Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Otto J. Reich is perhaps the most unreconstructed, old-style rightist appointee in the Bush administration. A friend and protector of Cuban emigre terrorist Orlando Bosch, Reich was also implicated in the United States' seeming involvement in the failed coup against Venezuela's Hugo Chavez last April. He runs Latin America policy at the State Department.

Recently, the St. Paul Pioneer Press asked Reich if he had any advice for out-going Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura and state business executives who are accompanying him on a trade mission to Cuba this month. Reich told the paper: "First, I would ask them not to participate in sexual tourism, which is one of the main industries in Cuba."

Ventura called the remark "offensive" and said: "At the very least, he and President Bush owe my wife and children a personal apology."

A State Department spokesman rebuffed Ventura's request.

Talking to different people today I heard many different opinions about just what policy the president had enunciated in his speech. After reading the speech several times it seemed to me that when you peeled away the Cheney-esque bluster you had a Powell-esque policy.

No one is mentioning this. The White House had one policy. They hit a brick wall. Now they've changed policies.

And that's good. Because this is a better policy.

Meanwhile, The New Republic has a scathing editorial in its new issue, which strikes me as completely half right. The magazine argues that the Democrats are shirking their responsibility by ducking the basic questions about what to do about Iraq and in essence failing to embrace the president's historic policy of preemption and regime change. The first part of that is true, I think. The second part strikes me as strained and unpersuasive.

(In the Cold War, guys, containment was the historic policy, not roll-back. The logic of containment doesn't apply to Iraq today. But bold does not always mean right. Nor is maximum assertiveness always a sign of clarity or logic.)

I believe the Democrats are missing an opportunity. The opportunity, though, is not to play Vandenbergs to Bush's Truman, but to hash out an aggressive policy on Iraq which eschews the dishonesty and amateurism which has plagued White House policy for months. They are missing that opportunity. And for that alone the TNR editorial is worth considering.

Busy as I was today I thought I could wait till this evening to note the latest bit of Republican Social Security campaign hooliganism. I was wrong.

Republicans often argue that Social Security is a bad deal for African-Americans. It's a specious argument based on looking at some statistics and not others. But it's no more mendacious than a bunch of other tendentious uses of statistics that are the common coin of political debate today.

This week though, GOPAC -- a hard-charging political action committee that was once the engine of Newt Gingrich's rise to power -- decided to turn the volume on this canard way, way up. All the way to eleven, you might say, using the argot of Spinal Tap devotees. The GOPAC ad running on black radio stations in Kansas City called Social Security a form of "reverse reparations" which blacks paid to whites.

Here are a few choice clips from the ad ...

You've heard about reparations, you know, where whites compensate blacks for enslaving us. Well guess what we've got now. Reverse reparations ... So the next time some Democrat says he won't touch Social Security, ask why he thinks blacks owe reparations to whites.
The good folks at the Social Security Information Project at Campaign for America's Future found out about this, put out the word, and by this afternoon GOPAC had pulled the ad.

In cases of low-rent sleaze like these it's hard to know whether to fix on to the dishonesty, the crassness, the ugly caricature of gullible blacks the ad is intended to appeal to, or just the pitiful dorks themselves who hatched the idea.

You can just imagine the brainstorming session with the CSE-baseball-cap-clad goofball 'wingers who came up with the ad. "Hey, you know how blacks are all into reparations? Well, Social Security is terrible for blacks. We'll say it's like reverse reparations! You're giving your money to the white man! They'll eat that stuff up. By the way, you hear about how that fat rapper killed Tupac Shakur? Dangit!"

Ahhhh ... an idea is born.

It's pretty clear GOPAC was working in concert with the local Republican candidate, Adam Taff. The AP story says Taff's campaign recently hired Joe Gaylord as a campaign strategist. The article identifies Gaylord as a one-time GOPAC 'consultant', though in fact that phrase greatly understates his role in the organization.

The one bright spot to this ugly episode is some comedic value provided by GOPAC's efforts at damage control. GOPAC spokesman Mike Tuffin said that they'd subcontracted the ads to an outfit called Access Communications which mistakenly gave the ad to the radio station. It seems the ad, surprising as it may seem, was one of those ads a political pressure group produces without intending to run. You know, one of those private campaign ads. "We disavow it and have seen to it that it was immediately pulled," Tuffin said. "We did not know it was going to be run and never intended it to be run."

