Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

According to several published reports Gary Condit basically refused to get into the nature or details of his relationship with Chandra Levy in his second sit-down with the police over the weekend -- and police didn't press him on it. In fairness to Condit, it's worth pointing out (as the Daily News does today) that if he did admit to an affair in a meeting with police it would almost certainly be leaked to the press and appear the next day in the Daily News, New York Post, and Washington Post. So there is certainly a reason beside covering up other bad acts for Condit not to come clean to the DC police on the nature of his relationship with Levy.

That said, it's a little difficult to see how Condit could really have told the police much of anything or been at all forthcoming if he refused to get into his relationship with Levy since that is the whole point of talking to him in the first place.

The New York Post says police aren't satisfied that Condit told him everything he knows and are planning what the paper calls "further investigation into his activities." They also want to interview Condit's wife Carolyn.

It's again worth noting that the police continue to say Condit is not a suspect in Levy's disappearance. But of course they also say they have no reason to believe a crime has occurred. So take that for what it's worth.

Next up, Talking Points responds to Bull Moose's recent comments about Joe Lieberman, "a Democratic national greatness agenda," and campaign 2004. Unless of course we're preempted by more shocking developments on the Condit-Levy front.

A reader writes to ask if I was too harsh in my previous post arguing that "Bush and the Rumsfeldian wing of administration foreign policy have been lazily, stupidly, arrogantly indifferent" to the crisis now boiling over in Macedonia.

First, Talking Points is sometimes hyperbolic. That's one of the things I like about it. And the site itself is a different genre of writing from that in which I or others might write in say Slate or The New Republic. Sites like TPM or Kausfiles or AndrewSullivan.com are an evolving form, but I at least think of them as having the parameters and conventions of verbal conversation as much as magazine writing -- even though they only exist in written form.

This is actually just one of the many reasons writing Talking Points is actually a rather weird and perplexing experience. Today for instance I was invited to a foundation-sponsored lunch for the release of a new book by one of DC's marquee, establishment pundits. This is a pretty standard sort of thing where a cluster of bigwigs, and a few smallwigs like Talking Points, get together for a free lunch, a free book, and a lot of questioning and answering which may or may not have about the same value.

In any case, I'm there in my Sunday finest waiting for things to get under way, wondering whether it's okay to start eating my sandwich or not, when I see out of the corner of my eye the event host and another familiar face from the Cable TV airwaves standing at the edge of the room calling me over. I hop up to see what they want. And the fellow calling me over says to me with a mix of schadenfreude, irony, and furtiveness: "Josh, we've only got a few minutes before we've got to start, but tell us, what's the latest about Chandra?"

In almost two years in DC I'm not sure I've ever had a time when I felt quite that equal measure of affirmation and utter mortification at precisely the same moment.

In any case, back to the subject at hand: whether "Bush and the Rumsfeldian wing of administration foreign policy have been lazily, stupidly, arrogantly indifferent" to the burgeoning crisis in the Macedonia.

For all I've said above about the unique weirdness of Talking Points, I think these tough words are actually entirely appropriate. Here's why:

For years, Republicans have complained about Bill Clinton's allegedly promiscuous use of American soldiers, putting them here, putting them there, and so forth. They've made snarky jabs about the administration using our soldiers as 'social workers,' doing all sorts of unmanly, unsoldierly duties, as though our Balkan deployments were simply some international equivalent of corporate diversity training workshops.

(The US did allow the American troops serving in the UN contingent to escort Albanian rebels in the operation that triggered the recent unrest. And the willingness to involve us, in that case, deserves credit. But the overall policy is pretty clear.)

As the Bushies have in so many other arenas, they've come to the White House with the standing assumption that everything Bill Clinton did should be undone -- righting the wrong in some sense of Bill Clinton's very presidency. This isn't the only reason certainly that the Bushies have taken a jaundiced view of our Balkan deployments, but it's an important part of the equation. And Don Rumsfeld has openly spoken of his desire to pull back our troop commitments in the former Yugoslavia.

