Paul Waldman

Strike a Pose

A salt-of-the-earth Louisianan nods approvingly while Mary Landreiu gets mad on his behalf.
One of the central dynamics of American politics in the last few decades has been the sorting of the parties, the way that the Republican and Democratic coalitions have become ideologically clearer and more narrow. There are some ways in which this has been a salutary development; for instance, if like many Americans you're a low-information voter, its easier to figure out which party to vote for than it once was. But while the GOP has become particularly unified—the northeastern liberal Republicans who once constituted a substantial faction within the party are all gone—there are still some moderate Democrats around, even in the South. That means, among other things, that other Democrats have to put up with those Southern moderates doing things that would get them excommunicated if they were Republicans, like making bashing a Democratic administration one of the centerpieces of their campaigns. To wit, this new ad from Louisiana senator Mary Landreiu, who is facing a tough race this...

Three Cheers for Taxes

Flickr/Tobias Scheck
Tomorrow is tax day, when millions upon millions of Americans find themselves saying, "Grumble grumble govmint taxes grumble grumble" as they stand in a slow-moving line at the post office to mail their returns off to the tyrants in Washington. Every year at this time, I feel it's my duty to remind everyone of a few important facts about taxes, the most important of which comes at the end, so you'll have to wait for the payoff. But here we go: Taxes in the United States are extremely low by international standards . How low? Really low. We're near the bottom of comparable countries. The good folks at the Center for Tax Justice have put together some informative charts which I'll be using for the rest of this post; here's the first one , showing where we stand compared to the other countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development: Only Chile and Mexico have lower total taxes than we do, and over time we've been moving down that list. In 1979 we ranked 16th out of...

The Missing Generation of Obama-Inspired Politicians

You can see the disillusionment on their faces.
The 2008 Obama presidential campaign, you'll no doubt remember, was a marvel of social engagement, particularly among young people. They got involved in politics, they saw the potential for change, they sent emails and posted to Facebook and knocked on doors. But as Jason Horowitz reports in The New York Times , not too many of them decided to run for office. I'll solve that mystery in a moment, but here's an excerpt: But if Mr. Lesser, who is on leave from Harvard Law School to run for office, is the face of the promised Obama political generation, he is also one of its few participants. For all the talk about the movement that elected Mr. Obama, the more notable movement of Obama supporters has been away from politics. It appears that few of the young people who voted for him, and even fewer Obama campaign and administration operatives, have decided to run for office. Far more have joined the high-paid consultant ranks. Unlike John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who inspired virtual...

Don't Let the Bush Administration Off the Hook For Torture

There's a new report out today from McClatchey on the CIA's torture program based on that Intelligence Committee report. They got a closer look at it than journalists have before, so there are some more details. But there's a danger in how this could be interpreted that will serve to let people who were complicit in the torture program off the hook, so we need to be careful about how we deal with this information. But first, here are their bullets: The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters. The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program. The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program. The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General's Office. And now to put this in context: The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel found that the methods wouldn't breach the law because those applying them didn't have the specific intent...

Stephen Colbert Isn't the Only One With a Fictional Character

Flickr/Reid Rosenberg
So Stephen Colbert will be replacing David Letterman when Letterman retires next year, and you'll be shocked to learn that at least one conservative is spitting mad about it. "CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America," said Rush Limbaugh . "No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservative values—now it's just wide out in the open." Funny, I thought Hollywood's assault on traditional American values was pretty overt already. But this is actually fitting, because I'll bet Limbaugh couldn't care less who's on CBS at 11:30. But Colbert's a liberal, so Limbaugh has to pretend to be angry about it. In other words, he's reacting exactly the way Stephen Colbert's character would. Now it's true that Colbert based his character not on Limbaugh but (mostly) on Bill O'Reilly. And like Colbert, O'Reilly is himself playing a character named Bill O'Reilly, the only difference being that the Bill O'Reilly character is just a slight...

