Josh Marshall

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I'm not sure any political piece I've ever written has whipped up quite the degree of feeling and emotion as the piece I wrote on Al Gore a couple days ago -- at least in small world of Clintonites and Gorians. Don't get me wrong: I don't think this was because the piece itself was particularly well done, but rather because of the raw and barely healed-over wounds still lingering over that campaign which the article discussed.

As the piece described, there is really no end of the bitterness among many of the ex-staffers toward those who had what you'd call executive positions in the campaign. Particularly the marquee consultants. Whether their complaints are legitimate or not is another matter -- about which I guess I'm ambivalent. But they are quite real.

That, however, only scratches the surface of all the rankled emotions swirling about among the alums of that campaign.

I spent much of the day hearing from different folks in the Gore and Clinton orbit and obviously as you might imagine lots of the people mentioned in the piece were not at all happy with it.

But one of the things that surprised me most was that one person quite close to the former vice-president actually liked the piece quite a bit, I'm told. As a friend who talked to this person today told me by email, the person in question also "believes that Gore was surrounded by the wrong people. Your piece made some pretty memorable points in that regards, stuff that only insiders know about."

I'm not normally one to go looking for ways to defend the Bush White House. But here's a good reason to. Georgia's frequently intemperate and outrageous congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has apparently accused the Bush administration of having specific foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks and having done nothing so as to undertake a military buildup to benefit the Carlyle Group, an admittedly shadowy defense industry player with many contacts to the administration. What's even more outrageous is that McKinney doesn't even seem to claim to have any evidence. It would be one thing I guess if she actually had a Oliver Stone-esque story she was going on. But she doesn't.

As part of the TPM Book List I'm going to tell you about a legendary documentary that's just been re-released. It's called The Sorrow and the Pity. And it's simply one of the most exquisite and powerful pieces of film-making or chronicling of past events that I have ever seen. For almost thirty years it was almost impossible to find a copy of it. But now it's out on DVD.

I'm going to discuss it as part of a series of posts. But let me now get the ball rolling with a brief description.

First some cautions. This isn't a Mike Myers movie or a feel-good Ken Burns flick. S&P runs more than four hours long (Run Time: 260 minutes); it's in black and white; and it's in French (and German) with subtitles. It's a movie made for DVD since it's really best watched in a couple sittings. Still, it's wrenching, engrossing and, like all really profound art, watching it makes you more deeply human. (The Times called it "The fastest four and a half hours in the history of cinema.") It's three or four times better than any other documentary and almost every other film I've ever seen.

The Sorrow and the Pity is about the Nazi occupation of France, particularly in one city, Clermont-Ferrand, in the part of France governed by the collaborationist Vichy Regime. At the broadest level the movie explains that for all the myth-making about the Resistance, and real heroes who participated in it, most French citizens were deeply collaborationist. Perhaps it's better to say that they were cowardly, afraid, willing to let almost anything happen if they themselves could remain safe.

But that only scratches the surface of the story.

More soon about Marcel Ophuls, the director of the movie; the notorious reference to The Sorrow and the Pity in Annie Hall; the shame of Maurice Chevalier; and how the movie's message about how weak and fearful people are turns out to be remarkably, perversely powerful, inspiring, and redeeming.

I guess truth is in eye of the beholder. Or maybe in the beholder's mouth? I thought the article I wrote on Al Gore today in Salon probably wasn't one the former Veep or his people would be altogether happy with. But apparently some people don't agree. A good friend and former colleague sent this email this afternoon:

What my friend said about your Salon piece.

"I don't know how he types with Gore's [----] in his mouth."

At least people know who you are, right?

And I defended you.

I'm going to go brush my teeth now.

Okay, let's follow up on two separate posts. I predicted last week that the Republicans wouldn't be able to let this polling story alone and that their own arrogance would drag the story out and make it into a running wound of lies and obfuscation.

Well, case in point. This article in yesterday's Washington Times more or less repeats the RNC spin verbatim. The author, Ralph Z. Hallow repeats RNC spokesman Jim Dyke's ridiculous distinction about the polls the President 'might have an interest in' and so forth. If you want to laugh at these Bozos' expense, read the article.

But here's what's interesting. The article says that the RNC spent $1.2 million for polling last year.

This of course is in conflict with what Dyke told me while I was reporting this article for Salon. Dyke told me that the RNC had only spent $731,000 on polling. A few minutes later he said it was a little bit more. But he wouldn't tell me quite how much more. Now we see that by a "bit" he meant something approaching twice the number.

But here's where it gets interesting. If you go back to the story I wrote following up on Josh Green's polling article you'll see the following: When Dyke called up Green to yell at him about the polling story he disputed Green's assertion that the amount the White House spent on polling was "closer to $1 million" than three-hundred or so thousand dollars. Dyke said that the actual number was $731,000.

This is what Green told me.

