Paul Waldman

Eric Cantor Shows Why We Need to Get Rid of Special House Elections

So long, suckers! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
L ike a high school senior who already has a job lined up for the fall and wonders why he should bother going to school for the last few weeks, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor apparently can't bear the thought of showing up for work for the remainder of his term after having lost his primary election. So instead of just phoning it in for a few months (or not showing up at all—who'd notice or care?), he has decided to resign his seat as of August 18th. He's asking Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe to hold a special election to coincide with the November 4th election, so his successor could take office immediately. "I want to make sure that the constituents in the 7th District will have a voice in what will be a very consequential lame-duck session," he said. Just not his voice, I guess because he wants to get a jump-start on that lobbying career. I'm not even sure how that would work—would voters cast ballots for one set of candidates to serve from November to January, and...

How Republicans Are Heightening the Contradictions

Republican inspiration Vladimir Lenin. (Wikimedia Commons)
C ongress is going on recess at the end of this week, and they'll be doing it without a bill to address the large number of Central American children showing up at the southern border—John Boehner couldn't even come up with a bill that would pass his house after Ted Cruz convinced House conservatives to oppose it. On that issue, on the Affordable Care Act, and on other issues as well, we may be seeing the rise of a particular strategy on the right—sometimes gripping part of the GOP, and sometimes all of it—that can be traced back to that noted conservative Vladimir Lenin. I speak of "heightening the contradictions," the idea that you have to intentionally make conditions even more miserable than they are, so the people rise up and cast off the illegitimate rulers and replace them with you and your allies. Then the work of building a paradise can begin. In the end, the House GOP leadership wanted a bill that contained a small amount of money to actually address the problem, made a...

Republicans Take Careful Aim At Foot, Blast Away

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
L ast week, I asked how the GOP, whom Democrats used to admire for their strategic acumen, turned into such a bunch of clowns , constantly making political blunders and undermining their long-term goals with temper tantrums. It's a question we might continue to ponder as the House went ahead and voted to sue President Obama last night for his many acts of tyranny and lawlessness. Every Democrat voted in opposition, as did a grand total of five Republicans—but they were opposed only because they wanted to stop pussyfooting around and go right to impeachment. This, truly, is a party that's ready to lead. Since this suit is unprecedented, we don't know for sure how it will be received by the courts. Many legal experts think it will be quickly dismissed on the question of standing; since the House can't show any harm they've incurred because of the President's allegedly appalling behavior, they may not have the right to bring a case against him. On the other hand, we now understand that...

Why Organizing for Action Has Struggled So Much

You can still get the t-shirt.
O rganizing for Action (OfA), the group that evolved out of the 2012 Obama campaign to continue organizing on issues of importance to liberals and has been struggling of late with layoffs and fundraising difficulty, has been having an extended disagreement with Philip Bump of the Washington Post over the organization's fundamental effectiveness, the latest installment of which is this article analyzing the group's activities and results on a range of issues. While I haven't followed every back-and-forth and I'm sure the OfA people would say Bump's article is unfair, what it comes down to is OfA saying "We're super-effective!" and Bump responding, "It doesn't look that way." I'm not going to try to adjudicate that dispute, but suffice to say that what OfA was trying to do is really, really hard, so if their results have been modest, it isn't surprising at all. In fact, I would have been shocked if they had been successful, for a bunch of reasons. To start with, they were trying to turn...

The Problem With Both "Pro-Israel" and "Anti-Israel"

Flickr/Ben Roffer
I n a typically thoughtful piece today, Jonathan Chait explains why he has "grown less pro-Israel over the last decade." I want to push back on this a bit, not because I disagree with any of the particular points Chait makes, but because of the broad framing. The idea of "pro-Israel," like its mirror "anti-Israel," is the enemy of rational thought and debate on this topic. Unless you're talking about whom you're rooting for in the Olympics, talking about who's pro-Israel and who isn't, and to what degree, almost never helps illuminate anything. This is something I brought up a few months ago, but it has a new urgency now, because this conflict is going to cause a lot of people to reevaluate how they feel about Israel. One of the interesting things about Chait's post is that he mentions an emotional connection to the country, but the specifics he brings up are all practical questions, on things like the Netanyahu government's sincerity when it says it's committed to a two-state...

