Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Hey, why is there a link down there on the left shilling for Slate.com? That's the section where Talking Points usually shills for himself, right? Where he tries to get readers to send donations to keep the site up and running with wit and insight for the content-starved web masses? What's up with that?

Interesting you should ask ... Stay tuned for more soon on this puzzling development.

Few spectacles in politics are as fascinating or captivating as watching hacks and ideologues set about the delicate work of fashioning an argument that - in the normal course of things - should be impossible to make. In other words, an argument so improbable or nonsensical that it could only be meant for political consumption.

It's almost like watching insects create some improbable structure on the Nature channel.

Anyway, for years now Republicans have been a little wary of going back to their circa 1993 argument that Bill Clinton's 1993 tax increase would kill jobs, throw the economy into recession, and perhaps even destroy the planet.

For a while in the mid-90s they argued that the economy would be growing even faster if taxes hadn't been raised. But when the economy started screeching out growth at a rate most economists consider too high - say 5% or so - even that argument started to seem a little shaky.

Now they're taking another crack at it. And, no, don't snicker! Because arguing that the fiscal policy which preceded the most sustained economic expansion in American history was in fact a job killer is no mean feat.

Anyway, the new emerging Republican argument (which you could hear mouthed on CNN's Late Edition last Sunday by Jim Miller and Wayne Angell) goes like this: the Clinton tax increase was a terrible drag on the economy, just as Republicans said it would be. But it coincided with a technology-driven explosion in productivity. And this productivity bonanza masked the awful effects of the tax increase.

Miller put it thus:

And the last decade, because of the information technology revolution raising productivity, it masked a lot of bad decisions, including to increase tax rates. That's sort of coming to an end and now the fiscal drag really is holding us back, and we need to reduce that.
So basically the predicted bad effects of the Clinton tax increase didn't fail to appear as Republicans predicted they would in 1994 and 1995. They were just delayed half a dozen years. That is, until now!

I predict we'll be hearing a lot more of this argument because it fulfills the basic requirements of the best bogus political argumentation. Though almost ridiculously improbable and quite nearly demonstrably false, the argument has enough logical structure to be at least theoretically possible. And that makes it more than serviceable for the normal run of fanatical ideologues, confirmed partisans and weak-minded bumpkins to make use of endlessly.

Trust me, we'll be hearing a lot of this.

Here is a quite good run-down of the recent activities of the notorious self-promoter and opportunist David Horowitz. As you may know, Horowitz has recently taken it upon himself to bravely take on the virtually non-existent movement to pay reparations to African-Americans for the sin of slavery. I saw Horowitz (or rather heard him, he 'appeared' by phone) on C-Span this morning and the things he said were about as pitiful as one would expect.

One of the more tricky and beguiling aspects of Horowitz's rhetorical style is that it is often difficult to decide whether his statements are more foolish than offensive, or more offensive than foolish. Sometimes it's simply a tie; but it's always a challenge disentangling the two, and measuring them one against the other.

There are actually a number of aging lefties -- a number of whom I know -- who still admire Horowitz, or at least refuse to dismiss him outright, because they admired him terribly when they were all in their twenties. But, ya know, many of these worthies dropped a lot of acid back in the day so you really can't be too hard on them if they still can't see the light about Horowitz.

In any case, two points seem worth making. One is that Horowitz in person is as obnoxious and unpleasant as he seems on all those talk shows. I got in a scrape with him a couple years ago because of a brief mention I made of him in an article in The American Prospect. (There are actually a few points I'd change in the article; but the description of Horowitz isn't one of them.)

At that time I figured that -- like many high-profile controversialists -- Horowitz merely played an a--hole on TV. Yet after running into him at a Hillary-bashing conference last April, and having him repeatedly call me a liar and "disgusting" to my face, I concluded that he was actually the real McCoy.

Anyway, enough about my run-ins with him. Let's get to that second point. These days, whenever he's charged with anti-black animus, Horowitz insists that he's got nothing against blacks, only what he calls the "black left." Now one can certainly distinguish between blacks and the "black left." But given what we know about this man, doesn't this sound terribly reminiscent of that old hedge which anti-Semites love to employ: I'm not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist.

Oh. And if this all seems a bit a bit heavy and you want to lighten things up, you can buy Horowitz's risible autobiography on Amazon. Yes, I know it may be galling to send a few bucks his way by buying it. But trust me, it's really funny.

P.S. Dying to read the offending passage in the aforementioned article? Okay ...

That zeal to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to excoriate the entire progressive tradition for the misdeeds of the extreme left is an approach that Radosh shares with a slew of former left-wingers who jumped ship and became conservatives as their hair turned gray. David Horowitz, to take the prime example, was a second-string radical journalist in the 1960s and 1970s who shifted to the political right in the mid-1980s and, in midlife, fashioned himself a second career as a sort of Whittaker Chambers manqué for 1990s conservatism. Horowitz's 1996 autobiography Radical Son chronicled the story of his life from youth as a "red-diaper" baby, through stints as co-editor of Ramparts and his association with the Black Panthers, to his eventual conversion to political conservatism. Almost all of Horowitz's writing since he became a conservative has been dedicated to attacking the principles and persons of the left.

