Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

With the horror and trauma unfolding in our midst it may seem too trivial or crass to venture some media criticism. But allow me this. Huge events often bring new reporters or commentators to the fore. In this case, I think it's an anchor: CNN's Aaron Brown.

Brown's not a new face. He's been around for a couple decades and mainly at ABC as far as I know. He recently got hired by CNN and he was the first person on the air for the network within minutes of the original WTC attack.

(This may make it seem like I'm sort of Aaron Brown watcher. But actually I just got this info from this page. When I saw him on Tuesday morning I only had the vaguest sense of ever having seen the guy before.)

In any case, he's just really, really good. In his TV manner he has an ingenuousness that feels, well ... quite genuine and elicits or explicates new information that more stuffy or programmed questioners and anchors would never arrive at. He's got this way of thinking aloud on air which, for me at least, really works.

In short, he rocks.

Many highbrow news commentators cultivate a rep for insight, wisdom and perspective but actually put out a product you might call 'insightfulism' - not insight, but a stylized way of talking about the obvious so that it seems penetrating, a way of packaging decent points with oblique language so that they seem like grand pronouncements.

Come to think of it, I think Brown's got one of these characters as a new colleague. But let's not go there.

The point is that CNN made a dynamite pick when they hired Brown.

This TPM post will likely be more undirected or unfocused than usual. Let me try to get out a few thoughts, though.

First are the video feeds (now wall-to-wall on the cable nets) of these family members with hastily pasted together xeroxes of their loved ones -- a picture, a name, a few vital measurements -- straining to get these images in front of TV cameras to spread the word -- and always with the word "missing."

I must say this was more than I could take. I don't mean that this as the accustomed phrase or as a euphemism. I mean it was more than I could take. Partly out of personal concern and also because I now have to write about this awfulness, I have like many of you been watching this coverage almost non-stop since Tuesday morning. But these images were too much. I found myself repeatedly, literally, lurching to grab my remote control and turning the television off.

What is it about these images? I guess it's the pure desperation of these people. And their human and terribly understandable unwillingness to come to fully recognize that desperation. It's their denial. There is just something (and I mean this in the most sympathetic sense of the word) pitiful about them, for those of us who are at least insulated from immediate personal loss in this case can immediately recognize that these people are "missing" only in the most grave and technical sense. They're dead. They're all dead.

Certainly there will be a few miraculous stories with grieving families who find a relative is one of the few John or Jane Does in a New York hospital. But only a very, very few.

And it's this denial, this desperation that just makes this stuff so unbearable because it is a pain beyond grieving. When you see families in full grief you have the sense that they have at least passed a first threshold, and in some unfathomable sense their grief has begun to find its way into graspable proportions. But these family members with these pictures have ... well it's just too much to describe. Hope against hope, at a certain point, becomes too searingly painful to watch, because the disconnect between the glimmer of hope and the inevitable grief is just too dissonant. And the presence of false hope just makes the true hopelessness more difficult to defeat or overcome.

For us, the rest of us, all these pictures just bring the awfulness of this to life in a way that goes completely beyond the numbers. And there are so, so many. They overwhelm you in the watching.

I thought I'd be less fatigued than it turns out I am. So the rest will come later this morning. Next up, the international reaction. And a few comments from politicians that make you wonder.

As it happens, when this horror began I had been doing reporting for a piece about Osama bin Laden for a couple months. A bit of this went into an article I wrote about bin Laden in Salon.com this afternoon. The following, though, is a combination of information from a number of sources I spoke with today and just thinking the matter through myself.

It's been commonly stated over the last forty-eight hours that the twin attacks on the the WTC and the Pentagon were of sufficient sophistication that they necessarily required state support or the backing of a large and extremely sophisticated terrorist organization.

But is this really true? Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying there aren't state sponsors of terrorism or that one wasn't involved in this tragedy. But was it necessary? I'm not so sure.

What was really needed. As nearly as I can figure, that would be ...

a) perhaps a dozen people with the ability to fly a commercial jetliner

b) some crude and easily obtainable weapons

c) detailed schedules and flight plans of commercial airlines

d) $500,000 or $1,000,000 to pay for miscellaneous expenses primarily including housing and board for a few dozen individuals

e) sophisticated organizational skills to coordinate the activities of a few dozen people while presumably keeping many of them unaware of the activities of the others

Of course, one could easily argue that the real issue is what superintending authority could bring all these people together. That's an extremely good question. And the point of bringing this up is not to exonerate anyone, of course. But I think it's worth noting that at least from what we've heard what was really needed here was not so much complex infrastructure, facilities, or resources as several knowledgeable, experienced individuals and lots and lots of time.

I've gotten a few critical letters calling me out for praising our president too fulsomely, or rather too reflexively in the last post, particularly when I said he "came through with flying colors" in his Tuesday night address to the nation.

There's probably something to this. It's probably more honest to say, simply, that he didn't disappoint. And that's really no mean thing.

