Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of

Articles by Josh

Just when you start debating how much or whether the president's military service record should be an issue in this campaign, you realize that the main reason it's an issue is that the president and his surrogates just won't stop lying about it.

This morning Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot was interviewed by Juan Williams on NPR. When asked about the president's Air National Guard service he said, the president's and John Kerry's service "compare very favorably... He (i.e. the president) signed up for dangerous duty. He volunteered to go to Vietnam. He wasn’t selected to go, but nonetheless served his country very well …"

He volunteered to go to Vietnam?

Marc, no he didn't.

Does he think no one is listening?

(For some reason Williams, made no effort to call him on it.)

Let's set aside the fact that pulling strings to get into the Air National Guard in 1968 is, on its face, quite the opposite of volunteering to go to Vietnam. When the president signed up for the National Guard there was a check box asking whether he wanted to volunteer for overseas service. And he checked off "do not volunteer."

Now, the president's defenders have tried to explain this in various ways, hypothesizing that some unknown other person checked off the box or, more plausibly, that he was instructed to do so since what he was actually signing up for was to fly planes in Texas. Of late, they've brought forward friends or fellow Guardsmen who say -- with no documentary evidence whatsoever -- that Bush at one point or another asked about serving in Vietnam.

(There is also the president's claim that he volunteered for something called Palace Alert, a program that would have taken him to Thailand. But I believe there is no record of this. And as noted in this Washington Post interview from 1999, if he did sign up, it would have been within a week of the program's being shut down -- a fact that points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that if he did sign up, he did so to sign up, not to go.)

But however that may be, it is awfully hard to turn the "do not volunteer" into "do volunteer."

This is just a preview of what we're certain to see from the Bush campaign this year since it follows past practice so closely: Wait till the brouhaha subsides and then hopscotch over the remaining unanswered questions about the president's service by making stuff up that is flatly contradicted by the record.

Who's going to call them on this?

"As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important."

Those were the words last week of Ahmed Chalabi, head of the INC, member of the IGC, and central player in a scandal the scope of which Americans are only now beginning to grasp.

The "what was said before" that Chalabi is referring to, of course, are the numerous bogus claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction he peddled into American governmental channels over the last half dozen years and more.

After these words he was kind enough to say that "the Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants."

Now, I can't say that I was particularly surprised by this, though I didn't expect him to be quite so public about it. For months, when asked about what happened with all their crackerjack intel and defectors, those in Chalabi's entourage have responded with a blase version of 'the ends justify the means'. The general idea they communicate is: Okay, so there weren't any weapons. But we wanted Saddam gone. And he's gone. Our conscience is clean.

Not quite an admission, but also quite a ways from a denial. In other words, more or less what Chalabi told the Telegraph: "What was said before is not important."

Now, to me Chalabi's motives are extremely suspect. But there are many, many Iraqi nationalists who were willing to do or sacrifice anything to rid their country of this brutal dictator. And from that perspective I can understand how their consciences would be clear. They're not Americans. They're not bound up in the ins-and-outs of truth-telling in the context of American domestic politics. Their primary interest is not the vital interests of the United States. What they're trying to do is overthrow a tyrant in their country. And if that means hoodwinking the great power to come in and do the job or perhaps just telling the leaders of the great power what they want to hear, then so be it.

There's no point belaboring this hypothetical. I don't think it really applies to the people in question here. I am only trying to sketch out a potential way to see the rights and wrongs of all this from a very different perspective.

However that may be, Chalabi seems to be at the point of all but calling us suckers to our faces. If we were scammed, you'd think we'd be a bit angry about it -- right? -- even if we helped bring it on ourselves and even if some of our leaders were complicit in the scam.

Yet, we really don't seem to be angry at all. We funded Chalabi's pre-war intelligence operation in Iraq -- thus placing ourselves in the pathbreaking position of bankrolling a disinformation campaign against ourselves. (Much of his other money came from Iran. But we can get into that later.) And amazingly, we're still funding it.

According to this KnightRidder article from late last week the Pentagon has set aside between $3 and $4 million to fund Chalabi's Information Collection Program through 2004. So we want to keep buying Chalabi's prized intel for at least the next ten months?

