Paul Waldman

The Rich, Still Different From You and Me

Photos by some tool via Rich Kids of Instagram.
When the news broke that Los Angeles Clippers owner and creepy racist misogynist billionaire Donald Sterling would be banned from the NBA for life (perhaps resulting in him selling the team) and fined $2.5 million, a lot of people probably said, "$2.5 million? The guy's got a couple of billion dollars! Why not give him a fine that'll hurt?" Frankly, I think any fine at all is a little strange in this case. We usually think of fines as punishment for violations of some rule or law, not as a response to someone just being a horrible human being (though there could well be some clause in the the secret NBA owner bylaws about behavior that reflects poorly on the league). The ban, on the other hand, seems perfectly appropriate, even if when he sells the team he'll net a few hundred million dollars on his original $12 million investment. But the fine—and the weird fact that he was about to get a "lifetime achievement award" from the NAACP for his contributions to the welfare of black people...

The Conflicted Voter

Flickr/marta...maduixaaaa
One of the most persistent and defining features of American public opinion is that as a whole, the electorate is what political scientists call "symbolic conservatives" and "operational liberals." That is, when you ask them abstract questions they sound like conservatives expressing a dislike of big government. But when you ask them specific questions they sound like liberals, expressing support (and wanting to increase funding) for just about everything government does. The parties understand that, which is why Republicans tend to talk about principles and Democrats tend to talk about programs. This extends to specific policy choices; most of the things on the agenda of Democrats have majority support. So why don't Democrats always win? The answer is complicated, and today, Kevin Drum points us to this odd result in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll : on most of the issues the poll tested, voters said they trust Democrats more than Republicans, yet when you ask them whom they...

Words, Ideas, Actions, and the Tangle of Race

Beware of these. (Flickr/Pierre Metivier) (AP Photo of Cliven Bundy/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher)
We seem to be having one of those moments when a series of controversies come in rapid succession and make everyone newly aware of the relationship between language, ideas, and actions. And naturally, it revolves around our eternal national wound of race. Nevertheless, it's nice to see that in a few of these controversies, we aren't actually arguing about what words mean. This is often a focus of disagreement when somebody says something that other people take offense at; for instance, when Paul Ryan said a few weeks ago that "[w]e have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working, and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of the culture of work," conservatives believed he was being unfairly tagged as racist for using a common phrase, while liberals objected to the connection between the word and the idea that followed. There's nothing racist about the term "inner city" in and of itself, but when people say...

In Defense of Mitch McConnell--Sort Of

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell campaigning in Kentucky. AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee
I come before you today to defend Mitch McConnell. Because although McConnell can spin with the best of them, late last week some kind of misfire deep within his brain caused him to experience a moment of candor and inadvertently shine a light on the absurdity of campaigns—not just what candidates tell us, but what we expect of them. The immediate topic was jobs, and whether McConnell would bring them to one particular region of Kentucky. "Economic development is a Frankfort issue," he said, citing the state capital. "That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet." Horrors! Naturally, his opponent jumped all over him for it. As Steve Benen reminds us, something similar happened in 2010 to Sharron Angle, the nutball then running for U.S. Senate in Nevada, who once said, "People ask me, 'What are you gonna do to develop jobs in your state?' Well that's not my job as a U.S. senator, to bring industry to this state." Angle was wrong about a lot of...

Walmart Does Something Good

Flickr/Walmart
Walmart is able to use its enormous size and market power to mercilessly squeeze its suppliers and bring its prices down to extraordinarily low levels. Liberal elitists like the ones who read this magazine tend to believe that although those low prices provide a boon to the store's largely low-income customer base, that is outweighed by the negative effects Walmart has on wages and benefits, when it comes not only to its own employees but also those through its supply chain and the larger labor market. And that's not to mention its dependence on government—the company not only makes billions of dollars every year in sales from food stamps, because of its meager wages and benefits, taxpayers subsidize tens of thousands of Walmart employees with those very food stamps, and Medicaid insurance as well. OK, so you know all that. But what if Walmart uses its huge footprint to create a separate benefit for low-income people in an area where they could really use it, and without hurting (...

