Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

At any given political moment there is a big picture -- with broad demographic and ideological trends -- and then the smaller, more immediate, political world made up of ingenuity and chance -- the fact that Saxby Chambliss runs a better campaign than many thought, that Paul Wellstone is cut down tragically in a plane wreck days before the election. Of course, the two blend into each other and influence each other, though they remain at some level distinct. Individual politicians are like small ships on those vast political seas. And the best of them can survive and even thrive even when the winds and seas are decidely unfriendly. On balance, though, the winds and currents tell the tale.

What we're now in the thick of is that small, more immediate, political world, in which the newspaper stories which will appear next Wednesday morning will be affected by the personal qualities of candidates, the decisions party committees make over last minute allocations of funds, and simple random chance.

But let's not forget that larger picture. And as TPM noted a couple months ago, the best book we've read in years on this topic is The Emerging Democratic Majority by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira. You can read the TPM review and recommendation here or pick up a copy of your own at Amazon.

As TPM wrote two months ago, "it's the most penetrating and prescient look at American politics you're likely to read for some time. If you favor what Judis and Teixeira call the politics of the 'progressive center' the news is quite good."

Newt Gingrich responds!

Or well ... kinda!

On Monday I accused Newt Gingrich of lying when he claimed that soon-to-be-Minnesota Senate candidate Walter Mondale supported Social Security privatization. Now Rick Tyler, Director of Media Relations for Gingrich Communications, responds ...


Look at the quote:

"Walter Mondale chaired a commission that was for the privatization of Social Security worldwide," Gingrich said. "He chaired a commission that was for raising the retirement age dramatically. He has a strong record of voting to raise taxes. . . . think that what you'll see on the Republican side is an issue-oriented campaign that says, you know, if you want to raise your retirement age dramatically and privatize Social Security, Walter Mondale is a terrifically courageous guy to say that."

Walter Mondale DID chair a commission the was FOR the privatization of Social Security. He DID chair a commission that was FOR raising the retirement age.

No where doe the Speaker say that Mondale was for it but that the commission he chaired was for it. Shouldn't Mondale have to answer for a commision's finding that he chaired?

Best regards,
Rick Tyler
Director of Media Relations
Gingrich Communications

(Email published with author's permission.)

Now, as I told Rick when he and I exchanged emails about this, I don't find this a terribly convincing argument. Doesn't this get us into what the meaning of 'is' is territory?

The obvious intent of Gingrich's statement is to say that Mondale supports privatization. Even if the statement is technically true, as Tyler argues, it is so willfully misleading as, for my money, to constitute a deception. In fact, it almost seems worse since one might have assumed that Gingrich was just going on bad information and didn't know that Mondale had officially dissented from the privatization recommendation. But apparently not. The statement was just willfully deceptive.

I'd come up with a few analogies for how ridiculous an argument this is. But now you've heard from both sides. I'll let readers decide.

If you missed the movie-let produced for tonight's Paul Wellstone memorial you missed a lot: a montage of Wellstone's political life played over a track of Bob Dylan's Forever Young. Perhaps corny to some. To others like me, beautiful and heartbreaking. And, yes, clearly deep down I'm a lib. One doesn't fall far from the tree. (Full TPM Wellstone eulogy here.)

With one week to go, the South Dakota Senate race remains on a razor's edge TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.. The latest information TPM has received has Johnson blipping up by a point or two. But is Johnson's opponent, Congressman John Thune, trying to even the score with some last minute 'push-polls'?

Seems so.

In case you're wondering, 'push-polls' first got attention in the early 1990s and they're the specialty of your greasier sort of political tele-marketing firm. A 'push-poll' isn't really a poll, or at least it's not really an effort to gain public opinion information. It's actually a stealth form of negative advertising. So for instance, you might have a list of a few questions followed by something like: "Would you still vote for candidate X if those awful charges about his beating his wife turned out to be true?" Click ... phone hangs up.

You get the idea...

Now someone is pulling one of these stunts in South Dakota.

