Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

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Chicken Little '16

Tim Alberta of the National Journal takes on the dismal task of reading American Dreams, Marco Rubio's pre-presidential candidacy book, and finds this, among other things:

The Florida senator takes several strongly worded shots at the Democratic front-runner. "Hillary Clinton has proven herself wedded to the policies and programs of the past," Rubio writes in the book's introduction. "The election of Hillary Clinton to the presidency, in short, would be nothing more than a third Obama term. Another Clinton presidency would be a death blow to the American Dream."

Oh for Pete's sake. Why is it so hard to just say that if the other party keeps the White House, a lot of things will happen that you think are bad? You might even be able to persuade your readers that you're right. But "a death blow to the American Dream"? A death blow? Seriously? Does Marco Rubio actually believe that if Hillary Clinton becomes president, the American Dream will literally die? That bootstraps will no longer be pulled upon, that hard work will cease to find its reward, that entrepreneurs and strivers and dreamers will find only disappointment and despair here in the land of the free?

Of course he doesn't. But I guess after six years of conservative politicians and media figures telling their followers that freedom is about to breathe its final breath because there's a health insurance mandate, or that Barack Obama might declare martial law and cancel the 2016 election so he can extend his despotic rule indefinitely, Republican candidates think this kind of insane fear-mongering is what's expected of them.

I realize that as a general matter, hyperbole is a bipartisan indulgence. For instance, liberals are just as likely as conservatives to say they'll leave the country if the other party's candidate becomes president, yet no one of either party ever follows through on the threat. But this particular type of rhetoric—claiming that the republic will literally perish if our side doesn't win—seems to be a particularly Republican fetish.

They may not have noticed, but after six years of Barack Obama's campaign to destroy America, the country remains intact. And here's a crazy prediction: if Hillary Clinton wins the White House, some policies may change, and the effects could be good or bad, or both. But at the end of her four or eight years, there will still be a place called America. The same will even be true in the unlikely event that Marco Rubio becomes president.

A Simple Question for the NYPD

I haven't done any kind of systematic survey, but most of the coverage (particularly broadcast coverage) I've seen about the conflict between New York mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD (or portions thereof) has been maddeningly he said/she said, just noting quickly that the two sides are angry with each other without bothering to detail exactly what their complaints are. In doing so, they let people like Patrick Lynch, the head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, fling unsubstantiated or just absurd charges without any accountability. For instance, yesterday afternoon Lynch was interviewed by Robert Siegel on NPR's All Things Considered, and while it might be going a bit far to call it a softball interview (there was at least one probing question), Siegel didn't ask Lynch what ought to have been the most obvious question in an interview about this controversy: What, specifically, has Mayor de Blasio done that you object to? That's really the heart of the issue, but if you don't ever ask, your audience doesn't get the information it needs to understand the controversy.

Regular readers will know that this is a particular media hobbyhorse of mine (see here, here, or here). "What, specifically, are you talking about?" is a simple, incredibly revealing question that political figures almost never get asked. When somebody makes a shocking or sweeping claim—as when Lynch said after the murder of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu that de Blasio and others had "blood on [their] hands"—and then you have an opportunity to interview them, good journalism demands holding them accountable for their claims. Seigel not only failed to do that in this case, he asked Lynch this incredible question: "How far would an apology from the mayor go with you?"

What made that question all the more head-spinning was that Siegel didn't specify what de Blasio is supposed to apologize for. As far as I can tell, what has New York police angry is that 1) in the wake of Eric Garner's death via an illegal chokehold from an NYPD officer, de Blasio said "the way we do policing needs to change" in order to improve relations between the police and the people they're supposed to be serving; and 2) he explained how he and his wife told their son, "Look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do. Don't move suddenly. Don't reach for your cellphone. Because we knew, sadly, there's a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color." Despite the fact that millions of African-American parents have this same conversation with their sons, the head of another police union said the idea that a young black man might want to take extra care when dealing with police was "moronic" and that de Blasio "may want to think about moving out of New York City completely. He just doesn't belong here."

And then there's the fact that de Blasio said of the officers who decided to stage protests at Liu's and Ramos' funerals, "They were disrespectful to the families." Which is pretty close to inarguable. Police officers have a right to protest the mayor if they choose, but doing it at a funeral is so utterly classless that the only other people who ever even contemplate such a thing are the members of Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church, who are universally reviled not only for their message of hate, but for the fact that they choose to spread it at funerals in the faces of grieving families.

