Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is a contributing editor for the Prospect and the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

Recent Articles

A Bum Rap, Etch-a-Sketch Installment

Probably not the Etch-a-Sketch they had in mind. (Flickr/Emily Kornblut)
As I've noted before , a substantial amount of the time the media and ordinary people spend talking about a presidential campaign consists of a discussion of charges and counter-charges about something somebody said, usually a candidate but not always. Not a lot really happens during a campaign–what candidates mostly do is talk, so their words take on an elevated importance. Each side tries to assert that the other's off-the-cuff statements hold the power to reveal hidden agendas and fatal weaknesses. It's all pretty silly. And it isn't just the candidates. Even surrogates and campaign aides' words can be fodder for feigned outrage, as happened yesterday (and Jamelle mentioned ) when Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom got asked whether his candidate would have trouble pivoting to the general election when he had spent the primary season pandering so vigorously to the Republican base. "I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign, everything changes," Fehrnstrom said . It's...

Another Conservative Language Victory

The TANF web site, apparently still using its 1996 design.
If I told you that Ron Paul (remember him?) said that Secret Service protection for presidential candidates is "welfare" and he didn't need it, what would you think he meant? Why of course, you'd think he meant that the kind of protection the Secret Service provides is necessary, but sometimes a candidate has fallen on hard times and can't afford to pay for it themselves, so the government steps in to do it for them. And if Paul doesn't need it, it's because his campaign, unlike those of his rivals, is on sound financial footing. That's what you'd think he meant, right? Well, no. You'd know that when Ron Paul says "welfare," what he means is "an undeserved government handout." Welfare was established as part of a safety net to insure that people in poverty wouldn't spiral into absolute destitution, but today not only has the program (now called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF) been slashed to the bone , we barely ever debate it at all, unless it's to discuss a...

The 2016 Litmus Test

Stefano Bolognini
At the outset of the 2004 presidential primaries, Howard Dean was considered a far-out radical, in large part because as Vermont governor he had signed a bill providing civil unions for gay couples. By the end of the election, however, all the Democratic candidates had come out in support of civil unions, and even George W. Bush said that if a state chose to have them, that was fine with him. Four years later, not much had changed. The leading Democratic candidates all said they supported civil unions, but still thought marriage should be between a man and a woman. And Barack Obama has held to that standard, despite saying his views on marriage equality are "evolving." People on both the left and right take this to mean that he believes in marriage equality, but doesn't yet have the political courage to come out and say so publicly. His message to the gay community has essentially been: "Look, I repealed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and my administration isn't defending the Defense of...

His Name Is His Name

I command you to call me "Speaker"...forever! (caricature by DonkeyHotey)
Some years ago, I was watching Silence of the Lambs with a friend who was then in medical school, and he pointed out that everyone kept calling the film's villain "Dr. Lecter." "Boy," my friend said. "Once you get that M.D., they have to call you 'Dr.' forever, even if you start killing and eating people." I raise this because Emily Yoffe has done us a service and asked why in the world everyone has to continue to call Newt Gingrich "Mr. Speaker" when he hasn't been Speaker of the House in 15 years. In all, three of the four remaining Republican candidates for president get called by titles they no longer hold, with Governor Romney and Senator Santorum joining Speaker Gingrich. This is a problem that seems to exist primarily in Washington, home to such fetishes of pompous self-importance as the "brag wall," the display of photos of an office's resident with even more famous and powerful people. There aren't very many other arenas in America where you get to make people call you by the...

Newt Gingrich Is In the Zone

If I have to go to one more zoo, I'm going to drive an ice pick into my ear. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
A kajillion years or so ago, I spent a bunch of time working on electoral campaigns. Since I was drawn to idealistic liberals, everybody I worked for lost, sometimes quite spectacularly. And I noticed something that happens on a losing campaign: After months of spending your days telling everyone you meet (voters, potential volunteers, potential donors, reporters) how your candidate is just the bee's knees and he is totally going to win despite what everyone thinks, the scales can fall from your eyes. This seems to happen about 72 hours before election day. A strange sense of calm overtakes you, something like the endorphin rush you're supposed to get as your body approaches death. People on the campaign begin to wander off in a daze. On one campaign I was working on in Northern California, after putting in 16-hour days for weeks, the field director (my boss, and someone older and more experienced than me), said, as we were out on an errand two days before the election, a time that...

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