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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Josh Marshall: Now I Say It, Now I Don't

Josh Marshall recently received media acclaim for breaking the "Trent Lott wishes he was in the land of cotton" story. Like a gambler deciding to let his winnings ride on the same lucky number, Marshall now breaks the news on soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist: he has engaged in race-baiting:

"[Jim Sasser is] sending Tennessee money to Washington, to Marion Barry ... While I've been transplanting lungs and hearts to heal Tennesseans, Jim Sasser has been transplanting Tennesseans' wallets to Washington, home of Marion Barry." ... Bill Frist, 1994 campaign stump speech. Marion Barry was one of the worst things that ever happened to Washington, DC. No doubt about it. What he had to do with a Senate race in Tennessee isn't so clear.

Well, this is pretty weak tea, as even Marshall recognizes. But, he was first from the post, so if a landslide develops against Frist his reputation as the go-to guy on Racist Republicans is secure. But is this a reputation Marshall wants, especially with an offering this weakly partisan? Later in the day, this posts suggests he has had second thoughts:

Earlier today I posted a line from Bill Frist's 1994 stump speech...

Now I gave a lot of thought to whether I should post that or not. Marion Barry, as I said in the post, was a rotten mayor. Corrupt, drug-using, the list goes on and on. And one can't get into a situation where one can never criticize a black politician for fear of being tarred as using a racial code word. But look at the line and tell me what on earth this had to do with a Senate race in Tennessee. I think the answer is obvious: nothing.

Now, I don't think Bill Frist is a racist. Nor do I hope or expect he'll end up like Trent Lott. One reader -- flopping around like a fish-out-of-water making the case for Frist -- sent me this link about how Frist goes to Sudan to operate on African children. So how could he hate black people? How could he be a racist?

This misses the point. I doubt Frist is a racist. But this almost makes the point more clearly. Even some of best Southern Republicans seem incapable of resisting the temptation to dabble in racial code words and appeals on the stump....

Well, then, maybe Frist is not a racist. Maybe he just dabbles in code words. Either way, Marshall's claim to this story is secured.

UPDATE: Ouch! Kaus debunks Marshall:

Does Marshall know that in the early '90s Sasser was chair of the Senate subcommittee in charge of the District of Columbia -- at a time when Congress exercised considerable control over the District's budget (and when federal taxpayers picked up the tab for a large chunk of that budget)? For at least part of that period, Marion Barry was D.C. mayor -- and nobody would call the bureaucracy tolerated by Barry and Congress lean and mean. (Barry's successor had to stage a round of layoffs immediately on taking office.) When Barry made his comeback after his drug conviction -- successfully winning election in 1994-- he boasted of his ability to get funds for the District:

I know Congressman Pete Stark, I know Senator Sasser, Senator Cohen and others in the Congress who control our budget. [Emphasis added.]

Josh Marshall Enters The Time Machine

In this fascinating post discussing his views on race in American politics, Marshall offers an anology between Republicans who are, or benefit from, racists, and Democats who are, or benefit from, corrupt political machines:

The closest analogue I can think of is to the Democratic party in the early and middle 20th century and their dominance of many of the corrupt party machines in the big cities of the North and Midwest.

A few readers have told me that my thinking on this is all wet because racism or racialist thinking just isn't part of conservative 'thought'. But whether this is true or not is irrelevant. This is about getting votes, not 'thought'. Ballot-box-stuffing wasn't part of Democratic 'thought' either in, say, the thirties. Many Dems found it abhorent. And most didn't practice it. But the party as whole benefited from it when it happened in Chicago because it kept Democratic congressmen or senators in Washington. (Needless to say, Republicans controlled corrupt machines too; just not as many. And election fraud never had anywhere the impact of the Republican absorption of Southern Dixiecrats.)

So just as we might say with the Democrats of 70 or 80 years ago, the issue isn't one of 'thought' or whether the whole party is 'corrupt' or 'racist'. These are false questions, either imprecisely posed or meant to obfuscate.

OK, emphasis added. John Kennedy's controversial election over Richard Nixon occurred in 1960, which is forty-two years ago. "Mid-twentieth century" is accurate, but the other time frames presented by Marshall are not. And of course, the Daley machine coughed up a Presidency for the Democrats, not a "congressmen or senator" as described by Marshall. Whether this is partisan spin or self-delusion on Marshall's part, I cannot say.

However, we do not need to go back forty two years to find problems with Marshall's post. Stay tuned....

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