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

Comedy of Errors

Presidential debates may be sort of silly, but no more than the rest of the presidential campaign.

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, Pool)
In 2008, Barack Obama's campaign ran circles around John McCain's with its deft use of social media, empowering supporters to become active participants. Four years before, Howard Dean shocked everyone into understanding that the Internet could be more than a novelty and could actually generate money and votes. Looking back even further, Bill Clinton and the Democratic National Committee bought a wave of television advertising starting in 1995, beginning the campaign before he even had an opponent. Every election or two features new ways for campaigns to communicate with voters, and every time we wonder if the new medium or method will fundamentally transform presidential campaigning. Yet here we are in 2011, watching news on our smartphones and checking the campaign's progress on Twitter, and debates -- those overly staged, artificial, and often absurd events -- seem more important than ever. Just ask Rick Perry. A few short weeks ago, he was the savior of the Republican Party, a guy...

Failing School

Getting rid of the Electoral College would not give either party a decisive advantage. It would just mean (gasp!) that whoever gets the most votes wins.

When Republicans won sweeping victories at the federal and state levels in 2010, they no doubt realized their position was a fragile one. The economy goes up and down, policies can be popular or unpopular, and the public's will is fickle. To stay in power, there's no substitute for rigging the game, which they set out to do by passing laws through state legislatures that make it more difficult for people who are likely to vote for Democrats to cast votes at all. But last week we saw something new. Republicans in Pennsylvania have proposed changing the way the state allocates its electoral votes to give two votes to the statewide winner of the presidential race and grant the other votes one-by-one to the winner of each congressional district. At present, this system is used only in Maine and Nebraska, which each have only four electoral votes. Since the Republican legislature and governor in Pennsylvania are also now redrawing district lines, they could manage to give next year's...

Better than Bernie

Rick Perry might think Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme," but if it is, it's one that has kept generations of senior citizens out of poverty.

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Judith Odyssey sets up her weekly medication, in Hartford, Maine. Odyssey, who has congestive heart problems, fibromyalgia, asthma, and arthritis, gets $674 a month in Social Security.
On January 31, 1940, the United States government cut a check for $22.54 to a 65-year-old woman from Rutland, Vermont, named Ida May Fuller. Ms. Fuller, who had spent most of her career as a legal secretary, was the first American to receive a monthly Social Security check. Millions upon millions of those checks have gone out since, protecting older Americans from the fate that characterized old age prior to Social Security's creation: an almost inevitable descent into poverty that made retirement anything but "the golden years." As we enter a new round of debates on the program -- in a context in which the Republican Party's zeal for undoing it is greater than it has been in some time -- it is critical that we understand what Social Security has accomplished, the philosophy it embodies, and what its actual challenges are. The attack on Social Security depends for its victory on misunderstandings about the program's success and what shape it is in now. If enough people can be fooled...

Get Out the Hate

A lot of political participation is driven by simple dislike for the opposing party.

(Flickr/Jordan Davis)
As much as we bemoan our polarized politics, dislike for one's political opponents is one of the most powerful engines that drives political participation. It isn't necessarily wrong to be mad or think that the other side is nuts -- all of us do, at some point or another. But that belief can lead partisans to some places that don't do them any favors when it comes to making their case to the public. We saw how last week, when the most memorable moment of a Republican presidential debate came not from one of the candidates but from the audience. As part of a question to Rick Perry about Texas's administration of the death penalty, Brian Williams noted that during Perry's tenure, the state has executed 234 prisoners, more than under any governor in America since the death penalty was restored. At the mention of this statistic, the crowd of Republicans burst into applause. Some commentators saw this as an expression of bloodlust, the evidence of something dark and ugly within the souls...

Glory Days

Forget women voting, civil rights, workplace protection -- conservatives want to bring back the 19th century.

If Democrats and Republicans agree on anything, it's that the other side is radical. Each party looks at the other and sees people driven by a dangerous ideology that would prove disastrous were it to be realized. There may be no precise measure of radicalism that everyone can agree on, but there are a few clear markers. Radical ideas are, when introduced, usually supported by only a small minority of people. They propose to fundamentally alter things, not by making adjustments to the existing order but by transforming it. They would affect large numbers of people, if not everyone, and do so in profound ways. Radical ideas can be wise or foolish, and of course, they're a moving target; today's radical idea becomes tomorrow's mainstream position, or vice versa. The current Republican Party has embraced radicalism in full, adopting goals that just a few years ago many in their own party would have found shocking. A longtime GOP congressional staffer wrote last week upon retiring that...