Paul Waldman

The Dumbest Affectation in Congress

You know why I sleep on the couch every night? Because I'm a dog, not a member of Congress. (Flickr/Justin Quan)
There are a lot of stupid things members of Congress do to show the folks back home that though they moved hell and high water to get their jobs in Washington, D.C., they find everything about the place repugnant and despicable, and can't wait to get away. But there are few pieces of posturing more inane than the decision to sleep in your Capitol Hill office as a demonstration that you haven't gone native like all those sellouts with their apartments and closets and bathrooms. I can see how a newly elected member might decide to sleep in her office while she gets settled and looks for a place. And being in Congress can be financially and logistically taxing, particularly for those who come from the West coast—you have to maintain two homes, and are expected to fly back nearly every weekend to shake hands at the county fair and pose for pictures at the senior center. But in the last few years it's become de rigueur , particularly among Tea Partiers, to make a statement of their...

The Agony of the Red State Democrat

A voter giving West Virginia Senate candidate Natalie Tennant a piece of his mind.
Yesterday, conservatives enjoyed a moment of pleasure at the expense of Natalie Tennant, a Democratic candidate for Senate in the formerly Democratic state of West Virginia (more on that in a moment). The video is a little hard to understand without knowing the context of what she and this voter are talking about, but the essence is that he's unhappy about a decision by the EPA that apparently has something to do with coal, Tennant says she agrees with him, and he asks how she could support President Obama. I'm pretty sure this guy isn't going to vote for her in a million years, but since she's running for office, Tennant has to act like she might be able to win this fellow over, and the result is a terribly awkward few moments. It ends when a supporter of hers, who turns out to be a retired general who led the West Virginia National Guard, steps in to help her in her floundering and says that "on most of [Obama's] policies and stuff she supports," but not his policies on coal. The...

Why Moderate Districts Don't Produce Moderate Congressmembers

Flickr/KP Tripathi
As I was writing this piece about the difference between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in Congress and why the latter don't act in the same ways as the former, I began thinking about those members who don't represent the ideology of their districts very well. How many of them are there, and how far away are they from their voters? In particular, I thought about the case of Scott Garrett, the congressman who represents the swing district in the northern New Jersey suburbs where I grew up. Romney beat Obama in that district by 3 points in 2012, so you'd think it would be represented by a moderate Republican. And for many years it was (with somewhat different borders prior to the post-2010 redistricting), by Marge Roukema, one of the last of the moderate, pro-choice Republicans. But Garrett votes more like he comes from Alabama than New Jersey. In 2013, he was one of only 15 House Republicans to get the American Conservative Union's "Defenders of Liberty" award for...

Why Tea Party Members of Congress Act So Darn Crazy--And Liberal Democrats Don't

Rep. Louie Gohmert, Tea Party Republican of Texas, is a thorn in the side of House Speaker John Boehner. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) W hen the Republican House managed to fit in one last embarrassing debacle before exiting for the August recess—with Speaker John Boehner first pulling a bill to address the problem of Central American children arriving at the border after conservatives revolted, then allowing a pair of meaningless votes meant to placate those Tea Partiers who require so much placating—it seemed like the same self-destructive dynamic that has plagued the GOP for the last few years. It's a story that I've told many times; it happens because the interests of the party as a whole in things like immigration reform and a general ideological moderation are most decidedly not in the interests of a large number of its elected representatives. For instance, the party may want to reach out to Hispanic voters to have a chance at winning presidential elections, but if you're a congressman from a conservative district, your re-election could depend on furious opposition to whatever...

Ted Cruz, Legislative Innovator

Who, li'l old me? (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
C ongress, it is said, is divided into "work horses" and "show horses." The former try to make laws, while the latter worry more about whether they can get on TV. Plenty of members try to be both, but there are a surprising number that don't even bother legislating. And these days, being a show horse offers a much clearer path to one day running for president. It's still technically possible to spend a few decades crafting a legislative record and working your way up the leadership ladder, then eventually get your party's nomination, like Bob Dole did. But it's a hell of a lot easier to inject yourself into a few controversies, make some notable speeches, and take a trip or two to Iowa. Do that, and like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz (or Barack Obama), you can run for president in your first term. Cruz, however, is doing something completely new. He may not bother to introduce any bills, but he is creating a new kind of legislative innovation. Perhaps for the first time in American history—I...

