Paul Waldman

Newsweek: Is Asking Inane Questions the Future of Journalism?

Was Mussolini Right? "He made the trains run on time," they said about Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and it was more than just a cliché. It was a statement about a government that works, a government that means what it says and does what it wants. Sure, there were some problems with the treatment of dissidents. But some very smart political analysts are asking a question that would have been surprising just a few years ago: Is it time to give fascism another try? To be clear, no one is proposing a Fourth Reich. This isn't about Germany in the 1930s, and it isn't about genocide. It's about fascism as an economic program, where the government stops being ashamed about merging with corporate interests. It's the ultimate pro-business position, and that's why the wonks proposing a new look at an old philosophy have a catchphrase sure to draw adherents: "Fascism means jobs." If they're right, it could remake the American political landscape over the next decade. Our Future Is...

What Mitt Romney Was Really Saying

Whenever we get a glimpse of a candidate speaking in a place where he didn't know he was being recorded, there's a powerful temptation to conclude that the "real" person has been revealed. After all, campaigning is almost all artifice, and every other moment at which we see the candidate, he's acutely aware that he is on stage, with people watching his every expression and listening to his every word. This is how many people are interpreting Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comments we learned about yesterday, even though Mitt was certainly on stage, even if he didn't know he was being recorded. For instance, Jonathan Chait says , "the video exposes an authentic Romney as a far more sinister character than I had imagined. Here is the sneering plutocrat, fully in thrall to a series of pernicious myths that are at the heart of the mania that has seized his party." McKay Coppins reaches the same conclusion, that "Romney seemed to give the closest thing to a candid description of his worldview...

What Romney Left Behind

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
One of the common misconceptions about the presidential candidate version of Mitt Romney is that he disavowed his greatest achievement in public office, health care reform, in an attempt to appeal to his party's base. The truth is that he never actually disavowed it or said it was a failure or a mistake. What he did was tell primary voters that Romneycare was really nothing at all like Obamacare, and anyway Romneycare shouldn't be tried in any other state. His comments were utterly unconvincing, but since they were always accompanied by a thunderous denunciation of Obamacare, Republican voters were assuaged enough to let it slide. Which means that had he wanted to, Romney probably could have entered the general election making a positive case on health care beyond "Repeal Obamacare!" By continuing to maintain that Romneycare was in fact a good thing when he was challenged on it (even if he didn't want to talk about it all that much), he gave himself enough rhetorical room that he...

Two-Faced on Taxes

Chart of economic growth from New York Times.
A lot of the debate we have in America about economics (like many issues) ends up being statements of principle masquerading as analysis of empirical reality. And maybe this is my bias talking, but it seems like most of this comes from the conservative side. For example, it's now become disturbingly common to hear conservatives say that when you cut taxes, total tax revenues actually go up, since the tax cutting creates an explosion of economic growth that brings in lots of new revenue. This idea has zero empirical support. It isn't that cutting taxes can't increase growth somewhat, it's just that it doesn't increase it enough to make up for the lost revenue. Yet no matter how many times economists demonstrate that cutting taxes doesn't actually increase revenue, Republican politicians continue to claim that it does. This is widely known as the " Tax Fairy ," since believing in it makes about as much sense as believing in the Tooth Fairy. But conservatives would certainly like it to...

The Simple Question That Never Gets Asked

Flickr/Alexander Drachmann
Yesterday, conservatives got all outraged because a microphone picked up a few journalists discussing with each other what questions they would ask Mitt Romney at what turned out to be his disastrous press conference on the events in Cairo and Benghazi. Aha! they shouted; Michelle Malkin told the Mensa convention that is "Fox & Friends" that "If it looks, sounds, talks like journo-tools for Obama, it is what it is." As Erik Wemple patiently and carefully explained , in contexts like press conferences—by both Democratic and Republican politicians!—reporters often plan out what questions they'll ask. And you know what? They ought to do it more often. Maybe they wouldn't ask so many dumb questions. It's certainly a problem that politicians are so sneaky and evade the questions journalists do ask. And the reporters don't really have time to sit down and engage in a process of deliberation so they can use their collective knowledge and wisdom to arrive at the questions that will prove...

