Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I hesitated to discuss Charlie Cook's newsletter today because you have to sign up to get it by email. And thus I can't link to it. And you -- the esteemed TPM reader -- cannot easily read it. But he has some very sage points to make about how much last Tuesday's election is being over-interpreted. It wasn't a wave or a rout and certainly not some decisive election result. There's no reason to have a Slate Dialog with the headline "Can the Democrats Be Revived?"

Part of what happened is that Democrats just underestimated the continuing post-9/11 salience of national security issues. But more generally, to me, this was the wifflebat election. Democrats put very little on the table, didn't run that aggressively. And since they put very little on the table the Republicans were able to knock them back with the fairly weak cudgel of a presidential barnstorm and some misleading but relatively effective hits on the Homeland Security Department issue. The Dems came into the election ill-prepared and the President beat them with a wifflebat. You can't take their victory away from them. But it was still just a wifflebat.

One of the unique things -- possibly one of the lamest things -- about 'blogs' (hate that word, but I can't resist the tide any longer) is that you can start commenting on a topic before you've really pulled together all the information or even decided quite what you think about it. The generous description would be 'running commentary.' Another unique thing is that you can start a post with a dreadfully opaque lead sentence which has little to do with what you're actually writing about and somehow it seems to work out okay.

That said, let's talk about Howard Dean.

A few days ago I wrote a post that some took to mean that I was saying Howard Dean wasn't a 'serious candidate' for president.

That is what I meant. But let me take a moment to explain what I meant by those words. Fundamentally, by a 'serious candidate' I mean a candidate who I can seriously imagine being nominated by the Democratic party to run for president.

Like a lot of people who follow Democratic politics I've watched Dean for a number of years and I find him very compelling. Smart. Good on policy from what I've seen. Articulate. Lots of good stuff.

But when the Democrats are out of power there's usually one person among the field of contenders who is clearly the most thoughtful of the candidates and, perhaps because he also seems -- for whatever reason -- unlikely to get the nomination, he also ends up being the most courageous in the stands he takes and the interests he's willing to take on. (Republicans usually take a different course, having one lovable freak like Alan Keyes in the hunt.) Inevitably this candidate becomes the toast of the advanced degree and latte set and various star-struck journalists write "if only..." articles for smart-set monthlies. He often ends up teasing the debate out in interesting directions. But he is pretty much never the one who gets the nomination or even gets close. This guy is the olive in the martini. Or if you're closer to my habits -- and tolerance levels -- the slice of lime in the Corona. The archetypal case here is Bruce Babbitt in 1988.

I guess I'm saying that Howard Dean looks a lot to me like the Bruce Babbitt of 2004.

Having said this, though, I'm not certain of it. A lot of really thoughtful people really like the guy. A number of people I know who are serious A-list political operatives have talked to me about possibly working for him -- which is an important factor at this stage in the campaign. And I keep getting word from the early primary states that he's really generating some serious interest. He also just signed up former DNC head Steve Grossman as his chief fundraiser. And that means something -- not everything, but something.

So, as I say, I haven't given the question a lot of serious thought yet. These are the assumptions I have going in. But my mind is open -- a bit.

What makes tomorrow different from all other days? No, no, it's not a Judaism-based trick question ... What makes tomorrow different from all other days? What? Right, right, exactly! It's the second anniversary of TPM. Two years ago tomorrow this esteemed institution got off the ground.

So anyway, we had been planning to bring out this troupe of long-legged dancers from Vegas for the entertainment at the gala anniversary party. But we did a conference call yesterday with the staff and decided that that was just going to be a bit off message.

Anyway, though, there's still going to be plenty of celebrating. Stay tuned.

Could it be that the administration -- for all its fooleries and flip-flops -- simply had the better part of the argument on Iraq?

Better, that is, than the Democrats?

That's the argument I make in this new piece in Salon.

Let the hate mail commence!!!

P.S. For hawks who might feel overly cocky about all this, consider the following: administration Iraq-hawks had two real angles on Iraq policy. One was avoiding working through the UN. The second was opposing the uniformed military's plans for a massive invasion force of a quarter million troops and supporting something closer to the so-called Afghan model. They lost both. Powell and the uniforms won both. For a prediction of all this from six months ago, click here.

I guess it's time for me to start weighing in on post-election questions. First, my day-after prediction that the results actually hurt President's Bush's reelection chances. Second, who's up and who's down for the 2004 nomination.

First, President Bush's odds. As you can see from this article I have today in The Boston Globe I'm not someone who softpedals how big a debacle last Tuesday was. And I'm not saying this is some sort of disaster for Bush's prospects. What I am saying is this: If the Republicans see this as a mandate for their domestic policy agenda they're fools. Yet I think they will see it that way. Indeed, they're telling reporters they see it that way. There is going to be heavy pressure -- and pressure not bucked by the White House -- to push through a lot of very conservative and not-particularly-popular legislation. And that will hurt him.