That Horowitz, with his radical left-wing history, has been so readily accepted into the right-wing fold goes to the heart of the matter and connects the McCarthyism of yesteryear with its tamer cousin today. The strength of the ex-communist's supposed moral superiority was always based on a dubious premise: that someone who had been entirely taken in by the party, willingly spied against his country, and obediently followed every zig and zag of the party line was somehow more to be credited than the momentary fellow traveler who attended a few meetings, signed a few petitions, and then walked away after seeing the party for what it was. In other words, the more radical the conversion, the more moral credit the McCarthyite (or New McCarthyite) supposedly accrues. This suits the Horowitzes of the world just fine, because they feel it gives them the credibility to denounce the left—believing that they can make up for youthful credulity with middle-aged ferocity. But just because Horowitz got taken in by the Black Panthers—long after almost everyone else on the left had washed their hands of them—hardly means that the progressives of today's generation have anything to apologize for.

Did you see what I just saw? EPA Administrator Christie Whitman was just interviewed on CNN's Late Edition about administration environmental policy. Obviously not a pretty site on a number of levels.

But Wolf Blitzer repeatedly pressed her to say whether she supported drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Repeatedly. Two or three times in several different ways. But she wouldn't answer. Not even not a straight answer. She simply refused to answer the question.

Aren't the Democrats going to see this as blood in the water?

Cut to thirty-second TV ad ... deep male voice intones: "The President wants to trash the Alaskan wilderness to help big oil. Even his own EPA Chief knows it's wrong."

Isn't she in some trouble?

Boy, I really don't want to be in the position of doing a good turn for crime-against- democracy indictee Katherine Harris. But I can't help myself. Someone has to talk to this woman's PR flak.

Quite contrary to what we heard back in November and December about the election mess making Harris untouchable as far as future elective office was concerned, she is very much interested in shinnying further up the political pole (climbing higher on the ladder, pick your metaphor).

I even hear she wants to run for congress in 2002. And that's not so crazy, considering the Republican party will run the entire redistricting process in Florida next year and they have, I think, two new seats to play with.

Anyway, if she wants to make it in mainstream politics, should she really be giving the headline speech at the annual South Carolina Free Republic hoedown? I mean, I think she's pretty much got the right-wing freak demographic nailed down, no?

Katherine, branch out! I mean, take a cue from George W. Start doing photo ops with black kids. Ask Karl Rove. He'll show you how it's done.

Have you noticed how the phrase "civil society" -- already an often facile and over-freighted concept -- is being hijacked by people who use it to signify a society where people have better manners, are nicer? In The Washington Times a few months back an article on the coarsening of society says ..

Some cultural observers might say the snickering smarm of "Drew Carey" is the least of the worries parents should have today in the arena of civility, what with road rage on the increase, profanity spewing from every playground and school bus stop and, of course, the specter of gun violence in the hallways. Against such a depressing backdrop, teaching children "the magic word" and the golden rule seems hopeless. Many parents do it anyway, hoping the little things at an early age will add up to a more civil society later.
Or take another example from our new president's election victory acceptance speech ...
We differed about the details of these proposals, but there was remarkable consensus about the important issues before us: excellent schools, retirement and health security, tax relief, a strong military, a more civil society. We have discussed our differences. Now it is time to find common ground.

What's this about exactly?

I have a difficult time deciding if this is just an ignorant bastardization of the phrase and concept. Or whether it points to some deeper shallowness in the movement which often gathers behind the phrase.

More on this later.

Alright, I've thought for a while now that Talking Points was getting maybe a bit too consistently and endlessly anti-Bush, always criticizing something the new president was doing, and so forth. But on second thought, who gives a &$%#!

I'm going to leave the subtlety, balance and introspection to my paid gigs. So let's get back to business.

Having said that, let's chat about something that's only half about Bush.

Here's a very good article in the new issue of The New Republic about John DiIulio and the controversy breaking out between supporters of black inner-city churches -- which DiIulio is generally in line with -- and the white evangelicals who he is very much not in line with - and who are, of course, perhaps George W. Bush's most important constituency.

DiIulio is the head of Bush's new faith-based services office.

By all means, read it. It's a clever and informative piece, precisely the sort that intelligent, enterprising young journalists are supposed to come up with.

Here's the key issue with DiIulio, however. There's something deeper at work here than just a disagreement over how faith-based services should function, even deeper than the obvious fissures over racial politics.

The whole debate over social services, poverty, welfare and so forth moves on two separate axes. One is the right vs. left axis that we're all familiar with. But this is often the less interesting of the two.

There's also the 'give a #$%&'  vs. the 'don't give a @#&$'  axis.

I disagree with DiIulio on all sorts of points. But anyone who's familiar with DiIulio's career knows that he's definitely in the 'give a $%&#' (GAF) category. I would say that someone like James Q. Wilson is also in the GAF category even though I disagree with him on many points.

