Josh Marshall

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Hmmmmm ... Looks like still more confirmation of the Talking Points doctrine on the quickly diminishing prospects of the Bush tax cut bill. And now it's coming from the New York Times editorial page. It must be true.

The question now is whether anything has really changed at all or whether people just got spun by a good bluff from the Bush communications office. This isn't the first time this has happened. Think back to last November when Karl Rove had his man spend precious time in sure-lose states like California and New Jersey on the eve of what promised to be a squeaker on November 7th.

As I wrote at the time:

Coming into the campaign's final week, Karl Rove, George W.'s oily Svengali sold the governor's campaign on a pet theory of his that went like this: Not having much of a mind of their own, late-deciding voters look to see who's out front in the waning days of a campaign and cast their lots with the winner. Call it a bandwagon effect. The implication is clear: Act like the winner and you'll become the winner, and maybe even a big winner. And that's just what the Bush campaign did for the first week of November. Rove told the traveling press that the governor would win the popular vote by six or seven percentage points, and the electoral college even more comfortably. Bush coasted in and out of states like California and New Jersey, which he hadn't a prayer of winning, and kept a planeload of canny political reporters squinting their eyes and wondering whether Bush's chief strategists were magicians or morons.

They turned out not to be magicians, of course. Bush didn't win big. In fact, he didn't win at all, at least not if you're figuring the popular vote. Rove's bandwagon theory turned out to be just what it looked like: a souped up version of an old-fashioned confidence game. Only the Bush folks had conned themselves.
Something very similar happened after the election when Bush hung out in Austin for the first few days of the Florida stand-off assuming people would just agree he was president-elect if he pretended like he was.

This is the emerging MO.

Dana Milbank is such a good political reporter. Since when does he write pieces as sycophantic as this one about White House CoS Andy Card?

If Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, Lewis Libby, is so outraged about President Clinton's reference to him as a supporter of the Marc Rich pardon, then why won't he express that outrage or deny the assertion on the record?

Much as I don't want to run out into the middle of the highway with a blindfold on, I think I must on the matter of the Marc Rich pardon.

Like so many other episodes in the Clinton saga, the profound folly of the ex-president's original action is quickly buried in a heap of sanctimonious outrage and over-statement about it.

The driving story today is Bill Clinton's New York Times Op-Ed defending the Rich pardon. The column has already unleashed yet another mini-blow-up - this over the former president's statement that

the case for the pardons was reviewed and advocated not only by my former White House counsel Jack Quinn but also by three distinguished Republican attorneys: Leonard Garment, a former Nixon White House official; William Bradford Reynolds, a former high-ranking official in the Reagan Justice Department; and Lewis Libby, now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff.
Referencing Jill Abramson's article in today's New York Times, my friend Mickey Kaus, calls this an "apparent astonishing lie." And Kaus is hardly the only one saying this -- just the easiest to link to.

Well, let's start with Libby. We'll get to Len Garment ("I don't know why he did it, but I think Clinton did the right thing.") and Brad Reynolds later.

Tom Brokaw, NBC Nightly News, on January 29th : "Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, also once represented Rich and also tried to arrange a pardon for him during that time…"

On February 5th The New Yorker wrote that Libby had been one of the "most aggressive lawyers" seeking clemency for Rich and continued to work on his behalf until taking his new job at the White House.

As the New York Daily News blurbed the New Yorker story:

Mary Matalin, Cheney's communications director, said when asked about Libby's role in seeking a Rich pardon: "He was part of the team that represented Rich, but I don't think he wants to talk about the particulars of the case. We're moving forward, not looking back."
We'll talk later about the accuracy of the former president's statement. But can repeating an undisputed statement in the public record be an "astonishing lie"?

Last Friday John Fund of the Wall Street Journal Editorial page went on the Geraldo Rivera show to chat about the brouhaha surrounding the Marc Rich pardon.

At one point, in exasperation, Rivera asked Fund, "Have you apologized yet for the [false] stories about White House vandalism? Have you apologized?"

Here's the interchange that followed...

FUND: I never ran--I never ran any stories about it.

RIVERA: Have you apologized--has your newspaper apologized for the stories about...

FUND: We never--we never referenced it.

Now my understanding of this back-and-forth is that Fund first denied that he had ever written about the prank story. Then when he says "we" he's talking about his publication, the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page and it's public online incarnation So in the second run-through he's denying that the editorial page had ever played up prankgate.

So is this true? They'd didn't even mention it? Please! Not even close. How about the predictable Peggy Noonan on January 26th (Back to Normal) or Tunku Varadarajan on January 29th (No Joke)? Or do only unsigned pieces count? Well then how about this piece also from January 26th (Gary Aldrich Was Right)?

An editorial zinger to drive the point home?

Nope. I think this one speaks for itself.

