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

Obama and the Left.

Watching Barack Obama 's press conference yesterday, it's obvious he's genuinely frustrated that he doesn't get more credit from progressives for accomplishing things progressives ought to cheer about. But there's an easy way he can get more credit from the base: Try not to insult them so much . When you reach a compromise, make a case for it that 1) is based in progressive values, and 2) doesn't immediately segue into bitching at progressives for not being happier about it. I suppose it's possible that he thinks there's strategic value in showing everybody he's willing to beat up on his supporters by calling them "sanctimonious" and complaining that they don't give him credit for anything. But it's hard to see how he'll get all that much benefit for that, since most people in the country's broad middle will barely notice it. He did, however, go a long way toward alienating progressives. Here's the thing: Telling people they're being ridiculous is just not an effective way of...

Does Obama Need an Office of Strategery?

When the first round of Bush tax cuts was passed in 2001, Republicans used the reconciliation process, which, among other things, meant that the cuts would expire in 10 years. At the time, this was generally viewed as not that much of a big deal for them, since nobody wants to raise taxes; the prevailing assumption was that they would end up being extended no matter who was president or who was in charge of Congress come 2011. And it looks like that was a correct assumption. But last week, former Bush communications director Dan Bartlett characterized it as a "trap," since not only would the cuts be extended, but it would end up pulling Democrats into a debate in which they would be pilloried as tax-raising tax-raisers. Whether they really planned it that way, it sort of happened, but sort of not -- as nearly every poll showed, the Democrats' position (keep the cuts for the middle class, but dump the cuts for the rich) was enormously popular. But, being Democrats, they ended up caving...

The Constitution, Radicalism, and the "Mainstream."

Over at Slate , Dahlia Lithwick and Jeff Shesol give us the lowdown on the latest in conservative creativity, a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would allow states to band together to repeal any federal laws they didn't like. So for instance, if legislatures in two-thirds of the states decided that $7.25 is just way too much for people to be paid, they could nullify the federal minimum wage. Sounds like a great idea! What I really love is that the website for the plan wants you to "join the movement to restore the Constitution," by dismantling the rather carefully crafted balance the Constitution strikes between state and federal power. What's new about this isn't that a bunch of cranks are coming up with new ways to free themselves from government's authority -- we've always had that. What's different is that some of these cranks have gotten elected to offices at the state and even federal level, and the rest of their party is too terrified of primary challenges to stand...

Losing Faith in Obama

Has the president finally gone a step too far in compromising with Republicans?

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
November 29, 2010, may be remembered as the moment when progressives stopped giving Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt. Some had long before, of course, whether because of compromises during the health-care reform debate, his continuation of Bush-era policies on civil liberties, or what some see as his obeisance toward Wall Street. But his announcement of a pay freeze on federal workers -- a move that managed to simultaneously validate a half-dozen disingenuous conservative arguments, make government service less attractive, harm the economy, undermine the progressive vision of government, and give Republicans a concession without getting anything in return, all while doing virtually nothing to address the problem Obama claimed to be attacking (the deficit) -- feels like a tipping point. Every president disappoints his supporters eventually, but it's hard to recall one who went through such dramatic swings so quickly. From the moment Obama emerged on the national scene, his ability...

Symbols Are for the Little People.

Both of our two great political parties are coalitions of groups with different priorities. Some of those priorities can be addressed in specific ways, while others are more amenable to gestures and symbols. Jonathan Bernstein argues that conservative demands tend not only to be more symbolic but also more all-or-nothing: ...most Democratic constituency groups have real policy demands, and that they’re very eager to have those demands fulfilled. My sense is that a lot of Republican constituency groups have more symbolic demands. Therefore, at the end of the day, a lot of Republican constituency groups are willing to go along with an all-or-nothing strategy on most issues, while Democratic constituency groups are perfectly willing to bargain for as much as they can get. Look: if you want universal health care, you are probably willing to settle for moving from 80% coverage to 95% coverage (or whatever the actual numbers are). If you believe that government involvement in health care is...

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