Friday Music Break

Hey, baby.
This past Wednesday would have been Barry White's 68th birthday. So I thought we could check out this groovy video of "Can't Get Enough of Your Love" from 1974, featuring just one of the many spectacular outfits White wore over the years. A warning: If you're watching this video at work, please do your best to maintain a professional demeanor. Take all those sweet, sexy feelings, put them in your pocket, and take them out to share with your special someone when you get home tonight.

The Return of the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics

In need of just a bit more Romneystrength. (Flickr/Jason Means)
Until a few days ago, few people cared all that much what Mitt Romney thought about foreign policy. It isn't an area where he has any experience, or, let's be honest, anything in particular to say. His denunciations of President Obama's record have a kind of rote quality. There's nothing really substantive there, no attacks on any particular decisions Obama has made or initiatives he has undertaken. What it all consists of is the idea that Obama is weak, and "apologizes for America" (I'm not going to bother debunking that one again). But when Mitt goes off on that stuff, you can tell he's just doing it to satisfy the Sean Hannitys of the world and assure the Republican base that yes, I hate him as much as you do, and now let's talk about the economy. But in every presidential race, there are external events that force the candidates to change their agenda, which is what has happened now. And yesterday The Washington Post published this article , in which we learn just how powerful...

Do Reporters Dislike Mitt Romney?

Dont' come any closer! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Do reporters dislike Mitt Romney? And if so, what kind of a difference might that make? I'm prompted to ask by this post from Andrew Gelman at the Monkey Cage, in which he expresses doubt that back in 2000, reporters disliked Al Gore and liked George W. Bush. I won't spend time on that question—it has been extensively reported over the years, with not only quantitative analyses of the press coverage the two received, but plenty of on-the-record comments from reporters who were there at the time testifying that they and their colleagues found Bush to be a friendly fellow and thought Gore was a pedantic, phony liar. (In his post, Gelman confesses to not owning a television, which obviously calls into question his standing as a true American.) But the more interesting question now is the one about Romney. This is sometimes difficult to assess clearly, since we all have a tendency to see press coverage that reinforces our beliefs as fair and objective, and coverage that contradicts our...

Praying for the White House

(AP Photo/White House)
Eight years ago, innumerable commentators said "values voters"—in other words, voters with conservative values—were responsible for George W. Bush's re-election (liberal voters, apparently, don't have values, they just have opinions). They noticed a correlation between religiosity and the propensity to vote Republican, and in the most religious of all industrialized countries, this "God gap" was routinely characterized as a problem that Democrats had to solve if they were to avoid electoral doom. In fact, today the "God gap" is more of a wash for the two parties, and in the future it could become the Republicans' problem. But the idea that religion only helps Republicans persists, and when GOP presidential candidates competed during the primaries for the title of most pious (with no fewer than three testifying that God had instructed them to run), few considered it something that would damage their eventual nominee. So let's take a look at what the two parties' religious coalitions...

The Danger of "Scoring Points"

Mitt Romney, digging a hole.
Mitt Romney is running for president. And I guess it can be hard, when you're running for president and your focus every day is convincing the American voter that you're a great guy and your opponent is awful, not to approach every new development in the world by seeing it as yet another opportunity to tell everyone that your opponent is awful. But when the only question you ask yourself is, "How can I use this to make my opponent look bad?" you run the risk of making yourself look like a jerk. Sometimes during a campaign, a candidate will be asked, "Is there anything your opponent has done that you agree with?" or "Is there anything good you can say about him?" Usually they say, "He has a lovely family," as though the thought that he might have done a single thing right is just impossible to contemplate. To say otherwise would be passing up an opportunity to "score points." And this, I think, is the root of why Romney did what he did yesterday and came out looking like such an...