In any case, in moments like this (if one can use that phrase) I try to adopt what I call the Clinton rule. If Bill Clinton were being attacked in such and such a way would I think it was fair? I find this an instructive rule in cases, for instance, like the time it took for President Bush to make his way back to Washington.

The White House's cryptic (but conspicuously open) announcement that the White House and Air Force One were targeted seemed like a pretty transparent effort to knock down criticism of how long the president staid outside DC.

On the other, give the guy a *$#@%& break.

I mean, I'm sure whatever thinking went into keeping the president hopping around the country wasn't something that started with him or Karl Rove, but rather the Secret Service and the military. But if this were Clinton in this situation, I think I'd consider this sort of criticism crass overkill. And it's seems the same to me in this case.

Coming up next: if this is 'war', what could this require from us, and what must it require of us? And perhaps most importantly, how should our response differ -- not quantitatively but qualitatively -- from earlier retaliations to terrorist attacks?

I'm not accustomed to watching George W. Bush give a speech and hoping he hits it out of the park. But that was certainly my feeling last night as the president addressed the nation about yesterday's bombing. And on balance I'd say he came through with flying colors.

And for all his faults -- and, yes, he certainly has them -- you can't have watched Rudy Giuliani over the last 36 hours without thinking that in many important ways he has been a truly great Mayor of New York -- something many Dems like myself have long thought. And certainly moments of stress and tragedy, which require steel and grit, are his best moments.

And it's been pleasing to see how many Republicans and Democrats -- all of them as nearly as I can tell -- have focused only on the requirements of the moment, and resisted every opportunity to push even peripheral partisan advantages.

Regrettably, though, there seem to be at least a few examples of the cheapest, most craven opportunism. In this column in National Review Online, Larry Kudlow says that rising to the challenge of the moment will cost of "hundreds of billions of dollars" in new defense expenditures.

That may be debatable but certainly the impulse is legitimate and understandable. And you can even cut Kudlow some slack for the cheap shot implied by his charge that "terrorist invasion of the U.S. mainland underscores the urgent need to rebuild the defense and national security structure that has slowly but steadily eroded in recent years."

This is after all a man with the vision and integrity of a double-breasted suit.

But, according to Kudlow, this tragedy also means busting the lockbox, ditching debt reduction, and having another round of massive tax cuts!

Phony lockboxes must be thrown out the window. Unnecessary obsessions over debt retirement must be driven away. Now is the time for aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus to promote growth and finance freedom. Substantial tax cuts on individuals, businesses, capital investment, and equipment depreciation should be immediately put into place ... Steps to promote energy production must be taken aggressively.
In other words, the only patriotic response to this horror is to enact the complete Bush legislative agenda!

What a shameless gambit.

David Horowitz trots out some similar crap. ("It's time for those on the political left to rethink their alliances with anti-American radicals at home and abroad.") But he's unworthy of mention; beneath contempt.

Nothing real to report beyond the obvious, horrifying tragedy unfolding on your TV screen or computer monitor. My immediate observations from DC have been posted here at Salon.com toward the bottom of the page.

TPM, of course, is normally all about arguments among us, among Americans. But all of that falls deep into the background now. And my support, and I'm sure yours too, is with our president, our armed services, and all of those struggling mightily to save those who can still be saved.

Here's some news that should buoy Democrats and send a chill through Republicans' spines.

According to this newly-released ABCNews-Washington Post poll, 57% of Americans support trimming the Bush tax cut to keep the budget in balance. Two-thirds oppose using across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending to keep the budget numbers in line. And a staggering 92% oppose using Social Security funds to pay for other programs -- precisely what the administration is now trying to argue it is alright to do.

A close look at the poll's methodology reveals that the measure isn't of likely voters or even registered voters, but merely adults. And that should effect a slight Democratic tilt. But the overall results are sufficiently decisive that this is just a footnote.

What does it mean? That the president and his party are in a lot of trouble. And Democrats would seem to be taking exactly the right approach by forcing the president to take the first stab at solving the problem he created. As we noted here a little more than two weeks ago, this debate may seem like a jumble of numbers. But it's actually all about values, responsibility and trust - which is precisely the sort of debate Democrats should want to be having with this president.

The favored White House strategy is to tell the Democrats that they should come up with their own way to solve the problem. But this is a tack Democrats should welcome because the rejoinder is elementary: This is the responsibility era. Don't pass the buck. Don't blame everyone else. Take responsibility.

I have to admit this new article by Charles Babington in the Washington Post sorta pisses me off. The article ("Tax Cut Plan Filled With Dubious Spending Predictions") gives a bracingly frank run down of all the false premises, implausible assumptions, dishonest budget scoring gimmicks, and simple lies that went into making the Bush budget appear (to the very credulous, mind you) to add up.

Here's one brief passage from the article:

Why did congressional and White House negotiators adopt these spending projections? Because without them, there was virtually no way they could come up with numbers suggesting the nation could afford to forego $1.35 trillion in revenue over 11 years.

The legislation is more political creature than fiscal plan. It originated in George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign. He called for a $1.6 trillion tax cut, which the Senate eventually whittled to $1.35 trillion. Once they agreed on the targeted amount, negotiators juggled projections and assumptions ­ several of them quite implausible ­ until the numbers fit.

