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 Ick Factor

Can fear and disgust get more people to quit smoking?

Imagine that you wanted to lose weight, but you love ice cream. What if every time you reached for that carton of Ben & Jerry's, you had to look at a photo of a morbidly obese man dying from a heart attack? Would that make you less likely to indulge? That's the theory behind the new warning labels on cigarettes that the Food and Drug Administration unveiled this week, devised in part as a result of the increased authority over smoking the FDA was granted by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a law passed in the first months of Barack Obama's presidency. The labels , which will go on cigarette packs starting in 2012, contain large pictures (taking up 50 percent of the space on both the front and back of the pack) showing things like rotting teeth and lips, a horrifyingly diseased lung next to a healthy one, and a man smoking out of a hole in his throat. (There is one positive image among the 10 the FDA will be using: a man with a T-shirt reading "I quit" with...

The God Squad

Four years ago, religion was a hot topic during the Republican presidential primaries. Mike Huckabee practically ran for pastor-in-chief, running ads calling himself a Christian leader and talking about Jesus. Mitt Romney handled questions about his Mormon faith (many evangelicals consider Mormonism a heretical cult) by giving a speech arguing that the real enemy is secularism. In one debate , candidates were compelled to take a position on whether the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Since this year's campaign is just getting underway, unless you're paying close attention you may not have noticed that a similar conversation is taking place, with the Republican candidates working hard to convince conservative Christians that they're right with God. This conversation is profoundly different from the one we will have once a nominee is chosen, and its particular symbols and signals may only occasionally be noticed and understood by people other than the Republican base. Most of the...

Bachmann Goes Lamestream

The Minnesota Republican is a more serious presidential candidate than you think.

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
I'd like to ask you to do something strange, maybe even a little shocking: take Michele Bachmann seriously. If you're like most people, chances are you know Bachmann only as that crazy Tea Party congresswoman who told Chris Matthews, "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America?", the one who delivered her own response to the State of the Union, in which she looked into the wrong camera for seven minutes. But she is running for president, and she's not kidding around. Don't get me wrong -- Bachmann is neither a serious legislator nor a serious thinker. Her ideas are radical nearly to the point of being nuts, and the thought of her in the Oval Office is, well, unsettling. As a representative of the extreme right, she'd have almost no chance of beating Barack Obama in a general election. But the other candidates in the race could well find her to be more formidable than they expect. Bachmann...

The Republicans' Panty-Raid

The Republicans' absolutely foolproof plan on Medicare is missing a key step -- how to turn changes to the program into actual savings.

(Flickr/Joelstuff V3)
In a 1998 episode of South Park , the boys learn that their dresser drawers are being raided by a group of Underpants Gnomes, who have a carefully designed business plan to turn their theft into fabulous wealth. The three-phase plan is laid out on a slide projected in the gnomes' lair: "Phase 1: Collect underpants. Phase 2: ? Phase 3: Profit." That, in its essence, is how Republicans are proposing to deal with the rising cost of health care and the long-term federal budget deficit. Phase 1: Remove government guarantee of health coverage. Phase 2: ? Phase 3: Savings. Republicans seem surprised by the negative reaction to Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan, which would turn Medicare from an insurance program into a voucher program. Under this proposal, seniors would have to seek insurance from a private company and the government would reimburse part of their premiums. Republicans knew the plan would meet some opposition but mistakenly thought they could quell much of the resistance by...

Thought Police

How group think will shape the Republican presidential primaries.

Newt Gingrich speaking at CPAC 2011. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Newt Gingrich probably thought he was being smart when a week ago he publicly rejected the budget plan put forward by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan. After all, Ryan's idea to change Medicare into a voucher program is profoundly unpopular, particularly with the seniors now enjoying the program's benefits. So when Gingrich went on Meet the Press and responded to a question about the Ryan Medicare plan by saying, "I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering," it probably felt politically shrewd. He could distance himself from an unpopular idea and position himself not as the partisan bomb-thrower people used to consider him but as the innovative, post-partisan thinker he fancies himself to be. It might have been a reasonable strategy -- in a different era. But in 2011, identity defines politics more than ever. Gingrich's mistake was his failure to understand that particularly at this stage of the race, no question is more...