The Most Expensive Health Care In the World

The high-grade stuff.
As a reader of this web site, you are informed and aware, so you no doubt saw the stories that came out yesterday about the data trove the government just released on what individual doctors bill Medicare. The shocking news was that some have managed to charge the government millions of dollars, including one ophthalmologist, Salomon Melgen, who billed Medicare an incredible $21 million in 2012 alone, and who just happens to be caught up in an investigation of influence peddling with a Democratic senator. But before this story disappears with some head-shaking about scandal and fraud, we should take note of what it teaches us about why we have the most expensive health care system in the world. A lot of people had the same reaction to that detail about the Florida ophthalmologist: How on Earth is it possible for one doctor to bill $21 million to Medicare in one year? The good doctor's answer is that he has a large practice, but the biggest reason comes down to one word: Lucentis. It's...

Why Clinton's Gender Problem Will Not Be Like Obama's Race Problem

Here's an SAT analogy question for you: Barack Obama's 2008 campaign IS TO race as Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign IS TO _______. If you said "gender," you're only half right. I'll get to what I mean in a moment, but this is something Isaac Chotiner raises today at The New Republic : in 2016, we'll get into a similar dynamic we see now, in which "the attacks on Clinton will be seen as sexist by liberals, which in turn will lead to conservatives feeling falsely accused of sexism. You can count on MSNBC, for example, to turn nearly every attack on Clinton into an attack on Republicans for hating women." It's true that there will be an extraordinary amount of sexism directed at Clinton, just as there always has been . But unlike Barack Obama, who spent years planning how to make white people comfortable with his race (which worked for a while , until his victory became a real possibility), Clinton has never tried to make her gender unthreatening. I suppose we could mention the way she...

The End of the "Ick Factor"

This hard-core rock-'n-roller knows his scripture. (Flickr/Center for American Progress)
Let it not be said that conservatives have failed to evolve on the question of gay rights. These days, even if you are adamantly opposed to marriage equality, you're required to express a kind of libertarian attitude toward homosexuality itself. Love the sinner, hate the sin? Not anymore. Now it's love the sinner, and as for the sin, well that's none of my business, you do what you like. But this public display of live-and-let-livism is a rather shocking contradiction with the very grounds on which many conservatives base their beliefs about this issue, namely the Old Testament. I give you Mike Huckabee, speaking yesterday at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition: "I'm not against anybody. I'm really not. I'm not a hater. I'm not homophobic," he said. "I honestly don't care what people do personally in their individual lives." Well hold on there! You honestly don't care? But doesn't the Bible condemn the act itself? Yahweh doesn't say, "Whatever you do in the bedroom is none of anybody...

Thrown to the Lions

There have been many odd and interesting developments in American conservatism in the last few years, but there are few that liberals find more incomprehensible than the belief among many conservative Christians that not only are they currently being oppressed for their religious beliefs, but that today's outrages are but a prelude to a far more vicious and violent crackdown on Christianity that is right around the corner. There's a movie I want to talk about in a moment, but first, I'd like to explore where this is coming from, both from the perspective of the conservative Christians themselves, and the liberals who have such a hard time understanding it. Part of the problem is that the Christians most liberals know are more likely to be liberal Christians (I'll cop to that), so we've never actually sat down with someone who really feels oppressed and explored their thoughts on this issue. Another part is that the idea of Christian oppression gets its most visible airing from the...

What Marijuana Legalization Won't Be in 2016

Flickr/Tha Goodiez
If you're an advocate of marijuana legalization, you've had nothing but good news for some time now, and more keeps coming. Today at that snappy new Vox thing the hip kids put together, there's an article pointing out that although many people predicted a spike in crime once pot became legal in Colorado, statistics from Denver show that crime has actually declined a bit over the last few months compared to the same period in 2013. It's a small period of time, to be sure, but it doesn't look as though there has been an explosion of robberies or any other kind of crime. And with the rapid movement of public opinion in favor of legalization, it would be easy to predict that politicians are going to be changing their positions very soon, or as the Atlantic puts it in an article today, " Weed Is the Sleeper Issue of 2016 ." OK, so we can put that headline down to an overzealous editor; the article itself, which runs through the positions of a number of potential presidential candidates,...