And so it goes.

More disturbingly, it seems Republican incumbent Shelley Moore Capito's silly word play and lies have actually produced some results. You'll recall Capito picked up the NRCC line and claimed that Democrats' use of the word 'privatization' was a egregious lie and slander, even though it's the word Republicans themselves only recently embraced. Four local stations have now apparently refused to run the ads.

It's amazing what one can accomplish in politics if you're willing to lie brazenly and repeatedly and the press refuses to call you on it.

Meanwhile, says the same AP story, Republican lawyers are threatening to file a lawsuit against Democrats in Minnesota for an ad claiming that Republican candidate John Kline would "end Social Security as we know it."

Of all the 9/11 anniversary articles published, this one in today's Times strikes me as the most interesting and important.

I love steamed Chesapeake Blue Crabs. On a wonderful evening about exactly a year ago I had them for the first time out where you're supposed to have them, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Then last week some friends of mine had me over for steamed crabs and I got to watch the chamber-of-horrors process of cooking these guys unfold. The doomed, angry crabs would get tossed into steamer, hop around for a second, and then just as they were about to give up the ghost one or two of their claws would start to fidget and vibrate in a chilling -- though admittedly rather appetizing -- death spasm.

I couldn't keep that image out of my mind this evening when I was doing some new reporting on the John Thune for Senate campaign in South Dakota.

It's been a hard several weeks for Thune. President Bush recruited Thune -- who is currently in the House -- to get into the race. And his candidacy was premised on getting lots of support from the president -- who's extremely popular in the state.

But the plan hasn't come off just as expected. Last month, Bush stiffed the state on drought relief -- a serious embarrassment for Thune, since his campaign is based on proximity to the president. And recent polls suggest that Tim Johnson, the incumbent, who long trailed Thune by significant margins, is opening up his first, albeit very meager, lead. At a minimum, Johnson has erased all of Thune's big lead.

The Thune campaign has been trying to get the campaign on to issues more favorable to their candidate. And now the Thune campaign -- or some mysterious, unknown forces trying to aid the Thune campaign -- seem to be getting desperate.

John Thune is pro-life. Tim Johnson has a mixed record on the issue, basically on the rightward edge of pro-choice. In a rural, Republican state like South Dakota you can imagine that Johnson probably doesn't make all that big a thing of his position on the issue. No campaign fly-ins from Barbra Streisand, Cybill Shepherd, etc.

This last Sunday at churches -- mostly Catholic ones -- in Souix Falls a flyer appeared on congregants' car windshields. The flyer (which has just been added to the TPM Document Collection) reads: "You Can Help Keep Abortion Legal, Vote Tim Johnson for US Senate." The first three words and the last three are in smaller letters so it basically reads 'Keep Abortion Legal, Vote Tim Johnson.'

In still smaller letters below the flyer says "Call Senator Johnson at 605-339-9700. Thank him for his endorsement of the Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion."

According to today's Argus Leader, Mario Sassani of Holy Spirit Church attended Mass early Sunday and then found out about the flyers when he returned later in the morning for a 'respect life' meeting. He was a bit upset.

Now, if nothing else, Johnson's known to have a pretty sharp campaign staff. So it's hard to figure how they would have thought it was a good call to leaflet cars at Catholic Churches on Sunday morning asking parishioners to "thank" Johnson for "his endorsement of the Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion." Possible, I grant you. What's not possible in this world we live in? But just rather hard to quite imagine.

Now questions are circulating about whether the flyers were some sort of political dirty trick.

So I asked Thune Press Secretary Christine Iverson about the flyers.

"I think the Johnson campaign," Iverson told me Tuesday evening, "has made a move in extremely bad taste which offended a number of South Dakotans and they're now trying to hide from their actions by attempting to put it on someone else. But I think their campaign's backfired and I think they realize that they've made a terrible, terrible mistake and offended a number of people very deeply."

But wasn't it a bit hard to figure, I asked Iverson, that even the most moronic member of the Johnson campaign would decide to leaflet a Catholic church on Sunday morning with pro-choice flyers?

