Josh Marshall

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Articles by Josh

No inside info. Just a hunch. Between 40 and 44 Democrats vote against John Ashcroft for Attorney General. But a critical portion of that number refuses to support a filibuster (Daschle, Leahy, So after several days of slashing and acrimonious debate, Ashcroft is confirmed.

P.S. Could pushing still make a difference? Yup.

YES! Finally, Andrew Sullivan has risen to my provocations and lambasted me on his web site. Finally! And just when I was thinking of ditching this whole Talking Points racket!

As regular Talking Points readers will remember, I recently issued a very gentle and genteel diatribe against the increasingly shrill and rightward lurch of Sullivan's recent writings about Al Gore, George W. Bush and the Florida recount. But this wasn't about that.

Yesterday on his site Sullivan was dishing out DC's recent conventional wisdom which says that the final rush of Clinton mini-scandals has pushed even the Clintons' most dogged defenders past the point of forgiveness. He said …

I have yet to meet a single Democrat who isn't sickened to his stomach by the excrescence of Clinton's pardons, and by the puerile vandalism of the White House in the last hours of the old regime. Maybe they finally, finally get what some of us have been banging on about for years. [itals added]
Now today Sullivan has this post …
DUMB BUT NOT DISGUSTING: The American Prospect's Joshua Micah Marshall, a rising star on the intellectual Left, emails to say he doesn't find the use of presidential pardons as political pay-back/fund-raising tool to be beyond the pale. Just dumb - not disgusting. Dumb, presumably, because the Clintons didn't get away with it! And this is the face of the idealistic Left these days. I emailed Josh to ask him what exactly would evoke disgust in him. He said, cryptically, "something disgusting." Welfare reform? Prayer in schools? A tax cut? - 1/27/2001 02:23:59 PM
First let's stipulate to a few points. Yeah, I really liked the "rising star" line. No question.

But 'of the Left'? Please! As those who know me know, I'm anything but 'of the Left.' And it's caused me no end of professional grief. But that's another story.

Back to the post.

So basically what I said was that the pardon wasn't disgusting just dumb - because they got caught.

Wow. I do sound pretty bad, don't I? But is that really what I said? That it wasn't disgusting, just dumb? That the only problem was that they got caught? Really?

But, hey, why argue? Let's go the tapes!

Exhibit 1:

Date: 9:28 PM EST, 1/26/01
To: Andrew Sullivan
From: Joshua Micah Marshall

not quite universal. even i'm bummed by the two stories. but no disgust.

Exhibit 2:

Date: 12:36 AM EST, 1/27/01
To: Joshua Micah Marshall
From: Andrew Sullivan
Subject: Re:

what would it take for you to feel disgust?

Exhibit 3:

Date: 12:39 AM EST, 1/27/01
To: Andrew Sullivan
From: Joshua Micah Marshall
Subject: Re:

something disgusting

At 12:36 AM 1/27/01 -0500, you wrote:
what would it take for you to feel disgust?

End of exhibits

First of all, let me stipulate to one point: I thought my rejoinder was pretty damn clever. You know, concise, punchy, tautological yet enigmatic, understated but in-your-face. You'd think an Englishman would like it! But I guess not. Anyway, back to our story.

I thought conservatives were supposed to be strict textualists! Don't you think our friend Andrew maybe embroidered what I said just a smidgen for poetic/dramatic effect? Just a wee-bit maybe? I kinda think so. But I'll let you be the judge.

(Note: Friends and readers should rest assured I would never publish their email without their permission. But, in this case, I think Andrew's selective publication of my email gives me license.)

So what do I think of these "two stories"? Well, as I've noted in posts below, the vandalism story is quickly shaping up to be pretty much bogus. And, I would hope, an embarrassment for everyone who fell for a heap for unsubstantiated and self-serving leaks from the Bushies. As for the Marc Rich pardon, well that looks pretty bad to me. But disgusted? Sick to my stomach? No, not really. I can be disappointed in someone I like and still be free of digestive difficulties.

Anyway, we're not so dissimilar, are we Andrew? Isn't the real difference that I feel disappointment in someone I like and you feel vindication in the misdeeds of someone you hate? Isn't the difference purely situational?

But, Andrew, let's push all this textual analysis mumbo-jumbo aside. Let's debate Clintonism and Clinton!

You'll be ranting on about thin words like shabbiness and tawdriness. And I'll be saying, who gives a #&@% and going on with arguments like the one I made here. You'll be splenetic and over-heated and I'll be jocular and whimsical. Trust me, it'll be great. First of all, I'll get all sorts of residual traffic from your site since my site is small-time and feeble and your site … well, your site is huge because you get to go plug it on shows like Nightline and that weird show Jeff Greenfield does on CNN.

And, on top of that, this might develop into a genuine 'feud' or 'dispute' between writers. Yes, yes, yes, I know you're big-time and I'm small-time. But that's okay. This could help me become big-time. Trust me, it'll work. I'm starting to feel like Edmund Wilson or Walter Lippman or Norman Mailer already!

