Paul Waldman

Why Congressional Democrats Are Upset that President Obama Doesn't Hang Out With Them More

A man alone with his thoughts. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
The other day, the New York Times published a long article on President Barack Obama's miserable relationship with Congress, particularly the members of his own party. The point of the article is that Obama doesn't put much effort into building personal relationships with congressional Democrats, and as a result they're rather disgruntled with him, which could make the remainder of his presidency more difficult. It's a good example of how, in its facts, a piece of journalism can be perfectly true, even revealing, and yet be completely misleading in its implications. Ezra Klein gave it the necessary dismantling : Obama does see socializing with Hill Democrats as a chore. But there's a lot that Obama sees as a chore and commits to anyway. The presidency, for all its power, is full of drudgery; there are ambassadors to swear in and fundraisers to attend and endless briefings on issues that the briefers don't even really care about. The reason Obama doesn't put more effort into stroking...

Why the Uber Controversy Won't Convince Young Voters That the GOP Is the Cool Party

Flickr/Mike
P eriodically, conservatives latch on to some emerging cultural development and decide that this the thing that will allow them to win over young voters, providing some crack in the door through which they can shove a foot and bring their message of free markets and small government to an audience they're convinced is just waiting to hear it. Remember " South Park conservatives "? There was supposed to be a whole generation of irreverent right-wingers, turned off by the excesses of political correctness and ready to rush to the arms of the GOP. It didn't work out that way. And lately, Republicans have been over the moon for Uber. In case you aren't aware, GOP politicians have been lining up to shower the company with love. Marco Rubio is an Uber fan. Newt Gingrich is an Uber crusader. The RNC has a petition you can sign in support of Uber in its conflicts with local taxi regulations that keep the company out. Here's a recent Politico piece : Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican...

The Ferguson Police Department's Top 10 Tips For Protester Relations

Police officer in gas mask during a standoff between protesters and police Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) 1. If there's any chance that there might be violence, it's best to have your officers put on all the military gear they've got, including their body armor and camouflage outfits , because that's totally badass. Being decked out like that won't at all affect the way they think about their primary mission (to protect and serve the people of the community), and when protesters see it, they'll know that the officers are trained professionals who take their jobs seriously. 2. Park your armored personnel carriers in the middle of the street . That sight will let everyone know that you mean business, and won't in any way contribute to an atmosphere of tension. 3. When a protester approaches you with his hands up, it's best to point your rifle in his face . Round here, we call it the "Ferguson howdyado." It's a friendly way of saying, "I respect your First Amendment rights, but I'm also thinking about killing you." 4. Don't forget to position snipers with their guns...

'Leave It to the States': Admirable Moderation, Or Cowardly Cop-out?

Ah, the majesty of federalism. (Map from Wikimedia Commons)
As everyone knows, opinions on same-sex marriage have been changing rapidly, which also means that the positions of politicians have to change to keep up. Now that pretty much every Democrat running for anything is in favor of marriage equality, they're done changing. Republicans, on the other hand, are going to have to keep tweaking their stance, confronted by the almost impossible challenging of signaling their open-mindedness to general election voters while not alienating a conservative base that, for a while anyway, is still opposed to gay people getting married. So what's the answer to that problem? "Leave it to the states." Is that an admirable bit of live-and-let-live, let-a-hundred-flowers-bloom approach to governing, or is it a cowardly cop-out? It's kind of both. It wasn't too long ago that Republicans were advocating a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. But few people in the GOP mainstream say that anymore. If you want to know where...

Why the Rand Paul Phenomenon Isn't Exactly a Libertarian Triumph

©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Even if he's not a "real" libertarian, the Kentucky senator demonstrates the philosophy's core political problem. L ibertarianism is suddenly getting more attention from the mainstream media than it has in a long time, perhaps ever. And wherever you see it, there's a good chance that U.S. Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, is at least part of the focus. When the New York Times Magazine publishes a story about libertarians, it puts a picture of Paul on the cover. When veteran Washington Post reporter Dan Balz writes a story about the libertarian response to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, most of it is about Paul. Such attention isn't completely misguided (I'm doing it right now!), because Paul is a national figure who wants to be president of the United States, and that makes him important. But Paul's inescapable association with libertarianism shows the limits the philosophy faces if its adherents want to win political victories and not just intellectual...

