Josh Marshall

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Articles by Josh

Thirty-five years old today. In the last several <$Ad$>months this marker seemed hard to get my head around, and more than a little daunting. But now that it's here, it feels right, like it's where I should be.

Thank you very sincerely to all who've sent good wishes.

I took a light week last week. But this week ahead we should be back to the standard frequency of posts. And there's certainly plenty to write about.

The new line out of the White House is that they really just haven't been in campaign mode. But with the Democrats being so mean and ungenerous, well ... they'll have to let loose the dogs.

Allegedly predicting this shift, Peggy Noonan has a piece in the Post today which, among other things, is, in the first few grafs, a good example of cliche and slander gussied up to look like literature. It's worth taking a moment to read.

The key to so much of this is that Republicans -- particularly those in the president's orbit -- simply don't have much experience being on the receiving end of what they normally serve up with such alacrity and zest. They're knocked off balance. Their breath is a bit taken away.

There is a natural tendency for each side to believe the other side is meaner, more disciplined, more unfair, more this, that, and the other. But it's only very recently that Democrats have had enough of an infrastructure of media and fundraising to raise the attention of their ideological competitors. And the White House has, for literally years now, been sowing the wind while using aggressive tactics and the climate of national emergency to knock back any response.

That's beginning to change.

More on all of this soon.

I'm waiting to see what journalists are able to make of the president's Friday night military service record document dump. I don't have copies of them. So, like you, I'm waiting to hear what they find.

Yesterday, though, there was a new development when one of the president's fellow Guardsmen, John B. Calhoun, came forward to say that he clearly remembered him showing up for his required drills in Alabama through the summer and fall of 1972.

"We didn't have the planes that he could fly," Calhoun told the Associated Press. "But he studied his manuals, he read flying safety regulations, accident reports -- things pilots do quite often when they are not getting ready to fly or if they don't have other duties."

Interestingly, though, as the Houston Chronicle notes this morning, the documents released Friday night show "Bush's transfer to the Alabama squadron wasn't approved until September 1972, months after Bush's presence as recalled by Calhoun."


Now, needless to say, if we were still operating under the rules that prevailed in the mid-1990s, James Carville would have been appointed Independent Counsel in the late summer of 2002 to investigate Halliburton. He'd have had the Intel shenanigans, the Plame matter and the Niger documents added to his brief since then. A cowed AG would have given him the Guard matter around the middle of last week. And in a couple days some FBI agents would be showing up on Calhoun's doorstep ready to squeeze him as silly as any freshly sliced wedge of lime in close proximity to a bottle of Corona.

Lucky for him Dems don't play so rough.

A number of folks have written in to ask why the exchange between Helen Thomas and Scott McClellan reported yesterday on TPM doesn't appear in the press briefing transcript at the White House website or in the televised version on CSPAN.


There are actually two press briefings at the White House each day. Both are on the record. But a public transcript is prepared for the second (and posted on the White House website); and it's televised on CSPAN. Neither is done for the first. Because of that difference, the first -- which usually takes place between 9 and 10 am -- is often more contentious and free-wheeling than the second, which takes place just after noon.

In most cases, when I report these exchanges on TPM, they come from the early morning briefing, the "gaggle".

This guy says he remembers Bush at drills in Alabama.

These two say they never saw him and think they would have if he were there.

Yesterday the AP contacted more than a dozen former members of Bush's unit and none remembered seeing him.

"I don't remember seeing him. That does not mean he was not there," said Wayne Rambo, a first lieutenant with the 187th Supply Squadron at the time in question.

Here's a fascinating AP story in <$Ad$>which the reporter went back to talk to people who were in the mix in that 1972 Alabama Senate campaign to find out their recollections of the future president. Some, it seems, remember him as a big drinker with little interest in military service, others remember him as a hard worker who did his Guard duty.

Not surprisingly, I suppose, the range of opinions seems to conform at least in part to the current political views of the people recollecting their memories of the time.

But this passage stuck out to me.

Jean Sullivan, a former RNC national committeewoman and Alabama GOP leader, is one of Bush's staunchest defenders in the article. She worked on the 1972 Blount campaign along with the president.

Some within the Alabama Guard were resentful because Bush was from Texas and was spending only the minimum amount of required time on duty, said Sullivan. "It was just some idiots," said Sullivan.

Mad about rumors surrounding Bush, whose father was U.N. ambassador at the time, Sullivan said she called a Guard commander to explain that Bush was doing all he could while working on the campaign.

"The man called me back and apologized. I thought it was gone forever," said Sullivan. "And then I started hearing all this stuff a couple of weeks ago."