This is a lazy, stupid and arrogant viewpoint. The new administration with its neo-Blimp political appointees in the Defense Department want global preeminence and geopolitical stability on the cheap. They've indulged an arrogant anti-Clintonism, a lazy retreat to neo-Cold War verities, and thinking about our interests and responsibilities in the Balkans which I think is properly called stupid. Our involvement in the Balkans was at best a wash politically for the Clinton administration; but it was the right thing to do, despite the messy outcome. Those who carped on the sidelines, either irresponsibly or foolishly, deserve no mercy when their facile maxims bear fruit.

Well that sounds like the other shoe dropping. Or if not a shoe then at least a very heavy sock. According to this late report from FoxNews, in his interview with police over the weekend Gary Condit told investigators that he "broke off his close friendship" with Levy two days before she disappeared. Apparently Condit used the placeholder of a "close friendship" to describe the events of the April 29th and 30th, while strongly implying, though not saying, that they were lovers.

Sources tell Fox that when Condit "broke off his close friendship" with Levy she "was extremely disappointed and distraught, refusing to take no for an answer and even becoming obsessed with him."

As we've noted before, consider the time line. On the 28th, Condit's wife arrives from California. Early on the 29th Condit talks to Chandra and breaks off their "close friendship." This is followed by two days of pager messages from Chandra to Condit which, according to FOXNews, Condit says he never returned.

This is like a jigsaw puzzle beginning to fit together.

So many events come across our radar which are really insignificant. And not (pace media bluenoses) just the Gary Condit story.

But the events spinning out of control in Macedonia over the last 48 hours could scarcely be more important or grave. As anyone remotely familiar with 19th and 20th century history knows, Macedonia is a latent hotbed of overlapping irredentisms and a firecracker folded into the creaky joints of Balkan stability.

From the outset of the greater Yugoslavian war, American diplomats have recognized this importance and Macedonia's relative placidity over the last decade has been a marked success as other parts of Yugoslavia skidded into destruction. As a recognition of that importance Americans soldiers have made up roughly half of a thousand strong UN peace-keeping force along the Macedonian border for most of the 1990s -- placed there by Bush's father long before Americans seriously considered deployments in Bosnia and Kosovo.

The reasons for Macedonia's centrality and importance are complex. But briefly, at least four countries would quickly be pulled into the fray if Macedonia were to spin out of control -- Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece -- and the last two of those are NATO member states. In short Macedonia's implosion could trigger the regional Balkan war which it has been the aim of American foreign policy for the last decade to avert.

The Bush administration comes late to this problem. But if things do go bad they'll share a large measure of the blame. It's not at all clear that America could defuse this situation. But Bush and the Rumsfeldian wing of administration foreign policy have been lazily, stupidly, arrogantly indifferent to this building crisis. And those who are in a position to do good and do nothing bear great blame when things go bad.

It's at times like these when Mr. Rumsfeld's ugly, Blimpish foolery becomes a very serious matter.

I've had several questions about what I think of Bill Safire's handicapping of the Democratic presidential contenders in Monday's New York Times.

There's a separate question which Andrew Sullivan raised about what to make of the Times poll itself -- whether it should be taken seriously, considering it seemed to have Bush a bit lower than recent Gallup and Zogby polls.

But for the moment let's stick to the Safire handicapping (which I've included below sans commentary).

Tom Daschle (4-1)
Joe Biden (5-1)
Richard Gephardt (15-1)
John Edwards (9-1)
John Kerry (4-1)
Pat Leahy (6-1)
Joe Lieberman (5-1)
Chris Dodd (4-1)
Russell Feingold (8-1)
Al Gore (2-1)

Actually, by and large, I think he's got it about right. Gore, Kerry, and Lieberman seem about right, though Lieberman should be at least as high as Kerry, and probably a touch higher. Daschle is maybe a touch high; Edwards maybe a touch low; but neither too far off the mark.

Feingold makes no sense. Dodd at 4-1 is so ridiculous that you have to wonder what Safire is smoking (and I'm a Dodd fan). And Leahy unfortunately also seems pretty overdone even at 6-1 (though I'm a fan of his too).

The name where I may surprise people by agreeing with Safire is Dick Gephardt's. I think Safire's exactly right. One of the next-yet- quite-told stories of Washington these days is the slow, inexorable fall of Dick Gephardt as a serious presidential contender. If Gephardt were just a goof it wouldn't be such an interesting story. But he's not. Not at all. In fact, in some ways, Gephardt's decline as a possible presidential contender is directly related to his able leadership of the House Democratic caucus back from the wilderness years of 1995. I think 15-1 has it about right. Maybe a touch optimistic.