So that's the bill of particulars against de Blasio (and I realize that members of the NYPD have older complaints about him, like the fact that he ended the "stop and frisk" policy, but that's not what they're saying they're angry about now). He has made some utterly commonsensical observations, which people like Pat Lynch interpret as "attacks" on the NYPD, while all the while being careful to praise the police whenever he talks about the topic. On the other side, leaders and members of the NYPD have accused de Blasio of bearing direct and personal responsibility for the murder of two police officers, protested him at funerals, and circulated notices encouraging officers to publicly state that if they are killed in the line of duty then the mayor should be barred from their funerals. But de Blasio is supposed to apologize, for something or other.

I know this may be fruitless, but here's a suggestion for any other reporter who gets the opportunity to interview Pat Lynch: Just ask him what specifically he's angry at Bill de Blasio for. When he says that de Blasio "attacks the New York City Police Department," as he did in the NPR interview, ask him what statement, specifically, he's referring to. And if he says that de Blasio has created some kind of a terrible "climate" for police officers, as he has charged, ask him how, specifically, de Blasio has done that.

Of course, the same standard should be applied to de Blasio or any other public figure. "What, specifically, are you talking about?" is a simple question. I still don't understand why reporters almost never ask it.

UPDATE: In Thursday's New York Times, there's an op-ed from a former NYPD officer named Steve Osborne, under the title, "Why we're so mad at de Blasio." Here, I thought, we'd finally get the details on all the cruel things the mayor has done to New York police. But while the op-ed talks a lot about how difficult and stressful it is to be a cop, this is the entirety of Osborne's indictment of de Blasio:

Mr. de Blasio is more than any other public figure in this city responsible for feelings of demoralization among the police. It did not help to tell the world about instructing his son, Dante, who is biracial, to be wary of the police, or to publicly signal support of anti-police protesters (for instance, by standing alongside the Rev. Al Sharpton, a staunch backer of the protests).


And that's it. How have NYPD cops have been able to endure such an unrelenting assault from the mayor? While de Blasio praises the NYPD as a whole regularly, Osborne only acknowledges that he did so once, and says it "came too late." So there you have it.


The GOP's 2016 Demographic Challenge Is Even Worse Than You Thought

There are reasons to be at least a little skeptical of the demography-is-destiny argument about presidential politics, which says that given the increasing minority population, it will be all but impossible for Republicans to win the White House any time soon. Most importantly, the argument rests on Republicans' continued eagerness to alienate minorities, particularly Latinos, which is quite likely but by no means certain. But more broadly, if there's anything one can predict with confidence about politics, it's that things change. You never know what might happen in the next election, which is why it's so interesting. There could be another economic collapse, or another war, or some other series of events that dramatically alters the landscape.

But there's an interesting study released today by the Center for American Progress's Patrick Oakford (h/t Aaron Blake) that runs through some scenarios for 2016 that any Republican ought to find utterly terrifying. The question Oakford asked was, given the size of the minority electorate, what are Republicans going to have to do win the electoral college? He ran through a few scenarios, using exit poll data from the 2012 and 2004 election, the latter because the Republican candidate not only won that year but did quite well among minority voters. And what he found was that even if the 2016 GOP candidate could duplicate George W. Bush's numbers, including 44 percent support among Latinos (an exit poll number that has long been in dispute, but still) and his strong support from white voters, the Democrat would still win. Here are some details:

Demographic changes are occurring at such rapid rates that, in some states, regaining 2004 levels of support simply will not be enough for the Republican presidential candidate to win them back in 2016. In other words, as voters of color become a larger share of the electorate, winning a state in 2016 will necessitate a higher level of support among voters of color than in past elections. In Ohio, for example, the GOP took the state in 2004 with slightly more than a 2 percent margin of victory. President George W. Bush obtained noticeable support among voters of color: 16 percent of African Americans in Ohio voted for him. This level of support, however, deteriorated during the next few elections. By 2012, Gov. Romney took only 6 percent of votes cast by African Americans. Between 2004 and 2016, the electorate of Ohio will have changed. When President Bush won Ohio in 2004, voters of color collectively comprised less than 14 percent of the state's electorate. By 2016, African Americans will constitute more than 12 percent of the electorate, and people of color collectively will account for 17 percent of the state's electorate. In light of these changes, CAP's analysis finds that in 2016, if—across racial and ethnic groups—voters cast ballots as they did in 2004, the Democratic candidate would win by a margin of 3.6 percentage points. (see Figure 8)

In 2004, non-Hispanic white voters' support for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) was higher than their support for President Obama in 2012, meaning that, under the second simulation, Democrats would pick up more support among white voters than they did in 2012. But even if the Republican candidate in 2016 maintains the high support that Gov. Romney received among white voters, while at the same time regaining 2004 levels of support among voters of color, the GOP would still lose Ohio.