For a week or more there've been rumors around the state that voters were getting classic push-polls tarring Tim Johnson with responsibility for engaging in voter fraud or "rigging the election." The fraud story began to fade about a week ago, fizzling for lack of substance. But it's a close race and the Thune campaign would still like to use it against Johnson.

Push-polling is notoriously difficult to track down and prove. And the financial paper-trail, to the extent there is one, usually only comes to light long after the election is over.

Today I spoke to two South Dakota voters who received such calls.

Ann Boer lives in Lyons, South Dakota, about twenty miles northwest of Sioux Falls. (Her husband, Vern Boer (D), is a candidate for Minnehaha County Commissioner.) Recently, Mrs. Boer received a survey call. The questioner first asked a few generic questions: leaning more toward Republicans or Democrats, more likely to vote for Thune or Johnson, etc. And then he asked: "Have you heard about the investigation going on about fraud in registering voters?"

Boer said yes.

"And if it was told to you tomorrow that it was Johnson's campaign that was responsible for this [fraud] then would that change your vote?"

Here's how Boer described the rest of the call: "I said 'no' and then he said 'why?' and I said 'because I know it's not verified that his campaign is responsible for it.' And then he just kind of hurried up and quit."

"I've gotten numerous calls but I've never gotten one like that," Boer told me Tuesday afternoon. "It was like accusing someone of something that hasn't even been verified."

Then there's Kathy Gustafson.

A bit after 9:00 PM Monday night Gustafson, a graduate student and teaching assistant at South Dakota State University, got a similar call. The caller started out with the standard questions of whether Gustafson leaned more toward the Democrats or the Republicans, whether she supported the NRA, pro-life or pro-choice, etc.

Then came the zinger. "If you knew that Tim Johnson had rigged the election, would you still vote for him?"

Gustafson didn't like the sound of that question and immediately asked the caller who he was working for. He said Central Marketing of New York City. Gustafson told the caller that she would still vote for Johnson since she didn't think there was anything to the charges. She also told him "a question like that had no business on a survey."

"He thanked me for my time," Gustafson told me on Tuesday. "He did not react or respond to my response to the question ... I asked one more time for him to clarify the company to make sure I got that right. And he said 'Central Marketing, Manhattan, New York City.'" (In yet another call to a South Dakota number, a survey caller identified himself as working for Central Marketing Incorporated (CMI) of Hudson, Florida.)

On Tuesday evening, Gustafson got the same call again from Central Marketing. A lot of these calls, it would seem, are getting made.

The Thune and Johnson campaigns are both now operating under a pledge to run only positive ads through election day. Someone is simultaneously running a pretty slimy negative ad campaign over the state's telephones. One assumes it's not the Johnson campaign.

A late afternoon call to Thune spokesperson Christine Iverson, requesting comment, was not returned.

Who will stop Republicans from making their showdown at the corner of Deception Street and Ridiculousness Avenue?

Over the weekend Newt Gingrich went on the airwaves to start the knock-down of soon-to-be Minnesota Senate candidate Walter Mondale. And this makes sense, you have to admit, in a moment of grief since Newt is so smooth-tongued and sort of a comforter. In his comments he said one of the terrible things about Mondale is that "Walter Mondale chaired a commission that was for the privatization of Social Security worldwide."

Yes, we're back to the 'privatization' ridiculousness. And you'll remember this is the case where Republicans tend to support something called 'privatization' but then realized it wasn't popular so they renamed what they want as 'not privatization' and renamed the Democrats's opposition to privatization as actually being privatization. You still with me? Good.

You know, it's like how everybody used to think that Republicans were opposed to choice on abortion and that Democrats were pro-choice. Remember that? Oh, you didn't hear? You're really not up-to-date. See, Republicans are pro-choice on abortion since they favor letting state legislatures decide whether or not abortion should be legal. And Democrats, surprisingly enough, are actually anti-choice since they deny state legislatures the freedom to choose. It's amazing how confused about this we all used to be. And for so long.

So anyway, back to Walter Mondale and his support for "the privatization of Social Security worldwide."

Now when I heard this, I didn't even know what commission Gingrich was talking about. But I realized that it must be some mix of the standard Republican Social Security word games or perhaps a straight out lie, something just short of accusing Mondale of conspiring with aliens to privatize Social Security.