We're far past the point where there's any question that basically all the intel we got from Chalabi was bogus. We're not far from the point of concluding that it was knowingly bogus or at least passed on with a willful indifference to its validity. And we're still going to pay his 'intelligence' operation $4 million more this year?

Isn't the $400 million worth of contracts to companies tied to his family enough to keep him happy?

I’ve had a number of readers ask me why I would repeat John Kerry’s ‘bring it on’ language and implicitly endorse Max Cleland’s dig at Saxby Chambliss.

There are actually several questions here. So let me try to answer each in their turn.

The first point is why I would embrace the idea that military service or lack thereof is a legitimate campaign issue. Don’t I feel that Bill Clinton was unfairly pilloried on this ground? Didn’t John Kerry say in 1992 that we shouldn’t divide the country by getting into people’s Vietnam era service and reopening those old national wounds?

So is this hypocritical?

Well, in a limited sense, of course it is. But let's look at what those who make this argument really want.

[Thinking this over, if anything, I think I've overstated the matter. As I've said previously, if the president would simply tell the truth about his military service, it really wouldn't be a very deal. Of course, at this point he's made his bed.]

Republicans believe past military service counts on political and character grounds. So without a flutter of conscience they can maul Democrats who don't match up and even many who do. But Democrats don't think it should matter. So they should remain mum when Republicans run candidates who skated out of military service with whipped up medical ailments or political connections.

That sounds to me like unilateral disarmament, which last I heard is something Republicans don't believe in. I can understand why Republicans would want a political rule book that permits aggressive attacks by Republicans and prescribes timidity from Democrats. But I can't fathom why Democrats should go along with it.

Then there's another point. Some people say some version of the following: Democrats are naive if they think Kerry's Vietnam service will stop him from getting a Republican mauling. After all, look what good it did Max Cleland.

Good point. But this isn't the reasoning. Or, at least, it's not my reasoning. I think it'll be different this time because the Democrats will go on the offensive early and not let up. The fact that Kerry is also a decorated Veteran helps a lot. But the determination to fight back is the fundamental difference. Without that, his record might well be of little consequence.

Yet another point.

Some have said explicitly and others have implied that the new attacks on Kerry's war protestor record are either payback for the attacks on Bush or the logical consequence of the Dems hitting the president on his service record. This is, I think, a subtext to a lot of the higher-minded commentary -- that, shall we say, of the supercilious center.

To this I can only say that, to paraphrase the immortal Mr. T, I pity the fool who actually believes this. All past experience and present evidence tells us these attacks were on the way regardless. As I noted a couple weeks ago in The Hill, this is simply Democrats embracing a political variant of the Bush Doctrine of preemption. The only difference being that they actually know their opponents have the weapons.

The deeper question here is whether Democrats should be campaigners and campaign critics-cum-ethicists at the same time, rather than hitting their political opponents on every point of vulnerability. And I think it's a question most of them have already answered for themselves over the last three years. We'll return to this and the broader issue of Democratic foreign policy in subsequent posts.

Here are some questions that might be very worthwhile to pose to Scott McClellan tomorrow morning.

The president has instructed members of the White House staff (everyone in the Executive Office of the President) to cooperate fully with the Plame investigation. Does that order to cooperate amount to a bar on White House employees taking the fifth with investigators?

Does the president find it acceptable for members of his staff to invoke their fifth amendment rights in a criminal investigation and still remain on the payroll?

Does the president know whether members of his staff have invoked their right against self-incrimination in the Plame investigation?

Bill Richardson this morning on Ralph <$NoAd$> Nader ...

“It’s his personal vanity because he has no movement. Nobody’s backing him,” New Mexico Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson said Sunday in advance of Nader’s announcement.

“The Greens aren’t backing him. His friends urge him not to do it. It’s all about himself,” Richardson told “Fox News Sunday.”

“Now, Ralph’s made some great contributions to consumer issues over the years, but clearly it’s not going to help us,” he said. “I don’t think he’ll have a sizable impact, but it’s terrible if he goes ahead because it’s about him. It’s about his ego. It’s about his vanity and not about a movement that supposedly he headed for many years very effectively.”

A more generous version of my thoughts.

Visit Nader's new website to see some amazingly comical sophistry about how his being in the race will make it more likely that a Democrat will be elected president.

Said Max Cleland today: "For Saxby Chambliss, who got out of going to Vietnam because of a trick knee, to attack John Kerry as weak on the defense of our nation is like a mackerel in the moonlight that both shines and stinks."

