Paul Waldman

By All Means, Politicize the Bin Laden Killing

Pete Souza/The White House
Imagine that you called a carpenter to come repair your deck, and after looking at the rotted timbers and split rails, he said, "Well, I can fix this deck. But the one thing I'm not going to do is come over here and engage in a bunch of carpentry. That would be wrong." You'd probably suspect that the carpenter was insane. Yet politicians and their campaign advisers–people for whom politics is a profession no less than carpentry is the carpenter's profession–are constantly complaining that their opponents are engaged in "politics," or are committing the horrible sin of "politicizing" something that shouldn't be political. So it was when Barack Obama's re-election campaign took the opportunity of the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden to remind voters who was president when it happened, in the form of an ad retelling the story and questioning whether Mitt Romney would have made the same decision as Obama did were he in the Oval Office at the time. The condemnations...

"Friends," By Which He Means Not Really Friends

Mitt Romney with some of his friends. Really. (Flickr/World Affairs Council of Philadelphia)
Via Andrew Sullivan , Fox News' Shepard Smith had some kind of weird brain event and burped out a bit of fascinating honesty upon reading Mitt Romney's statement on Newt Gingrich pulling out of the presidential race. We shouldn't treat Smith like a hero just for saying what a normal person might say upon reading this, although the fact that he works for Fox does make his implicit criticism of the Republican party's nominee a bit brave. Anyhow, let's watch: Indeed, Shep, politics is weird and creepy, and lacks even the loosest attachment to anything like reality. Now I'm sure Mitt Romney didn't actually write that statement professing what great friends he is with Newt Gingrich, the guy who just spent the better part of a year calling him a despicable, dishonest, disreputable dirtbag. But let's say for the sake of argument that somebody on his staff showed it to him, and he took a quick look and said, "Yeah, that's fine." It's the kind of white lie that we accept—nobody who hears it...

What Real Government Waste Looks Like

1,822,600 GSA conferences, in flight.
When it was discovered that the General Services Administration spent nearly a million dollars on a lavish conference in Las Vegas, the outrage thundered through Washington like a roiling tsunami. Congressional hearings were quickly organized, the scandal led the news every night for days, and you couldn't turn on a television or radio without hearing more horrifying details. The public trust was betrayed! Our tax dollars were wasted! Government was out of control! Yeah, maybe. But in the end, the whole thing was about $823,000, or .00004 percent of the federal budget for 2011. You want to talk real government waste? Get a load of the F-35 joint strike fighter : Although the plane was originally billed as a low-cost solution, major cost increases have plagued the program throughout the last decade. Last year, Pentagon leadership told Congress the acquisition price had increased another 16 percent, from $328.3 billion to $379.4 billion for the 2,457 aircraft to be bought. Not to worry...

TV Ads Are Not All There Is to Presidential Campaigns

Egad! Negative advertising!
Every election, commentators can be relied on to predict that this will be the most negative campaign in history. We've already heard such predictions this year, and we'll surely hear more. It almost certainly won't be true, but you can also predict that when one side attacks the other, the side being attacked will respond by saying, "Our opponent is just trying to distract Americans from the real issues/his failed record/that disturbing story about him and a goat." But we should keep things in perspective. It's possible to have a lot of negative ads and still have a relatively positive campaign, believe it or not. That's because ads are not the only thing a campaign does. They're interesting to reporters for a number of reasons, including the fact that they synthesize the campaign's message neatly down to 30 or 60 seconds, and they contain pretty moving pictures. That makes them particularly compelling to television reporters and those who write for the web, because those reporters...

The Wonder of TV Debates

Me, some years ago, sneering at a pompous ass who is sneering right back.
Whenever Paul Krugman goes on television, you can see his discomfort coming off him. Or at least that's what I see; since I've never met him in person, I don't know how much his television manner differs from his ordinary manner. But he always looks as though inside he's shaking his head, saying to himself, "This is such bullshit. I can't wait to get out of here." And it's hard to blame him. The other day, Krugman did a debate on Bloomberg TV with noted economic crank Congressman Ron Paul, and came away utterly disgusted : Think about it: you approach what is, in the end, a somewhat technical subject in a format in which no data can be presented, in which there's no opportunity to check facts (everything Paul said about growth after World War II was wrong, but who will ever call him on it?). So people react based on their prejudices. If Ron Paul got on TV and said "Gah gah goo goo debasement! theft!" — which is a rough summary of what he actually did say — his supporters would say...

