Paul Waldman

The Scourge of the Businessman Politician

This highly successful businessman did not, in fact, become president.

Attentive readers will recall that among my many pet peeves (and being able to complain to a wide circle of people about your pet peeves is one of blogging's greatest fringe benefits) is the candidate who proclaims that you should vote for him because he's "a businessman, not a politician." As though the fact that there are a lot of shady car mechanics out there means that when you need a new timing belt, the best person for the job would be a florist or an astronomer, because they're not tainted by the car repair racket.

I've written at some length about why exactly success in business doesn't prepare you to be a good senator or governor, but the short version is that the two realms are extremely different. So it isn't too surprising that when businesspeople decide to run for office, most of the time they fail. They come in with a lot of money, flush it down the toilet on an overly expensive campaign, and quickly discover that there is a whole set of skills necessary for success that they don't possess. When you try to think of business leaders who got elected, then used their business acumen to do things differently and really made a major impact, it's hard to think of many names other than Michael Bloomberg. Here and there you'll find someone like former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen who did pretty well, but more common is candidates like Ross Perots, or Meg Whitman, or Linda McMahon, or Al Checci (there's a blast from the past for you political junkies). They think, "Sure I can do this better than those empty suits—I've made a billion dollars!" And then they lose.

Not every time, of course, but most of the time. Which is why Democrats should be pleased to hear this:

In Shocker, GOP Proposes Cutting Taxes For the Wealthy

Perhaps the world's only caricature of Dave Camp, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. (Flickr/Donkey Hotey)

For some time, I've been saying, perhaps naively, that we ought to have a real debate about tax reform, and maybe actually accompish something. Sure, Democrats and Republicans have different goals when it comes to this issue—Democrats would like to see the elimination of loopholes and greater revenue, while Republicans want to reduce taxes on the wealthy—but there may be a few things they could agree on somewhere in there. You never know.

So today, Rep. Dave Camp, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, is releasing the latest incarnation of Republican tax reform. And it's...exactly what you'd expect. Unfortunately.

The Size of the Army Tells You Almost Nothing About Our Military Strength

Click inside for the full size-graph. You know you want it.

If you were watching the news in the last 24 hours, you undoubtedly saw a story about the new proposal from the Defense Department to make some personnel cuts. And if you saw one of those stories, you almost certainly saw the same factoid, whether you were reading the New York Times, watching the ABC News listening to NPR, or hearing about it via carrier pigeon: the Army is going to be reduced to its smallest size since World War II!

Conor Friedersdorf does a good job of explaining why this is bunk, the main reason being that before World War II there was no Air Force; the people who did the flying and bombing were part of the Army. When you account for the 325,000 uniformed Air Force personnel of today, the Army looks much bigger than it did in 1940. But the weirdest part of this discussion is the idea that American military strength can be measured by the number of people in one service branch, or even in all the branches.

If that were the case, the world's strongest military would be China's, followed by India's, with the U.S. coming in third. We'd be only slightly stronger than North Korea. Have you heard anyone warning that we're weaker militarily than India? Of course not. "But Paul," you're saying, "Can't we see this in a graph?" Happy to oblige:

No Credit For Trying

A few years back, when George W. Bush was still president, I attended an event at the Pew Research Center, and at one point a discussion got going about the varying opinions of Democrats and Republicans about whether their respective parties stood up for their beliefs. At the time, far more Republicans than Democrats answered this question in the affirmative, and people had a variety of explanations for the result. Perhaps it was the fact that Republicans tend to be more respectful of authority, or perhaps the greater ideological and demographic diversity within the Democratic coalition had something to do with it. Feeling rather clever, I raised my hand, and said, "Maybe it's because they're both right." At the time, Republicans did indeed stand up for their beliefs, and Democrats didn't so much. After all, this was a period in which Republicans were getting pretty much everything they wanted from their president and their national party—tax cuts! Wars! Right-wing Supreme Court justices!—while Democrats were getting beaten about the head and shoulders, and responding by saying, "We're so sorry we hit your fists with our faces."

