Paul Waldman

Is the Religious Right in Trouble?

Pat Robertson, possibly fending off a hurricane. (Flickr/Daniel Oines)
If we're going to count the losers of the 2012 election, the religious right has to be high on the list. Its members said they would turn out in extraordinary numbers to fight that infidel in the White House, but Ralph Reed's turnout push fizzled. Gay marriage is now legal in three more states than it was on November 5, with more sure to come. In response, some on the religious right are wondering whether this politics thing just isn't working out for them. It isn't that they failed to get their message out, said influential religious-right quote machine Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, "it's that the entire moral landscape has changed. ... An increasingly secularized America understands our positions and has rejected them." We've heard this kind of thing before, and Ed Kilgore warns that the religious right's stranglehold on the Republican Party hasn't lessened at all: Lest we forget, every single Republican candidate for president in 2012 toed the...

Law Enforcement and Decriminalized Marijuana

A happy Seattle police officer. (SPD)
On Election Day, Colorado and Washington passed initiatives legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. The future of both laws is uncertain, due to the fact that the drug is still illegal under federal law, which makes the creation of a legal market complex, to say the least. Nevertheless, within a few days, prosecutors in Washington dismissed hundreds of misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, even though the new law doesn't officially take effect until December 6. Which is an indication that in the short term, the laws may have a substantial impact on the work of law enforcement, and the relationship of citizens to the police, in those states. We don't know that for sure, of course. But the Seattle Police Department is already showing how hip it can be. As we learn via Romenesko , the SPD has a blog run by a journalist, who wrote a piece called "Mariwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use in Seattle," that is, to say the least, not the kind of thing you expect from an employee of...

But One Mitt to Give for His Country

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
I don't know how many words I wrote about Mitt Romney over the last five years, but I'm sure it topped 100,000. So I'll almost miss him now that he's gone, and I'd like to offer a couple of (perhaps) final thoughts on him. In defeat, Romney's sins become easier to forgive, and we can acknowledge that he isn't without personal virtues. We'll never know how he would have performed in the difficult moments, when forced to deal with an unexpected crisis or confronted with choices in which every option was a bad one. Perhaps his lack of rigid ideology would have helped him. It's sometimes said that presidential candidates come in two forms, the "conviction" candidates like Goldwater, McGovern, or Reagan who run for a cause, and the others, who run for themselves. Though it may be impossible for any politician, even the most ideological, to run for president without being an egomaniac, Romney stands apart even among his peers for having run for no cause in particular. That isn't necessarily...

The Time Is Right to Get Rid of the Debt Ceiling

A much more attractive ceiling. (Flick/Richard Carter)
Kevin Drum has written a very helpful explainer on everything you'd want to know about the fiscal cliff/curb/staircase/trap, and near the end he reminds us that the debt ceiling is going to come up again early next year. "However, an agreement to raise the debt ceiling will almost certainly be part of the negotiations surrounding the fiscal cliff." Which is good, but I'd like to suggest that Congress go a step further. Instead of raising the debt ceiling, meaning we'd have to revisit the issue again in a year, why don't they go ahead and eliminate it once and for all? Just because something has been around for three quarters of a century, that doesn't mean it's in any way useful, and this is one little legislative artifact we can do without. Before last year the debt ceiling was raised 75 times since its creation in 1939, and nearly all of those increases were nothing more than an opportunity for the opposition party of the moment to give a few floor speeches railing against the...

The Business of the Ideological Media Is Business

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
There now appears to be a healthy debate going on in Republican circles about the problems created by the information cocoon in which conservatives have embedded themselves in recent years (I wrote about this last week). That's good for them, but I doubt it's going to work. My guess is that a couple of years from now, the conservative media's rhetoric will be just the same as it is now—just as angry, just as prone to race-baiting, just as unwilling to acknowledge reality when it conflicts with their beliefs. Jonathan Martin of Politico took the time to interview a bunch of younger Repbublican operatives and thinkers, and they all seem to be in agreement that something has to change. But the right has a real generational problem, and it isn't about their leaders. It's about their audience. Conservative media is a political force, but first and foremost it's a business. And that business' primary customers have grown used to a particular product. Those customers are, above all, older...