Okay, Talking Points has gotten a touch earnest lately. So let's lighten it up a bit. Let's run down the official Talking Points Top Ten list of reasons why the Senate should reject Bush's nomination of Ted Olson to be Solicitor General.

So, Anton, a drum roll please ....

The Top Ten reasons the Senate should neg Solicitor General nominee Ted Olson are ...

10. Made his legal career attacking and dismantling federal environmental and anti-discrimination laws.

9. Successfully argued one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in American history.

8. Just squints too damn much.

7. Too big a buds with Kenneth Starr.

6. What would be big polluters and tobacco companies do without him?

5. Helped prep the Paula Jones legal team for their appearance before the Supreme Court.

4. One degree of separation from former federal prosecutor/Clinton-hating freak/Dan Burton crony/Hillary-bashing author Barbara Olson is just too close!

3. Spent mid-1990s organizing and overseeing multi-million dollar anti-Clinton dirty tricks campaign called the Arkansas Project.

2. Because it's the right thing to do.

1. 'Cuzz it would just feel so damn good.

P.S. This Top Ten list is so damn good won't you please give me the exact link so I can forward it to my peeps? Sure, my pleasure ... click here.

P.P.S. Hey, did I miss any? If you think so, send your reasons here. We'll post the best. (Say whether I can use your name, or no).

John McCain is getting a lot of attention these days for his aggressive efforts in support of campaign finance reform, and to a lesser extent in favor of Patients' Bill of Rights legislation. My hunch, though, is that he's going to play a key role in the upcoming debate over the mammoth Bush tax cut - though this possibility has not yet garnered much attention.

During the Republican primaries McCain campaigned against the Bush tax cut on grounds quite similar to those Democrats are now using to oppose it - objections to its size, the effect on the country's ability to pay off the national debt, and it's skew toward the wealthiest Americans.

Sources close to McCain say he's now revisiting the whole issue of the tax cut in the light of the rapidly decelerating economy. But from all the available evidence it seems to me that McCain will likely again oppose Bush's bill (possibly in a slightly updated fashion), and perhaps make the case against it even more effectively than Democrats.

McCain has good reason to oppose the Bush bill on substantive policy grounds. He's a debt hawk; he's troubled that the Bush plan might prevent increases in military spending; and his positions on health care issues are not that different from those of many Senate Democrats. But don't discount the intensity of animosity between McCain and his supporters and Bush and his. It's a mix of ideological and personal enmities that runs very deep.

And now for something totally different (or at least kinda different).

Senator McCain is often associated with a Conservative splinter-movement called National Greatness Conservatism.

Even National Greatness types admit that the movement (if you can call it that) is quite amorphous. But broadly speaking, National Greatness types see themselves in the tradition of strong-state Progressive Nationalism often associated with Teddy Roosevelt. (They're way into Teddy Roosevent.) Like McCain, one of their signature issues is campaign finance reform and they don't think the world revolves around cuts in marginal tax rates for the extremely wealthy. They are genuinely reformist and unlike almost every other kind of Conservative there are a number of things that I agree with them about.

Or, to put it in more familiar Talking Points-style language, they're unlike most other Conservatives in that they're not completely full of crap.

In any case, Marshall Wittman, one of the made-men of the National Greatness crew, has just opened up a political commentary site.

(Between you and me, it looks suspiciously like Talking Points. But, hey, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Or maybe he just copied it from Kausfiles, where I got the idea?)

In any case, if you're the typical Talking Points reader you'll probably find a lot of stuff on Wittman's site you'll disagree with. (The hokey picture of Ronald Reagan was almost enough to do it for me. But I held my hand over my left eye and tried to focus on the picture of Teddy Roosevelt -- you'll understand when you see the site.) But this sort of McCainite conservatism is the most interesting and dynamic stuff going on in the Republican party today. So I'd say it's worth taking a look. Hell, I'll even give it the official Talking Points Seal of Approval.

P.S. If you go to Wittman's site and then feel guilty about it afterwards, just tell people, "Hey, look ... I was young. I was experimenting."   Works every time.

P.P.S. I think on a number of issues McCain is actually moving further left, or further toward the Dems, than his National Greatness admirers. But we'll leave that for another post.

Don't miss the best piece written so far on the Marc Rich pardon. It's by Jacob Weisberg in Slate.

Are you suspicious about whether the Bush tax cut would really give the average family a $1600 tax cut a year?

Well, you've got good reason.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities "85 percent of families would either receive a nominal tax cut of less than $1,600 or receive no tax cut at all" and "the median, or typical, family without children would receive a tax reduction of $266."

Want more details? Check out the CBPP's new fact sheet on how much the average family would really get under the Bush plan.

Damn! Ain't it just like Reuters to pinch a story from Talking Points like two days after we broke it?


Reuters!?!?! Who's Reuters!?!?