So there was already disgruntlement even then from "some idiots". Sullivan was mad about the rumors that were circulating. So she called up the base commander, or someone in authority, to give him an earful and ask him to get the rumors from the "idiots" under control. Then he called back and apologized to her.

Is this version of events really helpful to the president?

I guess at least it'll put to rest those critics who say he shirked his duty and had to have his dad's political friends cover for him.

Scott McClellan seems intent on saying that <$Ad$> a dental exam the president had at Dannelly Alabama Air National Guard base in January 1973 proves he fulfilled his Guard duty that year in Alabama.

That, of course, and the ambiguous pay stubs -- a number of which seem to show he was in Texas.

This is, of course, all in addition to the fact that the president has gone back on his promise to just make this whole thing easy and release all his military service records -- something he, through his aides, now refuses to do.

But look at this testy exchange this morning about whether the president was required to perform community service during the time he was in the Guard ...

Q: Did the President ever have to take time off from Guard duty to do community service?

Scott McClellan: To do community service? I haven't looked into everything he did 30 years ago, Helen. Obviously, there is different community service he has performed in the past, including going back to that time period --

Q: Can you find out if he actually had --

Scott McClellan: Helen, I don't think we remember every single activity he was involved in 30 years ago.

Q: No, this isn't an activity. Was he forced to do community service at any time while he was on --

Scott McClellan: What's your interest in that question? I'm sorry, I just --

Q: Lots of rumors. I'm just trying to clear up something.

Scott McClellan: Rumors about what?

Q: Pardon?

Scott McClellan: Rumors about what?

Q: About the President having to do community service while he was in the National Guard, take time out for that.

Scott McClellan: I'm not aware of those rumors. But if you want to --

Q: Could you look it up? Would you mind asking him?

Scott McClellan: That's why I'm asking what's your interest in that? I just don't understand your interest in that.

Q: It's what everybody is interested in, whether we're getting the true story on his Guard duty.

Scott McClellan: Well, you have the documents that show the facts.

Q: I'm asking you to try to find out from the President of the United States.

Scott McClellan: Like I said, it's well known the different jobs he had and what he was doing previously, that we know. That goes back to --

Q: I didn't say "previously." I said, while he was on Guard duty.

Scott McClellan: But you're asking me about 30 years ago. I don't think there's a recollection of everything he was doing 30 years ago.

Q: Well, he would know if he had to take time out.

Scott McClellan: Again, I mean, the issue that was raised was whether or not the President was serving while he was in Alabama. Documents reflect that he was --

Q: Well, this is another issue.

Scott McClellan: -- hold on -- that he was serving in Alabama. That was the issue that was raised. We went through, four years ago, other issues related to this.

Q: So you won't answer the question or you won't try to find out?

Scott McClellan: Well, I'm asking you, what's your interest in that question? I'm just curious, because rumors --

Q: Did he have to do any community service while he was in the National Guard?

Scott McClellan: Look, Helen, I think the issue here was whether or not the President served in Alabama. Records have documented --

Q: I'm asking you a different question. That's permissible.

Scott McClellan: Can I answer your question? Sure it is. Can I ask you why you're asking it? I'm just -- out of curiosity myself, is that permissible?

Q: Well, I'm interested, of course, in what everybody is interested in. And we have a very --

Scott McClellan: Let me just point out that we've released all the information we have related to this issue, the issue of whether or not he served while in Alabama. Records have documented as false the outrageous --

Q: I asked you whether he had to do any community service while he was in the National Guard.

Scott McClellan: Can I walk through this?

Q: It's a very legitimate question.

Scott McClellan: And I want to back up and walk through this a little bit. Let's talk about the issue that came up, because this issue came up four years ago, it came up four years before that -- or two years before that, it came up four years before that --

Q: Did my question come up four years ago, and was it handled?

Scott McClellan: Helen, if you'll let me finish, I want to back up and talk about this --

Q: Don't dance around, just give us --

Q: It's a straightforward question.

Q: Let's not put too fine a point on it. If I'm not mistaken, you're implying that he had to do community service for criminal action, as a punishment for some crime?

Q: There are rumors around, and I didn't put it in that way. I just --

Q: Could you take that question? I guess apparently that's the question, that he had to take time out to perform community service --

Scott McClellan: That's why I wanted to get to this because --

Q: -- as a sentence for a crime.

Scott McClellan: No, that's why I wanted to get to this because I want to step back for a second. I want to go back through a few things. Look, the -- I think we've really exhausted the issue that came up. The issue that came up was related to whether or not he had served while he was in Alabama. Records have documented as false the outrageous, baseless accusation that he did not serve while in Alabama. The conspiracy theory of one individual, that the National Guard cleansed documents, has been discredited.

