Paul Waldman

A Convention of Bootstrap-Pullers

One day, his great-grandson would grow up to propose block-granting Medicaid. (photo by Jacob Riis)
Kevin Drum noticed something that I also found striking about the Republican convention, that it seemed like every speaker had to relate their hard-luck tale of a rise from poverty. And if they didn't actually have their own such story, then they told their parents' story, or their grandparents' story. Kevin laments that, like many of us, he has to go back a couple of generations in his family to find the inspiring tale of bootstrap-pulling. You'll also notice that most of these stories end with the teller exulting that "only in America" could someone like them, who had a parent or grandparent who was poor, today be standing in front of a crowd of people wearing elephant hats. I've complained before about the ridiculousness of "only in America," but oh boy was it repeated often over the last three days. We even heard it from Ann Romney, who told us how she and Mitt were so deprived when they were starting out that they lived in a basement apartment and used an ironing board for a...

What Romney's Speech Didn't Do

I am talking at you, America! (Flickr/NewsHour)
I often find it difficult to give an objective assessment of something like Mitt Romney's speech last night. For those of us who are immersed in politics and have strong opinions, setting aside one's prior judgments and beliefs is all but impossible, particularly when you're faced with a speech like this one that wasn't obviously great or obviously terrible. Having acknowledged my biases, my conclusion is that this speech isn't going to change too many minds. Like many people, I find Mitt Romney to be the most artificial of politicians. There are many things that go into that, some of which are more serious than others. The fact that he's awkward and stiff is completely forgivable; there have been awkward and stiff Democratic candidates (Kerry, Gore) whom I thought would make perfectly good presidents. As Jon Chait said , "Romney seems to lack a talent for faking sincerity," which is no crime in and of itself. On the other hand, the fact that he seems utterly devoid of principles (...

Fact-Checkers Are No Match For Romney and Ryan

Flickr/depone
In the vice-presidential debate in 1984, George H.W. Bush charged that Walter Mondale and his running mate Geraldine Ferraro had said that the Marines killed in their barracks the year before in Lebanon had "died in shame." It was a lie—neither Mondale nor Ferraro had said any such thing. The Democrats were outraged and demanded an apology, but Bush refused to even admit he hadn't told the truth. Asked about the controversy later, Bush's press secretary, Peter Teeley, made a stunning statement. "You can say anything you want during a debate, and 80 million people hear it." And what if reporters then wrote stories demonstrating that the candidate had lied? "So what?" Teeley responded. "'Maybe 200 people read it or 2,000 or 20,000.'' But things are different now, right? Now we have fact-checkers, so candidates can't get away with that kind of thing. Well ... maybe not. Last night, Paul Ryan delivered a speech that may have set a new standard for dishonesty in an already dishonest...

And the Nominees for Best Political Actor Are ...

(Flickr/NewsHour)
Before Mitt Romney takes the stage today to deliver his acceptance speech, we'll probably get to see a biographical video explaining who Romney is, where he comes from, what he believes, and why he's right for America. The convention film has become one of the centerpieces of these gatherings, so we thought we'd take a little tour of some of the best films from the past to see what makes a good convention film and we might be in for. The convention film may not seem like such a big deal when the campaigns put out videos of some kind or another nearly every day, but it's their only chance to have a highly produced ten minutes or so viewed by tens of millions of voters, all at the same time. The best convention films have managed to unite the candidate's story with our own stories—how we see ourselves and how we see our country. But it took a while for them to become really effective pieces of propaganda, even though campaign films have existed in one form or another nearly as long as...

Quest for Immortality Suffers Setback

Now try not to overstuff yourself. (Flickr/whologwhy)
Ever since the 1930s, researchers have known that calorie restriction could dramatically extend life in some organisms. Radically reduce the calories an organism gets–say by 40 percent or more–and the organism will often live longer than you would have thought possible. This effect was seen in worms, mice, and some other species, with the attendant hope that it might work in humans as well. While the precise mechanism hasn't been understood completely, essentially it seemed that when it's getting less nutrition, the body goes into some kind of survival mode that allows it to forestall the ravages of age. The joke about calorie restriction is this: If you eat nothing but lettuce and millet for the rest of your days, you may not live forever, but it'll sure seem like forever. Nevertheless, there are some hardy souls who are trying ( see here , for example), subsisting on meager meals and poking new holes in their belts while they contemplate what things will be like when 100 is the new...