P.S. Are those emails you posted really authentic? You bet they are. All I did was take out the addresses.

P.P.S. Are you really upset about Sullivan's post? No, of course not. Actually I appreciated it. I was honored. So why the long response? Hey, that's what you do on these personal political web sites! It's all whimsy, all drama. Sullivan's been very kind to me. I'm still hoping he comes to my birthday party next month.

Now the backtracking begins.

A few Clintonites, back from weeks in the Bahamas or drowning their sorrows in gin or whatever, have stepped forward to ask the White House's new occupants to put up or shut up. And there seems to be more shutting up than putting up.

Read the Post and CNN stories to get the details. But basically it seems like all we're talking about is removal of 'w's from the keyboards of some computers by a few of Al Gore's twenty-something staffers and the posting of a few gag signs like "The Office of Strategerie."

As the Post quoted some Clinton staffers as saying:

Former West Wing officials said they agreed that these pranks, which they attributed primarily to aides to former vice president Al Gore, were in questionable taste. But they said these lapses were a far cry from property destruction and an exception to the efforts the Clinton team generally made for a smooth transition.
Now let me try out my own alternative narrative of this story and do let me know if I'm far off the mark …

PART I: New administration comes into office and finds a some isolated gags and pranks left for them by the departing administration - a few gag signs, removal of some 'w's from keyboards. They take these and systematically exaggerate or fabricate all manner of other alleged infractions including widespread cutting of utility wires, leaving of pornographic material, lewd graffiti on White House office walls, theft of miscellaneous property, over-turned desks, vandalism of miscellaneous office property by gluing things shut, 'trashing' of offices, leaving of computer viruses on White House computers, and so on.

PART II: These stories are then aggressively leaked to the press by the new occupants of the White House (including senior staffers in the new administration) - all on a non-attribution basis. The White House press secretary elliptically confirms most of the story but couches it in self-serving statements to the effect that the new president wants to look to the future and not the past and will not support any prosecutions for the alleged offenses.

PART III: The whole scenario rather transparently fits into the new administration's spin about the difference between it and the former administration - with lush evocations of pettiness, immaturity, obscenity, and lawlessness. But, surprisingly, the city's porcine political press takes the ball and runs with it, without forcing any of the leakers to speak on the record, provide systematic documentation of the alleged infractions, or even provide physical evidence to document the offenses.

PART IV: Story begins to hemorrhage and then collapse for lack of evidence. Press moves on to next story. No questions asked.

Am I missing something here?

I asked before why the DC political press let's itself get led around by the nose like this. But, honestly, I already know.

As long as the Bushies are leaking so much about the trashing of the White House, why no pictures? Why no specific cataloguing of what was done? Why no one on the record with specifics? Isn't this a put up or shut up type situation?

They can't exactly say they don't want to dwell on the past since they're dwelling on it plenty with every reporter and right-wing hack in town.

When I first heard these stories about pranks and defacements at the White House from departing Clintonites, I confess, I felt a touch embarrassed. But if the Bushies are so keen on looking forward and not dwelling on the past, then why are they leaking about this to the media so profusely?

Karl Rove apparently leaked to various reporters that he had discovered a "hidden vanity mirror" in a bookcase in his new office - the office previously occupied by Hillary Clinton.

Isn't this a bit transparent? Lemme guess tomorrow's leak: sources close to Rove report he found secret bitch supplies apparently used by the former First Lady.

Come on! Isn't news about Karl Rove being an $%#hole news about Karl Rove, and not the former First Lady?

And it's very high-minded of the Bushies not to "prosecute" anyone for leaving cartoon pictures of George W. in printer trays. Please!

How does the political press get led around by the nose like this?

Sad to say it, but the Democrats seem to be losing the tactical battle to frame the tax cut debate. And there's simply no reason for it. Alan Greenspan's testimony yesterday is a setback. But it needn't have been and still needn't be a major one.

Every news story over the last month which points to support for a tax cut is chalked up as a victory for the president. Dick Gephardt says he's for a tax cut; so that's a victory for Bush. Alan Greenspan says he supports a major tax cut; so that's a victory for Bush.

But wait. Al Gore ran on a platform which supported a major tax cut. Not a megalithic one like Bush's. But one in the neighborhood of $500 billion. And for anyone who knows jack about economics, Gore's tax cut would have a greater short-to-medium term impact on the economy than Bush's since Gore's is focused on people who tend to spend the extra money rather than save it. (Whether navigating recessions is better done through monetary or fiscal policy is another matter entirely).

So the Republicans aren't the only ones supporting a tax cut. And, yes, you can find Dems who make these arguments. But that's just not how it's playing in the press. So the Dems tax cut talk is just trees falling in the forest.

Another point. As president Clinton ably demonstrated, you can never run against tax cuts per se. Never. You can make political arguments about who benefits from them. Or you can make arguments about priorities - tax cuts versus 'saving social security' or paying down the debt, etc. And why shouldn't that be so? All other things being equal, shouldn't we all be for everyone's taxes being as low as possible? I think we should.