The Devil Is in the Details

Mitt Romney is pro-baby, and he doesn't care who knows it! (Flickr/tvnewsbadge)
Every candidate confronts the question of how detailed they should be in their policy plans, and the basic calculation goes as follows: I want to seem substantive and serious, so it's good to have detailed plans, but I don't want the plans to be so detailed that they give my opponent something to use against me and allow voters to find things they don't like. So usually they find some middling level of specificity, and tolerate whatever criticism they get from one end for not being detailed enough, and from the other end for specific ideas people don't like. But rarely does the question of how specific you're being become a story in and of itself. Mitt Romney has arrived at that moment, when his unwillingness to reveal exactly what he wants to do in a variety of policy areas is becoming a story in its own right. Here's Steve Kornacki writing about it in Salon . Here's The Wall Street Journal editorial page criticizing him for not being specific. Here's a TPM report on other...

The Pressure Builds on Romney

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
I don't think even the staunchest Republican would try to tell you that Mitt Romney's convention was more successful than Barack Obama's, and coming out of the two, it now looks like Obama has moved ahead of Romney by a few points. Whether this lead will solidify or the two will move back to being tied is impossible to know yet, but the most interesting question may be how the two campaigns react. I can predict pretty confidently that the answer for the Obama campaign is: they won't. As I discussed yesterday, if you're in the lead you have no reason to change anything you're doing, while if you're behind there's a powerful temptation to start casting about for something new to turn things around. And one other part of this dynamic is that when you're behind, everybody in your party starts bellowing, both privately and publicly, that you have to immediately shift from the strategy you're employing to the strategy they are advising. Everyone even remotely involved in politics thinks he...

Politicians Who Don't Like People

Flickr/Rusty Darbonne
New York magazine's John Heilmann makes an interesting point about Barack Obama in this interview (via Andrew Sullivan ): JH: Obama is an unusual politician. There are very few people in American politics who achieve something — not to mention the Presidency — in which the following two conditions are true: one, they don’t like people. And two, they don’t like politics. KC: Obama doesn’t like people? JH: I don’t think he doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people. He’s not an extrovert; he’s an introvert. I’ve known the guy since 1988. He’s not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He’s not a backslapper and he’s not an arm-twister. He’s a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities. He’s incredibly intelligent, but he’s not a guy who’s ever had a Bill Clinton-like network around him. He’s not the guy up late at night working the speed dial calling mayors, calling governors, calling CEOs. Despite the phrase "doesn't like people," Heilmann...

Campaign Hindsight, Now In Real Time

Flickr/Scout Tufankjian
You may have noticed that the Romney campaign has gone through a couple of different core critiques of President Obama. First, they said he was a nice guy who was in over his head. Then they decided that they don't actually think he's a nice guy after all, but instead he's a crypto-communist who despises free enterprise and hates entrepreneurs. Now they may be reverting to the old message again. The Obama campaign looks much different. Very early on, they decided—presumably because their polling and focus groups told them this was the right approach—that they were not going to attack Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper, despite the fact that this attack has been effective against other politicians in the past, and Romney is without question the flippy-floppiest party nominee in American political history. Instead, they argue that Romney believes the things he says and only cares about helping the wealthy. While every once in a while you hear an insufficiently prepared Obama surrogate call...

Culture War Is Over

(Flickr/sushisque)
Gabriel Arana T his weekend featured a strange event on the campaign trail. With Pat Robertson seated behind him at a speech in Viginia—that's the guy who says God personally warns him about upcoming world events, believes the September 11 attacks were divine punishment for homosexuality, and thinks feminism leads to witchcraft—Mitt Romney got his culture war on. Romney recited the Pledge of Allegiance and thundered, "The pledge says 'under God.' I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart." So fear not, America: As long as Mitt Romney becomes president, your pennies and nickels will be safe from creeping atheism. This may tell us more about Romney's strategy for winning Virginia—a state divided between a conservative, rural southern part and a liberal, suburban northern part—than it does about his strategy for winning the country as a whole. But when Romney makes such an appeal, it only serves to...

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