But when I called Dyke up he told me that Green had misunderstood him, that the $731,000 number was the number for all RNC polling. So Green just misunderstood.

Now we know that the number for all RNC polling is $1.2 million. Which begs the question, where did the $731,000 number come from? It doesn't correspond to any of the numbers Dyke told the author of the Washington Times article.

Could Dyke have just come up with the $731,000 number off the top of his head? That's hard to figure, isn't it?

What seems a lot more likely is that $731,000 really is the amount the White House spent on polling in 2001. And in an off-the-cuff, huffy conversation with Green, Dyke just told the truth. ($730,000 would be about the number Green's GOP sources said it was. So it all adds up.) But after Dyke's conversation with Green, he realized that this number wasn't supposed to be made public. (Maybe Matthew Dowd smacked him around?) So he came up with this cover story about Green 'misunderstanding' him. And he started spinning like crazy.

Is this conjecture? Sure. But answer me this: where'd Dyke come up with the number $731,000?

Why doesn't someone follow up on this?

Interesting news from the Gallup poll. For the first time since September 11th, the Democrats have pulled ahead of Republicans in a generic congressional election survey. Actually by seven points. Put this in the context of another poll released yesterday showing the president dropping to 76% approval.

Now, let's be honest enough to concede that 76% is still an astonishingly good number. And after months of getting slaughtered in the polls, it wouldn't really do for Dems to start crowing the moment they get an encouraging read.

But it does look like something's happening here.

Just finished an article for about Al Gore's reemergence onto the political scene. It posted a couple of hours ago.

I've been writing about Al Gore for about three years now and I have to say that the pieces just get harder and harder to write, or rather the process of writing them just gets increasingly vexed. Partly that's because the range of the possible gets narrower. At the end of 1999 you had a sense that maybe Gore could bust out of his shell and be the person he is in small groups, etc. etc. you know the story. By now, however, after he's busted out of the bubble and been recaptured by it time and again, you pretty much know that it's probably never going to happen.

Maybe I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong. But I don't think I'm wrong.

Listening to staffers and friends talk about Gore over the last several days I kept thinking of a story a baby-boomer I know told me once about getting his father to share a joint with him at some undisclosed point in the late 1960s -- this of course would be in the pre-TPM era (BTPM).

I don't remember all the details precisely. I doubt this friend of mine does either. But the long and the short of it was that the baby boomer's father lit up and proceeded to wig out. He gets all scared and everything. So then the baby boomer is trying to calm him down, walk him through it, etc. (figure that the father was born in maybe 1910). And so the father is laying there on the couch or something and the baby boomer is saying, "Just let go, just let go." And the father says "I don't think I can, I've been holding on too long."

This story has always had a certain poignancy for me because the younger of the two men later told me that he thought it was one of the most honest, truest things his father ever said. And having known the older man, I suspect that's right.

When I was speaking to various Gore-ites over the last couple days there was this line I kept hearing: that if Gore could just go by instinct and not think about everything so much, not consult a slew of experts for every decision but just go with his gut, that stuff would be okay.

But you get the sense that he can't let go either. He's been holding on too long.

No matter how much grass he smoked in the 1970s.

Took my first look tonight at's The Note and found a link to this article in the Washington Times apparently drawing an invidious comparison between Clinton Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin and Bush's Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.

Robert E. Rubin, the former Treasury secretary and current vice chairman of Citigroup Inc., is portrayed in the latest Enron lawsuit as trying to protect the bank's extensive investments in Enron Corp. by orchestrating a bailout for the energy giant in the fall. Mr. Rubin ... first tried to get the Treasury Department to intervene in early November to prevent a devastating downgrade of Enron by Wall Street's credit-rating agencies ... At the same time, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill rebuffed a similar plea for intervention from Enron Chairman Kenneth L. Lay. Mr. Lay had cultivated a relationship with Mr. Rubin when he was at the Treasury and appears to have sought his assistance.

Who edited this article exactly?

A monkey?

An iguana?

A field mouse?

Isn't the pretty obvious point that Bob Rubin is out of government and Paul O'Neill ain't? If DC's going to have a right-wing attack-dog sheet, can't it be a good one?

Here are two new and revealing articles about the still contested political and cultural ground of the 1990s.

First on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is a hash of condescension, hubris, and pitiful special pleading from Robert L. Bartley, a notorious babbler of reaction who until recently was the editor of the Journal's editorial page.

Bartley first came seriously to my attention when I read David Frum's Dead Right -- which is, by the way, a marvelous book. Frum said Bartley "probably ranks as the single most powerful man in American journalism since the death of Walter Lippmann."

Regrettably, I'm not sure I can disagree with that appraisal; and that's a sad commentary in itself.

In any case, Bartley rehashes the increasingly threadbare bill of particulars against Bill Clinton, calls the claim that the Starr/Ray Report ended up exonerating Bill Clinton a 'big lie,' and then ends up pretty much showing -- by the weakness of his argument -- that it's more like a 'big true.'