How Chuck Todd Can Save Meet the Press

He's ready for his close-up. (Flickr/PBS NewsHour)
It's now official: Chuck Todd will be replacing David Gregory as host of the august NBC Sunday morning program Meet the Press , after a long period of declining ratings. If you're familiar with my previous criticism of the Sunday shows (see here or here ), you might imagine that I'd encourage Todd to bring more substance and an eclectic mix of guests to the program, freeing it from the endless and deathly recitations of competing talking points that characterize the genre. But no. In fact, I'd suggest that the path to success is to take everything that makes the shows so terrible, and do more of that. Meet the Press had its heyday under the late Tim Russert, who was revered as "Washington's toughest journalist." After his death in 2008 at a relatively young age, Russert was given the equivalent of a state funeral, as though he were a president and not a TV host. While his death was certainly tragic, I sometimes felt like the only person who, while he was still alive, thought Russert...

Could the Ferguson Conflict Produce Actual Reform on The Limits of Policing?

Flickr/Elvert Barnes
Every once in a while, a dramatic news story can actually produce real reform. More often the momentum peters out once the story disappears from the news (remember how Sandy Hook meant we were going to get real gun control?), but it can happen. And now, after the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missiouri, turned to a chaotic nightmare of police oppression, we may have an opportunity to examine, and hopefully reverse, a troubling policy trend of recent years. The focus has now largely turned from an old familiar story (cops kill unarmed black kid) to a relatively unfamiliar one, about the militarization of the police. The images of officers dressed up like RoboCop, driving around in armored assault vehicles, positioning snipers to aim rifles at protesters, and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at Americans standing with their hands up saying "Don't shoot!" has lots of Americans asking how things got this way. This issue offers the rarest of all things, an...

Trying to Learn From Criticism, Even When It's Misguided or Rude

This gentleman has a quibble. (Flickr/Craig Sunter)
Writing about politics for a living is a terrific job, the best I've ever had. But one of the things that comes with the territory is that because you put your work in front of the public, anyone is free to criticize that work, which sometimes includes not just saying "I disagree with you about this," but also saying, "You're scum and I hope you die." As a man I'm generally spared the rape and death threats that women writers endure, and on the whole the criticism I get doesn't bother me too much. It may not be particularly pleasant to be told you're a fool, regardless of who's doing the telling, but I developed a pretty thick skin for that kind of thing a long time ago. The question that's concerning me at the moment, though, is how one should handle a wave of criticism when you think that there might be glimmers of merit in it, even if you're convinced that 99 percent of it is crap. In the last week or so I've been on the receiving end of two such waves (mostly on Twitter), and I'm...

Why It's So Idiotic to Complain When the President Takes a Vacation

History's greatest American, attending to matters of state. (White House photo)
There are a lot of stupid ways people attack presidents from the other party, but there can't be that many as stupid as the complaint that he takes too many vacations. Since Obama is now on Martha's Vineyard, despite the fact that there are things going on in the world, the volume of these complaints has grown, like the inevitable rise of the tide. Conservatives are in full on mockery mode (did you know he plays golf!!!), and the press is getting into the act as well. For instance, the Washington Post 's Dana Milbank took on the vacation issue in a piece colorfully titled "Obama Vacations As the World Burns," explaining that "Even presidents need down time, and Obama can handle his commander-in-chief duties wherever he is. But his decision to proceed with his getaway just 36 hours after announcing the military action in Iraq risks fueling the impression that he is detached as the world burns." That pretty much sums up the problem with how the press discusses this issue. There's no...

Robin Williams and the Weight of Being Famous

Flickr/Ron Henry
As you've no doubt heard by now, Robin Williams reportedly committed suicide yesterday at his home in California. It's a horrible tragedy whenever someone's life has become so painful that they decide that death is preferable to life. I couldn't help but think of a brief interaction I had with Williams about twenty years ago, one that now seems even more poignant. It was in a small bookstore in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. I was browsing with my then-girlfriend, when I spotted Williams at the other end of the store, maybe twenty feet away. I went up to my girlfriend and whispered, "Hey, look who's over there." She turned to look, and the movement of her head must have caught his eye, because he glanced up, to find us both staring at him. At that point a look of profound sadness came over his face, and I felt horribly guilty —here he was, just trying to enjoy a moment as a human being and not a Famous Person, and we stole the moment from him by gawking. It was one of...