Yes, that's the Saxby Chambliss who went down and dirty against Cleland back in 2002. And now the Bush campaign is sending him out against John Kerry.

What else is there to say? Bring it on. This time we're ready to fight back.

As probably comes as no surprise, I've gotten quite a lot of email in response to last night's post on the gay marriage issue.

Some of those responses seemed to me to miss the thrust of the post, since it was intended more as a critique of what has been my position on this issue than a statement of that position.

Yet I'd rather not try to interpret what I wrote. Some, or rather most, of the posts I write on TPM are intended as arguments. Sometimes they're closely reasoned, or flippant or polemical; but in every case I am making a specific argument, a specific point. Others, like the one from last night, are more like thinking out loud. I'm trying to present an honest reflection of my thinking, or my wrestling with an issue, rather than a deliberate argument.

In any case, this is all a long way of saying, take it as you will.

One other point.

Many readers have written in to say that the real answer to this controversy is simply to get the state out of the marriage business, with all its trappings of sanctity and traditionalism. The state should only be in the business of issuing value-neutral marriage licenses -- perhaps called civil unions for gays and straights. And then individuals can decide what sort of religious ritual they want to add on, or whether they just want a civil ceremony.

The underlying argument here is that our present notion of marriage is really an improper tangling together of church and state. And the sooner they're untangled, the better.

Part of me agrees with this proposition. But we're fooling ourselves if we think this gets us out of the political thicket. That sort of change would be a radical break from past practice and it is profoundly secular in outlook.

I think there is little way of getting around the nub of this issue. Our current laws announce, and are based upon, a clear value judgment: that unions between a man and a woman are both different from and better than unions between members of the same gender.

[ed. note: I don't like making interlinear comments like this. But some people have apparently read the above graf as my saying that I think heterosexual unions are 'better'. To this I can only say, please read more carefully. I am noting the value judgment embodied in our law, which I believe is indisputable.]

You can't get around that uncomfortable fact. To get the state out of the marriage business would simply take the state from its current position in favor of heterosexual unions to one of agnosticism, a grand 'no comment.'

I think that might be a good solution. But let's not imagine that the people who oppose gay marriage or gay rights generally aren't going to have any problem with that. And thus the politics of it remains largely the same, though perhaps slightly more palatable to one slice of the electorate.

In any case, there's no escaping how revolutionary this moment is in the way we order the state's relationship to the most intimate aspects of our lives. And the inescapable fact that the status quo means the continued denigration of committed same-sex relationships is why I'm reconsidering my position of supporting civil unions rather than gay marriage outright.

Here are some letters I received in response to last night's post ...


I'm 62 years old and grew up in Missouri. When I married my first wife, who as Japanese American, we had to do so in another state. At that time it was against Missouri state law for interracial marriages to take place. Times change.

40 years later the pain of that state-sanctioned inequality, which made some couples second-class citizens, still stirs an old, deep-felt resentment. While I'm not gay, I certainly have sympathy for the state-sanctioned unfairness that gay couples endure and believe that in another 40 years (probably much sooner) gay marriages will be a simple, accepted fact of life.


[New Email]

I've been reading your website for several weeks now and have enjoyed it.

I appreciate your article on Gay Marriage and understand your feelings about it. I do not want to debate the subject with you, we are clearly on the same side.

I just want you to know that my partner and I were married at city hall on Thursday this week. We waiting in line for about 9 hours and were prepared to camp out on the side walk overnight if we had to. In line behind us were two women who had driven 27 hours from El Paso with their son in tow. Just in front of us were two women who had flown in from Virginia and two men who'd flown in from Kansas City. There were also lots of Bay Area couples there. There were couples with babies in strollers and one couple with an aged mother in a wheelchair and hooked up to oxygen.

This is not the right time. There is no right time. There is just the right thing to do. This was the right thing to do.

The Republicans and the far right are going to us as scapegoats no matter what we do. We all know that. We have always known that.

Now they know a little more about us.

