Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is a weekly columnist and senior writer for The American Prospect. He also writes for the Plum Line blog at The Washington Post and The Week and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

Recent Articles

The U.S. Budget, By the Numbers

AP Photo/Ed Andrieski
AP Photo/Ron Edmonds I n the argument over the "sequester," the across-the-board cuts to both domestic and military programs that are about to take effect, everyone in official Washington seems to agree that the government's budget is bloated. Despite the economists telling us that this is still a terrible time for austerity (just look how well it has worked out for Europe), the argument between Republicans and Democrats seems to be whether we need to just slash the budget mercilessly, or slash the budget somewhat less and raise some taxes. But is the federal budget really so big? Let's take a look at some graphs. If you look just at raw dollars, it's true that the size of government has increased steadily in recent decades (there are a lot of reasons why that's the case). It's also true that spending went up at the beginning of the Obama administration, but it's important to understand why and how. The answer to why is simple: the Great Recession. When a recession hits, government...

Ringside Seat: Times, They Keep on Changin'

Just eight years ago, Republicans were crowing that the terrifying specter of gay people being allowed to marry was an electoral gold mine for them, persuading people to vote for the GOP and bringing their voters out to the polls in force. Things have changed a lot since then—same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states plus the District of Columbia, with more sure to follow, and most polls now show a majority of the public in favor of marriage equality. A few smart Republicans have acknowledged that their party is on the wrong side of history on this issue, and many assume that it will come around eventually. At which point, as they now do on issues of race, they'll claim they were on the right side all along. But for now, there are only a few well-known Republicans publicly favoring same-sex marriage, and it's a good bet that any elected Republican who did would get herself a Tea Party primary challenge in short order. So it was something of a pleasant surprise when we learned that...

Nobody Knows What They're Doing

He loves it when a plan comes together, but he doesn't work in Washington.
In his Washington Post column today, Ezra Klein makes an important point about politics generally and Washington in particular that I think isn't widely enough understood. He calls it "the myth of scheming," and what it amounts to is that in politics, things don't operate they way do in the movies. Or to put it less charitably, nobody knows what the hell they're doing and everyone is bumbling around blindly: This is the most pervasive of of all Washington legends: that politicians in Washington are ceaselessly, ruthlessly, effectively scheming. That everything that happens fits into somebody's plan. It doesn't. Maybe it started out with a scheme, but soon enough everyone is, at best, reacting, and at worst, failing to react, and always, always they're doing it with less information than they need. That's been a key lesson I've learned working as a reporter and political observer in Washington: No one can carry out complicated plans. All parties and groups are fractious and bumbling...

Karl Rove Is Going to Haunt American Politics Forever

Ah, the good old days.
Karl Rove is, it's fair to say, the most famous political consultant of the modern age. There are a few others who achieved notoriety, like Lee Atwater, but none has had quite Rove's profile. He's admired and reviled, has had biographies written about him, and has been satirically immortalized by Stephen Colbert as a canned ham with glasses (" Ham Rove "). This came about partly because he was extremely successful at his craft, and because his success came out of some of the most ruthless and immoral tactics you could imagine, the kind of stuff you ordinarily only see in movies about politics but not in actual politics ( see here for some details). But more than anything else, it was because the politician he drove to the White House was assumed by so many to be a dolt, and therefore the idea of Rove as the evil genius puppetmaster pulling all the strings made sense. After reaching the pinnacle of his profession, most people in Rove's position would have left the actual work of...

Ringside Seat: It's All in the Details

As a number of commentators have pointed out in the last few days, with the sequester looming, the Democrats have a single message they're sending to the public. Republicans, on the other hand, are a bit more muddled. The former say that this will be a disaster, with effects seen in every corner of the country and in too many areas of American life to count. The latter say that it was all Barack Obama's idea, so blame him (even if Republicans voted for it), and besides, Democrats are exaggerating how bad it'll be. But Republicans are facing what they've faced in previous showdowns: When you actually shut down the government or cut it back drastically, the debate moves from the abstract to the specific. And that's not where they want to be. For many decades, political scientists have known that as a group, Americans are "symbolic conservatives" but "operational liberals." They like the idea of "small government," as long as you're staying at that level of abstraction. But they also...

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