Josh Marshall Had It Right

Josh MarshallI seldom surf Talking Points Memo, but in general like what I see. And Josh Marshall, the founder, is a smart guy and in general I like what I hear from him on the teevee. In researching a new post, I came across two posts of his from one week in August 2003 that are dead on. Not just good analysis of the current situation, but of future trends in one post in particular. From August 23, just five months after the invasion of Iraq:
[Bush43] said something to this effect: We're in a war on terrorism. When the civilized world expands democracy it's a challenge to the terrorists' totalitarian vision. And so they strike back with increasing terror. They're hoping the civilized world will flinch. But we're not going to flinch, and so forth.

I understand what the president's saying. I recognize a general truth in it.

But the generality, vagueness and abstraction is the problem. They are becoming the engines of policy incoherence and the cover for domestic bad-actors who want to get this country into fights few Americans signed up for.
Just as vague and abstract language makes for bad prose, it is also the handmaiden of bad policy and the abettor of buck-passing.
[T]he White House is being run by men and women who've already made a lot of really stupid mistakes that are going to cost a lot of American lives, money and credibility. And now they're trying to hide from accountability in their own idiot abstractions.
And this was when the insurgency was a small fraction of what it would become. Great work, man. Two days later, this post is closer to current analysis, but still prescient.
Howard Dean is now by many measures the front-runner in the Democratic primary campaign. Though he lags in the national polls, he's at least in the hunt in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He's raising money at a faster clip than any of the other candidates. And he's clearly generated the most excitement.

But Dean is an insurgent candidate, often campaigning explicitly against Washington and the party establishment. By many measures he's campaigning to various left-leaning elements in the Democratic party base -- notwithstanding his previous record as a fairly centrist governor of Vermont. I say this all not with any judgment attached, just as a description of the developments in the race, as nearly I can ascertain them.

Now, by the normal laws of political gravitation, Dean's sustained surge should have forced a coalescence around one of the several more-centrist-minded establishment candidates -- Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman. With Dean catching fire, those who aren't comfortable with his candidacy should be getting behind one candidate in order to beat him. But that clearly has not happened.

In some ways this is a more striking development than Dean's rise itself.

Now, why hasn't that coalescence taken place? I think the answer is elementary. None of the current candidates has passed the audition for the job. Lieberman's campaign is generally believed to be moribund (and I like the guy). Edwards has gone absolutely nowhere. Gephardt has bet everything on getting the support of organized labor. But if he gets it, it'll basically be a mercy ... well, I don't want to be off-color. But, you know what I mean. Kerry is basically the establishment front-runner at the moment. But it's an extremely anemic frontrunnerdom. He's basically the front-runner by default because all the other potential frontrunners who haven't caught fire are doing even worse than he is.


Steve Nance said...

An interesting look back at the thinking of the time. Of course, evidence later surfaced that the GOP, fearing an Edwards candidacy, deliberately focused their attacks on the much weaker Kerry, provoking the Dem machinery to rally to his defense and amplify his default-frontrunner status.

Might have been a similar dynamic with Dean -- the weirdly disproportionate media smackdown over his hoot-n-holler moment on primary night in Iowa seems to indicate that some pretty powerful faction(s) had it in for him.

Norwegian Shooter said...

Not sure I agree. I'd like to see the evidence on Edwards. As for Dean, I don't think there is anything nefarious about his smack down. Bob Graham got drummed out of the primaries for obsessive note taking. Can you imagine a better thing to be obsessive about?