James Vallejo, CA

[New Email]

Josh, Your post for today about your struggle on gay marriage was very interesting. I just explained exactly your points to my Christian massage therapist so it confirmed what I perceived as the struggle in the world - at least for reasonable people! I'm sure you'll get emails galore. I appreciate your openness and honesty. I'll try to be brief. As a gay woman, 52, with 3 adult open minded heterosexual children, spiritual but not Christian, partnered for 13 years, married (in our own minds/hearts with our God as a witness) for 10 years - and looking forward to the paperwork and rights to catch up with the feelings and commitment....I have to simply say - accepting anything short of equal is NOTHING. No matter how others can use it politically or not - what's right is right. When you settle for anything short of right - you're selling yourself and this country short. So many people forget what America stands for - Freedom and equality. Any form of intellectualizing away equal rights for gay families has no foundation in logic or law. This will be proven - it's just a matter of time. Thanks for your site... I read it every day. Judy

[New Email]


I hope you don't catch too much flack for your thoughtful post on gay marriage. I appreciate your honest description of your own conflicted thoughts on this and I very much share them (hopefully not just the two of us). As a married straight man, I genuinely feel that my state-sanctioned marriage will never be entirely valid until my gay friends enjoy the same priviledges as my wife and I do. At the same time, one can easily see how Rovian Republicans must be salivating at the thought of having another fear-based issue to stir the troops with. "So, you're not as afraid of terrorists these days? How about GAY PEOPLE getting MARRIED just like YOU AND THE MISSUS?????". I don't know the answer either, but in the end, I know I'll be standing alongside my gay friends, cheering them on and maybe, just maybe, being someone's best man some day.

Thanks for your good work, Adam Chase

[New Email]

I'm a fan of TPM.

I feel sure that you are a logical person. The rationale you are pursuing in your mind re gay marriage is typical of a lot of decent, middle of the road Americans. I think that after the smoke clears you'll have no reasonable alternative to admitting that your reluctance to back gay marriage is simply based on the idea that we are too "different" to join with straights in celebrating a loving commitment. It's the old miscegnation argument.

I know you'll finally come around to seeing it for what it is.

Thanks for all your hard work and wonderful blog.

Linda, who just celebrated her 31st "anniversary" with a wonderful partner.

[New Email]

As an openly gay man who was actively involved in Democratic politics and fundraising a few years ago, I initially shared your apprehension about the backlash involved in making gay marriage an issue in a presidential election year. I suffered my friends reaction to this position as recently as a few weeks ago. "Don't ask, don't tell" strikes me as the military equivalent of gays ceding the right to even civil unions. The fact remains that while gays can serve in the military and not be asked about their sexuality, they're still not protected...let alone embraced for their service...under law. So, the pragmatism you subscribe to and I did as well until very recently is much like Bill Clinton's "look, I tried and this is the best I can do." I've come to the conclusion that it's better to have fought the battle and lost than never fought at all. Like chosen careers in the military, we're dealing with peoples lives here, not abstract concepts.

[New Email]

Thanks for your very thoughtful post on gay marriage.

I'm a gay man, mid 50s, happily partnered. My immediate and visceral response to the fight over gay marriage is, like many of your readers, to settle for nothing less than true equality.

I'm also a literate and thoughtful man, deeply concerned about the steep slide into danger that Bush's policies and actions have taken us. My immediate and visceral response to that is to put aside all other goals and focus only on defeating Bush.

My fear is that gay people will be 2004's Nader, handing the right a slim victory. I haven't a clue how to resolve my hopes and my fears! But thanks for helping me examine and articulate them.

Regards, Chuck

To conclude, I should say that I've made no particular attempt to find a representative sampling of the letters I received. These are the ones that caught my attention, moved me, or just made me think the most. To the extent that I could characterize them, I would say that the majority of the letters had a tone and content of friendly criticism, though there were more than a few that contained only one or two epithets.

I truly hope that Democrats will not spend too much <$Ad$>time abasing themselves, begging Ralph Nader not to run again for president in 2004, as he seems likely to announce he will do on Meet the Press this Sunday.

Certainly, this latter-day political narcissist has already made up his mind what he's going to announce. So there's no point waiting to call him what he is: an enemy of progressive change in this country and a cat's paw of the Republican party.

If anything, calling him a 'cat's paw' is too generous since a dupe at least doesn't know he's being used.

In any case, I have a rough confidence that this won't be as damaging to Democratic prospects as some fear. Because after the last four years I just don't think that many people will get in line again behind this pied piper of political oblivion.

