Paul Waldman

Friday Music Break

"I Don't Like Mondays"
For today's edition of Pretty Songs About Schoolyard Massacres Sung By An Irish Guy Inexplicably Wearing a Bolo Tie, we have the Boomtown Rats with 1979's "I Don't Like Mondays." It may be the only #1 U.K. hit to mention a telex machine, which for you kids out there was basically halfway between the telegraph and the fax. If you're interested in the background on the schoolyard massacre, here's that story .

What's in Mitt Romney's Tax Returns?

Mitt Romney delivers fake, uncomfortable laugh at being asked about his tax returns.
To a certain degree, all this back-and-forth over precisely when Mitt Romney left Bain Capital is an argument about almost nothing. We might reasonably ask, what does it matter? The Romney campaign thought it mattered when they insisted that Romney wasn't part of the firm when it was doing stuff he was being criticized for, like shutting down factories and laying off workers. The Obama campaign thought it mattered when they wanted to make those charges in the first place, and now that they want to keep Romney on the defensive and stretch this story out longer by focusing on things like who Romney was deceiving when he attested on various documents that he either was or wasn't still in charge of Bain during the period between 1999 and 2002. But if we settled this argument once and for all (and don't worry, we won't), would it change much? Not really. Nevertheless, this whole thing is only going to increase the pressure on Romney to release more tax returns. During the primaries, he...

No, Candidates Don't Have to Lie

Lies lies lies yeah!
We reached some kind of a milestone this week when the Romney campaign decided it would use the word "lie" when complaining about criticisms the Obama campaign is making of the Republican soon-to-be nominee. It's a word journalists almost never use, since it sounds too judgmental and they know they'll be accused of taking sides, and candidates seldom use, perhaps because it sounds too whiny, I'm not precisely sure. What we do know is that while some candidates are bigger liars than others, no presidential candidate seems capable of getting through a campaign without saying things that aren't true. Conor Friedersdorf asks , "Can anyone become president without lying? Without misrepresenting their opponent? Without using people as a means to an end? I don't think anyone can." The complaints about Barack Obama that he cites are more about broken promises, which are different from lies, but I'll grant that Obama has said some things that weren't true. Yet I'd have to disagree. First, let'...

I Did Not Have Economic Relations with That Company

Still image from a Romney campaign ad.
There's something weird about Bain Capital. It seems that the company was going along doing what ordinary private-equity firms do—buying and selling companies, making lots of money—until about 1999 or so, when things took a sinister turn. At that point, terrible things began to happen. The firms they backed went into bankruptcy, costing thousands of people their jobs, while Bain still walked away with millions in management fees. They invested in companies that profited from outsourcing and offshoring. Who knows, they may have been producing magical hair-thickening elixirs made from the tears of orphans. Every time one of these new revelations comes out, it seems to concern the period after 1999. But fortunately for Mitt Romney, he has an explanation: When all these bad things happened, I was no longer part of the firm. I left in 1999, when I took the job leading the Salt Lake City Olympics. Yet today, the Boston Globe comes out with an investigation that seems to reveal that Romney...

The Insidious Threat of Telecommuters

Jeremy Bentham's plan for a panopticon.
A couple of weeks ago, upon the release of a study suggesting that people who work at home spend a lot of time not working but nonetheless are more productive than their office-bound colleagues, I argued that people who work at home don't goof off less, we just goof off differently. Not only is there probably no less non-work-related Web surfing/Twitter reading/Facebooking going on in the office, but people in offices (at least every office I've ever worked in) spend a lot of time doing things like talking to each other, which we home workers don't waste a moment on. In any case, The Wall Street Journal reports that bosses are not satisfied with the fact that their telecommuting employees are perfectly productive. Gripped by the suspicion that they might be slacking off, they're upping the surveillance: These days, working from home is more like being in the office, with bosses developing new ways to make sure employees are on task. Some track projects and schedule meetings on shared...