How can you say Clinton was exonerated when his Lt. Governor got convicted of something else unearthed by the investigation of the President?!?!?!

And he was mean to the special counsel!

And rule of law!


Needless to say, there's also the obligatory dig at Paul Krugman, which has now become pretty much a stand-by with most of your more media-savvy right-wing sad-sacks.

Through the Bartley looking glass, Clinton emerges as something closer to Robert Mugabe than Richard Nixon. Bartley's walk down memory lane illustrates the fun-house reality which exists in a certain part of the conservative world and the sorry pass intellectual Conservatism has come to in the post-Reagan, post-Cold War era. Much of the conservative war against the 42nd president was deeply cynical. But for many it was not. Clinton, to them, became a trampler of the rule of law, a cartoonish caricature of Richard Nixon, an embodiment of every reactionary set-piece American political culture has ever produced. This is the same part of the conservative mentality that sees the Washington Times as conservative in the same way the New York Times is liberal. Which of these two variants drives Bartley I'm not entirely sure. I suspect a mix of both.

Meanwhile there is this article in the new Business Week which provides a technical and historical but also quite clear examination of the economic history of the 1990s. This isn't a 'what Clinton accomplished/didn't accomplish' sort of exercise. Revealingly, many of the factors which played key roles in the economic history of the decade were world-historical, far beyond the power of a single politician or even American policy to control. Still, a reasoned observer will see key developments that were at the very least accentuated or augmented by considered policy decisions taken by the president.

Much of the upshot of the analysis is summed up in this passage.

But the real stunner is this: The biggest winners from the faster productivity growth of the 1990s were workers, not investors. In the end, workers reaped most of the gains from the added output generated by the New Economy productivity speedup.

I won't take your time with a tedious summary of the two pieces. But give them both a good read and it'll illuminate a good deal about our current politics. Perhaps also contrast the latter with Bartley's 1995 Seven Fat Years; And How to Do It Again (sadly out-of-print), which would make for much entertainment.

Meanwhile, in other news, there's still more evidence of what a well-oiled machine Tom Ridge has going over at the office of Homeland Security. Ridge's congressional liaison, Becky Halkias, has been given her walking papers or perhaps just saw the writing on the wall or as Ridge's press secretary Gordon Johndroe put it -- in the familiar Washington euphemism -- "left to pursue other interests."

And in yet other news which will be immediately familiar to readers of these pages, the long-awaited announcement of the appointment of Doug Paal to serve as Director of the American Institute in Taiwan has finally been made. What's striking is how far-sighted this appointment turned out to be. Now that Taiwan is embroiled in a burgeoning scandal involving secret government slush funds, covert foreign contributions to American think tanks, and questionable uses of non-profit organizations, it actually seems a rather appropriate place for Paal to go.

One of Talking Points' Hong Kong correspondents sends on links to two excellent articles ("China's Banks under a Cloud" and "The Bank of China's Black Hole") on a current scandal involving the Bank of China, the financial institution which, as we mentioned last week, loaned (US) $100 million to Dai Xiaoming to purchase Asia Securities International in 1994. For those readers who read the Dai post last Friday, one portion of the second Business Week article, though describing an unrelated deal, gives an indication why such transactions raise an element of suspicion:

In setting up their operation, the Kaiping gang allegedly used a scam common among Chinese companies in the go-go 1990s, when China-linked stocks boomed on the Hong Kong bourse. Many mainland Chinese set up so-called "window" companies to speculate in stocks and real estate in Hong Kong--China's window on the rest of the world. In local parlance, window companies that indulged in such speculation were "stir-frying" investments. According to investigators, Fan and his confederates cooked up a storm.

Some of the window companies were legal, while many occupied a gray area. All had to contend with strict Chinese laws against moving money from the mainland. Often, funds were diverted from mainland companies and banks by employees who wanted to play the markets. Those who "borrowed" this way would pay their employers back if they made money. If not, the scamsters relied on creative accounting to cover their tracks.

In the Bank of China case, Hong Kong authorities allege that Fan started skimming money in the early 1990s, when he worked at the Kaiping branch. In 1999, he was promoted to a managerial job at the Guangzhou regional headquarters. From 1999 until he fled last October, Hong Kong authorities assert, he conspired with two managers at the Kaiping branch, Xu Guojun and Yu Zhendong, to steal almost $75 million. What happened to the $405 million that disappeared before Fan's promotion isn't yet clear.

Fan's principal Hong Kong window company, authorities say, was Ever Joint Properties, founded in 1993. Fan is said to have recruited a relative, Hui Yat-sing, to set up Ever Joint. Hui was arrested in Hong Kong in October, along with his wife and two others. Contacted through a spokesperson, Hui refused to comment. The lawyers of the other arrested suspects couldn't be reached.