With Cliven Bundy, the Right Is Reaping What It Sows

One of the Bundys' many interviews on Fox News.
Some great causes achieve their goals and transform the world, while others fizzle out when it's discovered that their leaders are unadorned racists who think black people were in much better shape when they were slaves. Isn't that how it goes? At least that's what some conservatives must have thought today as they learned of the New York Times report on Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been grazing his cows on federal land and refusing to pay grazing fees, what you or I might consider "stealing," but what the folks at Fox News, who have given Bundy hour after hour of glowing coverage, consider a principled stand against federal overreach in the finest American traditions. Prior to this morning, Bundy's fans were a limited but influential group, including senators Rand Paul and Dean Heller, the entire Fox network (but especially Sean Hannity), and the National Review , where one writer compared him to Gandhi . Now that Bundy's fascinating ideas about "the Negro" have come to...

The Religion of Unreason

Flickr/Dustin Grayson
I think it's safe to say that this period in history is one in which liberals have felt unusually exasperated with conservatives, perhaps more than ever before. I can say this with some confidence as a liberal who runs in liberal circles; it may well be that conservatives are also more exasperated with liberals than they have ever been. Our ability to feed that exasperation is driven by the fact that, for all the polarization of information sources, we're actually more aware of what people on the other side say than we ever have been before. Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea if Rush Limbaugh said something offensive, but today (once it rises to a certain level of horror), Media Matters will record it and put it on their web site, the Huffington Post will put it on their web site, and half a dozen people in my Twitter feed will let me know it happened. So there are all kinds of new ways to become appalled with your opponents. And there's nothing we liberals find more...

Today In American Exceptionalism

This graph will blow your mind. Click inside to see why.
We're going to talk about rich people and government spending, but first, some context. At some point you may have wondered about parliamentary systems like they have in Great Britain, in which the party that gets the most seats in the legislature also installs its leader as chief executive. With complete control over government, why don't they go hog-wild and completely remake the entire country after every election? The simple answer is that they know they'll have to stand for another election before long. But the other key factor is that a transition from, say, Labour to the Conservatives isn't as jarring as a transition of total control from our Democrats to Republicans might be, because there isn't as much distance between the parties. In many of our peer countries in Europe and elsewhere, some things we fight bitterly over have basically been settled. For instance, everyone in the U.K. accepts that the National Health Service is a good thing, even if there might be some...

Future of Television at Stake at Supreme Court Today

Photo courtesy of Aereo.
Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in ABC vs Aereo , a case that will (cue drumroll) decide the future of television. Or maybe it won't, but it's a fascinating case, involving the intersection of technology with political and market power. There's a comprehensive explanation here , but the short version is that Aereo is a service that allows you to get broadcast TV, i.e. the major networks and a few others that send signals over the air, through an internet connection instead of a set of rabbit ears on top of your TV. The broadcast networks and the big cable companies want to shut it down, because they'd both rather have everyone getting the signals through cable. You see, your cable company pays a license fee to ABC, NBC, CBS, and every other network, fees that amount to billions of dollars a year (and get passed on to you). Someone who uses Aereo to cut the cable cord isn't paying those license fees, and isn't paying for a cable subscription either. Aereo is, without...

Manly Men Condemn Obama's Lack of Manliness

Maybe one of these guys should run for president. (Flickr/David!)
Here's a question: If Hillary Clinton becomes president, what are conservatives going to say when they want to criticize her for not invading a sufficient number of other countries? I ask because yesterday, David Brooks said on Meet the Press that Barack Obama has "a manhood problem in the Middle East." Because if he were more manly, then by now the Israelis and Palestinians would have resolved their differences, Iraq would be a thriving, peaceful democracy, and Iran would have given up its nuclear ambitions. Just like when George W. Bush was president, right? It really is remarkable how persistent and lacking in self-awareness the conservative obsession with presidential testosterone is. Here's the exchange: DAVID BROOKS: And, let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a (I'll say it crudely) but a manhood problem in the Middle East: Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair. But certainly in the...

