Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is a contributing editor for the Prospect and the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

Recent Articles

Why We Vote

Whatever problems our politics have, Election Day is a moment when we hope for the future and revel in the solemnity of the democratic process.

For years, some economists and political scientists have scratched their heads in bewilderment at what they call "the paradox of voting," which states that going to the polls is a profoundly irrational act. If the only reason we do anything is because the material benefits of an action outweigh its costs (an assumption embedded in this theory, among others), there's no reason at all to vote. The odds that the election will be decided by one vote -- and therefore your vote will be decisive -- are vanishingly small. Therefore, whatever benefits you will derive from your favored candidate's policies must be multiplied by that infinitesimal chance that your vote will decide the election, to ascertain the return on the investment of voting. On the other side is the effort, time, and possibly the expense of walking or driving to the polling place, or filling out an absentee ballot. No matter how you calculate it (and many intrepid scholars have tried), the costs clearly outweigh the...

The Real October Surprise

If Osama bin Laden releases a pre-election tape like he did in 2004, don't assume it will be to the Republicans' benefit.

Osama bin Laden speaks on a tape broadcast on Friday, Oct. 29, 2004. (AP Photo/AlJazeera via APTN)
On Oct. 29, 2004 -- four days before the election -- Osama bin Laden released a videotape attacking President Bush. As Ron Suskind later reported in his extraordinary book The One Percent Doctrine , CIA analysts concluded that "bin Laden's message was clearly designed to assist the President's reelection." John McLaughlin, the acting director of the CIA at the time, said at a meeting to discuss the tape, "Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the president." At the time, it was universally understood that the more voters were reminded of terrorism and external threats, the more they would gravitate toward the Republican candidate, particularly one who was so skilled at standing on top of rubble and issuing lusty promises of vengeance. What wasn't remarked on much was the possibility that -- as the CIA understood -- George W. Bush's re-election was exactly what al-Qaeda wanted. Chances are that they'd like the current Republican presidential nominee to win as well. The...


If you thought there wasn’t much interesting left to learn about Sarah Palin , you should read Jane Mayer ’s piece in The New Yorker about how Palin shrewdly laid the groundwork for her selection as John McCain ’s running mate. It turns out it wasn’t all that hard -- all it took was charming some of the conservative pundits who came through Alaska on fundraising cruises for The Weekly Standard and National Review . But what really stands out is what a bunch of pushovers these guys were, and how her looks played no small part in convincing this bunch of middle-aged men that she was just the bee’s knees. Here are some excerpts: On June 18, 2007, the first group disembarked in Juneau from the Holland America Line’s M.S. Oosterdam, and went to the governor’s mansion, a white wooden Colonial house with six two-story columns, for lunch. The contingent featured three of The Weekly Standard ’s top writers: William Kristol , the magazine’s Washington-based editor, who is also an Op-Ed...

One Cool Customer

Amid all the talk about John McCain's character, the press has missed the most important personal story in this election: Obama's steady, mature, and thoughtful approach to politics appeals to voters.

This year's presidential debates failed to produce that decisive moment, the "You're no Jack Kennedy" or "There you go again" that will be remembered for years. But they did highlight something that is all too often dismissed by the apostles of civics-textbook campaigns, where candidates carefully lay out their plans of action and policy proposals, and informed citizens evaluate carefully before making a voting choice: The stark contrast in the candidates' temperament and character. The Republican nominee could still win this election. But in McCain, voters are seeing a man being steadily consumed by anger, his campaign desperately trying one gimmick after another while it taps into the ugliest of voter impulses. His latest rhetorical move is to attack his opponent's tax plan for allegedly taking money from good Americans and giving it to people too poor to pay income taxes. McCain is now calling Obama's refundable tax credits "welfare," a term whose racial implications everyone...

The Permanent (Smear) Campaign

Conservatives realize that a successful Obama presidency could remake American politics. If Obama wins the election, they will try to destroy his presidency with lies, just as they sought to do to Bill Clinton.

Throughout his nearly two-year-long campaign for the White House, Barack Obama has talked about Americans' hunger for unity -- their ache for a government that will get past the petty divisions of recent decades, put aside partisanship, and come together to solve problems. From what we can tell, Obama's desire to provide that kind of presidency is sincere and stems from his own personality and history. Throughout his life, people have remarked on his ability to make those who disagree with him feel as though he has listened to their perspective and approached them with an open mind, even if he hasn't brought them around to agreeing with him. But as we finally approach the end of this campaign, one has to wonder whether Obama knows quite what he's in for. Not what will happen over the next three weeks but what he'll face if he actually wins. Because for all his talk of bringing Americans together, a President Obama could face an opposition so consumed with disgust and anger and...