Eric Cantor Shows Why We Need to Get Rid of Special House Elections

So long, suckers! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
L ike a high school senior who already has a job lined up for the fall and wonders why he should bother going to school for the last few weeks, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor apparently can't bear the thought of showing up for work for the remainder of his term after having lost his primary election. So instead of just phoning it in for a few months (or not showing up at all—who'd notice or care?), he has decided to resign his seat as of August 18th. He's asking Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe to hold a special election to coincide with the November 4th election, so his successor could take office immediately. "I want to make sure that the constituents in the 7th District will have a voice in what will be a very consequential lame-duck session," he said. Just not his voice, I guess because he wants to get a jump-start on that lobbying career. I'm not even sure how that would work—would voters cast ballots for one set of candidates to serve from November to January, and...

How Republicans Are Heightening the Contradictions

Republican inspiration Vladimir Lenin. (Wikimedia Commons)
C ongress is going on recess at the end of this week, and they'll be doing it without a bill to address the large number of Central American children showing up at the southern border—John Boehner couldn't even come up with a bill that would pass his house after Ted Cruz convinced House conservatives to oppose it. On that issue, on the Affordable Care Act, and on other issues as well, we may be seeing the rise of a particular strategy on the right—sometimes gripping part of the GOP, and sometimes all of it—that can be traced back to that noted conservative Vladimir Lenin. I speak of "heightening the contradictions," the idea that you have to intentionally make conditions even more miserable than they are, so the people rise up and cast off the illegitimate rulers and replace them with you and your allies. Then the work of building a paradise can begin. In the end, the House GOP leadership wanted a bill that contained a small amount of money to actually address the problem, made a...

Republicans Take Careful Aim At Foot, Blast Away

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
L ast week, I asked how the GOP, whom Democrats used to admire for their strategic acumen, turned into such a bunch of clowns , constantly making political blunders and undermining their long-term goals with temper tantrums. It's a question we might continue to ponder as the House went ahead and voted to sue President Obama last night for his many acts of tyranny and lawlessness. Every Democrat voted in opposition, as did a grand total of five Republicans—but they were opposed only because they wanted to stop pussyfooting around and go right to impeachment. This, truly, is a party that's ready to lead. Since this suit is unprecedented, we don't know for sure how it will be received by the courts. Many legal experts think it will be quickly dismissed on the question of standing; since the House can't show any harm they've incurred because of the President's allegedly appalling behavior, they may not have the right to bring a case against him. On the other hand, we now understand that...

Why Organizing for Action Has Struggled So Much

You can still get the t-shirt.
O rganizing for Action (OfA), the group that evolved out of the 2012 Obama campaign to continue organizing on issues of importance to liberals and has been struggling of late with layoffs and fundraising difficulty, has been having an extended disagreement with Philip Bump of the Washington Post over the organization's fundamental effectiveness, the latest installment of which is this article analyzing the group's activities and results on a range of issues. While I haven't followed every back-and-forth and I'm sure the OfA people would say Bump's article is unfair, what it comes down to is OfA saying "We're super-effective!" and Bump responding, "It doesn't look that way." I'm not going to try to adjudicate that dispute, but suffice to say that what OfA was trying to do is really, really hard, so if their results have been modest, it isn't surprising at all. In fact, I would have been shocked if they had been successful, for a bunch of reasons. To start with, they were trying to turn...

The Problem With Both "Pro-Israel" and "Anti-Israel"

Flickr/Ben Roffer
I n a typically thoughtful piece today, Jonathan Chait explains why he has "grown less pro-Israel over the last decade." I want to push back on this a bit, not because I disagree with any of the particular points Chait makes, but because of the broad framing. The idea of "pro-Israel," like its mirror "anti-Israel," is the enemy of rational thought and debate on this topic. Unless you're talking about whom you're rooting for in the Olympics, talking about who's pro-Israel and who isn't, and to what degree, almost never helps illuminate anything. This is something I brought up a few months ago, but it has a new urgency now, because this conflict is going to cause a lot of people to reevaluate how they feel about Israel. One of the interesting things about Chait's post is that he mentions an emotional connection to the country, but the specifics he brings up are all practical questions, on things like the Netanyahu government's sincerity when it says it's committed to a two-state...

