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

Freeze-Dried Policies.

Even though Jamelle and Tim already discussed President Obama 's mind-boggling decision to push a pay freeze for federal workers, I have to put my two cents in, particularly because just a week before last, I wrote a column about how conservatives were gearing up to begin a campaign to vilify federal workers and blame all our problems on their allegedly generous pay. But now, the president is doing their work for them. Lots of people have commented on how this is substantively useless and politically worthless. Perhaps most maddening, it's the kind of thing Obama might have gotten some kind of concession for in negotiating with Republicans, but instead he simply did it, a giveaway to Republicans for which he will get nothing in return. As Steve Benen said , "This week, the president will sit down with Republican leaders from the House and Senate, and will say something to the effect of, 'Well, I signaled a willingness to make a tough concession with the pay freeze. What kind of...

The Royal "We"

Politicians make strong statements about what "the American people" think, but the electorate doesn't speak in one voice.

Voters at the polls on Election Day (AP Photo/Tuscaloosa News, Robert Sutton)
"There is no such thing as society," Margaret Thatcher memorably said ; instead, "there are individual men and women and there are families." We could cut through a lot of pabulum with our own version: There is no such thing as "the American people." But don't tell politicians that. If there's one thing elected officials from both parties agree on, it's that "the American people" want certain things and don't want other things. It just so happens that they want whatever the person speaking wants, and they are horrified by the things he doesn't want. If you watched C-SPAN for a day, you'd hear dozens of invocations of "the American people," with nary a whiff of ambiguity. The truth, though, is that "the American people" don't have opinions or beliefs or judgments. Each one of us does, and subsets of us share some things in common, but the idea of a collective national will is a fantasy. Unfortunately, in a representative democracy, everyone has an interest in acting as though such a...

That Thing You Said Once Proves Who You Are.

A tremendous proportion of the political case partisans make against the other side's leaders comes down to, "He said something terrible." Think about how many times you've seen a campaign ad keyed off of an offhand remark a candidate made. "Congressman Winklebrain says strangling puppies is 'acceptable.' Do we want a puppy-strangler in Congress?" Barack Obama said people cling to guns and religion! John McCain said "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran"! John Kerry said he voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it! Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Especially in campaigns, we spend a lot of time arguing about just how awful something somebody said was, with the other side always claiming that a single statement revealed the evil lying within the candidate's heart. Part of this has to do with the fact that a lot of what politicians do is talk, so their words are the main thing we have to judge them on. This is particularly true of candidates, who when running for an office...

Your Very Serious New Congress.

The Wall Street Journal tells us today that around a dozen of the incoming freshman class of Republican House members plan to sleep in their offices, perhaps in some kind of a contest for who can come up with the dumbest piece of symbolism to present to the voters back home: It's the ultimate I'm-not-a-professional-politician statement, reminiscent of the 1994 midterm elections, when a GOP House takeover led to a surge in House sleepovers. With voters again shunning Washington and fiscal excess, a number of incoming House members plan to demonstrate their scorn for both by camping out near their new desks. Many more are still undecided but may well join the sleep-sofa caucus. I'd love to know how not getting yourself an apartment is "the ultimate I'm-not-a-professional-politician statement." Because you want to spend literally every minute that you're in Washington on Capitol Hill? It isn't as though they're saving the taxpayers any money -- they don't subsidize housing for members of...

The Postal Service's Soft Hands.

(Flickr/ katerw ) Careful readers will know that I have long felt that the Postal Service is unfairly maligned. As I wrote eight months ago, "What can you get for 44 cents these days? You can get a fun-sized candy bar. Or 3 ounces of coffee. Or maybe one AAA battery, if it's on sale. Or, you can have someone come to your house, pick up a letter you've written, take it 3,000 miles across the country within a few days, and deliver it to your Aunt Millie's door. That's something you can get for 44 cents." But how about the service? Well, it may not always be what we want it to be, but considering what it costs, it's pretty darn good. And here's some more evidence. Popular Mechanics decided to do a little test to see who treats packages the most gently, and here's what they came up with: So which company treats your packages with the most tender loving care? After crunching the data and averaging the number of spikes recorded by each carrier on each trip, we found that the USPS has the...