Paul Waldman

The White House Press Corps Is as Mad as Hell: A Reprise

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo Circumventing the Press 101 When Stephen Colbert gave the keynote address at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, he suggested to President Bush that he ought to hire him. "I think I would have made a fabulous press secretary," Colbert said, looking out at the assembled reporters. "I have nothing but contempt for these people." These days, a lot of people think the Obama administration is even more hostile to reporters and what they do than that of his predecessor. When it comes to the relationship between the White House and the men and women assigned to cover it, there are a few things that have been true in every recent administration. The new president takes office promising to be open, candid, and accessible. Not far into his tenure, he grows terribly frustrated with the media, believing they are too focused on trivia, too quick to assume the worst and focus on his missteps, and uninterested in his accomplishments. His staff works hard to find ways to get its...

Conservatives Struggle with Mandela Tributes

Nelson Mandela in 1937 (Wikimedia Commons)
If you've been perusing conservative websites, Facebook pages, and the like since Nelson Mandela's death was announced, you would have seen two things: some kind of tribute to Mandela, and a series of comments following that tribute denouncing Mandela as a communist, a terrorist, or worse, and expressing all kinds of vile racist sentiment. It's happening not just at magazines and blogs, but to politicians as well, who are getting denounced by some small minority of their supporters for praising Mandela. That's not their fault; no one is completely responsible for their fans, after all. And as I've read through a few of these threads I've also seen some people pushing back against the racist comments. Even if, say, the National Review was for many years a fierce defender of white supremacy in both South Africa and the United States, if nothing else they're doing their best to claim that they were on the side of the angels all along, which is better than nothing. But I'm wondering about...

Presidential Primaries and Ideological Satisficing

I'm pretty sure she's a Democrat. (Flickr/Philip Marley)
Today I have a piece in Politico Magazine under the grabby but somewhat misleading headline "Left Turn = Dead End?" (So you know, for better or worse, writers don't usually write their own headlines.) My main point is that while economic populism is always good politics for Democrats, it isn't enough to just stake out the leftmost position (on economics or anything else) and hope that can win you the Democratic presidential nomination, just as it isn't enough to be the most conservative candidate in a Republican primary. There will indeed be an ideological debate within the Democratic party in advance of the next presidential election, which is a good thing. As they approach the end of the Obama years, Democrats are going to have to hash out who they are, what they believe, and where they want to go. But the reason being the most liberal candidate is insufficient is that primary voters aren't ideological maximizers, they're ideological satisficers. Satisficing is a term originated in...

Over-Interpreting Mundane Poll Results

So disillusioned he's just going to lie here until dinner. (Flickr/Corey Thrace)
Have the young turned on Barack Obama? That's the assertion coming out of a poll from Harvard's Institute of Politics, reported in the National Journal with the breathless headline, "Millenials Abandon Obama and Obamacare." "The results blow a gaping hole in the belief among many Democrats that Obama's two elections signaled a durable grip on the youth vote," writes Ron Fournier. In the poll, approval of the President among those 18-29 has fallen to 41 percent. Sounds terrible. But wait—what's his approval among all voters these days? About 41 percent . So is it possible we don't need a special, youth-oriented explanation of the latest movement in the polls? When there's a change in public opinion, it's tempting to pick out different demographic groups and impose on each of them some unique interpretation of what's happening. Here's what the poll's director told Garance Franke-Ruta: "People are disappointed because they are passionate," Della Volpe said. "They're passionate about...

On Inequality, Obama's Words Aren't Enough

President Obama speaking Wednesday on inequality.
There are times, like the speech Barack Obama gave yesterday on economic inequality, when he reminds liberals of what we found so appealing about him. The address can stand among the most progressive statements of his presidency. Not for the first time, Obama declared inequality "the defining challenge of our time," and articulated an eloquent case, based in American history and values, for the damage it does and why we need to confront it. So why was I left feeling less than enthusiastic? Because over the last five years, Obama has succeeded in doing so little to address the problem. "Making sure our economy works for every American," he said, is "why I ran for president. It was the center of last year's campaign. It drives everything I do in this office." If that's true, then his presidency hasn't been particularly successful. Now granted, it's not as though he hasn't been awfully busy. And he still has some notable achievements in this area, none greater than the Affordable Care...

