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

Budget Delusions.

Back in 1980, Ronald Reagan ran for president assuring people that he could balance the federal budget just by locating and purging all the "waste, fraud, and abuse" in federal spending. While there is certainly plenty of each, finding them never seems to have the magical effects everyone supposes. But it plays into the belief many Americans have that much of the budget is just unnecessary, and we could easily be rid of it. And if you ask them, it turns out people have some rather odd ideas about what's actually in the budget. The Program on International Policy Attitudes gives us some new data: Asked to estimate how much of the federal budget goes to foreign aid the median estimate is 25 percent. Asked how much they thought would be an "appropriate" percentage the median response is 10 percent. In fact just 1 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. Even if one only includes the discretionary part of the federal budget, foreign aid represents only 2.6 percent. Think about...

More from the DoD's DADT Report.

Following up on Gabe's post below, the Defense Department's report on repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell is an interesting document, not only for the survey results, but for the perspective they provide. For instance, did you know that in 1948, not only did 80 percent of enlisted men oppose integrating the armed forces, kindly avuncular Dwight Eisenhower testified before Congress that segregation was good for black soldiers, because "In general, the Negro is less educated…and if you make a complete amalgamation, what you are going to have in every company the Negro is going to be relegated to the minor jobs, and he is never going to get his promotion." Ah, the Greatest Generation... In any case, this undertaking involved not only the survey but lots of research, coupled with many meetings and discussions. This passage is a bit long, but it offers some interesting insight: In listening to Service members we found a perceptions gap—between the perception of the gay Service member that...

In Praise of Modern Life.

Bear with me, this is only partially about Sarah Palin . Not long ago, David Frum pointed to this bit of down hominess from Palin's new book: "But from what I’ve read, family life at the time of the founding was a lot like family life for Americans today: full of challenges, sure, but also full of simple pleasures." Frum pointed out that if you were a slave, maybe not so much. And yesterday, he passed along some discussion from historian Mark Byrnes, who notes, "Unless she means it in the most general sense possible (i.e., there were moms and dads and sons and daughters then, too!), this assertion is simply ridiculous." As Byrnes details, the differences in the average person's life were enormous. Most people made a living by farming. Most children got virtually no formal schooling. The typical white woman back then had an average of seven children, some of whom would probably die from maladies that today we take care of with a trip to the drug store. For Palin, this kind of nostalgia...

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...

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