Beyond Corruption

AP Images/Mark Lennihan
T here was a time in our history, thankfully long past now, when bribery was common and money's slithery movement through the passages of American government was all but invisible, save for the occasional scandal that would burst forth into public consciousness. Today, we know much more about who's getting what from whom. Members of Congress have to declare their assets, lobbyists have to register and disclose their activities, and contributions are reported and tracked. Whatever you think about the current campaign finance system, it's much more transparent than it once was. But if outright bribery is rare, should we say that the system is good enough? It's a question we have to answer as we move into a new phase of the debate over money in politics. In the wake of last week's Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. F.E.C. , many liberals are nervous that the Court's conservative majority is poised to remove all limits on how much can be donated to candidates and parties. For their...

How Should Liberals Feel About the Mozilla CEO Getting Pushed Out Over Marriage Equality?

By now you may have heard the story of Brendan Eich, who was named the CEO of the Mozilla corporation, which runs the Firefox web browser, then resigned ten days later after it was revealed that he donated $1,000 to the campaign for California's Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in the state and was later overturned. Eich's resignation came after the company came under pressure from many directions, including the dating site OKCupid, which put a message on its site asking its users not to use Firefox. This is something of a dilemma for liberals: on one hand, we support marriage equality, but on the other, we also support freedom of thought and don't generally think people should be hounded from their jobs because of their beliefs on contentious issues. So where should you come down? In order to decide, there are a few questions you need to ask, some of which are easier to answer than others: What kind of an employee was Brendan Eich? This question, which may be the most...

How Our Campaign Finance System Compares to Other Countries

The world, including places that are not us.
With the Supreme Court's decision in the McCutcheon case, some people think we're heading for the complete removal of contribution limits from campaigns. Jeffrey Toobin, for instance, argues that the way Justice Roberts defines corruption—basically, nothing short of outright bribery qualifies—means that he could well be teeing things up to eliminate contribution limits entirely in some future case. Which got me thinking: if we really are headed for that eventual outcome, how would that place us compared to other countries? For instance, if you're a Monsieur Koch in France, can you write a candidate a million-euro check? Fortunately, the good folks at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), an inter-governmental agency, have gathered this kind of information together . Of course, a large database of laws from all over the world is going to miss many of the subtleties and loopholes that characterize each individual country's system. But...

How Barack Obama Trapped the GOP On Health Care

It was all downhill from here.
Barack Obama has done many dastardly things to Republicans. He regularly ridicules their arguments. He insists on being treated as though he were legitimately the president of the United States. And most cruelly of all, he beat their standard-bearers in two national elections. Is it any wonder they loathe him so? But one thing Obama has done to the GOP has gone unnoticed: he made it impossible for them to be serious about health care policy. By now you're well familiar with how the core of the Affordable Care Act—a ban on insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions (also known as "guaranteed issue"), accompanied by an individual mandate and subsidies for people of moderate incomes to purchase private insurance—was originally a conservative proposal. The idea was that unlike in most other western countries where a large government program like Medicare covers all citizens, you could achieve something close to universal coverage and health security through the use...

Will Disclosure Save Us From the Corrupting Influence of Big Money?

You'll have to do a lot better than that. (stockmonkeys.com)
There is going to be a lot of speculation about how the Supreme Court's decision in McCutcheon v. FEC to eliminate the aggregate limits on campaign contributions will affect the influence of big money in politics. That's because it serves to make an already complex system a little more complex, and there are multiple ways the decision could matter; on the other hand, it might make no difference at all. For the moment, I want to consider the role of disclosure, because I think it's going to become increasingly important in the near future, particularly if the Court goes all the way and eliminates all contribution limits. It should be said that in this case, they could have done that, but decided not to (only Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, advocated eliminating all limits). But there is some reason to believe that the conservatives on the Court will go there eventually. And if they do, disclosure is going to be their justification: that as long as we know who's giving money...

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