It turns out that Mondale did actually co-chair a commission organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies which did endorse moving "social protection schemes from pay-as-you-go to market-based financing." That was the majority report. But Mondale, the report's executive summary says, "and six co-signers also released a separate statement dissenting from the Commission's pension recommendations as they applied to Social Security in the United States." So, in other words, Mondale specifically said the opposite of what Gingrich said he said.

So Gingrich lied when he attacked Mondale for supporting Social Security privatization -- a policy which Gingrich himself, of course, supports but which he refuses to acknowledge by name.

When will the ridiculousness end?

My Republican staffer reader up on the Hill, who likes to keep me honest, writes in to say that I'm calling all the Senate races in the light most favorable to the Dems. I am pointing out Democratic opportunities. That's true. But if you look at the overall prediction I'm making -- that the Dems hold their own or pick up one seat -- that assumes that most, or at least many, of the Dem possibles don't turn into Dem actuals. My point is simply that I'm seeing a growing number of Dem opportunities and only one that looked safe veering toward vulnerability.

TPM doesn't go in much for Times-bashing, at least of the media bias variety. But when the paper prints cliches and conventional wisdom as fatuous and unsubstantiated as this ...

Since at least 1992, when Bill Clinton won the White House by, in part, appropriating traditionally Republican issues, the nation's two political parties have increasingly sounded the same notes during campaigns.

If the Republicans were left at the gate in 1992, they have surely caught up this year, blurring the lines on everything from prescription drug coverage to corporate malfeasance to the handling of Social Security.

Democrats and Republicans are lamenting the prospect of another election with low voter turnout, but in truth, they have only themselves to blame. What initially had been seen as a clever, if perhaps cynical, gambit for political advantage has ended up giving voters a choice between beige and brown.

More on this to come ...

Whatever else you can say about this election -- the quality of the campaigning or the issues debated -- you're just not going to find one to beat this one in pure nail-biting potential. Race after race for the Senate is either dead-even or within the margin of error or more than close enough for the lagging candidate to make a last minute dash across the finish line. (The best, up-to-date, methodological run-down of all the big races, that I've seen, can be found here.) Yet it's hard to miss a subtle but real shift in the Democrats' favor across the country. The third and fourth weeks out from election day did not look good at all for the Dems. But the last two weeks before election day seem to be moving in just the opposite direction. And if that's true, that's exactly when a party wants to have the wind at its back. Good months in the Spring or Summer are nothing compared to a good week or two at the end of October.

First, as TPM has been saying for sometime, the hapless Doug Forrester is really going down the tubes in New Jersey. The New York Times/CBS News poll has Frank Lautenberg up 48% to Forrester's 36% among likely voters. Among those most likely to vote, Lautenberg's lead was narrower, at 48% to 41%. That tracks fairly well with a Mason-Dixon poll released a couple days earlier which showed a 47% to 40%. Admittedly, the straight numbers here don't make this race look totally beyond Forrester's reach. But when you look at the context of the race and the trend-line -- Lautenberg's steadily expanding lead and Forrester's utter lack of issue, charisma, or demographic levers to turn the thing -- you realize that it is. He's toast. Republicans and Mickey are welcome to send in their dissenting emails here. But, believe me, he's gone.

I hesitate to even discuss the political implications of Paul Wellstone's tragic death (TPM eulogizes him here). But the conventional wisdom seems to be that if former Vice-President Walter Mondale signs on for the race (and it seems he will) he'll be very hard for the Republicans to beat. Wellstone was already opening a small, but measurable lead in that race. And the sympathy and grief factor, coupled with Mondale's elder statesman profile, may be impossible for Coleman to overcome. Who knows if this is how it'll turn out? And I'd happily lose all these races to have Wellstone back. But that's what I'm hearing.

One interesting note I hear from a few Republican sources (pure speculation, but intriguing) is that the Wellstone tragedy might actually have some spillover into the Missouri race, where it's likely to rekindle memories of Mel Carnahan's death in a very similar tragedy two years ago. Senator Jean Carnahan had apparently picked up some kind of momentum after a debate in which she, I'm told, effectively scolded Talent for questioning her patriotism. I had virtually written this race off, but the late movement may be in her direction.