Basically, we're still in the same ideological world we were a few weeks ago. A mix of a wartime mood, a personally popular president, and a poor Democratic campaign allowed the Republicans to pick up seats. But an unfettered political and policy-making hand for this White House will do a lot of things that cut against where the country is politically. And that will create problems for the president in 2004.

As for the nomination sweepstakes. My basic take is that most people on Capitol Hill are damaged by this: Gephardt and Daschle certainly, but Lieberman too -- though he may not know it. The people who aren't from Washington -- and thus aren't damaged -- don't strike me as really serious candidates. Gore, in a sense, is helped since none of this 2002 pile-up is on his dime. But he seems very far out in the wilderness at the moment. So I'm not sure quite where any of this leaves the Democrats. Much more on this in the coming days.

Here is my take on what happened in Tuesday's election -- from The Boston Globe's new Ideas Section. Another piece coming tonight on the Dems and Iraq.

Wait! Wait! How cool is this?

This week the first question of the program on NPR's quiz show "Wait, wait ... don't tell me!" is based on a quote from TPM! I think this really secures TPM's status as the unofficial political blog of the Starbucks and latte set. Click here if you wanna hear the audio. It's about two minutes and thirty seconds in ...

How cool is that?

Yada ...

Most readers seem to have enjoyed yesterday's riff at the expense of out-going House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. A few, though, thought I was either unfair or premature in counting him out of the presidential running.

I should be honest that I come to this question with certain preconceptions. People are always telling me how Gephardt is a logical contender for the nomination in 2004. And I am always confidently -- though, I guess, perhaps wrongly -- telling them there is simply no way that's ever going to happen.

Why this is impossible exactly is a little hard to say. But I've always thought it was a little like that whole thing with nothing being able to go faster than light. Precisely why it can't happen is a little difficult to explain. And to really understand it you need to know various complex formulas and math tricks. But even if you can't quite get your head around it that doesn't change the fact that the fundamental laws of the universe say it can't happen.

Same with Gephardt.

I wasn't surprised by the news that Dick Gephardt was stepping down as House Minority Leader. I wasn't, that is, until I saw the text of his comments, in which he pretty much implies that he's stepping down to try to run for president. What's this dude smoking? This is sort of like having your girlfriend dump you and then you say, "Okay, baby, I can live with that. But I've got another idea for you. How 'bout you and me get married? Huh? Huh? Yeah, baby ... Whaddya think???"

As a young Democratic political consultant told me this afternoon, this guy's got the biggest #$%&@ in Washington.

I see that Mickey Kaus is still pushing this line that the general inattention to the late generic polls showing a GOP surge was an example of liberal media bias. I've always thought that Mickey's is far too great a mind to waste -- even a part of it -- on the liberal media bias canard. But we can deal with that issue another time. The truth is that those late generic polls were on to something. But the reason people didn't pay more attention has nothing to do with liberal bias. It's rather more subtle than that -- and for that reason ignored.

To make sense of this you've got to go back to the 1998 midterm where an expected landslide for the Republicans turned into a small but significant Democratic victory. This was supposed to have been a great shocker. But if you were paying attention it really shouldn't have been.

At the time I was working at the now long-abandoned Cambridge offices of The American Prospect -- the then-bi-monthly, now bi-weekly, and soon to be monthly liberal policy mag. I was going around saying that I thought the Democrats would actually pick up seats and I wanted to write an article on the dynamics in play. That got vetoed by the higher-ups who thought we'd look stupid running an article talking about a good Democratic year after the Republicans had picked up forty seats.

Now as you can probably tell I'm rather proud of having gotten this one right. But the truth is that it was really only a matter of watching the polls. As I said before, the 1998 results were treated as a big upset. But if you looked at the polls it wasn't at all. The generic polls and those of individual races were really quite close to the mark. And at the end of the campaign they were switching over, if I remember correctly, into the Dems' column. The key was that everyone was so convinced that the Democrats were going to pay the price for Clinton's shenanigans that they found ways to argue themselves out of the what the polls were saying. Not just Republicans, but Democrats too. (See, it wasn't conservative media bias then either.)

The favored argument was that whatever the polls said, the massive turnout among aggrieved Christian-conservative whack-jobs would tip the scales in the Republicans' favor. Needless to say, that didn't happen.

And I think that's pretty much what happened this time too. Going into the weekend most people were pretty convinced that the Democrats were going to hold or pick up a few seats. That consensus in that direction was very strong. And since people didn't see an obvious reason for the late move in the Republicans' direction, they just ignored it.

The point, I think, is that group-think is often more powerful than actual data.