Land of the "Free Stuff," Home of the Brave

(AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
If you want to explain why your party lost a presidential election, there are a number of places to look. You can blame your candidate and his campaign (which usually means, "If only they had listened to me!"). You can blame your party and ask if it should examine its ideology or its rhetoric. You can blame the media. Or you can blame the voters. As the old political saw says, "The people have spoken—the bastards." And that is what one conservative after another has been saying over the last week. They aren't saying that the voters are uninformed, or that they allowed themselves to be duped. Instead, Barack Obama's re-election is said to be a moral failing on the part of the American public. They got what they wanted, conservatives are saying. And what was it they wanted? Universal health coverage, higher taxes on the wealthy, strong environmental regulations, legal abortion? Nope. They wanted free stuff. Because that's just how those people are. This was perhaps articulated most...

When "We Don't Like Your Kind" Becomes a Problem

New York, where not many Republicans live. (Flickr/iPhil Photos)
There are a lot of ways to parse a loss like the one the GOP suffered on Tuesday, but what ought to be increasingly clear to smart Republicans is that there's something fundamentally problematic in how they've gone about assembling their electoral coalitions. Conservatives are complaining a lot in the last couple of days that Obama ran a "divisive" campaign, I guess because he once called rich people "fat cats" or something, but the truth is that Republicans have been experts at division for a long time. Much of their appeal, at one level or another, has been "We don't like those kind of people." Sometimes it's welfare recipients, sometimes it's undocumented immigrants, sometimes it's people who come from big cities or have too much education or enjoy a coffee drink made with espresso and steamed milk. They've been very good for a very long time at telling voters, "We're just like you, because we both hate those people over there." As a political strategy, this can be very effective,...

A New Side of Barack Obama

Forty years ago, the campaign of Senator Ed Muskie, until then the presumed nominee of the Democratic party, effectively ended on a snowy day in Manchester, New Hampshire. Angered by the attacks on him and his wife by the conservative Manchester Union-Leader , Muskie held a press conference outside the paper's offices to denounce them. Reporters at the scene thought that Muskie was crying, though he later said the wetness on his face was only melting snow. But David Broder's story in the Washington Post about the press conference began, "With tears streaming down his face and his voice choked with emotion ... " He was obviously not presidential material. Eight years later, a different kind of president was elected, one who understood intimately how to convey emotions through television. Ronald Reagan wasn't afraid to get choked up at appropriate moments—when lauding the heroism of an ordinary person called to do something extraordinary, or just when speaking about how great America is...

Who's to Blame for the "Fiscal Cliff" Misnomer?

Flickr/su-lin
Now that the election is over, the next big item on the government's agenda is dealing with two sets of changes that are scheduled to begin at the start of 2013. The first involves changes to the tax code: The Bush income tax cuts will expire, bringing rates back to where they were during the Clinton years, and so will the payroll tax cuts enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus package and later extended. The second set of changes is the "sequester," under which a series of rather dramatic cuts to government spending will take place. Collectively, these events are being referred to by everybody as the "fiscal cliff," a term that is both misleading and dangerous. Which got me wondering: Where did it come from? And whose fault is it? I'll keep you in suspense on that for a moment, but here's a good brief explanation from Jonathan Chait about why the term "fiscal cliff" is such a misnomer: But here is a case where a bad metaphor has caused everybody to think about the matter in exactly the...

Are Conservative Media Only Hurting Conservatives?

Liberals like me have spent a lot of time in recent years mocking conservatives for the silliness of their media, wherein Steve Doocy is a star, Sean Hannity is an insightful analyst, and Rush Limbaugh is a brave crusader for truth. Beyond the jokes, we've talked a lot about the pathologies produced by the self-reinforcing worldviews propagated in the conservative media ether. One of the key features of those media, and what differentiates them from partisan left media, is the way they talk about the rest of the media. Liberals may like to watch MSNBC, but if you watch MSNBC you won't be reminded ten times an hour that everything you see in your newspaper or on another television station is a vicious lie concocted by conservatives to deceive you as part of their plan to destroy the country you love. But that is what you'll get if you watch Fox, listen to Rush Limbaugh, or consume many other kinds of conservative media. It's not just a diet of information congenial to your beliefs; it'...