Mitt Romney, Not Quite As Tough As Jimmy Carter

Tougher than he looks.
Now that we're fighting over just how great it was that Barack Obama gave the order for Seal Team 6 to go in and get Osama Bin Laden, Mitt Romney has given what is probably the most politically wise answer to the question of whether he would have ordered the raid, "Of course." But then he added, "Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order." As James Fallows correctly notes , on the substance of the question, Romney's remark is incredibly stupid: Jimmy Carter did indeed make a gutsy go/no-go call. It turned out to be a tactical, strategic, and political disaster. You can read the blow-by-blow in Mark Bowden's retrospective of "The Desert One Debacle." With another helicopter, the mission to rescue U.S. diplomats then captive in Teheran might well have succeeded -- and Carter is known still to believe that if the raid had succeeded, he would probably have been re-elected. Full discussion another time, but I think he's right. (Even with the fiasco, and a miserable "stagflation"...

The Opportunity Society

The Romney grandchildren, in no particular need of bootstraps.
Whenever the subject of inequality comes up, conservatives usually say the same thing: Barack Obama wants equality of outcome , while we want equality of opportunity . The first part is ridiculously disingenuous, of course—no one could honestly argue that Obama's major goals, like raising income taxes from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, would bring us to some kind of pure socialistic society where everyone has precisely the same income and no one is wealthier than anyone else. But the second part is, I think, offered sincerely. Conservatives not only seek a world where everyone has the same opportunities, most of them think that's pretty much what we have already, so major changes aren't necessary, except in the area of getting government off your back. After all, this is America, where any kid, no matter where he comes from, can achieve whatever he wants if he's willing to work hard. Right? Which brings me to the story of Tagg Romney. Today's New York Times has a story about the private...

The Prospect's Crisis

TAP
You may have heard by now that The American Prospect is facing serious financial trouble. There's more information here , but the short version is that without a substantial infusion of funds in a very short time, this extraordinary magazine could cease its operations. Magazines like this one, especially ones with ambitions to provide serious coverage of policy and politics, do not make money. Advertising and subscriptions cover part of the cost of operations, but only a part. And unfortunately, the Prospect 's politics do not endear us to most of the nation's billionaires. But if you know one who might feel differently, please give them a call. A bunch of incredibly talented people are about to lose their jobs. And I may be biased, but the silencing of the Prospect 's voice will leave our national debate less vibrant and informed than it will be if the magazine finds a way to survive. Now, let me add a personal note. Ten years ago, I was teaching and doing research at a university,...

Paul Ryan and the Cult of Specificity

Paul Ryan, with facts and numbers and such.
You should read Jonathan Chait's entire epic evisceration of the cult of Paul Ryan, which reveals many things. Perhaps the most important is the way Ryan has come to understand how specificity creates the impression of wonkiness, commitment to facts, and seriousness about tackling tough challenges. When a smarmy pol like Eric Cantor tells you he's only concerned about the future of our country, you know he's full of it. But when Ryan tells you the same thing, he throws in a bunch of numbers, and it sounds very different, at least to reporters' ears. The truth, however, is that Ryan is as full of it as anybody. But reporters don't have the time or the inclination to figure out whether he's handing them a steaming pile of crap, so they just go ahead and write stories lionizing this sober, intelligent, and responsible guy who represents the best Republicans have to offer. Chait's piece ends with a great story about how Ryan hoodwinked a television reporter doing a typically loving story...