When Mitt Romney Stops Being Polite ... And Starts Getting Real

You won't be seeing this at the RNC.
Assuming the Republican convention doesn't get cancelled altogether, the GOP will be trying to "humanize" Mitt Romney, so that American voters will come to realize that he is, in fact, a human. And apparently, Republican bigwigs are concerned that the Romney campaign hasn't yet, and may not ever, put the proper effort into this task. According to Politico , they're grumbling about Romney's inability to respond effectively to attacks on him for not releasing his taxes, and are worried that the convention won't be enough about Romney the man. As for Mitt himself, he seems to be attempting a kind of jiu-jitsu on this question. Here's my favorite part: In a Saturday interview with POLITICO, Romney rejected what he suggested was a sort of political cosmetic surgery advocated by political or media commentators who say he needs to overhaul his image. Paraphrasing Popeye, Romney said, "I am who I am." It was a line that suggested a kind of genial freedom from artifice — an impression that was...

The Hidden GOP Convention

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Illustrations by DonkeyHotey (Flickr) If you tune in to the networks' prime-time coverage of the Republican National Convention, you'll see the big speeches, learn what Karl Rove thinks about Mitt Romney's chances (prediction: Rove is bullish), and hear a lot of people extoll Romney's can-do spirit and well-groomed family. But there's another side to the gathering, beyond the silly hats, arguments over arcane convention rules, and general whoopin' and hollerin'. After extensive reporting, placing of hidden listening devices, and a greased palm or two, we have assembled this guide to the hidden RNC, to give you a window into the convention only the insiders know about. Though the official story had it that Monday's events were cancelled due to the imminent arrival of Tropical Storm Isaac, we have it on good authority that the problem was actually the delayed arrival of Iggy. In every Republican convention since 1980, official activities cannot commence until a bull is sacrificed to...

Fear Not the Bump

Don't let this worry you.
Since I write about politics for a living, my family and friends often ask me for my opinions about matters political, and in recent days these queries have taken on an edge—not quite panic, but let's call it worry. "Romney doesn't really have a chance, does he?" one person asked me yesterday with a quaver in her voice. Well, sure he has a chance, I replied. I'm still fairly confident that Obama is going to win in the end, but Romney does have a chance. Which brings us to this week and the Republican convention. Right now, the race is essentially tied. If you look at averages of the polls, you see anything from an Obama advantage of about a point (that's what the Pollster.com average has, as does the Real Clear Politics average ) to a Romney advantage of half a point (that's what the TPM average has). On the other hand, everybody sees a substantial advantage for Obama in the electoral college. But this is a good time for liberals to prepare themselves for something: at the end of this...

The Projection Party

(Rex Features via AP Images)
Of all the things Republicans have called President Obama in the last four years—socialist, radical, un-American, anti-American, elitist—perhaps the strangest is "divisive." It seems so odd to the rest of us when we look at Obama, whose entire history, even from childhood, has been about carefully navigating through opposing ideas, resolving contradictions, and diffusing tensions, who has so often infuriated his supporters with compromises and attempts at conciliation. Yet conservatives look at him and see someone completely different. They see Obama plotting to set Americans at war with one another so he can profit from the destruction, perhaps cackling a sinister laugh as thunder rattles the windows on the West Wing and America's demise is set in motion. There has seldom been a clearer political case of what psychologists call "projection," the propensity to ascribe to someone else one's own thoughts, feelings, and sins. It's true that we are in a polarized moment, and what is...

The Strange Disappearance of George W. Bush

Hey, everybody! Remember me? (photo by the White House)
Kevin Drum asks an interesting question : what ever became of George W. Bush? Not so much literally—I've always assumed that he spends his days playing "Call of Duty: Black Ops" with bored Secret Service agents—but as a presence in our national life. It's partly because, as Kevin notes, his own party wants nothing to do with him, since most of his big projects turned out to be colossal failures. If Republicans don't want to talk about him, then we can't have an ongoing argument about his legacy, since one side of that argument changes the subject every time he comes up. But as Kevin says, "It's just sort of astonishing that a guy who was president only three years ago, and who loomed so large for both liberals and conservatives, has disappeared down the memory hole so completely. In the end, for all his swagger, he was a mile wide and an inch deep. Once he left the White House, it was as if his entire presidency had just been a bad dream." In some ways, this is more remarkable on the...