A Grand Progressive Victory

An Obama rally on election eve. (Flickr/Becker1999)
Obviously, the most important thing that happened last night was President Obama's victory. But it's worth noting that this election was a victory for progressivism in so many ways. Some of the most infuriating conservative Democrats, particularly Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, are gone. And some of the new Democrats are more progressive than anyone would have wished for a few years ago. Elizabeth Warren is now a senator. So is Tammy Baldwin, the chamber's first openly gay member. And they were just two of a large group of Democratic women that won, including newly-elected senators Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Maggie Hassan, the next governor of New Hampshire (in addition to Hassan, New Hampshire now has an all-female congressional delegation, counting both senators and both House members). While there are plenty of Tea Partiers left, a few of the most odious ones, including Allen West and Joe Walsh, are free to pursue their careers in talk radio. We...

A Letter to Conservatives

Flickr/Macxbebe
Dear Friends, This is a hard time, I know. We've all been there—it hurts when your candidate loses, and you realize that all the people and policies you hate will be in place for the next four years. But let me suggest that while you're perfectly justified in crying, wailing, beating your breasts and rending your garments, you should try to keep your sanity. Not only will it be good for the country, it'll be good for you too. There are some in your party who will be driven insane by Barack Obama's re-election, and will try to pull you down with them into a pit of fear and hate where there is only suffering and political defeat to be found. They will be spinning out conspiracy theories and talking of impeachment. Don't listen to them. Barack Obama has done many things you don't like, and will continue to do so over the next four years. But being (something of) a liberal is not the same as being corrupt, and policies you disagree with are not the same as tyranny. If you can't tell the...

Relief We Can Believe In

White House/Pete Souza
Many years ago, legendary psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky used experiments to demonstrate the power of "loss aversion," the fact that losing something you have is more emotionally powerful than gaining something you don't. In other words, the misery of losing $100 is far larger than the pleasure of gaining $100. Which means that Democrats ought to feel even better today than they did in 2008. They probably don't, though. The election of 2008 was certainly the most extraordinary of my lifetime, and probably of yours as well. There were a few prescient voices at the time saying, "Don't get too excited, or you'll just be disappointed" (Paul Krugman was the most notable), but it was almost impossible not to get swept up in the moment, particularly because it came after eight years of the George W. Bush presidency. The emotion most Democrats are experiencing right now is not so much hope, or inspiration, but relief. It doesn't seem quite as likely to produce tears of joy...

What Is to Become of Mitt Romney?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
I've often thought that there are few things worse than getting your party's nomination for president and then losing. To come so close to becoming the most powerful and important person on Planet Earth and then to fall short, and to boot, not only not getting a nice silver medal but being heaped with scorn, ridiculed, and condemned—that must just eat you up inside. Some losers, like John McCain, have a job to go back to, but most don't, and Mitt Romney hasn't had a job since he started running for president five years ago. Let's assume for the moment that all the polls are right, and tonight is going to end with Barack Obama getting re-elected. What will Romney do with himself? He certainly isn't going to run for office again. He couldn't get elected in Massachusetts, where he lives, and would he even want to? After you've reached for the brass ring, becoming a senator or even a governor would seem like going down to the minors. Is he going to go back to Bain Capital? That would seem...

U.S. Voter Turnout: Better Than You Might Think

For a long time, curmudgeonly commentators lamented the decline of voter turnout in America. Fewer and fewer of us found our way to the polls, distracted as we were by the love lives of motion picture celebrities or the latest models of sporting motor car. But then about a decade ago, something strange happened. First, some political scientists realized that everyone was measuring voter turnout wrong. The accepted rates, which said that fewer than half of Americans turned out on election day, were based on census data of the voting-age population (VAP). The problem is that there are a lot of people who are of voting age but aren't eligible to vote, either because they aren't citizens, or have had their voting rights taken away because they committed a felony (you can read about that in this article by Michael McDonald and Samuel Popkin). When researchers looked at the population of voting-eligible citizens (VEP), it turned out that the numbers looked better than had been previously...

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