Non-Partisans Finally Agree With What Partisans Have Been Saying

Flickr/K P Tripathi
The most talked-about op-ed over the weekend was "Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem," a piece in The Washington Post by DC eminence grises Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. They're both not only deeply respected but known as non-partisan Congress-watchers (Ornstein even works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute), which is why the piece will get more attention. But should that matter? Either they're right or they're wrong, and the fact that they are who they are ought not make any difference. And if you look at their argument, it's nothing that you couldn't have found in magazines like The Prospect and a hundred other places many times over the past two years. I feel like I've written versions of Mann and Ornstein's piece a dozen times myself (see here , or here, or here ). Mann and Ornstein's reputations do make it harder for Republicans to dismiss them as just liberal partisans, but that doesn't mean they're going to have some kind of seriously difficult...

Consumer Screwgie of the Day

The scene of the crime.
There are a lot of things companies do to fool consumers, some more meaningful than others. They pack items in large boxes to make them look bigger, they offer questionable claims about their products' effectiveness, they weave absurd tales about how your life will be changed if you buy their thing. Navigating your way through that thicket of baloney is part of being a smart consumer, and to a degree we accept it as part of the price of having free commercial speech. Short of outright fraud or practices that do substantial harm to consumers, we understand that people who are selling things can say almost anything they want, and we accept that being a consumer means that manufacturers and retailers are going to try to fool you. In the immortal words of Morty Seinfeld, "Cheap fabric and dim lighting. That's how you move merchandise." But there are some kinds of deception that are beyond the pale. It's one thing to sell you something that might not be up to your expectations; perhaps...

Friday Music Break

Wishing Like a Mountain and Thinking Like the Sea
For today's edition of Gentle Flowing Tunes Layering Multiple Time Signatures, we have Poi Dog Pondering, with "Thanksgiving." Mmmm...

Cool Kids Versus Squares, Continued

Now that's cool.
Yesterday, I wrote a post looking at an ad aired by GOP uber-super-PAC American Crossroads that went after Barack Obama for being a "celebrity" and doing things like going on Jimmy Fallon's television show. I argued that it looked like once again we are in for a renewal of the old battles that started in the 1960s between the squares and the cool kids (or, depending on the historical moment, the jocks and the hippies). In the course of my post, I talked about Barack Obama's image of "cool," which he certainly works to cultivate. I'm hardly the first person to note this about Obama, and I didn't actually say anything about whether coolness makes one a good president. Nevertheless, Matt Welch at Reason seemed positively outraged , enough to illustrate his post responding to mine with a giant picture of me (great!) and accuse me of arguing something I didn't actually argue (not so great). Here's what he had to say (it begins with a reference to the "pound hug," that combo handshake-hug...

The Trouble With Philosophy

Ayn who? (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
For the last couple of years, Paul Ryan has been touted by everyone in the Republican party as a star, a smart, telegenic up-and-comer who represents the future of the party. Worship of Ryan probably reached its apogee last May, when Newt Gingrich began his presidential campaign by calling Ryan's budget "right-wing social engineering" (among other things, Ryan's budget slashed benefits for the poor, cut taxes for the rich, and privatized Medicare). The condemnation of Gingrich's words from conservatives was so immediate and so furious that you would have thought Gingrich had spat on a picture of Jesus or insulted Ronald Reagan Himself. Ryan is, among other things, a longtime fan of Ayn Rand, the philosopher/novelist/quasi-cult leader whose philosophy of radical selfishness and vision of heroic capitalists being held down by the parasitic masses is, one can argue, well reflected in Ryan's work. It wasn't some kind of secret—Ryan has said , "The reason I got involved in public service,...

The End Times, Always Around the Corner

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov
Alternet 's Adam Lee explores the history of the Christian obsession with the End Times, from St. Paul to Cotton Mather to the Jehova's Witnesses to that crazy Harold Camping who predicted that the world would end in 2011, and contends that end timers are responsible for serious political and social harm. I'd argue that the effects are pretty minimal, but the more interesting question is, why does this this idea continue to have so much power? It's important to realize just how widespread the idea that the apocalypse is coming very soon really is. A poll conducted last year by the Public Religion Research Institute found an incredible 44 percent of Americans (and 67 percent of white evangelical Christians) agreeing with the statement, "The severity of recent natural disasters is evidence that we are in what the Bible calls the end times." The Left Behind apocalypse potboilers have supposedly sold over 65 million copies. So isn't just complete nutballs who are anticipating the end of...

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