Late Update: A reader notes that since Nader now isn't even running as a Green, he has apparently abandoned even the pretense that he is in the race to create a viable third party in American politics. If he runs, it would now be strictly on a platform of vacuous moral posturing and self-aggrandizement.

Wow. The Fox News poll has the president down at 48% approval. For some reason I cannot begin to fathom, the statistic doesn't seem prominently on display on the FoxNews website. (I can't even find it.) But you can see the brutal numerical truth here.

You know it's really a new day when Chicago's Mayor Daley says he'd have "no problem" if Cook County started allowing gay marriages.

Sure, it's not the Mayor Daley. It's his son. And Richard M. Daley's ability to reclaim the Chicago mayoralty for his family has from the start been based on rapprochements with all manner of groups, political factions and ideological tendencies that were, if not beyond the pale, then at least subordinated in the Chicago of his father.

But you can't have much familiarity with the strains and schisms that rent the Democratic party in its urban bastions of the North through the latter decades of the last century, and the particular convulsion in Chicago in 1968, and not find those words coming from that mouth something bracing, unexpected, in some sense hard to fathom, and yet terribly welcome.

Andrew Sullivan has been commenting on this at some length in the last few days. But it's amazing to watch how San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's act of inverted civil disobedience (a Mayor violating the seemingly clear letter of the law in the cause of a higher principle of equality) has unleashed the floodgates around the country. The county in New Mexico, which briefly started issuing marriage licenses, has now apparently reversed itself. But I think Andrew is right that this spate of marriages -- at least in San Francisco and perhaps now in other locales -- has suddenly made this whole issue concrete and human in a way it simply wasn't before.

I'm not sure that makes the movement's eventual success more likely. But it clearly makes it impossible for anyone to ignore. It now has to be confronted across the political spectrum -- by some eagerly, and by others with great reluctance.

I must confess to a deep ambivalence about same-sex marriages. It's not one of belief or values, but one of pragmatism, at least as I understand it -- and yet a pragmatism I'm not entirely comfortable with.

I strongly support civil unions -- the ability of gay and lesbian couples to solemnize their unions and enjoy the whole raft of civil protections, privileges and obligations that heterosexual couples do through marriage -- survivorship rights, the ability to visit and make decisions for a sick spouse in the hospital, etc. Anything less just conflicts with everything I believe is right and just.

My reason for not supporting gay marriage -- and I think there's a difference between opposing and not supporting, in this case -- is that it seems like a step that would trigger a backlash that would a) quite possibly prevent the adoption even of civil unions and b) provide a tool for conservatives to win elections and thus prevent or turn back various other progressive reforms that are no less important than this one. (Of course, this hybrid reasoning has all manner of uncomfortable echoes from the middle decades of the 20th century.)

In other words, when I say that I don't support gay marriage, my reasoning and rationale are inextricably tied up with my sense of the larger political context in which the question arises -- what's possible and what's not, and what the larger political repercussions would be. In fact, I find the two parts of the equation difficult to untangle even in my own head. (If there's an undertone of uncertainty or moral awkwardness you recognize in this post it likely stems from my feeling that the open embrace of gay marriage from so many unexpected quarters shames what seems to me to be my own timidity.)

I don't think these concerns about broader political repercussions can be easily or honestly ignored. And yet if we posit a country in which there is marriage for heterosexuals and civil unions for gays and lesbians, then, paradoxically, I think the state-imposed stigma becomes even greater than it is now. Not entirely so, but at least by one measure.

Today we have marriage. It's a state-sanctioned institution for men and women. The state just, by and large, isn't involved in homosexual relationships. Now, I know that there are laws on the books in many states that definitely do involve the state in same-sex relationships adversely. And in practice, the state can have much less than a hands-off approach.

Yet, if we have marriage (for straights) and civil unions (for gays), then you have the state being in the business of solemnizing and recognizing both kinds of relationships, but in a way that clearly gives preference -- even if just symbolically -- to straights. Once you make the leap to civil unions, this sort of public denigration of same-sex relationships seems hard to justify, and full gay marriage seems hard not to embrace.

I know that little in these ideas or formulations is novel. They just give a sense of my thoughts on the issue, and my wrestling with it. But the images of happy newlyweds in San Francisco is jostling my own calculus of pragmatism and right.