Q: How so?

Scott McClellan: Read The Boston Globe today.

Q: Well, we want answers from you, not --

Scott McClellan: Read the Boston Globe. No, the answers are from the people that would have knowledge of that. But read --

Q: Why do you think this person made those allegations?

Scott McClellan: Hang on, hang on.

Q: What? Just read The Boston Globe --

Scott McClellan: Just read The Boston Globe. Read The Boston Globe. I would draw your attention to that. What I think we're seeing now is just politics. And we're not going to engage in it, because there are great challenges facing our nation, and there should be an honest discussion of the actions the President is taking to make our world safer and better and make America more prosperous and secure.

You want me to go --

Q: -- the personal record of a President is --

Scott McClellan: No, hang on, Helen, hang on. I've said from this podium, if we have new information that comes to our attention that relates to this issue, we have made it clear we will share that information. You're asking me to go and chase rumors. There was a conspiracy theory --

Q: I think --

Scott McClellan: Hold on, hold on, Helen. There was a conspiracy theory made by one individual, when everybody he accused of being involved in that said, it's ridiculous, didn't happen.

Q: This is not based on a conspiracy theory.

Scott McClellan: And there was a lot of attention given to this individual, and he's been discredited. There's a Boston Globe article on it this morning. And there are some --

Q: That says what? Your point --

Scott McClellan: You can go read it. I mean, we've got other things to move on to. I mean, you can go read it. But there are some, unfortunately, who simply are not interested in the facts. Again, the documents -- the records document that he did serve while in Alabama. And now there are people that are bringing up issues that were addressed four years ago.

Q: But you still haven't answered Helen's question. She asked you a simple question.

Scott McClellan: There are people that want to replay the 2000 campaign all over again, Bill, and --

Q: You still haven't answered her question about community service.

Scott McClellan: -- there are too many important -- there are too many important policies and decisions that are being made that we need to discuss.

Q: Why does a "yes" or "no" elude you on this?

Scott McClellan: I didn't say that. I said that these were all issues addressed four years ago. If there's additional information --

Q: This issue quite obviously wasn't addressed four years ago.

Scott McClellan: Oh, issues -- these issues were addressed four years ago.

Q: This issue was? The community service issue was addressed four years ago?

Scott McClellan: The issues -- the issues that we're going to here --

Q: I don't recall --

Scott McClellan: This is called chasing a rumor. And I'm not going to engage in this kind of politics, Bill.

Q: -- finding out whether a rumor is true or false.

Scott McClellan: No, this issue, absolutely --

Q: Why can't you say whether or not he performed community service?

Scott McClellan: Absolutely, this issue came up four years ago. And if you all want to play politics, then go call the RNC, call the campaign.

Q: The best defense is offense. We know that. Just, all you've got to say is you don't know.

Scott McClellan: Helen, it was -- this issue was addressed four years ago. I think people that were involved in the campaign will know --

Q: -- if they know --

Scott McClellan: -- that the issue that you're trying to bring up was addressed four years ago. It's about chasing rumors.

Q: It isn't a question of four years ago. The issue has come up now, very large.

Scott McClellan: I'm not going to get into chasing rumors.

Q: Headlines.

Scott McClellan: I'm not going to get into chasing rumors.

Q: So you refuse to answer the question?

Scott McClellan: You're saying that people said he was forced to do something, and you're asking me to chase a rumor.

Q: Everything is politics today, of course.

Q: She asked you a "yes" or "no" question.

Scott McClellan: Look, if you all want to -- this is just politics. That's what this is. And if there's any more information I have to share with you all, I will always -- I will do that.

Q: Scott, I have a question of this individual, and I confess, I haven't read the Boston article. But who -- what do you believe was this person's motivation, that if they have been discredited, for making these allegations?

Scott McClellan: Just -- I would read The Boston Globe. Everybody that he accused of being involved in this has said it was totally ridiculous. And there are others that --

Q: So are you saying -- was it politically motivated?

Scott McClellan: There are others that are quoted in The Boston Globe today, that you might want to see what they said.

Q: Speaking of politics, has the President authorized his campaign --

Scott McClellan: And we've got to --

Q: -- to release a video attacking Senator Kerry?

Scott McClellan: You need to talk -- you need to talk to the campaign. But let me go to the week ahead because we've used up more than 15 minutes.

Q: So the President did authorize --

Q: Scott, I've got --

Scott McClellan: I'm going to go to the week ahead.

