Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Here's an article in the Times describing Rep. John Murtha's swipe back at Karl Rove's speech in which the president's chief political advisor tried to take the political offensive against Democrats on Iraq. The Times quotes Rove assailing "that party's old pattern of cutting and running." And Murtha comes back at Rove: "He's making a political speech. He's sitting in his air-conditioned office on his big, fat backside saying, 'Stay the course.' That's not a plan."

Then there's this passage ...

Mr. Murtha spoke as the Bush administration pressed ahead with its campaign to seize the political offensive on Iraq — a push that included President Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad early last week.

The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, made the rounds on the Sunday morning political programs, saying that President Bush had every intention of sticking with the course he had set in Iraq, even as opinion polls suggested that most Americans were increasingly uneasy about the war.

"The president understands people's impatience — not impatience but how a war can wear on a nation," Mr. Snow said on the CNN program "Late Edition." "He understands that. If somebody had taken a poll in the Battle of the Bulge, I dare say people would have said, 'Wow, my goodness, what are we doing here?' But you cannot conduct a war based on polls."

Here is a claim that needs to be blown apart. Get real: the administration isn't trying to seize the offensive on Iraq. The war is dismally unpopular and on that basic judgment opinions are largely congealed and fast congealing. They know that. What the White House is doing is trying to knock the opposition off its stride and scare them out of their own offensive, which is to hold the administration accountable and press for a change of direction on Iraq.

Of course, the White House is going to try to call any change of direction "Cut and Run". That's their angle. That's their card. If you can't stand in the debate in the face of that, far better to leave all foreign policy entirely off the table and contest the election on minimum wage or college loans.

With more apologies in advance for suspect language, this is more of the White House trying to make the opposition into their chumps and bitches. The aim is to scare the opposition out of taking the Iraq debacle to the voters.

Kevin Drum was right a couple days ago when he said that the key problem for Democrats in coming up with a unified message on Iraq is that they're not unified. That's life. And it's not terribly surprising that they're not unified. We've gotten into an incredible fix in Iraq. And extricating a country from a predicament like this isn't easy. We have Democrats who think the whole idea was a disaster from the start and that we should leave immdiately, others who think it was a plausible idea bungled through incompetence, others who speak of timelines for withdrawal.

But the White House is making and has made its stand quite clear -- American troops in Iraq at least through 2009, and probably for the indefinite future; and no reevaluation of the basic concept of why we went in. So, a good idea to start with and we'll stay there more or less forever. (Saying we'll be there until 2009 and then having no plan to leave after that = forever.) That position is so out of sync with where the country is and so disastrous for the country's security and future prosperity, that I don't think anyone should be afraid to go to the country opposing it. The truth is that the president doesn't have any policy beside denial about how we got into this jam.

Democrats need to keep learning from the president's debacle last year on Social Security. They need to learn from how they confronted his gambit. You seldom can win a political debate unless and until you decide you are willing to lose it the right way. On Social Security the Democrats eventually made a decision and took it to the voters. If you want to keep Social Security, choose us. If not, choose the other side. And if we lose, we can live with that. Because we're confident that that's a question we're willing to take to the people.

The results seem to be in, from pretty much every quarter: Congressional Democrats' new theme or campaign program or whatever it is it's supposed to be exactly is just embarrassingly lame. Frank Rich says so. Jo-Ann Mort says so. If you haven't heard, it's A New Direction for America. So you can see what they mean.

In his Sunday Times column, Rich quotes Tony Fabrizio's line from last April: "The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one."

I don't want to pump this line up too much because it plays to this pattern of Democratic hand-wringing that Republicans play up, knowing that it feeds ingrained perceptions of Democratic haplessness, indecisiveness and thus unworthiness to hold office.

But I take some solace from the fact that I think it is largely true, especially in the second clause, though not in just the way Fabrizio thinks.

Political insiders consistently overstate the importance of slogans and programs. Political tides aren't unleashed or weathered because of message discipline or thematic fine-tuning. They come about because of failures or victories abroad, big motions in the economy, or judgments coalescing in the public mind in ways that are as inscrutable in their origins as they can be transparent in their effects.

1994 is a classic example. The Contract with America is now judged a seminal political act whereas in fact, I would say, it had little if anything to do with the result of that watershed election. 1994 happened because Bill Clinton was very unpopular two years into his first term. A new wave of right-wing politics -- bound up with but not limited to talk radio -- had been building steam since the beginning of the Bush years. Clinton's unpopularity both stemmed from that wave and helped crystallize it. Add to these factors the fact that redistricting, a wave of retirements and unified Democratic control in Washington for the first time in a generation all made the South ripe for finally flipping over into the hands of the Republican party at the Congressional level.

In saying this I'm not suggesting that anyone just sit back and let history happen. Politics matters. Organization matters. Message matters. But there's a line from Seneca in which he says, "Fate leads the willing and drags the unwilling." And there's a political corollary to this as well. Voters are making a decision about Bush's presidency and the Republican ascendency in Washington. If voters aren't happy with them, Nancy Pelosi's unoriginality or tone deafness won't be able to stop that judgment any more than President Bush's handlers can goose his poll numbers.

So, yes, the new theme is dopey and flaccid. But the only thing worse than that would be getting too upset about it. On the Democratic side, the punch of this election is going to come from individual candidates willing to be fiercely candid with voters and fight Republicans tooth and nail.

Let's be honest. What is this election about?