In other words, in a state like Ohio, you can cobble together the best possible scenario for the GOP—Bush's good showing among minorities from 2004, plus Romney's strong support among whites from 2012—and given the demographic makeup of the 2016 electorate, the Republican nominee would still lose.

To repeat, nothing is certain. Maybe there's a Republican politician out there who could assemble an entirely new demographic coalition, holding on to whites while dramatically increasing support among minorities. Or maybe national conditions will change so radically that demographic factors won't matter. Or maybe we'll learn just before the election that Hillary Clinton not only killed Vince Foster with her bare hands, she's also secretly the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel and once had a torrid affair with Ayman al-Zawahiri. But barring some spectacularly unlikely turn of events, Republicans have one heck of a mountain to climb in order to win back the White House.

Photo of the Day

And inside, a group of Ted Cruz's staffers has been up all night perfecting this year's biting "Al Gore said it would never snow again!" joke.

The Bush Doctrine Lives

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements

The process of evaluating presidential candidates always involves a lot of speculation and guesswork, because we can't know what conditions a president is going to confront a few years from now. On domestic policy, however, we can at least look at what the candidate says he wants to do, because candidates keep the vast majority of their campaign promises. Barack Obama said he would enact health care reform, and he did; George W. Bush said he'd cut income taxes, and he did. When it comes to foreign policy, though, it can be a lot tougher to discern. First, candidates tend to be a lot less specific about what they intend to do. And second, much of foreign policy involves reacting to developments no one can foresee.

So if you're trying to figure out what, say, Jeb Bush would do in foreign affairs, what do you have to go on? Well, you can ask a question like, "Would he be more like his father, or more like his brother?" Which will tell you very little. But Michael Crowley gives it a shot:

Jeb Bush's allies include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is a board member of an education foundation Bush chairs, and with whom he is personally close. And soon after leaving office in 2009, Cheney, who cares most about national security, told Fox News that he is "a big fan of Jeb's." Bush has also impressed one of the GOP's wealthiest donors, the hawkish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Conservative foreign policy insiders say that what's known about Bush's views places him in the dominant interventionist wing of his party, which is still shaped by his co-signatories on the 1997 Project for the New American Century document [which advocated overthrowing Saddam Hussein]. He has challenged the anti-interventionist views of Sen. Rand Paul and his supporters.

But those conservatives also note that while Jeb's brother, George W., is remembered for a controversially bold foreign policy, his father, former president George H.W. Bush, charted a more pragmatic approach. The elder Bush, for instance, did not act to remove Saddam from power after expelling him from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.

I love the expression "controversially bold." Reporters can't seem to figure out how to describe George W. Bush's catastrophic foreign policy record without using all kinds of positive, manly words, like "bold," "strong," "aggressive," or my favorite, "muscular."

Anyhow, the problem in trying to use the past as a guide is that the next president is going to confront a different set of challenges than what presidents did in the 1980s or 2000s. Jeb Bush wouldn't have to deal with the winding down of the Soviet empire, and while he might consider invading Iraq, doing so now would be a very different decision than it was in 2003.  

In a fair world, Bush would be "burdened" by his brother's disastrous foreign policy no more than any other Republican who supported it. After all, Jeb didn't invade Iraq, any more than Chris Christie or Ted Cruz did. There's really no way to know if he still defends what was probably the single worst foreign policy decision in American history because he actually thinks it was a great idea, or because he's a Republican and therefore he doesn't have much of a choice.

So the task of predicting what kind of foreign policy president he'd be is an almost impossible one: first you have to try to discern some kind of underlying foreign policy doctrine based on a statement he signed in 1997 or a speech he gave a year ago, then you have to figure out how that doctrine might apply to events that haven't yet occurred.

If I had to ask one set of questions about a presidential candidate on foreign policy, it would be this: does he think that foreign policy challenges have easy solutions? Or does he appreciate that the world is a complex place and that our actions can have unintended consequences? Does he, like John McCain, give the same answer to every foreign policy question? George W. Bush's childish beliefs about the world always seemed to me to be the root of all his foreign policy mistakes. He thought that the world could be divided neatly into good guys and bad guys, that if we were righteous then anything we attempted would work out splendidly, that all that mattered was being strong and resolute. His father, on the other hand, certainly had an appreciation for the world's complexity, and while some of Barack Obama's foreign policy decisions may turn out to have been mistaken, on the whole his concern for unintended consequences and reluctance to make bad situations much worse has served him well.

For all we know, there may be vast differences in how the Republican candidates would actually handle foreign policy crises or opportunities. With the exception of Rand Paul, though, they're all likely to adopt a pose meant to contrast with Obama. They'll say America needs to act, and be bold and strong and muscular, whatever the actual challenge is. In other words, they're going to sound a lot like George W. Bush.