Temptation") of Paul Berman's book Terror and Liberalism. It's a critical review. But I bring it up because the central theme of the review was the intellectual's tendency or temptation to overthink or overstate the gravity of their moment. It's not quite grandiosity. But it's close.

I'm not here to knock Berman's book again. If you're not familiar with it, it is the most articulate and thought-out version of the argument that today's violent Islamic jihadism is the moral, political and existential equivalent of the 20th century's battle against totalitarianism in its Nazi and Communist forms.

To me, it's not a convincing argument or book. It's overdone, an example of that urge to find our own times a bit more world-historical than they really are. But it's certainly not a silly book.

And I say that because I think we've found another example that is so silly and ridiculous that it's almost like an over-the-top parody. But it's for real.

With all that build up, let me get down to particulars.

You may have heard that a few days ago, in TNR online Lee Siegel called the blogosphere "hard fascism with a Microsoft face."

When I heard about that I figured it was a throwaway line, albeit a bit overdone and self-serious. But no, Siegel's really serious about this. He is in earnest! And on Friday he followed up with a deeper analysis with the weighty title "The Origins of Blogofascism". There's even the beginnings of a sociological analysis and a historical one too. But let's jump right into the mix.

"Moron"; "Wanker" (a favorite blogofascist insult, maybe because of the similarity between the most strident blogging and masturbating); and "Asshole" have been the three most common polemical gambits.

Polemical gambits? Lee, dude, how many times did your butt get kicked in third grade, buddy?

[Full Disclosure: I know most of the reporter-writers (aka 'Editors') at TNR personally; but to the best of my knowledge I've never met Siegel.]

But I digress. Let me quote at more length ...

"Moron"; "Wanker" (a favorite blogofascist insult, maybe because of the similarity between the most strident blogging and masturbating); and "Asshole" have been the three most common polemical gambits ...

All these abusive attempts to autocratically or dictatorially control criticism came about because I said that the blogosphere had the quality of fascism, which my dictionary defines as "any tendency toward or actual exercise of severe autocratic or dictatorial control." The proof, you might say, is in the puddingheads.

I am overwhelmed by the intolerance and rage in the blogosphere. Conscientiously criticize, in the form of a real argument, blogospheric favorites like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and the response isn't similar criticism, done conscientiously and in the form of an argument, but insults, personal attacks, and even threats. This truly is the stuff of thuggery and fascism.

Yes, getting some hate mail and getting called a wanker, truly the stuff of fascism. I'm going to have to completely rethink the March on Rome and the Night of the Long Knives.

Let me say a bit more about this though, because I can understand someone from the world of small magazines being shocked by the responsiveness, rambuctiousness and even hair trigger hostility of the blogosphere. I haven't done much magazine writing in the last couple years. But I come out of that world of small political magazines. And it is, in many more than just the obvious ways, a different world.

Write a piece for the New Republic or the American Prospect or even the far wider circulation New Yorker and you may get a few letters in the mail from readers. Not that many or that often, but sometimes. Friends and colleagues will tell you what they thought or argue with you about it. The publication will probably get a few letters to the editor. But that's about it.

Your contact with the people who read what you're writing is quite limited. On the other hand, TPM gets anywhere from 2-500 emails every day. Needless to say, many fly in within minutes of your finishing whatever is being responded to. And, believe or not, not all of them are nice.

Not long ago I got on the wrong side of the ridiculousness of the proprietor of one left-wing website. And his antics were so dishonorable and shameless that I don't think I'd ever speak to the guy again. Still, I don't think he was a fascist. I think he is, mundane a category as it may be, a dick. Or perhaps I'm the dick. To him, certainly. Still though, I don't think fascism has anything to do with it.