The problem is that there's nothing in Babington's article that wasn't completely obvious six months ago when the Budget was being debated. So why wait till now to spill the beans?

I fear the answer is that during the actual debate the (foolish, to my mind) canons of newspaper journalism (i.e., presenting both sides of the argument) mandated that both sides' arguments be presented with equal merit, even though one was more or less false on its face.

Now that the whole thing has fallen apart after only a few months it's okay to state the obvious.

Great journalism.

Jacob Weisberg has an excellent article in Slate unpacking the unfolding anomaly of Democrats as the party of fiscal discipline and Republicans as the party of scroungers and deficiteers.

But there's one point he doesn't bring up; and it's one that, as far as I can see, hasn't been mentioned much during the budget debate at all.

It's true that Democrats historically have been the party unafraid of modest deficit spending while Republicans were the ones who worshipped at the altar of the balanced budget. But the present-day turnaround on fiscal policy isn't the only one that has taken place.

Unlike what we know today, the Democrats also used to be the party with its strongest roots in the country's hinterlands -- the Mountain states, the Prairie states and the South. Conversely the Republicans were the party of the Northeast, the industrial Midwest, and social-capital rich states like Wisconsin.

(The classic example of this change comes in a comparison of last year's election map and the map of the 1896 election. Bryan, the Democrat, won virtually all the Bush states. And McKinley, the Republican, won pretty much all the Gore states. More recently, when Harry Truman won his upset victory over Tom Dewey in 1948 the one region in which he was pretty much shut out was the Northeast, the region which is now the Democratic heartland. If you've got a moment you can see the trend over the course of the century in this helpful list of election maps.)

The party of the Northeast and Upper Midwest has historically tended to be the one favoring more disciplined fiscal policy while it's the party with its base in the South and the West which has preferred more loosey-goosey financing.

In this current article in the New Republic Robert Reich argues that Democrats got on the fiscal discipline bandwagon by way of incidental or opportunistic political calculations by Bill Clinton during the late 1990s (perhaps even because of Monica). But I suspect this is something more fundamental, and tied to the parties' changing geographical bases.

If you want to read an article that combines schadenfreude, back-stabbing, disloyalty, pitifulness and pettiness in the most pleasing way imaginable then by all means READ THIS ARTICLE!

It's about the bum's rush Texas Republicans are giving to departing Republican Senator Phil Gramm ("Texas Republicans want Gramm out, Hispanic In.") As David Plotz makes clear in this article, Gramm is pretty far down the list of people who deserve sympathy for anything. But this comes pretty close.

The story goes like this ... Gramm's departure creates several opportunities and potential pitfalls for Republicans. The most obvious opportunity is to hold the seat with an Hispanic Republican - thus validating and augmenting the president's efforts to create a more Hispanic-friendly GOP. On the downside, Republicans could a) lose yet another Senate seat and b) thoroughly embarrass the president by having an Hispanic Democrat elected in 2002 from Bush's home state.

So Texas Republicans want Gramm to resign and allow Gov. Rick Perry (an unelected Governor, mind you) to appoint Rep. Henry Bonilla to replace him, thus giving Bonilla a running start in his effort to win a full term next November.

The Dallas Morning News correctly notes that this would avoid "a potentially brutal and costly Republican primary." But it would be more accurate, though admittedly impolitic, to say that such a primary could be brutal, costly and thoroughly discredit the notion that the Texas Republican party is built upon a happy marriage of Hispanics and post-segregationist freaks. But, you know, if they want to use the shorthand, that's cool by me.

Anyway, what's really striking about this situation is just how publicly a handful of relative upstarts within the Texas GOP (Bush, Perry, Bonilla) is telling Gramm to get the hell of out of town. President Bush met with Perry at the White House on Wednesday to discuss ways to get Gramm to resign and at least one Texas Republican media consultant with close ties to Bush has publicly told Gramm to pack it in.

Coming from a sitting president of Gramm's own party the message Bush is sending to the too-slowly departing senior Senator comes through pretty clearly as:  GET THE *#$& OUT!   Go! Be Gone! LEAVE! Enough with you! Go Away forever! NEVER COME BACK!!!

Meanwhile the shoving from Perry has become almost obscene, leading to exchanges such as this one in today's Houston Chronicle:

Gov. Rick Perry said Friday that U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, despite repeated denials from the senator's office, is still considering resigning so that Perry could appoint a successor and avoid a Republican brawl over the plum political seat.

"Senator Gramm is still going through a thought process of whether or not he would resign early. So I don't think there's been any change," Perry told reporters.

There certainly wasn't any change in Gramm spokesman Larry Neal's response.

"Senator Gramm is not going through a thought process about resignation. He has no intention of resigning," Neal said.


Compassionate Conservatism was always, rightly, taken as a finger in the eye of gloomy, nasty Republicans like Phil Gramm. But you've gotta figure Gramm would like a little more compassion right about now.