Sarah Palin and Modern Political Entrepreneurialism

I f you were asking yourself, "How can I give Sarah Palin $9.95 a month, or $99.95 a year?" then you're in luck, because she has launched the Sarah Palin Channel , an online TV project with more Palin than you can shake a stick at. One's natural inclination is to just make fun of it, but let's not be too dismissive. Palin is charting a new path of political entrepreneurship, creating a lucrative model of ideological entertainment that could actually be good for everyone. You might think that anyone who would pay more than a Netflix subscription to watch Palin on their computer is a fool, but lots of us pay that much to indulge our hobbies and interests. And it'll probably be great for both Palin and the country. Many public officials turn their time in office into lucrative post-electoral careers, the most common of which is to become a lobbyist. Palin is doing much the same thing; she's just tailoring her offering to a different customer base. The former members of Congress who...

A New Phase In the Marijuana Legalization Debate

Flickr/Brett Levin
O n Sunday, the New York Times editorialized for the first time in favor of a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, and did so in dramatic fashion, with a statement on the front page of the Sunday Review section and two more pieces going into greater detail. It wasn't particularly surprising, given the generally liberal bent of the Times editorial page and the fact that support for legalization has moved firmly into the mainstream. But it's still important, because the Times remains the most influential news outlet in the country, and they have an unrivaled ability to set the agenda for the rest of the media. There is a shift going on in this debate, and it isn't just that mainstream politicians and newspapers can now support legalization. It's also that the central question of the debate has changed, and changed to what legalization advocates have been asking for a long time. Instead of asking "Is smoking marijuana good or bad?", we're now asking "Is marijuana prohibition better or...

Today's Conservative Obamacare Baloney Debunked

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File
If you were perusing the conservative twitter-sphere this morning, you would have witnessed a kind of collective orgasm, as it was discovered that back in 2012, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber gave a talk to a small group in which he seemed to support the analysis of the two judges on the D.C. Circuit who ruled this week in Halbig v. Burwell that the subsidies for buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act should go only to people who live in states that set up their own insurance exchanges. Since Gruber advised Mitt Romney on the creation of Massachusetts' health reform (which became the model for the ACA) and then advised the White House and Congress during the preparation of the ACA reform, conservatives are now convinced they have their smoking gun: The law, they contend, was always designed to deprive millions of Americans of subsidies, and was in fact never meant to achieve that "universal coverage" that everyone involved said was its goal. Up to the point where the...

How Did the GOP Turn Into Such a Bunch of Clowns?

AP Photo/Joe Marquette
(AP Photo/Joe Marquette) F or a lot of reasons, the current era will probably be seen as unusually consequential in the history of the two parties, particularly the GOP. For Republicans, it has been a time of ideological hardening and bitter infighting. But one aspect of the Republican dilemma hasn't gotten as much attention as those: This is a time of unusual, even stunning, Republican political incompetence. Let me back up for a moment, to put what I'm saying in context. As the 2012 election approached, liberals began to understand just how deluded many conservatives were about empirical reality, and in ways that could do them serious political damage. It's one thing to deny climate change (a denial that may benefit you and your allies), but if you convince yourself that you're going to win when you're actually going to lose, you're hurting no one but yourself. When they began to rally around a guy claiming to " unskew " the 2012 presidential polls that showed Barack Obama heading...

The Worst Excuse for Plagiarism You'll Ever Hear

Office of Senator John Walsh
Yesterday, the New York Times published an article with compelling evidence that Sen. John Walsh, the Montana Democrat who was appointed to fill the seat of Max Baucus when Baucus became ambassador to China, plagiarized most of the master's thesis he wrote at the Army War College. I confess I had no opinion about Walsh before this (he was likely to lose in November anyway, and hasn't done anything of note in his brief time in the Senate), but there are two things I want to point out. You can read Walsh's entire thesis at the Times , and it won't take you that long, because not including footnotes, it's all of 14 pages. And this is my first question: What the hell are the standards at the Army War College that you can write a 14-page paper and get a master's degree? Is it like that at the colleges the other services run? It might be OK if it was 14 pages of dense calculations for a degree in economics or something, but it reads like a paper written by a reasonably bright high school...

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