"I agree," said Iverson. "It was appallingly bad judgment on their part."

When I asked if it could have been some outside group trying to embarrass the Johnson campaign, Iverson said, "I suppose that it's possible. But again the ads clearly mention voting for Tim Johnson in November. It's difficult to imagine how anyone who's not supporting Tim Johnson would have been responsible for those flyers."

Iverson denied the Thune campaign was involved in any way and added that "bad judgment and poor taste have long been hallmarks of the Johnson campaign and this recent incident is no exception. Someone who is attempting to help them or they themselves made a terrible, terrible error. And they have deeply offended a number of people. They realize they made a horrible and grave mistake."

When I asked Dan Pfeiffer at the Johnson campaign about Iverson's remarks, he said: "That is the craziest thing in the world. It's ludicrous to assume that we did this ... It's a political dirty trick. There's no question about it. And we believe very strongly that it was John Thune's campaign or someone trying to help John Thune's campaign that did this. It's such a ludicrous assertion that it's hard to know what to say. What do you say to insanity? To say that we did this is dishonest, disingenuous and incredibly desperate."

Neither campaign claims to have any actual knowledge of who put the flyers on the cars. You can be the judge.

We knew we'd have an election. We knew there might be war in Iraq. But who knew the Republican party would go to war against the English language?

Just to recap: Republicans long called their Social Security reform plan 'privatization' or 'partial privatization.' This Spring their polls and focus groups showed it was killing them with voters. So they decided the 'privatization' label was dreadfully unfair and that nobody should be allowed to use it anymore. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) sent out a memo instructing House candidates to demand that reporters never use the word 'privatization' because doing so would mean using "the power of the press to promote inaccurate Democrat spin and taking sides in the midterm elections ..."

(According to a May 11th article in the Washington Post, Republicans have even considered suing Democrats who accuse their candidates of supporting 'privatization'.)

Now an actual Republican House candidate is demanding that her opponent stop using the term 'privatization' once and for all. First-term Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) -- locked in a tough rematch with Democrat Jim Humphreys -- has demanded that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) stop airing a campaign commercial which claims that she supports 'privatization'.

The actual ad says "When Capito had a chance to help protect Social Security from privatization, she voted no..."

Capito calls the ad "false and negative" and claims that she had "never voted on the privatization of Social Security because no such vote has ever taken place." (Italics added)

The issue here isn't whether there was a vote or who voted which way. (The vote took place on July 25th, 2001 when California Democratic Congressman Bob Filner had the House vote on an amendment designed to put everyone on record for or against privatization). The issue is merely over the word 'privatization', Republicans' own once-preferred word.

At the time of the vote took place 'privatization' was still the word Republicans used: A week before the vote, conservative Washington Times columnist Donald Lambro called the policy 'Social Security privatization.' The whole issue is that the NRCC has now decreed that the 'privatization' label is beyond the pale. So it follows that no vote on 'privatization' ever took place.

Now, clearly this whole exercise can quickly degenerate into ridiculous word games. But that's precisely the point. House Republicans are afraid to discuss their Social Security policies. (As one of the NRCC's recent internal polling reports put it, "Successful implementation of inoculation and response strategy [on Social Security] serves only to limit erosion -- not going to get any sort of clear 'win'.") So they're resorting to a weird mix of game-playing and lies to muddy the waters and stop anyone from taking them to task over their support of an unpopular policy.

Every political reporter knows this is true. This same trick is going to be pulled in race after race. Will anyone call them on it?

This new article in the Weekly Standard by Stephen F. Hayes ("Democrats for Regime Change") is getting a lot of attention by tarring Democrats as hypocrites on Iraq. Hayes takes us back to February 1998 when President Clinton was ratcheting up pressure for military action against Iraq in the then-on-going struggle over inspections. He quotes the then-president extensively on the necessity of acting. And he quotes Democrats like Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt and John Kerry supporting the president and echoing his argument for action -- including military action -- against Iraq.

Hayes' argument -- first implicit, later explicit -- is obvious: what else beside partisanship would be preventing Democrats from endorsing the case against Saddam and the need for military action now when they did so so fulsomely four years ago?

The argument reads well. But it sets the Standard in a two-against-one battle against logic and the its own editorial line.