Americans Paying Historically Low Taxes

The top marginal income tax rate, a testament to our oppression. (Flickr)
When the Tea Party movement started in 2009, some of its adherents made signs that read, "Taxed Enough Already!"—the movement defined itself in large part as a reaction against the oppressive tax policies of the federal government, sucking ordinary people dry in its endless search for cash to fund its freedom-destroying schemes. This was always an insane inversion of actual reality—the truth is that as part of the stimulus bill, President Barack Obama actually cut taxes for almost everyone, and the only tax increase he imposed in his first term was a hike in cigarette taxes. It's true that the Affordable Care Act contains a number of different tax increases (on things like "Cadillac" health plans), but those have not taken effect yet. But to many conservatives, it just feels like they're paying more taxes, because ... well, because there's a Democrat in the White House. Today, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on the taxes we have actually been paying, and guess what:...

Investment without Job Creation

A well-known job creator. (Flickr/Vaguely Artistic)
Some time within the last few years, conservatives decided that people who have lots of money shouldn't be called "the rich" or "the wealthy" but "job creators." Give them credit—they know how to use language to turn a problem into an opportunity. After all, defending low tax rates for the rich is hard, but defending low tax rates for job creators is easy. Every now and then you might get an apostate like this venture capitalist coming out and saying that the real job creators are middle class people who buy things and not rich people, but on the whole the "job creator" framing allows conservatives to make their tax arguments without any discomfort. That gentleman's argument is completely valid: if you have enough middle class people buying Acme Widgets to require 100 people working in the widget factory to meet the demand, it doesn't really matter whether C. Montgomery Acme gets his income taxed at 35 percent (the current, Bush-established, free enterprise-supporting level) or 39.6...

A Test of Ideology

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Texas has a higher proportion of its population living without health insurance than any other state. But like many other states with lots of poor people, it has the misfortune of being governed by Republicans. That explains why yesterday, Governor Rick Perry announced that the state will refuse to accept the federal money offered for expanding Medicaid eligibility to everyone who makes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Perry says that this expansion of Medicaid, which is almost entirely paid for by the federal government, will nevertheless bankrupt the state and put the oppressive boot on the necks of Texans. So he's happy to keep 25 percent of his population uninsured. In case you're wondering, Texas currently sets eligibility for Medicaid at 26 percent of the federal poverty level, which means that if you earn more than $6,000 a year for a family of four, you're not eligible. That's not a typo. Six thousand dollars a year for a family of four is what the state of...

Their Mind on Mitt's Money and Mitt's Money on Their Mind

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Remember when the knock on Mitt Romney was that he's an unprincipled flip-flopper? That seemed like it would be at the very least one foundation of the campaign Barack Obama would run against Romney, if not the primary foundation. It's a potent attack, and there may never have been a candidate more vulnerable to it than Romney. Yet aside from passing remarks here and there, we don't hear much about flip-flopping from Obama and his surrogates anymore. Instead, it's going to be all money, all the time. Or to put it another way, the Obama campaign's central message will be that Mitt Romney is an out-of-touch rich guy who spent a career screwing ordinary people in his endless lust for profits and now wants to be president so he can continue to screw ordinary people and reward his rich friends. Look at the ads produced by Priorities USA Action, the main pro-Obama super PAC. There are about 20 ads focusing on Romney's record at Bain Capital, and not one about flip-flopping. The ads produced...

Out of Touch Meets Really out of Touch

The Hamptons (Google Maps)
Mitt Romney has taken lots of abuse for being an out-of-touch rich guy whose struggles to connect to regular folks often produce comical results. But the stories coming out of Romney's one-day fundraising marathon in the Hamptons (three separate events at the no doubt spectacular vacation homes of Ronald Perelman, Clifford Sobel, and David Koch) on Saturday actually make Romney look good. Because the thing about Mitt is this: He's trying. He may be terrible at it, but he's making an effort to connect with ordinary people. He talks to them almost every day. Yes, the encounters are awkward and superficial, but he wants to be one of the fellas, and he understands that this is something he could be a lot better at. Whereas the people who came to these fundraisers are actually as pretentious, condescending, and elitist as Democrats would like people to believe Mitt Romney is. Let's stipulate that among the attendees at these events were some folks who are thoughtful and modest, treat their...