Houston, do we have a problem?

You don't think president Bush has had a rough ride over the last few weeks? Take a look at this new ABC/Washington Post news poll which has him losing a presidential match-up to John Kerry by a 52%-43% margin among registered voters.

Now, registered voters aren't 'likely voters', though figuring out who counts as a 'likely voter' is difficult so many months out from an election. But that still means that the president is getting knocked by almost ten points by an opponent who is, to most Americans, still largely an unknown quantity.

And the more ominous news comes down in the details. Put simply, a majority of Americans now believe that the president bamboozled them on Iraq. In the more temperate phrasing of the Post: "A majority of Americans believe President Bush either lied or deliberately exaggerated evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in order to justify war." The precise numbers are 21% who say he lied and 31% who say he deliberately exaggerated.

Only 52% find the president "honest and trustworthy". And to borrow the title of the last book of the great J. Anthony Lukas, for Bush, that means big trouble.

Every president has characteristic strengths and weaknesses. For better or worse, by the end of his term of office, Bill Clinton's reputation as a truth-teller was in tatters. But that was never his strong suit with voters anyway. The measure of his enduring strength with voters is best guaged in a question pollsters usually frame as 'does candidate X care about/understand the problems that affect people like you.'

Clinton always did very well on that question. It's the politics of empathy -- a topic which, when it comes to Clinton, one could literally write a whole book.

People never warmed to President Bush as a literary critic or a raconteur. And he's usually done okay, but not great, on the 'care about/understand' question. His strong suit has always been honesty and trusthworthiness -- that and the closely related quality of 'leadership'. If he loses that, politically speaking, he's finished.

Ironically, the Post notes that President Bush's ratings on honest peaked at 71% in the summer of 2002. I say 'ironically' because the summer of 2002 was really not a high point for honesty or trustworthiness. But I guess that's what folks are starting to realize.

Credit, I always say, where credit is due.

And with that in mind, tonight we're awarding Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM) the first annual Heather Wilson "I think the American people are a bunch of god-forsaken idiots" Award.

Last night, Wilson was on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 show, carrying water for the president on the WMD shenanigans. Fair enough, I guess. Everyone's gotta try to make the best of a bad situation.

She would have at least gotten an Honorable Mention for a particularly loopy point about a connection between al Qaida and 'Iraq'. But she hit it out of the park with this one.

After detailing all the reasons why the president's pre-war rationales for war make sense in retrospect, she uncorked this beauty. "And to me," she told CNN's Heidi Collins, "the most important thing was his biological weapons program, which we've now confirmed he was continuing to pursue up to the day of the invasion, and the ability to deliver those biological weapons against Americans on American soil."

An on-going biological weapons program? Really ... Continuing research into delivery systems for biological weapons attacks on the United States mainland? She really needs to bring her data to David Kay and the president. The president, I think, would find Wilson's new findings really helpful right now.

In all seriousness, where do they get these jokers? Lie, lie, lie.

Then there's Condi Rice, who gets this year's Honorable Mention.

Condi was on Larry King last night. And I had really high hopes she would take home the big prize since with these two you pretty much know it's going to be a train wreck. Sort of like Barney Fife interviewing Dr. Evil.

As it happened, it was a pretty placid affair. But there was at least this. We'll call it the "certain stocks" defense. (itals added)

It is true that certain stocks of weapons that we thought were there that frankly the intelligence services around the world thought were there, that the United Nations, the inspectors, as late as March of 2003 believed that they were there saying that it wasn't credibility, that Iraq couldn't account for its weapons of mass destruction.

Yes, we've not found those stocks, but what we have found is hundreds of weapons of mass destruction related activities hidden from United Nations inspectors. We found and interviewed people who've talked about how they were hiding these programs from the United Nations.

If it's not immediately clear why this line from Condi represents the silliest and most shameless sort of mumbo-jumbo, see this excellent column by Fred Kaplan in Slate.

If you see statements from anyone who you think should knock Rep. Wilson off her throne, please drop me a line.

There are several new story lines opening up tonight on the Guard issue. In addition to the bizarre dental records release noted below, a number of news outlets are running with the allegations of former Texas Guard official Bill Burkett, who has said for some time that the president's Guard records were "cleansed" by campaign staffers back in 1999.

The most detailed run-down seems to be in USAToday.

Kevin Drum notes how the authors of the piece have a (good) history with the source, Burkett, thus arguably lending his story more credibility.

In general, Drum's site,, continues to be the invaluable source in making sense of all the different moving parts of this story -- which documents mean what, who says the president did what when, etc.