More generally, I think the blogosphere, in contrast to more staid venues for writing, is something like the much more popular and participatory sort of theater culture you had in the 19th and well into the 20th century (you may remember seeing some hint of this funned up in old Bugs Bunny cartoons) where, if the audience didn't like what they were hearing or seeing, they started booing. Or hooting. Or heck, maybe tossing raw vegetables. You get a sense of Siegel's reaction when he grandly opines that the blogosphere, "radiates democracy's dream of full participation but practices democracy's nightmare of populist crudity..."

Siegel is like some would-be Alexander Woollcott who thinks he's taking a seat at the Algonquin Table. But he's shown up on the stage at some freewheeling vaudeville theater. And when the crowd starts booing his pompous malarkey and he gets hit in the head with a ripe tomato, he imagines it's some world-historical event.

In any case, hold that thought, because Siegel's goofball Hannah Arendt channeling continues.

"Two other traits of fascism are its hatred of the processes of politics, and the knockabout origins of its adherents. Communism was hatched by elites. Fascism was born along the drifting paths of rootless men, often ex-soldiers who had fought in the First World War and been demobilized. They turned European politics into a madhouse of deracinated ambition."

Siegel then does a quick character sketch of Markos Moulitsas as one of these "rootless men", ready, I guess, to congeal in to some sort of html freikorps ...

So he loves government, but hates politics. There's something chilling about that. I wonder, does Zuniga consider the Solidarity movement disgusting, compromising, venal politics, too? And was there really no one to root for during the Salvadoran civil war? It's hard to believe the usually inflexibly partisan Zuniga actually said that. The rebels may have been "Maoist"--whatever that meant to them in Central America at the time--but their goal of overthrowing a brutal, rapacious regime might well be something that a passionate political idealist and reformer like Zuniga, looking back at it in 2004, would sympathize with. Or so you would think.

But, then, Zuniga--let's cut the puerile nicknames of "DailyKos, "Atrios," "Instapundit" et al., which are one part fantasy of nom de guerres, one part babytalk, and a third thuggish anonymity--believes so deafeningly and inflexibly that it's hard to tell what he believes at all, expecially if you try to make out his conviction over the noisy bleating of his followers.

He told Deborah Solomon in The New York Times that he joined the army out of high school to build up his self-confidence. Elsewhere, he has spoken of his love of 25-mile marches with a heavy knapsack. After the Army, college and then law school. But he never practiced law, it seems. He drifted to San Francisco and into the high-tech industry, where he designed Websites. Finally, he ended up in politics, again drifting into the Democratic party, supporting first John Edwards, and then Wesley Clark, and then, as a paid consultant, Howard Dean.

Anyway, there's just more and more of this and it just gets better and better.

I tried really hard to come up with something intelligent to say about this nonsense. But Siegel's foolishness defied me. And all I can do is keep giggling that this guy actually can write this stuff with a straight face.

I freely admit blogging is an ephemeral form of writing. It's written quickly, usually forgotten quickly. It doesn't lend itself to that sort of rigorous writing and rewriting which is often the way you discover your ideas in your own mind. It is a popular medium on many levels. But it also has an immediacy and when done well, under time pressure, produces an economic form of writing, a concision and getting right to the point.

I saw a quote a few days ago where someone said something like blogging is a boon for information but an enemy of thought. And there's an element of truth to that. In most hands, it's more a medium of exchange than reflection. The technology can leave us with too little time to mull and digest. But as Siegel's dingbat self-parodies show, having too much time on your hands can also lead to trouble.

CBS West Palm Beach: "Sources have confirmed to CBS4 News that conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been detained at Palm Beach International Airport for the possible possession of illegal prescription drugs Monday evening. Limbaugh was returning on a flight from the Dominican Republic when officials found the drugs, among them Viagra."

The Hill, May 3rd, 2006: "The withdrawal of 20,000-40,000 U.S. troops from Iraq this fall would greatly help Republican chances in the November election, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) said at a fundraiser Thursday at the National Rifle Association. Souder acknowledged in his remarks that the war in Iraq has dampened support for Republican candidates but added that withdrawing 30,000 troops could have a big impact, said Martin Green, Souder’s spokesman."