Well, a prophet is never known in his own time, as they say. Or at least not for a few weeks. Talking Points first started turning a jaundiced eye towards the Gary Condit's non-denial denials way back on May 18th. And by now of course everyone's gotten into the act. Yesterday The New York Daily News said:

It doesn't help that Condit bears a striking physical resemblance to actor William Macy, who played a mild-mannered car dealer with the anxious grin whose murderous plot spins wildly out of his control in the movie "Fargo."
But wait a minute! Didn't Talking Points flag the Condit-Macy connection back on June 19th! I mean, God!!! What is journalism coming to nowadays when a young, up-and-coming writer can't even get credited for his own semi-libelous riffs on the events of the day!?!?!

Anyway, enough of this lameness.

We're clearly into the phase of the Condit story where most of the developments are meta-developments, or perhaps better to say para-developments -- events which tell us nothing really new about the underlying question but add embroidery around the edges and interesting but extraneous information from which we can at best infer new insights.

In this category we have Condit's second interview with the police, his hiring of Abbe Lowell, his meeting with Levy's mother and so on.

As nearly as I can tell the only significant new detail we have is the Washington Post's report that in the second police interview Condit said he last spoke to Levy on April 29th.

As your more experienced Conditologists will remember, the 29th is the day before Levy disappeared. It is also the first day on which she was making repeated calls to Condit's private pager (Time Magazine said Levy's mother found "about 20 calls" to the number on Chandra's cell phone bill -- but the Time report left unclear how many of those were on the 29th and 30th.)

So what does this tell us?

As nearly as I can tell this is what we know: on Saturday April 28th, Condit's wife Carolyn arrived in Washington for a visit -- something she only does two or three times a year.

The next day, Sunday the 29th, Levy began sending repeated pages to Condit trying to get in touch with him. Some time that same day (either after or before the flurry of pages, we don't know) Condit spoke to Levy for what was apparently the last time.

After speaking with Condit on Sunday, Levy continued to try to get in contact with him the next day, paging him again repeatedly on Monday the 30th. Also on Monday the 30th, Levy went to Washington Sports Club and cancelled her membership, and sent a final email to her parents about travel plans (which arrived the following day).

One issue that seems very worth clarifying is whether the Condit-Levy conversation of the 29th occurred before or after she started ringing up his pager. If it occurred before the pager calls began, that makes you think something of real importance occurred in the final conversation, leaving Levy extremely eager to talk to Condit again. If the conversation occurred in the midst of those pager calls, the picture is a little more ambiguous.

I believe we're in need of a new word. I've been wondering today how and why numerous scandals just seem to roll off the backs of the president and his many flunkies.

Some have gotten a bit of attention. There's Karl Rove's sharing his expertise on antitrust doctrine with executives at Intel, the late news that Vice President Cheney's former company Halliburton was doing business with Iraq during the 1990s, using $23 million in government money to send out a smiley face postcard from George W. about the tax cut, John Ashcroft's decision to settle the Tobacco suit in an obvious payback to the Tobacco industry, firing the Senate Parliamentarian when he refuses to shine Trent Lott's shoes on command, the White House vandalism story that I talked about so much before I got obsessed with Gary Condit.

Hell, there's even stuff like the Pentagon's hiring a Russian cargo firm with close ties to the Russian military to bring back our mangled spy plane from China.

But this last instance especially spotlights the need for the new word. If President Clinton hired the Russians to bring back our plane people would be going nuts. If one of Clinton's guys pulled a Karl Rove we'd be hearing very serious calls for his resignation. They'd both get added to the list of the dreaded 'Clinton' scandals and be treated accordingly. You know the drill: Dan Burton announces hearings; Andrea Mitchell gives it some establishment cred with a few blurbs on the nightly news, Chris Matthews pops a vein, and then the whole thing slithers off into a bizarre and languid quasi-life at NewsMax, FreeRepublic.com, and Regnery Publishing.

