Josh Marshall

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Talking Points doesn't think today's double-barreled court decisions make it any more likely that George W. Bush will be our next president.

But it's starting to look pretty clear that Dick Cheney will be.

Most observers have lauded President Clinton's willingness to put vice-president Gore's talents to use during their two terms in the office. But here's one of the reasons you don't want to use the vice-president as a de facto prime minister (or, let's be honest, a de facto president.)

What if the president and the vice-president have a falling out? Or what if they break on a significant point of policy. With a Chief of Staff or a Secretary of State or a senior advisor, this isn't a problem. The president fires them. Or they resign. But Bush can't fire Dick Cheney. The vice-presidency is a constitutional office.

Now, I'm willing to admit that it's hard to figure how Bush and Cheney would break on a significant policy issue since Cheney seems to tell Bush what to think on every policy issue.

But, hey, maybe W. will start reading books after he's sworn in as president. Maybe he's not dumb, just a late-bloomer?

Anyway, it's worth thinking about.

Talking Points takes another guest turn at Slate Magazine. Here's his article on how the networks flubbed the call on today's Supreme Court decision.

CNN: Gore wins.

CNN: No, Bush wins.

CNN: Ahhh ... They ruled and, well ... they ruled.

Anyway, go see the whole thing for yourself.

On his site today Andrew Sullivan defends Montana Governor Marc Racicot against one of Sullivan's "liberal friends" who said Governor Racicot was "evil." (Racicot's the one who's been holding all those press conferences for Bush in Austin and appearing on countless chat shows on the governor's behalf.)

Sullivan's right.

Racicot's not evil. He's pathetic. (And that's much worse than evil.)

Sure, sure, Montana's one of the more feeble states. But it's still a state! Racicot's running around like he's trying out to be Bush's press secretary. Why doesn't this guy have more respect for himself? He's the governor of a state! Aren't the people of Montana starting to wonder why their Governor has set up shop down in Austin, Texas? Is he still on the state's payroll? And what happened to Karen Hughes? Isn't she good enough anymore?

Word is that Racicot may be in line to be George W.'s Attorney General. But doesn't this pathetic behavior in search of a cabinet post tend to confirm the charge that Bush puts sycophantic loyalty above quality and merit in most of his appointments?

Bring on the yes-men!

P.S. Think you've heard Talking Points getting on Racicot's case before? You're right. Last month, the late night post on November 20th. It seems to have become an obsession with Talking Points. And Sullivan's post just set him off.

Talking Points hardly likes anyone better at Slate Magazine than Will Saletan. Not only because he's a very nice guy and Frame Game is a great column, but also because he hooked Talking Points up with some really choice exit poll data on election day (I'm figuring that VNS has enough to worry about now and won't try to bully us with any lawsuits.)

But I don't quite buy the argument he makes in his most recent column. That argument (as nearly as I can figure it) is that the margin separating the two candidates is smaller than what one might call the margin of the error of the voting technology. So you're in a quantum physics-like conundrum where you just can't push the numbers much further than say a .1% margin.

That sounds right.

But his conclusion seems to be that since you can't really know who won in cases where the margin is this small you just have to go with the call the networks made on election night.

New Bush Slogan: they trust the people, we trust the networks!

(Note: I've caricatured Will's argument a bit here. If you want the uncaricatured version I'd suggest you read the piece. But, hey, I had to come up with a new post for this afternoon. So there it is.)

And another thing. George W. Bush is trying to make nice with Dems by saying he's going to appoint some House Democrats to his cabinet. Does W. think we're as stupid as Talking Points thinks he is? I'm sure the Republicans would like to knock a half dozen Dems out of the House.

(Note II: Talking Points had some help on this second item from this character. But actually Talking Points had also thought that Gore could demonstrate his bipartisanship by appointing senators Judd Gregg, Jim Jeffords, Dick Shelby and Gordon Smith to his cabinet. So he'll take some of the credit. Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck. We can play that game too!)

If Talking Points used headlines or titles for his posts he might call this one "moronic crap watch." The Miami Herald article discussed in the previous post included comments on the article's findings from the Bush and Gore campaigns. It's bad enough the Bushies keep insisting that undervotes are just ballots from people who didn't want to vote for president. Now Bush flak Tucker Eskew trots out this one:

Eskew, the spokesman for the Texas governor, flatly rejected [the study] as ``hocus pocus'' and ``an utterly unfounded scientific process.'' In addition to mistakenly assuming that voters handing in undervotes intended to vote, he said, the analysis also ignores the notion that many of the double-punched ballots may have been ``protest votes,'' intentionally spoiled. ``That is a deeply flawed model that suggests statistical voodoo,'' he said.

Yeah, I'm so mad I'm votin' for Bush and Nader. That'll show 'em. I'll vote for Bush and Gore. Let 'em take that!


You wonder after a while why the Bushies don't stick to the unexceptionable argument that overvotes (double voted ballots) don't count, period. Don't these transparently ridiculous assertions just make them seem indifferent to the truth?

He shoots ... He S-C-O-R-E-S!!!

Talking Points runs with some breaking news! The Florida Supreme Court will announce a decision tonight. Not tomorrow, tonight. Apparently they've given the heads-up to the networks. But the networks aren't supposed to tell anybody. Apparently the delay has to do with a broken xerox machine in the court, which has slowed things up.