But that's the point. All other things aren't equal. Too often Democrats get tangled up in abstract arguments about equity or spending qua spending. This will choke off all possibilities for activist government, etc. etc. etc. (Traditional libs will complain most about losing this tax cut debate. But they're actually most responsible for the problem.)

The conventional wisdom seems to dictate now that the public just isn't interested in major new government spending and thus - with the debt pay-off argument receding - the Dems have no available arguments at their disposal.

But this is foolish. With Bush arguing that Social Security and Medicare need to be reformed because baby-boomers are going to bankrupt the programs, isn't the issue money? If the programs are in such a bind why cut their potential sources of new revenue? Or let's think more immediately. How about a prescription drug benefit under Medicare? It's real popular. And, trust me, it'll cost a ton of money. So why not line up prescription drugs against tax cuts. The Dems' half a trillion dollar tax cut and a prescription drug benefit for your parents and grandparents versus Bush's cut for his wealthy campaign contributors (and, yes, our wealthy campaign contributors too). That sounds like good politics, doesn't it?

Ironically, the folks at the DLC (who I skewered in an article in the current issue of The New Republic) are actually the one's doing the most to get out in front of Bush in a tactically intelligent and principled fashion. But no one seems to be listening.

Anyway, I know I'm not the only one to think of these things. But it's not getting translated politically and there's really no time to lose. This ain't rocket science; but for most Dems you'd think it was advanced Relativity Theory.

Someone call Chappaqua! I think we need the old guy back. At least to call the shots.

Okay, so who's on this list of Senate Dems who are thinking of running for President in 2004 …

John Kerry:  thinks it's gonna happen, could happen

John Edwards:  everybody loves him, we'll see

Joe Lieberman:  Talking Points likes him, we'll see how he does

Joe Biden:  not a bad guy, maybe the first time was just a run through

Evan Bayh:  thinks it's gonna happen, not gonna happen

Tom Daschle:  just a small, small chance he runs

Paul Wellstone:  great guy, no chance, may run

Bob Torricelli:  may be deluding himself into thinking it's gonna happen, it's not

Dick Durbin:  the dark horse

What? No Hillary? You got it. Read this to see why.

And outside the Senate? Bob Kerrey (it really ain't gonna happen) and TPM's one and only, Al Gore (ahhhh ... we can dream).

We'll be talking more about this list?

Hey, now that I've been reminded of John Ashcroft's rationale for opposing James Hormel's ambassadorial nomination, I think I understand what his problem was with Judge Ronnie White. He didn't oppose White because he was black, he opposed him because he promoted the black lifestyle.

Don't get it? Read this.

Seems like the New York Times got it wrong about Tom Daschle … And it sounds like Ari Fleischer got it really, really wrong by trying to play Daschle in the press by quoting his alleged assurance to president Bush that Bush would get each of his nominees.

Of course, it's also possible that Daschle did give Bush an assurance and is now just backpedaling like crazy.

But, hey, same difference.

In his press conference today he seemed pretty unhappy with the White House …

I would hope that the administration would not make it a habit of quoting me. And if they do, I would hope that we (sic) would get it right
He later said that the quote in the Times was "not my message to the president yesterday."

Now, having said that, Daschle said that what he did say both privately and publicly was that "we will not filibuster any nomination."

Now, obviously if the Dems are not going to filibuster any nomination then that really does amount to a guarantee that Ashcroft gets confirmed since no one thinks 51 senators are going to vote against him. So, if Daschle is serious about this, his statement against a filibuster is tantamount to an assurance.

But how locked in is Daschle to opposing a filibuster?

What it means is that I will discourage Democratic filibusters, but it doesn't mean that any one of my colleagues may not still make the effort. It's not my expectation that there will be one. I have indicated I will oppose one if one were to occur. But again, I would reiterate, that's a matter left to each of my colleagues.
So what the hell is actually going on here? My assumption is that Daschle told Bush he wouldn't lead a filibuster against Ashcroft - which is tantamount to an assurance, since he can only be defeated by a filibuster. Rove and Fleischer and Hughes (and maybe even Bush if they let him in the planning session) figured they'd interpret Daschle's statement broadly and try to nudge him a bit or play him in the press to push things along.

That made Daschle, to put it mildly, look real bad in the eyes of his caucus and just about everyone else; and he flipped.

The real story? This was amateurish ball by the Bush crew. And it'll hurt them.

What to make of this New York Times article which says Tom Daschle assured George Bush that he'd get his nominees approved?

Bush Press Secy. Ari Fleischer quoted Daschle to that effect; and Daschle's office, according to the Times, didn't dispute it.

This is very choreographed, isn't it?

There's obviously some complicated footwork taking place here, especially considering the growing anti-Ashcroft mood in the Dem caucus. (See the article linked above for harsh words from Judiciary Committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein re: Ashcroft.)

The clearest explanation of what's going on here is that Daschle is signaling to Dems in and out of congress not to get their hopes up that Ashcroft is going to get filibustered.

But this still isn't the final word. Look who we're dealing with.