It's not about the Democrats. 2008 may be about the Democrats. Maybe 2010. Not 2006. 2006 is about George W. Bush and the Republican party. And, specifically, how many people are fed up with what's happened over the last six years and want to make a change? The constitution gives the people only one way to do that in 2006 -- put a hard brake on the president's power by turning one or both houses of Congress over to the opposition party.

That's why Newt Gingrich was so on the mark, ironically, when he suggested the Democrats' slogan should be "Had Enough?" (As a way of understanding Gingrich's particular genius, consider that "Had Enough?" and "A New Direction for America" are actually two ways of saying the exact same thing -- with the first forceful and infectious and the second limp and denatured.) Everything else the election is allegedly about is chatter. The details are so many fine points about making the sale, framing the question. And, yes, those are important. But that is the question. And nothing the geniuses on either side do will change that from being the question.

Here's what Reed Hundt said last week ...

The Republican game plan is emerging. Its three points appear to be: anti gay (save marriage for straights), anti aliens (save America for citizens), and anti troop withdrawal (except when they announce they've secured Iraq).

This plan calls out their base. All off-year elections, and many Presidential elections, are won by turn-out, and 2006 promises to be no different.

Democrats running for office in any state need to formulate a three-part challenge, which might be called an attack by the uncharitable, or could be called aggressive by those who know elections are more like boxing than chess.

This is exactly right. Go on the attack. Remind people why they have had enough. The prescription just isn't going to come from the leadership offices on Capitol Hill. It's up to you.

ChiTrib follows up on Speaker Hastert's earmark bonanza.

"The complex structure of a real estate transaction in Kendall County last December left House Speaker Dennis Hastert with a seven-figure profit and in prime position to reap further benefits as the exurban region west of Chicago continues its prairie-fire growth boosted by a Hastert-backed federally funded proposed highway."

Oops. Turns out the Department of Homeland Security has that letter from Duke Cunningham recommending Hookergate's Shirlington Limousine after all. We'll be posting it momentarily.

My favorite line from Duke's testimonial: Shirlington CEO Chris Baker "has been of service to me and other Members of Congress over the years."

And how ...

Get the full story and letter here.

Head for the hills! The Dems in the firm of Copeland Lowery (the firm at the heart of the Jerry Lewis investigation) are bailing out on the GOPers. I guess they didn't sign on for the federal bribery and kick-back probe side of the arrangement that Lewis' cronies on staff have gotten them tied up in.

A sad passing. Barbara Epstein, co-editor and founder of the New York Review of Books died this morning of lung cancer.

She was 76.

Only met and spoke with her once. About a year ago.

Ugh, the reviews just keep coming in on Joe's rendezvous with imbecility ...

From TPM Reader JM ...

Putting aside the bizarre premise and truly rookie-league production values, what does it say about Lieberman's campaign that they felt compelled to run this ad? Here's a staid former vice presidential candidate, a would-be statesman, lowered to running a straight-up attack piece more befitting an unknown, low-budget challenger. If there were any doubts that Lamont was for real, this settles it.

But it doesn't even do what a classic attack ad is supposed to do. How many Democrats who were mildly annoyed with Lieberman will see this ad and actually think worse of Lamont? How many will think worse of Lieberman?

Lieberman could have lost the Senate seat and retained his own dignity. But he may lose both, thanks to his own inexplicable bad taste.

Then there's TPM Reader TS ...

Pardon my unPC-ness, but that ad is retarded. Being born and raised in CT, I can honestly say that even I don't understand it. Lowell Weicker is ancient news... funny thing is, a lot of people really liked him, especially when you consider that he was governor just prior to to John Rowland. Once Rowland started getting sketchy, a lot of people wished they had Weicker back. Lieberman needs to screw his brain back in.

It ain't pretty.

Does the feeble Lieberman ad point to a deeper problem? Do Dems have to confront their inner doofus?

I wonder if, with Lieberman's campaign against Lamont, we're seeing the Democratic party's ineffective campaign tactics from the other side. What I mean is, aren't these the same geniuses who run campaigns against Republican opponents every two years? As we're people who regularly root for the Democratic candidate, it's hard to for us to accurately assess the effectiveness of Democratic campaign ads, since criticisms from opponents are often brushed aside.

Now that we're watching these same tactics in action against our guy (or in your case, someone towards whom you're ambivalent) everyone's response has been, "My God, this is horrible!" And really Josh, you'd have the best perspective in this case, playing the role of the independent voter.

Regardless of who wins the primary, maybe this can be a learning experience and/or a wake-up call for Democratic campaign strategists.

Carter Eskew?

Crazy like a fox? Or crazy like a moron? TPM Reader JH checks in ...

I'll chime in as someone that thinks the Lieberman ad is crazy, and not crazy like a fox.

I work in graphics and advertising, and the thing that strikes me hardest about this ad is how amateurish it looks. You can get away with a crappy cartoon ad if what you're selling is the local tile and carpet dealership, but Lieberman is supposed to be a serious person, not to mention a U.S. Senator. As an incumbent he should be selling his gravitas and experience, and he should be at least implicitly referring to his deep roots to his constituents (after all, he's been their Senator since '88). Ad hominem attacks are pretty standard for political advertising, but at least most pols try to be a little dignified when making them. For a senior U.S. Senator (and former second on the national party Presidential ticket), this is embarrassing.

He's right. It is embarrassing.