Sarah Palin and Modern Political Entrepreneurialism

I f you were asking yourself, "How can I give Sarah Palin $9.95 a month, or $99.95 a year?" then you're in luck, because she has launched the Sarah Palin Channel , an online TV project with more Palin than you can shake a stick at. One's natural inclination is to just make fun of it, but let's not be too dismissive. Palin is charting a new path of political entrepreneurship, creating a lucrative model of ideological entertainment that could actually be good for everyone. You might think that anyone who would pay more than a Netflix subscription to watch Palin on their computer is a fool, but lots of us pay that much to indulge our hobbies and interests. And it'll probably be great for both Palin and the country. Many public officials turn their time in office into lucrative post-electoral careers, the most common of which is to become a lobbyist. Palin is doing much the same thing; she's just tailoring her offering to a different customer base. The former members of Congress who...

A New Phase In the Marijuana Legalization Debate

Flickr/Brett Levin
O n Sunday, the New York Times editorialized for the first time in favor of a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, and did so in dramatic fashion, with a statement on the front page of the Sunday Review section and two more pieces going into greater detail. It wasn't particularly surprising, given the generally liberal bent of the Times editorial page and the fact that support for legalization has moved firmly into the mainstream. But it's still important, because the Times remains the most influential news outlet in the country, and they have an unrivaled ability to set the agenda for the rest of the media. There is a shift going on in this debate, and it isn't just that mainstream politicians and newspapers can now support legalization. It's also that the central question of the debate has changed, and changed to what legalization advocates have been asking for a long time. Instead of asking "Is smoking marijuana good or bad?", we're now asking "Is marijuana prohibition better or...

Today's Conservative Obamacare Baloney Debunked

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File
If you were perusing the conservative twitter-sphere this morning, you would have witnessed a kind of collective orgasm, as it was discovered that back in 2012, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber gave a talk to a small group in which he seemed to support the analysis of the two judges on the D.C. Circuit who ruled this week in Halbig v. Burwell that the subsidies for buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act should go only to people who live in states that set up their own insurance exchanges. Since Gruber advised Mitt Romney on the creation of Massachusetts' health reform (which became the model for the ACA) and then advised the White House and Congress during the preparation of the ACA reform, conservatives are now convinced they have their smoking gun: The law, they contend, was always designed to deprive millions of Americans of subsidies, and was in fact never meant to achieve that "universal coverage" that everyone involved said was its goal. Up to the point where the...

How Did the GOP Turn Into Such a Bunch of Clowns?

AP Photo/Joe Marquette
(AP Photo/Joe Marquette) F or a lot of reasons, the current era will probably be seen as unusually consequential in the history of the two parties, particularly the GOP. For Republicans, it has been a time of ideological hardening and bitter infighting. But one aspect of the Republican dilemma hasn't gotten as much attention as those: This is a time of unusual, even stunning, Republican political incompetence. Let me back up for a moment, to put what I'm saying in context. As the 2012 election approached, liberals began to understand just how deluded many conservatives were about empirical reality, and in ways that could do them serious political damage. It's one thing to deny climate change (a denial that may benefit you and your allies), but if you convince yourself that you're going to win when you're actually going to lose, you're hurting no one but yourself. When they began to rally around a guy claiming to " unskew " the 2012 presidential polls that showed Barack Obama heading...

The Worst Excuse for Plagiarism You'll Ever Hear

Office of Senator John Walsh
Yesterday, the New York Times published an article with compelling evidence that Sen. John Walsh, the Montana Democrat who was appointed to fill the seat of Max Baucus when Baucus became ambassador to China, plagiarized most of the master's thesis he wrote at the Army War College. I confess I had no opinion about Walsh before this (he was likely to lose in November anyway, and hasn't done anything of note in his brief time in the Senate), but there are two things I want to point out. You can read Walsh's entire thesis at the Times , and it won't take you that long, because not including footnotes, it's all of 14 pages. And this is my first question: What the hell are the standards at the Army War College that you can write a 14-page paper and get a master's degree? Is it like that at the colleges the other services run? It might be OK if it was 14 pages of dense calculations for a degree in economics or something, but it reads like a paper written by a reasonably bright high school...