Republicans on the ACA: Wrong, but Rational

Courtesy of earloftaint.com
I find it strange," said Barack Obama on Thursday as he announced that the total of Americans getting private insurance through the exchanges has now exceeded 8 million, "that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been. They still can't bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working." But it really isn't so strange. The Republicans' continued refusal to grant that anything good could possibly come from a law they've fought so bitterly for five years, even as encouraging news continues to roll in, is quite understandable. What's more, it's perfectly rational, even when all the predictions they made about its inevitable self-destruction fail to come true. Therein lies one of the paradoxes of our politics: At times, the most rational politician is the one who appears to be acting like a fool. Let's say that you're a Republican running for Senate. Perhaps you're whichever congressman will out-crazy his primary opponents...

Would You Let a Robot Give You a Sponge Bath?

Getting ready for their shift on the pediatric ward. (Kai Schreiber/Wikimedia Commons)
Imagine it's 50 years from now, and you've checked into the hospital for a minor surgery that will require you to spend a couple of nights there. There's a nurses' station down the hall, but you know that the nurses are also caring for lots of other patients and may not be able to come quickly when you have a need, particularly if it isn't an emergency, like getting a hand walking to the bathroom, or having someone pick up the TV remote you dropped, or maybe getting a foot rub just because that would be nice. Upon checking in, the clerk says to you, "I see that your insurance provides for a robotic aide while you're here. Is that something you'd like?" What are you going to say? According to a survey the Pew Research Center did on people's feelings about future technologies, most people would say "No thanks"—or at least they think so now. The survey is fascinating in part because many of the results seem (to me anyway) to be ridiculous. For instance, 39 percent of respondents think...

Where the Death Penalty Stands

Yesterday, the New Hampshire state Senate deadlocked on a bill that would have eliminated the state's death penalty, killing the bill for the moment and leaving New Hampshire as the only state in New England that still has a law providing for executions. The bill had already passed in the state House of Representatives and has the support of the governor, so one more vote would have passed it. I thought this was a nice opportunity to look at the state of the death penalty in America and around the world. On to the charts and graphs! As of now, 32 states still have the death penalty, and 18 (plus the District of Columbia) have eliminated it. Six of those 18—Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York—eliminated their death penalties just since 2007. Even in some states that have death penalty laws on the books, capital punishment has all but disappeared. Kentucky, for instance, has executed only three prisoners since the Supreme Court reinstated the death...

The Circle of Scam Keeps Turning

Flickr/Kevin Trotman
A couple of times in the past I've written about what I call the conservative circle of scam, the way so many people on the right are so adept at fleecing each other. Here's a piece about high-priced consultants milking the Koch brothers for everything they can get, and here's one about my favorite story , the way that, in 2012, Dick Morris played ordinary people who wanted to see Barack Obama driven from office (he solicited donations to a super PAC for that purpose, laundered the money just a bit, and apparently kept most of it for himself without ever spending any of it on defeating Obama). The essence of the circle of scam is that everybody gets rich at some stage of the game, with the exception of the rank-and-file conservatives who fuel it all with their votes, their eyeballs, and their money. Today there are two new media stories showing that the circle of scam is humming along nicely. The first comes from Michael Calderone at Huffington Post , who reports on an interesting...

Daily Meme: Voting Machinations

We're all about voting and elections today, starting with t his Fox News poll showing a wide-open race for the 2016 GOP nomination. Chris Christie leads with 15 percent, followed by Jeb Bush and Rand Paul with 14 percent each, going all the way down to Bobby Jindal with room to move at 2 percent. Looks like it's time for some traffic problems in Des Moines. New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill bringing the Empire State into the National Popular Vote Compact, which could effectively eliminate the electoral college if enough states join in. Rick Hertzberg explains, in case you need to be brought up to speed . The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging Arkansas' voter ID law . One of the lead plaintiffs is a 78-year-old man who has no birth certificate, and Republicans in the state argue that he suffers from no undue burden in voting. After all, he'll be allowed to vote if he can successfully recite Ronald Reagan's 1984 convention speech backward in Esperanto while performing a one-...

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