And that's the problem. What the Bush folks should have realized is that if you're in the DGAF category (which the Bushies indubitably are on urban poverty and social disenfranchisement issues) the last thing you want to do is to hire a GAF to run your shop.

Bad, bad, bad decision. And now they're going to pay the price for that mistake with really embarrassing stories which will almost certainly lead to DiIlulio's eventually getting canned.

All of which suggests a contest. Starting from today, March 22nd, how many days will we go before a major metropolitan daily prints an article with anonymous accusations of DiIulio's mismanagement of the faith-based office (intended, of course, to lay the groundwork for DiIulio's eventual firing)?

(For the purposes of the contest we'll say that the papers which count are the New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Yes, good point, the Washington Times isn't really a legit major metro daily. But it's likely to be the place the White House folks first go to start trashing DiIulio. So we've kinda got to include it. And, in addition to mismanagement, charges of incompetence, bias, dereliction also count.)

And before we're done let's do a contest update. A little while back Talking Points ran a contest to be won by the reader who could tell which idea in this article by Andrew Sullivan was given to Sullivan by Talking Points. The answer: the reference to Chaucer's Pardonner's Tale. The winner was Jeff. H at the NYU (sorry, forgot to ask him if I could use his name) who gets a lunch with Talking Points - dutch, of course.

Only, only, only in South Carolina!

In late 1999 and early 2000 I spent a couple months trying to nail down some suspicions of mine that Ralph Reed was getting ready to bludgeon John McCain down in South Carolina if his boss, George W. Bush, stumbled in New Hampshire.

He did stumble of course. And the Bush operation did bludgeon McCain with all sorts of scurrilous accusations. The main one I was trying to track down were hints that the Bush operation was planning on pushing the line that McCain was gay, or overly friendly toward gays.

And, yes, they did end up using this line of attack -- memorably spreading word that McCain was the "fag candidate."

Here's one example of my efforts; here's another article looking a little more broadly at Reed et.al.'s nasty South Carolina shenanigans.

Anyway, those South Carolinians are apparently at it again. Only now it's Dems bashing Republicans!

Lindsey Graham is an extremely popular South Carolina politician; he's a congressman now fixin' (as they would say) to run for Strom Thurmond's Senate seat. Most Americans know Graham -- if they know him at all -- as one of the House impeachment managers. From that you'd probably think Graham is pretty much a whacko. And to an extent you'd be right. But not entirely.

Graham was a big supporter of McCain in the primaries last year. But he's also a big supporter of campaign finance reform and a number of other McCainite type reforms. So let's just say he may be a right-wing whacko. But also one with some important redeeming qualities.

So anyway, as I said, he's gearing up to run for Senator.

Recently, Dick Harpootlian, the head of the Democratic party down in South Carolina, issued a press release (and apparently also said in a number of speeches) that Lindsey was "a little too light in the loafers" to succeed Strom Thurmond. (Graham is 45 and unmarried, but denies he's gay. And, as far as I know, there's no reason to think that he is.) Graham accused Harpootlian of slander for insinuating that he was gay.

Harpootlian said he didn't know the phrase had that connotation.

Anyway, now I read in the Southern Political Report that this isn't the first time Harpootlian has pulled this stunt with Graham. So reads the March 12th issue of the Report...

At a Democratic luncheon last year, Harpootlian said, "Congressman Lindsey Graham criticized President Clinton for 'having sex with a woman in the Oval office.' Now, I don't know about you but I can't tell what part he objected to -- having sex with a young woman or having sex in the Oval office?"
Southern politics. Gotta love it.

Since leaving the Clinton administration Gene Sperling's new full-time job seems to be whacking the Bush White House with Op-Eds in major national dailies. But, hey, more power to him!

This one today in the New York Times is right on point in thrashing the president's irresponsible evasion on Social Security. The insight of this very original argument is to point out that no matter where you are on the Social Security reform question (progressive, traditionalist, privatizer, etc.) you still can't support the Bush budget plan.


Simple. Every honest approach to the Social Security reform issue will require substantial infusions of general revenue funds (i.e., money beside that which we get from payroll taxes) to make reform work.

Since the Bush tax cut bill more or less wipes out the surpluses with tax cuts (as Bush himself proudly proclaims) there's simply nothing left for reform.

Okay, I've had a number of questions about this. So let me address it once and for all here on the site.

A week ago Monday I resigned my post as Washington Editor of the American Prospect. So now (or at least as of March 30th) I am officially a freelance writer.

What, you may ask, is a freelance writer?

Well it's something between being an independent, top-of-your-game, call-your-own-shots writer who answers to no one and being unemployed. All depends on how many assignments you manage to get. I'm planning on the former option but we'll see how it goes. For me it was a big step, but I think the right one.

And why did you quit your job exactly? Well, long story. But we can get to that later.

P.S. So are you psyched or bummed? Very psyched.

P.P.S. Enough personal revelation. Now back to the Talking Points persona!