Of course the problem here is that most of these 'Clinton scandals' were just puffed up exaggerations for imbeciles and oafs. They never should have been scandals in the first place. Just as the Russian plane thing is not, and should not, be one today. And the same is true for a lot of these things with the Bushies.

So why talk about them? It's not really that some of these lapses should be scandals. It's just too galling for Clinton supporters to see the Bush folks skate free for the kind of stuff they got endless crap for.

One of the things this shows is that scandals don't just require a bad or ambiguous act. They also require lots of folks who just can't seem to get a life to huff and puff over them. And for better or worse there's just a whole lot more of those folks on the right then on the left. If you don't believe me just drop by the next annual Conservative Political Action Conference and you'll see what I mean.

Anyway, if you're a Dem with a brain this puts you in a tough spot because you want to give the Republicans as good as they gave. But you don't want to end up seeming like a pitiful doofus like Dan Burton. You know a lot of these 'scandals' by any sane standard should never have been scandals but you still don't want to give the Republicans a pass. Maybe the 'scandal' is just the double-standard. Who knows?

So you need a word, a literary shorthand, for these non-scandal scandals like the Karl Rove thing, the Senate parliamentarian firing, and so forth.

Let's call them woulda-shoulda scandals (or maybe just 'wouldashouldas' for short). That would mean: if this were under Clinton, such-and-such woulda been a scandal and if there were any justice such-and-such shoulda been a scandal under Bush. But we're just not as whacked as you guys. So we're going to note it and move along and wait until we catch you actually doing something really bad.

This allows you to make your well-merited point, let off a little Clintonian rage, and get on with life.

It may not help us politically but at least we'll have our self-respect.

P.S. Up next week, two potential scandals that aren't wouldashouldas and do deserve some real looking into. (One clue: it's tied to the oil industry.) Talking Points also defines "clintonian rage." Now Talking Points leaves for 24 hours of much needed R-n-R outta town. So no more posts till the end of the weekend. Or until Gary Condit hires Johnnie Cochran. Whichever comes first.

Part of the strangeness of the Gary Condit story is the way that everyone who gets involved on Condit's behalf gets pulled into the orbit of his ridiculousness. Here's Condit's new lawyer Abbe Lowell explaining the repeated delays in the police's requested second interview with the congressman. "As to the time, the place, the circumstances, it's going to be some way that we can avoid all this because that's not helping to find Chandra," said Lowell, referring to the surrounding media firestorm. The idea seems to be that interviewing Condit too quickly might make it more difficult to solve the mystery of Levy's disappearance.

Apparently matters have escalated for Gary Condit passed the point where Joseph Cotchett can do him much good from San Francisco. Condit has now retained veteran DC Democratically lawyer Abbe Lowell to represent him. You may remember Lowell as Chief Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during Impeachment or more recently as Bob Torricelli's criminal attorney.

Lowell will apparently hold a news conference later today.

Cotchett, according to the Condit folks, is being kept on to handle the media. I'll let that one speak for itself.

I've had a lot of e-mails over the transom asking whether the Democrats should take a confrontational stance toward the president on the Patients' Bill of Rights, and perhaps take a veto over a piece of legislation. For many pieces of legislation that will come up over the next eighteen months this is a very important question. Tom Daschle's mentor George Mitchell famously used this veto-inducing strategy against Bush's father and greatly contributed to Bush's eventual defeat in 1992.

In any case, many legislative battles will raise this question. But in this case there really isn't much of a question over what stance to take.

As the recent CBS-New Times poll showed, President Bush is already beginning to appear to a majority of Americans as someone who either doesn't care or isn't interested in the issues which matter most to them in their daily lives. What's more, the Democratic position is overwhelmingly popular with the public. And the Republicans themselves are seeing a slow hemorrhage of defections as moderates and even some conservatives don't want to get stuck carrying water for the president's unpopular position. The president's hand on the domestic policy front is extraordinarily weak.

The real question would have been this: If president Bush had come to the Democrats, should they have kept upping the ante on him to force a veto which they would then take the public in the next election? But that's not what's happened. The president's new threat to veto the Patients' Bill of Rights legislation is either a hollow threat or a political gift.

There's really no reason -- either on substance or politics -- for the Democrats to give one bit.