Just One Minute
Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Monday, December 23, 2002

Marshall vs. Kaus

Or, trust your instincts. Was it partisan ambition that prompted Marshall to post the story of Frist invoking Marion Barry during Frist's campaign in 1994? Later he seems to wonder about his own judgement.

Kaus responds:

Marshall doesn't see "what on earth this had to do with a Senate race in Tennessee." He concludes "the answer is obvious: nothing" and thus accuses Frist of dabbling in "racial code words and appeals." 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.]

Maybe there's a record somewhere of Sasser denouncing Barry during his tenure -- but I haven't found it.

Back to Marshall for a rebuttal:

To this I would say, yes, I know that. But does Mickey remember that Sharon Pratt Kelly won election as Mayor of Washington, D.C. in November 1990 and didn't leave office until early 1995 -- a couple months after Frist won election.

(Click here for more details.)

Barry was mayor of DC from 1978 to 1990 and then again from 1994 to 1998. In other words, the four years prior to Frist's campaign were the only four years out of twenty when Barry wasn't mayor of DC.

Wow. Josh Marshall is scraping what we hope is the bottom of the barrel. Marion Barry was back on the city council in 1992 and re-elected mayor in November 1994 - the same election campaign in which Frist connected Barry to Sasser, and the same election campaign in which, according to Kaus, Barry said:

"I know Congressman Pete Stark, I know Senator Sasser, Senator Cohen and others in the Congress who control our budget."

I wonder if Marshall knew that, too.

UPDATE: A Dark Force correspondent noted this in Marshall's post:

"One reader -- flopping around like a fish-out-of-water making the case for Frist -- "

He thanks Marshall for illustrating the fish-flopping concept.

UPDATE 2: An interesting alternative view. A reader admits that Marshall may have been a bit light in his presentation of the situation, but wonders about Kaus and Frist as well. Paraphrasing boldly, the argument runs: "Marion Barry as a legitimate symbol of corruption and fraud, with his race as some sort of "bonus"? How about a bit of leadership from Frist - take the high road, or, when in doubt, leave it out. If Frist is straining for a symbol of failed Washington administrative policies, the words "fraud" and "corruption" are available. Also "waste". If mentioning Barry might be mistaken for race-baiting, don't do it. Save us all an annoying defense."

Well, good point. It is a high standard, and I am not admitting that Frist engaged in race-baiting, but yes - a better road was available, and Frist could have walked it.

THE FINAL UPDATE: Now, back to the question of whether Marshall engaged in responsible reporting when he first peddled this story without mentioning the Sasser-Barry link. "I knew that", says Marshall. Then why hide it? Here he has yet another post, with yet another explanation:

The best evidence here is Frist's own defense of his use of Barry at the time. When Sam Donaldson asked him what Barry had to do with a Senate campaign in Tennessee, Frist said: "Not very much, but Marion Barry symbolizes a lot about what people think about politics today."

Mickey's retroactive excuses had never even occurred to Frist. Or if they had, he knew they wouldn't pass the laugh test under actual questioning.

Marshall knows this based on press accounts? Interviews with Frist and his campaign people? Or is this just psychic journalism?

Back in 1994, Frist was a political novice in his first campaign. He had been briefed on everything from the Middle East to the Far East, and a thousand points of light in between. Maybe he simply forgot.

But evidently Marshall dismisses the link as "wouldn't pass the laugh test". Or does he? Later we see:

"But Frist couldn't even seem to come up with what his legitimate political issue was.

Emphasis added, leaving us with one "laugh test" and one "legitimate". Any tie-breakers?

Barry proved a convenient way to marry together the legitimate, if extremely obscure, issue of the subsidy the federal government rightly pays the District of Columbia -- bear in mind that Tennessee is one of those states that receives back more in programs and subsidies than it sends to the federal government in taxes -- and an appeal to unflattering views of blacks.

Hmm. So in Marshall's view, the link seems to be legitimate. Just not legitimate enough to actually report. Whatever.

Next, subtle transition: This latest post opens with an odd attack on Mickey Kaus. Why, Marshalll wonders, is Kaus defending Frist?

...to me it looks like another distressing case of Mickey's BOBL -- bend-over-backwards-liberalism, the curious but telling desire on the part of the afflicted to turn over every stone and spare no effort to find excuses for or rationalize the behavior of the right. One can certainly find better examples of it in recent weeks. But this one definitely fits the symptomatology.

First, I want a Mickey Kaus "BOBL-Head" doll of my very own. What a great gift idea! And Josh needs a new one too - it sounds like the one he has only nods to the right.

Secondly, the NY Times gives as its source for this Frist anecdote the former campaign manager for Frist's opponent. I will cautiously characterize this fellow as a partisan Democratic operative, pending further research.

So, Marshall's musing about Kaus seems to distill to the following wisdom: if an attack on a Republican comes from a partisan Dem, take it to the bank. But if conservatives, or Kaus, rise to the Republican's defense, well, watch out - a person who would defend Frist today will be defending Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats tomorrow, and by next week will be pounding the table on behalf of Ghengis Khan and whatever he did to make people so memorably annoyed.

Well. This should make for a one-sided national debate on race. And everything else. Perhaps that's just the way Marshall likes it. Saves him all this troublesome research, and fact-checking, and rebuttals.

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