The Fatal Flaw in the Right's Latest Case Against Marriage Equality

Parents at a gay pride parade imparting dangerous values to their children. (Flickr/Caitlin Childs)

A trial starts tomorrow in federal court about whether Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional, and as the New York Times explained over the weekend, it will offer an interesting test of the best research conservatives could come up with to support their contention that gay families are bad for children. When we take a close look at what they'll put on the stand, it shows something that I think applies to a lot of areas of the conservative movement these days: when they try to play seriously on the field of ideas, what they come up with is, frankly, pathetic.

After years of watching researchers fail to find any ill effects of children being brought up by gay people, conservatives felt like they had to do something, and here's what they did:

Platinum-Level Citizenship

AP Images/Robert F. Bukaty

Ask a conservative Christian about the President of the United States, and you're likely to hear that Barack Obama has been waging a "war on religion" since pretty much the moment he took office in 2009. As laughable as the assertion may be, there's little doubt that many have come to believe it, spurred on of course by opportunistic politicians and right-wing talk show hosts whose stock in trade is the creation of fear and resentment. In response, those conservative Christians have mounted a little war of their own, fought in the courts and state legislatures. The enemies include not just the Obama administration but gay people, women who want control of their own bodies, and an evolving modern morality that has left them behind.

Political Consultants Have Never Been Richer, But Are They Endangered?

Richard Gere in Sidney Lumet's "Power" (1986), the best film ever made about a political consultant.

These are flush times for the political consulting industry, as Citizens United allowed billions of new dollars to pour into every political campaign, with spending seemingly going nowhere but up. In a lot of cases, you'll have campaigns spending millions, while outside groups on both sides come in and spend millions more. In the end, they often all fight to a draw, their efforts cancelling each other out, with the final result being pretty much what it would have been if there had been almost no spending at all. And who really wins? The consultants, of course. So how long can they keep this game going?

Lee Aitken of the Shorenstein Center has a new report urging journalists to pay more attention to where all this money is really going, and she highlights one remarkable figure. There was $6 billion spent on campaigns in 2012, but that's only part of the story:

Rand Paul Plays Ted Nugent Like a Fender Stratocaster

Flickr/David Defoe

Rand Paul continues to win my admiration, I have to say. There are people who come into the Senate with a kind of celebrity status and get lots of good press—one Barack Obama comes to mind—but I can't think of anyone who has gotten so much good press through their own initiative, coming up with one clever way after another to get people to pay attention to them in ways that are almost always positive. His latest move required a subtle ideological tightrope-walk, one that Paul played perfectly. And all it took was a tweet.

John McCain Says Ignorant, Belligerent Things; Press Swoons

Protesters in Kiev, a place John McCain knows as little about as everyplace else. (Flickr/streetwrk.com)

I'll admit that I know next to nothing about Ukrainian politics. And when it comes to the current crisis there, I don't have any brilliant ideas about how the United States could solve this problem, but that's partly because the United States probably can't solve this problem. My limited knowledge and lack of transformative ideas puts me on equal footing with John McCain. Yet for some reason, McCain is once again all over the news, now that the situation in Kiev is turning uglier by the hour. What does McCain have to say? Well, he believes that it's all Barack Obama's fault. "This is the most naive president in history," he said, citing as evidence the fact that five years ago, the Obama administration said it wanted to "reset" relations with Russia. Got 'em there, John. Obviously, if a certain someone was president, and he's not not naming any names here, this whole thing could be wrapped up in an afternoon.

What does McCain actually think we should do about Ukraine? We'll get to that in a moment. But if you had to sum up John McCain's foreign policy beliefs in a single word, that word would probably be "Grrrr!"

Federal Government Soon to Know Everywhere You've Driven

License plate cameras in New York. (Flickr/lucky_dog)

Well here we go. A few days ago, Ars Technica spotted a listing on a federal government website, explaining that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is looking for a vendor who can assemble for them a database that brings together data from the all the license plate cameras that more and more police departments across the country are installing. You don't like the fact that the government has a file somewhere listing every call you've made on your cell phone? How do you feel about them knowing everywhere you've driven?