The Data Are Speaking

The only singular data.
I have more than my share of pet peeves about language usage, none greater than the ubiquity of the phrase "I could care less" when what people are actually trying to say is "I couldn't care less" (it's one thing to say something wrong, but something else entirely to say the opposite of what you're trying to say, for frack's sake). But whenever I'm feeling doctrinaire, I think of "February," and ask myself whether I really think anyone ought to be saying "Feb-ROO-air-ee." Then I get sad thinking about how in 50 years, we'll all be saying "nuke-yoo-lar" like a nation of George W. Bushes. The point is, pronunciation and usage are constantly evolving, and there's only so long you can hold out for what's correct against what's common. Which brings me to "data." Although I agree with Kevin Drum about most things, I found out today that he and I have different ideas about this word: But I won't rest until they — and everyone else — accept the plain fact that data should be treated as a...

Friday Music Break

"Pearl"
In honor of today's poor job numbers, we've got Janis Joplin, with "Mercedez Benz." For you kids out there, Joplin was a singer who was popular in the 1960s and early 1970s. She performed at a concert called "Woodstock," which was kind of a big deal. Ask your parents about it. This song was recorded three days before she died at age 27.

Obama Gets Personal

Barack Obama prepares to feast on Mitt Romney's entrails. (Flickr/Barack Obama)
Campaigns often feature a division of labor when it comes to speaking about the candidate's opponent, one in which the candidate makes polite but firm criticism, while the surrogates (campaign staff, other elected officials) say much harsher and more personal things. A good campaign makes sure that the two proceed along the same thematic lines so that they reinforce one another, but the fact that the candidate himself is more genteel in his language is supposed to preclude a backlash against him for being too "negative." Frankly, I've always thought this is overblown, particularly the strange custom whereby it's deemed a bit unseemly to refer to your opponent by name, such that saying "Mitt Romney is a jackass" would be horribly uncouth, but saying "My opponent is a jackass" is somehow more acceptable. As the campaign goes on, this protocol fades away. Candidates' comments take on a harder edge, beginning to resemble the comments their staffs make. It seems we may be entering this...

The Myth That Won't Die

A shot from a 2008 McCain for President ad.
John McCain is no longer a substantively important figure in American politics. As a member of the minority party in the Senate, he chairs no committees. He is not a leader among his peers. Since losing in his second run for president, he continued his decades-long record of not bothering to engage in the legislating part of being a legislator (over a three-decade-long career, McCain has exactly one significant piece of legislation to his name, a law that was overturned by the Supreme Court). Yet he continues to be a politically important figure, appearing on the Sunday shows more often than anyone else and having his ideas and his opinions regularly reported on. Which is why I simply must speak up now that the biggest myth about John McCain is cropping up again. It's the idea that, noble and modest as he is, McCain has always been terribly reluctant to discuss the fact that he was a POW in Vietnam. This came up over the past couple of days in a House race in Illinois, where classy...

Look, up in the Sky! It's a Tax! It's a Penalty! It's a Stupid Argument over Semantics!

Flickr/Alyson Hurt
Since not much campaign news happens over the July Fourth holiday, Mitt Romney took the opportunity to change his campaign's tune on whether the penalty in the Affordable Care Act for those who can afford health insurance but refuse to get it is a "tax." To review, the Supreme Court said that the government has the authority under its taxing power to penalize those who refuse to get insurance, leading Republicans to cry, "Tax! Tax! Tax!" with all of their usual policy nuance and rhetorical subtlety. The only problem this poses for Romney is that calling it a tax means that Romney imposed a tax with his health-care plan in Massachusetts, which means admitting that Romney sinned against the tax gods. First his spokesman came out and said that no, it's really just a penalty, but then Romney came out and said, well, if the Supreme Court said it's a tax, then it's a tax, but it wasn't a tax when I did it, because the Supreme Court didn't call it that. What does all this arguing over...

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