With God on His Side

Does my opponent own a bible? Will he shake it at you thusly? I think not.
Mark Pryor has a problem. A Democratic senator in a state Barack Obama lost by 24 points, in a region where party identification is an increasingly rigid tribal marker, Pryor needs to get voters to look beyond the D next to his name if he's going to win re-election next year. So how does he do it? By appealing to an even higher tribal identification. Forget politics, he all but says in his new ad—all you need to know about me is that I'm right with the Lord. Take a look: The ad's first line is, "I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God and I believe in his Word." In America in general, and in Arkansas in particular, saying "I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God" is sort of like saying, "I'm not ashamed to say that I love my children." Such courage! But of course, these days the fantasy of persecution is de rigeur among evangelicals, what with the War on Christmas raging, so it makes good political sense for Pryor to tell voters that like them, he feels the sting of...

We Wrote a Heartbreaking and Terrifying Post about Viral Content without Lists or GIFs. Then You Clicked on It, and Magic Happened.

They had the formula down, and that was 40 years ago.
As long as people have been publishing, they've been trying to figure out what will make large numbers of people burn with a desire to read the things they're publishing. Like much of the study of human psychology, what we don't yet understand far outweighs what we do understand. But now, with the rise of social media, the search for the perfect formula to make people say both "I have to read that" and then "I have to encourage as many people as I can to also read that" has become an outright frenzy. Don't worry, this isn't some pretentious "Thus did America descend into the quicksand of triviality, never to return" pronouncement. I'll confess that I watch the number of tweets and Facebook likes all of my posts and articles get, and if a post takes off, I'm pleased. After all, writers want their work to be read by as many people as possible. We do a lot of serious journalism and analysis here at the Prospect, and we understand that much of it will never go viral, but we're no more...

CNN Losing Interest in News

Flickr/Gregor Smith
CNN has been having problems for some time, with anemic ratings and something of an identity crisis. In a world where people can get news of the moment from a million places, just what is the network that pioneered cable news for ? Not that the network doesn't still make plenty of money (it does), but unlike Fox and MSNBC, CNN hasn't seemed to have been able to figure out what its model is. In an interview with Capital New York, CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who has been on the job less than a year, said what the network needs is "more shows and less newscasts," in order to grab "viewers who are watching places like Discovery and History and Nat Geo and A&E." It all adds up to "an attitude and a take." As easy as this is to mock, I think they should go for it. Because really, would our democracy suffer if, say, we only got one hour a day of Wolf Blitzer's vaguely befuddled "take" on the news instead of the current two hours? Let's take a look at the current CNN schedule . After the...

$2,229.11 for Three Stitches? Behold the Wonder of the Free Market.

Eight stitches? That'll be $4,000. (Flickr/Sarah Korf)
Twenty years ago I had my first knee surgery, after tearing some cartilage while skying for a thunderous dunk on the basketball court (or it might have been just falling backward while getting faked out on defense—who remembers the details?). Although I had insurance, I was responsible for a substantial copay, and I vividly recall the one item that stood out among the dozens on the bill. For the two steri-strips that covered an incision—tiny pieces of tape that even today cost about 20 cents retail, and which hospitals buy in bulk so surely cost them just a couple of pennies—I and my insurance company were charged $11, or $5.50 per strip. A miniscule amount in a five-figure bill, but it struck me as the most absurd, since it represented a markup of approximately 10,000 percent, if not more. More recently, I was getting some physical therapy for the same knee, and in what turned out to be a session that wasn't covered by my insurance, a therapist put a piece of kinesio tape around my...

Plan for Robotification of Everything Proceeding Apace

In the late 19th century, major American cities began installing networks of underground pneumatic tubes between post offices, enabling them to whisk hundreds of letters back and forth at speeds up to 35 miles per hour, with the satisfying thurp sound as an added bonus. Most of the systems were dismantled in the 1920s, but somehow New York's managed to stay in use until the 50's ( here's a description of this odd bit of postal history). Sadly, the dream of universal pneumatic tube delivery to the home was never achieved. But in a 14-minute ad for Amazon that was cleverly staged as a report on 60 Minutes ("If you can do this with all these products, what else can you do?" gushed Charlie Rose on the floor of a fulfilment center. "You guys can organize the world!"), the company revealed the future of package delivery: drones. It isn't as though they're the first ones to have thought of this; people have been making jokes about things like pizza-delivery drones for a few years now. But as...