On Israel, Looking for Hope In a Sea of Bad Faith and Despair

NASA/Wikimedia Commons
I f you don't have mixed feelings about what's going on in Gaza, there's something seriously wrong with you. As Gershom Gorenberg says in his piece today, in a war, both sides can be wrong, and that's the case now. So how do we find a way to think and talk about this conflict when our natural impulse is to take a side? Complicating things even further is the fact that the people who do think that there's no ambiguity here range from the morally infantile to the unspeakably ghastly, and no matter what you say you'll find yourself on the same side as some of them, if only for a moment . On one hand you've got prominent conservatives trooping to the convention of Christians United For Israel (no fewer than five U.S. senators, plus A-list pundits like Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol), where they bow down before the group's leader, the demented pre-millenialist televangelist John Hagee, and proclaim that God smiles every time a bomb falls on Gaza. On the other you've got anti-Semites...

Health Insurance for Millions Threatened; Republicans Celebrate

If this woman looks familiar, your insurance coverage might be at risk.
When news broke this morning of the decision by a three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Halbig v. Burwell , which states that because of a part of one sentence in the Affordable Care Act that was basically a typo, millions of Americans should lose the federal subsidies that allowed them to buy health insurance, I'm pretty sure a similar scene played out all around Washington. As word spread through the offices of conservative think-tanks, advocacy groups, and members of Congress, people gathered around TVs or computer screens, quickly taking in the decision. And there were smiles, laughter, maybe even a few high-fives and fist-pumps. Not long after, a second appeals court handed down an opposite ruling on the same question. (If you feel like you don't understand the issue, the rulings, and the implications, I'd recommend Ian Millhiser's explanation .) We won't know for some time whether the Supreme Court will hear these cases and. if it does, it's hard to predict...

Are the Media Reporting the Gaza War Fairly?

From the Israeli army's twitter feed.
Are the media finally getting the Israeli-Palestinian story right? It's a difficult question to answer, particularly when it would be hard to agree on what "right" means. But it does look like we're seeing and hearing more about what's happening to Palestinian civilians than we have in previous flare-ups of this endless conflict. That's what Benjamin Wallace-Wells argues in a piece saying that Israel is losing the PR war in the American media: Earlier this month, the IDF's twitter feed had been full of images of besieged Israelis. But by this weekend Israel was so clearly losing the public relations war that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained to reporters, tersely, that Hamas uses "telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause." If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television then he should stop killing so many of them. But his complaint is in itself a concession. The story of the conflict between Israel and Palestine looks a little bit different...

Here's Why One Day You Will Probably Fall In Love With a Robot

Vincent Desailly for SoftBank
Vincent Desailly for SoftBank Aldebaran's NAO robots. The company describes its "companion" robot this way: "NAO is a 58-cm tall humanoid robot. He is small, cute and round. You can't help but love him! NAO is intended to be a friendly companion around the house. He moves, recognises you, hears you and even talks to you!" I n the mid-1960s, a computer scientist named Joseph Weizenbaum wrote a program called ELIZA , which was meant to simulate a kind of psychotherapist that essentially repeats back everything the patient says. (The patient says, "I'm feeling depressed," and the therapist responds, "You're feeling depressed? Tell me more.") To his surprise, despite the simplicity of the program, people who interacted with it ended up telling it all kinds of secrets and couldn't tear themselves away; they were so eager to be listened to that they were happy to open their hearts to a computer. The more modern versions of ELIZA (whom you can talk to here if you like) are chatbots, one of...

Chris Christie Suddenly Suffers the Unbearable Specificity of Running for President

Flickr/Bob Jagendorf
Chris Christie went to Iowa this week, bringing what reporters inevitably call his "trademark New Jersey style" to the heartland, where he could mix and mingle with the small number of Republican voters who have the power, a year and a half hence, to either elevate him or crush his White House dreams. And in the process he got an education in what running for president means. While we often describe candidates as having to "move to the right" in the primaries (or to the left for Democrats), what actually happens is often not a move to edge, but a descent from the general to the specific. And in practice, that can mean much the same thing. Here's a report from one of Christie's events: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Thursday that he backs the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling , after declining to give an opinion on the outcome of the case earlier this month. Christie voiced his support in response to a question from an attendee at a meet-and-greet event in Marion, Iowa, where...

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