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

Obama's Great Expectation

During the December fight over the Bush tax cuts, the president made a big mistake by assuming Republicans wouldn't be willing to ruin the economy.

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
As we watch the debate that has dominated Washington for the last couple of months, it's hard not to think we've found ourselves in some satirical play about the absurdity of contemporary politics. Today -- four days before we hit the debt ceiling -- House Speaker John Boehner is expected to bring his deficit-reduction plan to a vote after finally whipping his caucus into shape, but the plan is considered a no-go in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid and 57 other senators have threatened to veto it. It shouldn't have been surprising that the best summation of the situation came from a headline in the satirical newspaper The Onion : "Congress Continues Debate Over Whether Or Not Nation Should Be Economically Ruined." When we look back on this period of insanity, we will see that the moment essential to understanding what happened came on December 7, 2010. A month after the Republicans won the House in the midterm elections, but before the new members had taken office,...


Concerns that technology may be affecting our ability to communicate may not be totally off the mark, but there's no use in being a curmudgeon about it.

Flickr/Slava Baranskyi
Today marks what would be the 100th birthday of Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian media scholar best known for coining the phrase "the medium is the message." His work had no empirical component (a theoretician, he began his career as an English professor), but the aphorisms that made him famous have proved remarkably persistent: Look around today, and the question posed by McLuhan's most notable idea is becoming more and more urgent: Is the medium really the message? And if so, is that good or bad? What McLuhan meant was that the content of communication delivered by a particular medium is less important than the form in which it arrives. Reading words printed on a page has particular effects on the way we think, understand, and remember; assimilating pictures or sounds has fundamentally different effects. McLuhan speculated that various media could reshape our brains, and today, armed with new techniques, researchers are beginning to investigate whether that may, in fact, be true. For...

No Twits on Twitter

In town halls, regular folk ask better questions than journalists do.

(Flickr/Geoff Livingston)
It would have been easy to scoff at the fact that the president of the United States sat down last week to field questions delivered via a social network that limits all messages to 140 characters or less. But the "Twitter town hall" was much more substantive than you might have expected. The questions President Barack Obama answered (which were selected by Twitter executives from the thousands that came in) mostly concerned the economy, but also covered such topics as energy, education, taxes, and our various wars. In other words, it turned out largely as Obama intended, and no one should have been surprised. It might seem counter-intuitive, given how little Americans (on average) know about politics, and how many of us believe ridiculous things - that aliens are abducting people, or that whether you'll meet an old friend today is determined by the position of the zodiac. But town halls have been with us since before we were an independent nation. That, of course, is part of the...

Chattering Crass

For some D.C. pundits, the worst crime is caring about policy.

(William B. Plowman/NBC NewsWire via AP Images)
Last week, A-list pundit Mark Halperin reacted to President Barack Obama's press conference on the budget negotiations with Republicans by saying "I thought he was kind of a dick yesterday" on the MSNBC program Morning Joe . The result was a quick apology, a quick suspension, and lots of silly hand-waving. But no one should really care about what Halperin said. It was certainly juvenile -- to understand that, you only had to look at Halperin smiling gleefully and flushed with the thrill of transgression as he uttered the naughty word. But the republic will survive. Nevertheless, Halperin does represent something important, dirty words or not -- both in terms of his career up until now and what got him in trouble. Americans who are not political junkies probably haven't heard of Halperin, but inside the Beltway, he's an unfortunately influential figure. He made his name more than a decade ago by creating "The Note" for ABC News, an insider's guide to the doings and feelings of the "...

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...