The Good War, Now Not So Good

Flickr/U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Casteel

When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he promised that he would get us out of Iraq, the war everyone hated, and concentrate our efforts in Afghanistan, the good war. We had gone into Iraq on the basis of two false premises, one implied by the Bush administration (Saddam Hussein was responsible in some way for September 11) and one stated explicitly (Saddam had a terrifying arsenal of weapons of mass destruction with which he would be attacking us any day if we didn't attack him first). But Afghanistan was the war we could agree on. Sure, we'd been there for too long, and it was a devil of a mess. But that's where the September 11 attacks came from, so we were justified in going there.

Why Can't You Miserable Commoners Be Happier With Your Lot?

This is the look of satisfaction Tom Perkins gets right after shouting, "Release the hounds!" (Flickr/JD Lasica)

Venture capital billionaire Tom Perkins may be new to the trolling game, but he made an absolutely spectacular debut when he wrote to the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back warning that resentment toward the super-rich in American society reminded him a lot of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Then last weekend, he followed that bit of wisdom by proposing that the wealthy ought to get more votes than the unwashed masses, since they pay more in taxes. "The Tom Perkins system is: You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes," he said in a speech. "But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?"

That, you're probably saying, is abominable. Why not just let the richest one person choose the president? He's got the most money, so he's obviously the wisest and has the greatest interest in government, right? Although Perkins might not be too pleased with that outcome, since the richest person in America is Bill Gates, who seems pretty liberal, what with his efforts to improve global health and fight poverty rather than letting the sick and destitute contemplate their well-deserved fate while they gaze up in admiration at their betters.

Okay, so Tom Perkins is kind of a lunatic. But is he a representative lunatic? Do his peers up in the penthouse suite and down at the yacht club think the same things he does, or is he an outlier?

Sauce For the Gander

Liberal hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer. (Stuart Isett/Fortune Live Media/Flickr)

Today's New York Times has a story about Tom Steyer, a retired hedge fund billionaire who is planning to spend $100 million ($50 million of his own, and $50 million of other people's) in the 2014 election to support action on climate change, which in practice means electing Democrats. That would put Steyer in the big leagues, though not at the top—the network of donors established by Charles and David Koch spent at least $400 million in 2012—and it raises the question of how liberals should feel about this kind of thing. If you believe that Citizens United has been a disaster for democracy, and spectacularly wealthy people shouldn't be able to swoop in to a House or Senate race with zillions of dollars and change the outcome from what it otherwise would be, then should you be bothered?

Guns and the Thug Life

AP Images/The Florida Times-Union/Bob Mack

On Saturday night, the jury in the case of Michael Dunn rendered a strange verdict, convicting Dunn of attempting to murder the three teens who survived the hail of fire he sent at their car, but deadlocking on the charge of murdering the one he succeeded in killing. We may never know what went on in the jury room, but if nothing else, Dunn will not be driving into any more parking lots and getting into any more arguments that end in death, at least not for some time.

This case is, of course about race, which we'll get to in a moment. But it's also about—to use a word that crops up repeatedly in Michael Dunn's written comments—a culture. It's a culture where manhood must continually be proven, where every disagreement is a test of strength, and where in the end, your fellow human beings are only waiting to kill you, so you'd better draw first.

This was the culture of violence that Michael Dunn carried with him to the convenience store, the one that ended the life of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. It was Dunn's manic hyper-vigilance, his fear, and the .45 he carried with him that brought death to the parking lot.

Gird Thy Loins; War Is Nigh

Turning the other cheek is for wimps.

Tonight at the Ronald Reagan presidential library—America's greatest library—Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will deliver a speech that will be seen (probably correctly) as an early component of the Jindal for President '16 campaign. Its subject is an old favorite, the religious war currently being waged in America. It's partly Barack Obama's war on Christianity, but since Obama will be leaving office in a few years, it's important to construe the war as something larger and more eternal. The point, as it is with so many symbolic wars, isn't the victory but the fight.

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