The last few weeks also weren't great for South Dakota's Tim Johnson. He had opened up a very small lead but then fell back a few points as the voter fraud allegations pushed other issues off the campaign radar. Thune may still be up by a point or two. But my sense is that the campaign debate in the state is now moving back to issues which favor Johnson. It's a very hard call but I'd still say Johnson is the likely winner.

The key races I'm looking at are in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Georgia. These aren't the closest races. But they're the ones that are breaking unexpectedly in the stretch -- two trending toward the Dems and one trending toward the Republicans.

While people often say that Al Gore lost the presidency in Tennessee or West Virginia, I've always thought he really lost it in New Hampshire. Yes, it was grievous to lose his home state and the once impregnably-Democratic West Virginia. But there are a lot of reasons Democrats should have a hard time winning those states. Gore should have been able to win New Hampshire. And he very nearly did. Shaheen is benefiting from the political and demographic changes which have, over the last decade and a half, made New Hampshire into much more winnable territory for Dems. This article in today's Washington Post says it's basically dead-even and the momentum at least is with Shaheen.

The Senate really could swing several seats in either direction. But as of today I'd say the good money is on a Democratic hold, with a reasonable chance of their picking up one or perhaps -- a big perhaps -- even two seats.

Like so many others I am in a state of shock over the sudden and tragic death of Paul Wellstone. I can scarcely believe I've just written those words. For every Democrat -- probably as much for those who didn't share his politics as for those who did -- Wellstone was a special treasure: a sort of genuinely progressive, utterly engaged and sincere politician who somehow captured what was essential in the aspirations of his party, even if he supported policies that others didn't. ("I'm from the Democratic party-wing of the Democratic party," he got fond of saying in the late 1990s ...) One thinks of his vote against welfare reform in 1996, on the eve of his first run for re-election. Whatever you think of the merits of that vote -- and history has been kinder to the supporters of the bill than the opponents, on balance -- no other Senate Democrat who was up for re-election that year had the nerve to make the vote that he did -- though many of them thought the way that he did. He did something very similar this year on Iraq. And in recent days it seemed conviction was making for good politics. I can't say I knew Wellstone in any serious way. But I did have a number of conversations with him over the last few years -- particularly a couple in New Hampshire in early 2000 when he was stumping for Bill Bradley and then later at the Convention. Perhaps the most honest thing I can tell you, while my eyes are still teary over this, is the simplest: I really liked him. It's the most wooden of cliches to say in death that so-and-so was real, genuine, not scripted, just an all around great guy. But the over-use of such plaudits as filler can't bar the invocation of them when they were this true. Most successful pols are steely operators. Not a few act serious, without at all being serious, but are rather jokes and whores. Or if they're first-rate men or women they've long since gotten gated-off behind walls of flacks, caution and self-protection. Paul Wellstone just wasn't like that. From my admittedly limited experience with him, the image he projected of a down-to-earth, more-like-what-you'd-expect-from-a-driven-political-activist-than-a-United-States-Senator was entirely accurate. I remember getting hit up by him and members of his staff -- I think it was in early 2001 -- to give more attention to the truly egregious and low-incoming-screwing bankruptcy bill then moving through the Senate. He was more or less single-handedly holding the bill up and getting grief from other supposedly liberal stalwarts in the Senate for doing so. When I was more clearly ensconced in the environs of professional liberalism -- when I was the Washington Editor of the American Prospect -- I often chafed at what I perceived to be the ineffectual Ivory-Towerish purism of so much of late 20th century elite liberalism, the mix of muscle and cliche masquerading as energy and fun. And I feel that no less today. I've seen my share of the fundraisers with their endless harvesting of checks from the fancy-hatted, the useless and the corrupt. But, you know, you do what it takes to accomplish things you believe are right. For a dozen years Paul Wellstone managed to show that these trade-offs did not necessarily have to be made. At least not for him. He was irreplaceable.