The Death Panels Are Coming

Now that Healthcare.gov seems to be working reasonably well (at least on the consumer end), Republicans are going to have to find something else they can focus on in their endless war against the Affordable Care Act. So get ready for the return of "death panels." They never really went away. Those who aren't immersed in the fantasy world in which conservatives move were reminded of that last week, when chronicler of changed games Mark Halperin, the embodiment of most everything that's wrong with contemporary political journalism, did an interview with the conservative news organization Newsmax . When the interviewer mentioned "death panels, which will be coming," Halperin responded, "I agree, it's going to be a huge issue, and that's something else about which the President was not fully forthcoming and straightforward." Halperin didn't explain what lie he imagines Obama told about death panels (perhaps he thinks that when Obama said the government wouldn't declare your grandmother...

The Media Need to Do More to Help People Navigate Obamacare

Thanks, Fox Business Channel!
Yesterday, Tim Noah made a point in an MSNBC appearance that I think deserves a lot more attention. Media outlets have been doing lots of reporting on the problems of the Affordable Care Act rollout. What they haven't done is provided their audiences with practical information that could help them navigate the new system. Of course, most Americans don't have to do anything, since they have employer-provided insurance. But for all the attention we've been paying to the individual market, media outlets haven't done much to be of service. " The New York Times has published the URL for the New York exchange exactly twice," Noah said, "both before October first." My experience in talking to journalists about the publication of this kind of thing—unsexy yet useful information, whether it's how to navigate a new health law or understanding where candidates stand on issues—is that they often think that addressing it once is enough. When you ask them about it, they'll say, "We did a piece on...

Are the Obamacare Clouds Breaking?

Flickr/Sean MacEntee
This morning, I was listening to NPR—because yeah, I'm an effete pointy-headed liberal and that's how I roll—and I heard a story about people in California who got insurance cancellation notices, but then wound up getting better coverage and couldn't be happier about it. And the other day there was this story in The Washington Post about droves of poor people in rural Kentucky getting insurance for the first time in their lives—free, through Medicaid—because of the Affordable Care Act. In other words, after spending weeks telling the tales of people losing their health coverage (who in truth could get other health coverage), the media are finally putting at least some attention on the people who are benefiting from the ACA. And encouraging news seems to be breaking out all over. Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas ask , "Is Obamacare Turning the Corner?", noting that Healthcare.gov seems to be working pretty well, at least on the front end. States with well-functioning web sites like New York...

Neocons Fail Negotiation 101 Yet Again

On the other hand, we could just listen to this guy's not-at-all-oversimplified argument. (AP photo by Seth Wenig)
If you want to know how the neoconservatives who brought us the Iraq War are reacting to the interim deal to freeze Iran's nuclear program, the best way is to head over to the website of the Weekly Standard , where you can witness their wailing chagrin that the Obama administration doesn't share their hunger for yet another Middle East war. All five of the featured articles on the site concern Iran, including editor Bill Kristol's "No Deal" (illustrated with twinned photos of Bibi Netanyahu and Abraham Lincoln, believe it or not), one titled "Don't Trust, Can't Verify," and "Abject Surrender By the United States" by the always measured John Bolton. These people would be simply ridiculous if they didn't already have so much blood on their hands from Iraq, and the idea that anyone would listen to them after what happened a decade ago tells you a lot about how Washington operates. But there is something important to understand in the arguments conservatives are making about Iran. Their...

No, the Failure of Obamacare Would Not Lead to Single-Payer

Flickr/Public Citizen
More than a few conservatives are of the opinion that should the Affordable Care Act fail to achieve its goals, it would make the adoption of single-payer health insurance in the United States more likely. The reasonable ones who believe this argue that their side hasn't done enough to come up with ideas to address the very real problems in the health-care system, so if the ACA doesn't work, they don't have much to offer in response. If the question is, "Well now what?" and their response is, "How about making it impossible for you to sue your doctor if he cuts off the wrong leg? And can I interest you in a health savings account?", the American public may well turn to the big-government solution instead. I've spoken to conservatives who think that scenario is a real possibility. Carnival barkers like Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, are telling the rank and file that the rocky rollout of the ACA was all part of the secret plan: things would go wrong, and then the socialist in the...

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