Friday Music Break

Asia, "Alpha"
Spurred on by Dave Weigel's epic series on the history of progressive rock, for this week's Music Break we have Asia, with "Don't Cry." Although I'd contend that Asia wasn't really prog rock; instead, it was a supergroup made up of prog rock royalty (members came from Yes, ELP, and King Crimson) who then made what was basically pop-rock with just the slightest prog hints. In any case, I thought of going with "Heat of the Moment," but this video, with its Raiders of the Lost Ark theme that has absolutely nothing to do with the song, is just too hilariously awful to pass up. Throughout, lead singer John Wetton has an expression on his face that says, "How the hell did I let them talk me into this?"

His Cheatin' Heart

Flickr/Oddne Rasmusen
Longer than most people, I held out hope that Barry Bonds was clean. Sure, he was bulked up, but that could just mean a lot of weight training. And it wasn't like he was some mook who suddenly started hitting homers—the guy was already headed for the Hall of Fame. And that swing? You don't get a piece of perfect physical poetry like that from steroids. Of course, eventually, it became impossible to deny. Which brings us to the story of Lance Armstrong. Yesterday Armstrong gave up his fight against doping charges, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced it would strip him of his seven Tour de France titles and ban him from the sport for life. While Armstrong never failed a drug test, multiple people, including former teammates, were prepared to testify that they either saw Armstrong doping or had other direct evidence that he was. Lance Armstrong isn't just an athlete, he's a brand, an inspiration industry unto himself. Leaving aside what you might think of him as a person (an...

Lifestyles of the Rich and Nutty

This is long overdue.
Like every American (I assume) I've occasionally wondered what I would do if I had enormous wealth. And my thoughts always run to remaking the world, or at least our country, to be more in line with my own values. In other words, if I were a billionaire I'd be like Charles and David Koch. According to Forbes, they each have $25 billion, and although I'm sure they have really nice houses and who knows what else, they seem mostly concerned with turning this country into the kind of place they'd like it to be. Now you and I might find their vision of America horrifying, but in their own way their activities are quite civic-minded. Their brother Bill, however, has other things to do with his money: KEBLER PASS —There's a new town in Colorado. It has about 50 buildings, including a saloon, a church, a jail, a firehouse, a livery and a train station. Soon, it will have a mansion on a hill so the town's founder can look down on his creation. But don't expect to move here — or even to visit...

The Future of Marriage Equality

(Vita Generalova)
If you've ever read an article about a gay marriage ballot initiative, you've almost certainly seen an anti-marriage-equality advocate proclaim confidently that every time the question has been on the ballot, "traditional marriage" has won, and this time will be no different. That isn't precisely true—in 2006, Arizona voters rejected an initiative that would have banned both same-sex marriage and civil unions—but very nearly so. Ballot initiatives have banned same-sex marriage in 32 states over the last 15 years, so the "traditional" marriage side has some reason to gloat. But this fall, that run of success could come to a screeching halt. There are four marriage initiatives on the ballot in November, and at the moment it looks very possible, even likely, that on election night three more states will allow all their citizens to marry. We may well have reached an electoral turning point. It has been a very good couple of years for advocates of gay rights. The military's "don't ask, don...

Mitt Romney, Sexy Man

Try to contain yourself, ladies.
Prior to 2008, one of the things you could count on in every presidential campaigning was subtle Republican attempts to imply that the Democratic candidate was wimpy, soft, maybe even girly. And if the Democrat was just a little bit light in the loafers then maybe that meant that if you voted for him, you were too. Then came 2008, when the Republicans were faced with a candidate they couldn't quite make that argument about. Sure, their guy was a war hero, but that was 40 years ago, and now he just seemed like a grumpy old man. The Democrat, on the other hand, was young, black, and famously cool, hanging out with movie stars and almost never caught looking goofy or wearing a silly hat. Women swooned over him (remember "I've Got a Crush On Obama" ?). To me, the moment that most exemplified the 2008 campaign was when Obama went to Kuwait to visit the troops, and met a few hundred of them in a gym. Someone brought out a basketball, and Obama, who played on his high school team, walked up...

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