Enough With 'Raising Awareness' Already

Awareness: raised. (Flickr/charlie)
And now, for your morning dose of curmudgeonly griping, I ask: Can we do away with "raising awareness" already? I suppose because I don't spend as much time on Facebook as many people, I just found out today about the "ice bucket challenge," wherein you challenge people to either pour a bucket of ice over their heads or donate to charity. It apparently started among people looking to raise awareness about ALS, and of course money. Here's a bit of explanation from Think Progress : The rules are simple: Players have 24 hours to either to pour a bucket of ice cold water over their head on camera or contribute money to the charity of their choice. After they’ve made their decision, they appoint three more people to do the same. The “ice bucket challenge” has taken social media by storm and shed light on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a genetic disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Martha Stewart, Lance Bass, Matt Lauer and other notable stars have taken part in the challenge...

If Having a Foreign Policy Doctrine Is So Important, Why Won't Hillary Clinton Spell Hers Out?

Official State Department Photo
J effrey Golberg has an interview with Hillary Clinton which is being billed as a rebuke of, or maybe a distancing from, her old boss, Barack Obama. While you'll probably think that an overstatement when you read the transcript, she does express a desire for a foreign policy "doctrine" of her own, even if she doesn't actually deliver it. While there are a few unsettling things in the interview (her comments on Israel could have come from Bibi Netanyahu himself), the doctrine question is worth paying attention to. As I've argued before , President Obama doesn't have a foreign policy doctrine, and that's by design. He explicitly rejected the idea that it was necessary to have some kind of bumper-sticker-ready idea guiding all his foreign policy decisions, a single phrase or sentence that sums up everything he'd be doing in foreign affairs. Even though doctrines don't have a particularly good track record of late, in this interview, Clinton says that a doctrine is necessary (though she...

The New York Times Finally Comes Around on "Torture"

An enhanced interrogation chair from the Inquisition. (Flickr/Anguskirk)
The New York Times has finally decided, only a decade or so too late, that it will now use the word "torture" to describe the torture techniques used during the Bush years by the United States government on prisoners believed to be connected to terrorism. While we should certainly be glad that they've finally come around, the statement by Executive Editor Dean Baquet explaining their decision shows just how wrongheaded the editors' thinking this issue has been all along. You should read the whole thing (it's pretty brief), but here are some particularly troubling parts: When the first revelations emerged a decade ago, the situation was murky. The details about what the Central Intelligence Agency did in its interrogation rooms were vague. The word "torture" had a specialized legal meaning as well as a plain-English one. While the methods set off a national debate, the Justice Department insisted that the techniques did not rise to the legal definition of "torture." The Times described...

The Inevitability of Republican Reactions

This is never going to be Barack Obama and John Boehner. It just isn't. (Flickr/RayMorris1)
Ron Fournier of the National Journal has become (to liberal bloggers anyway) the embodiment of multiple sins of the Washington press corps. Most notably, there's the High Broderism, in which the blame for every problem is apportioned in precisely equal measure to both parties, and the embrace of the Green Lantern theory of the presidency , in which anything can be accomplished, including winning over a recalcitrant opposition, by a simple act of will from the Oval Office. The latter's most comical manifestation is Fournier's frequent pleas for President Obama to "lead," with the content of said "leadership" almost always left undetailed (though one suspects it might involve giving a great speech, after which Republicans would decide to come together with Democrats to solve the nation's problems). Though lately I've been trying to limit my pundit-bashing to once or twice a month, I couldn't overlook this passage in Fournier's latest column expressing his dismay that Obama might take...

What Is the 2016 GOP Primary Going to be About?

This guy is ready to throw down. (CC photo by Ed Schipul)
Consider this disturbing possibility: Rick Perry, who in 2012 was the gun-totin'-est, God-fearin'-est candidate in the bunch, might be the most sober, responsible Republican candidate in 2016. As you can tell by his bold new specs, Perry is reinventing himself as he prepares for another run at the presidency in 2016, a reinvention Michelle Cottle documents in this long article (with particular attention paid to those glasses). The "new" Perry thinks social issues are a distraction, says he can reach across the aisle, and wants to focus on his executive experience and economic record. Whatever else you might say about Perry, it at least appears that he's thinking this whole thing through and has some idea of what his next candidacy will be about. Which leads me to the question in the title of this post: What is the GOP primary as a whole going to be about? The easy answer is that it'll be a "battle for the soul of the Republican party," a phrase I'm guessing we'll hear about a zillion...

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