Hey, that's what I'm hearing

As of about 7 PM on Tuesday, Talking Points heard (from his sources on CNN and MSNBC) that Palm Beach County had given Gore a measly 3 more votes, with about 1/5 of the precincts reporting. Broward had given the veep a semi-respectable 118 votes more with all the precincts reporting. And Miami-Dade had given Gore 114 more votes with 99 out of 614 precincts.

Let's hear it for Miami-Dade! These guys are really pulling their weight!

(Actually the vote woman on MSNBC says those hundred-odd precincts already reporting lean even more Democratic than the rest of the county. So maybe it's not as good as it sounds.)

Of course, the real issue is dimples. And which counties have how many 'undervotes' - that undiscovered country of hidden suffrage? Palm Beach has about 10,000; Broward's got between 1,000 and 2,000; and Miami-Dade has some 10,750.

So, hey, there's plenty of work to be done, assuming the Florida Supreme Court doesn't completely shut Gore down.

Oh yeah, one other thing. If you include the already counted Palm Beach ballots with dimples Gore picks up another 301 votes.

So Gore's not doing that badly. But obviously it's going to come down to whether or not he gets his dimples.

From real Gore campaign sources I've heard that the whole race will come down to 100 or 150 vote spread either way. Unfortunately for them they're not sure which way.

Talking Points is also wondering what's up with retiring Senator Bob Kerrey. Normally Kerrey is a bit of spoil sport, especially in partisan terms. And for years he could be counted on to trash and take potshots at the Clinton-Gore administration. (In fact, Talking Points has been trashing Senator Kerrey in print for a couple years now - example one, two, and three.)

But all of sudden he's Al Gore's biggest pit bull. Today the Gore team had Kerrey (a Vietnam vet who lost the lower part of one leg in the war) down in Florida taking the fight to the Republicans on the military overseas ballot issue. Apparently, a bunch of those overseas military ballots had problems besides not being postmarked. No signatures, no witnesses, etc.

Senator Kerrey's line: if you're in the military, you're supposed to follow the rules.

I could get to like this guy!

P.S. Talking Points would like to make clear that he is actually quite pro-military, and something of a foreign policy hawk. So no emails saying he's ganging up on the military!

Finally, finally, finally someone has the good sense and courage to point out how hideously unfair and outrageous those charges are about the Gore campaign trying to deny soldiers their right to vote. (A few days ago Talking Points said the Republicans were playing the Sturm und Drang, Stab-in-the-Back, Last-Days-of-the-Weimar-Republic card. He thought that was pretty clever. But it was too generous, because too jocular.)

Listen to Florida Democrat Peter Deutsch last night on Crossfire:

Let me just talk a little bit about the whole, I guess, spin from the Republicans about -- which has been to me the absolute most -- the worst statements I have ever heard probably in my life about anything. I mean, almost a blood libel by the Republicans towards Al Gore, saying that he was trying to stop men and women in uniform that are serving this country from voting. That is the most absurd thing and absolutely has no basis in fact at all.
Alright, alright, not the most articulate guy in the world. But you get his point!

"...almost a blood libel." That's pretty strong stuff. Strong, but not too strong. Because it's true.

(Deutsch can get away with this statement, in part, because he's Jewish. But so is Talking Points; so he gets a pass too!)

You don't just toss around charges that the possible next president of the United States is conspiring to take the vote away from American soldiers overseas. Given the volatility of the moment and the divisions already existing in American society it really is almost like a blood libel. Almost.

People in the press should have called the Bushies on this rather than treating their new line of attack as if it were nothing more serious than the dissing and trash-talking one hears on the Jerry Springer show.

Talking Points was going to leave it at that. But then he read Tom Friedman's column in the NYT this morning. Friedman said:
Our armed forces, the courts, the federal government - these are the nonpartisan institutions we need to hold our country together once there is a partisan outcome to this election. It was out of line for Ms. Hughes to imply that our armed forces are pro- Republican and that the Democrats were trying to prevent them from voting. Ms. Hughes might as well have called Mr. Gore a traitor. It would be like Mr. Gore accusing Mr. Bush of bigoted motives because he resisted recounts in counties with heavy black and Jewish populations. You just don't talk that way about the man who might be our next president.
Talking Points couldn't have said it better himself. I guess that's why Friedman is on the Op-Ed page of the NYT and Talking Points … well, just has Talking Points.

Talking Points understands that every self-respecting post-election presidential candidate these days needs his surrogates. But why can't George W. Bush at least get political hacks from Florida to make his case for him?

The Dems have Reps. Peter Deutsch D -Fla. and Robert Wexler D -Fla., two congressmen from the Palm Beach area, spinning for them. But who's Bush got? Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y who told the AP today that "Miami-Dade has become ground zero for producing a manufactured vote" and Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio who called the balloting there "a joke on our democracy." What's the deal here? Why can't Bush get any home grown talent?

And what's with Marc Racicot, the governor of Montana? Since when is this guy Bush's press secretary? What happened to Karen Hughes? Aren't the folks in Montana starting to wonder why their governor has set up residence in Austin, Texas?

Is this the kind of scut work you have to do to get an appointment in the new Bush administration?