After all, just what sort of military action was being discussed? And with what aim? Even the most skittish Democrats today are full of talk about the necessity of confronting Iraq, the dangers of WMD, and so forth. But Hayes' argument only makes sense if what Democrats were inclined to endorse four years ago is at all similar to what they're hesitant to endorse today. But, of course, it's not. The entire discussion Hayes references refers to military action, but not the forcible overthrow of the Iraqi regime through military force.

Who says so? Why, the Weekly Standard. And virtually every other Republican politician and certainly every conservative publication. The conceit of Bush administration policy on Iraq is that it's fundamentally different from Clinton administration policy -- which is, by and large, true. At just the time Bill Clinton and the sundry Democrats Hayes' quotes were making their statements the Standard said, succinctly enough, that "Containment is the strategy this administration has chosen." (Weekly Standard, Editorial, March 2, 1998) In other words, the policy then on offer was fundamentally different from what's now being discussed. Supporting that one then and not supporting this one today means nothing.

Perhaps Clinton's policy was the wrong one. Pains me as it does to say, by the end of the second term I don't think the Clinton administration had a coherent policy on Iraq. But the logic of Hayes' argument collapses at the simple level of a mistaken apples and oranges comparison.

Ouch. Ouch. And Double-Ouch! It seems the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is finally getting nailed for its endlessly mendacious memo about Social Security privatization. You'll remember that this is the memo in which the NRCC instructed GOP House candidates to bully reporters out of using the term 'privatization' to describe Republican policy on Social Security reform, claiming the label was a misleading slur concocted by Democrats, when in fact it was the term all Republicans used until a few months ago.

Today Paul Krugman called them on it in the Times. This afternoon Tim Noah called them on it in Slate.

But perhaps most damning was a piece published on Wednesday by Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review Online ...

The Republican memo is a piece of brazen historical revisionism. It pretends that the word "privatization" was invented by Democratic spinners and then accepted by a gullible media. It makes no mention of the incontrovertible fact that "privatization" was the term used by many Republican (and other) advocates of personal accounts until it turned out that the word didn't poll well.
Now Ponnuru does argue that 'privatization' isn't really the best label to describe what Republicans want to do. It wouldn't be so bad, he says, if the NRCC flaks had "written a memo saying that a lot of people, including themselves, had carelessly used the word 'privatization' in the past but that it should henceforth be avoided by all participants in the Social Security debate."

So Ponnuru thinks 'privatization' isn't the best label. But he frankly identifies the rank dishonesty of the NRCC's memo.

Now, there area a few other points I've learned since writing about this earlier this week. This isn't the first time the NRCC has tried this scam. They tried it less energetically in May with a similar (or perhaps identical) memo. And The New Republic called them on it then. What's more, NRCC Chairman Tom Davis went on Meet the Press last Sunday, following up on the August 26th memo. And it seems that once you really get your 'lying about Social Security' groove on, it just comes really easy. Davis said, among other things, that "President Clinton embraced [private accounts] at one point as you recall." In this universe at least, that never happened. (A nice breakdown of Davis' Meet the Press appearance can be found here if you scroll down a bit.)

I don't like the frivolous use of the word 'lie' for what are merely misstatements or exaggerations. It's a cutting and harsh word. But these are lies. They are multiple and repeated and intentional. And they all come from NRCC Chairman Tom Davis -- who might fairly be called the Vin Diesel of public policy mendacity, or the first practitioner of Extreme spin -- or his subordinates.

Now, these recent zinging mentions by columnists are like so many banderillas, those innocuous but enraging beribboned darts that a matador ceremoniously slips into the bull's neck before he really lets him have it.

So the question is, which daily reporter with access to Davis will ask him what credibility he can possibly have on Social Security -- or anything else, for that matter -- when he has presided over a campaign of what liberals and conservatives both agree are lies.

I find it hard to imagine that this new revelation won't end Benjamin Netanyahu's political career once and for all. A tape has emerged in which Netanyahu's wife Sara tells another Likud activist, inter alia, "Bibi is a leader who is greater than this entire country, he really is a leader on a national scale. We'll move abroad. This country can burn. This country can't survive without Bibi. People here will be slaughtered."