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

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

In case you haven't seen it, there's a new poll out from the National Journal which finds that only 20 percent of Americans -- and only 33 percent of Democrats , for gosh sakes -- think that this Congress has accomplished more than previous Congresses. Steve Benen gives the appropriate response: I don't expect the public to have an extensive knowledge of federal policymaking history, but I at least hoped Americans would realize the scope of recent accomplishments. We are, after all, talking about a two-year span in which Congress passed and the president signed the Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act, Wall Street reform, student loan reform, Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, etc. ... This Congress has been about as many accomplishments as recent Congresses? Seriously?...

My Opponent's Pants Are, I Believe, Aflame.

My column today is about politicians' lies -- which ones we care about, and which ones we don't. Lucky for me, Linda McMahon gives us a classic of the "He's a liar!" genre (via Dave Weigel : OK, I'll ask: What else is he lying about? Why don't you tell us? There must be something you suspect. So what is it? Is his position on health care fraudulent? Is he actually a member of some weird cult? What? I'm not trying to defend Richard Blumenthal . But the point of this ad seems to be that the Vietnam lie (if you want to call it that; Blumenthal would call it a "misstatement") isn't the real problem; instead, the problem is the other, unnamed lies that we should be terrified of. Politicians do this to each other a lot: say that their opponents' sins aren't so much an issue in and of themselves as they are an indication that some far more awful tendency lurks below them, a little tick suggesting that the opponent may actually be an alien from the planet Gorgoth sent here to enslave us all...

The Supreme Court Under the Radar.

I don't envy legal reporters. If you're a sportswriter, you don't have to start every article on the latest Yankees-Red Sox game by patiently explaining the arcane rules of baseball -- it's understood that your readers know them. But if you write about the law, the context for your stories is a system with complex procedures and arcane precedents, and a significant chunk of what you write is going to have to be an explanation of how the system works. Furthermore, while most journalism revolves around people -- characters who can be cast in competing roles, often as heroes or villains -- by the time a case gets to the Supreme Court, it usually has almost nothing to do with the original plaintiff and defendant. Instead, the justices are attempting to determine what sort of general rule should apply to this sort of case, whether its application in this particular case seems fair or not. Nevertheless, the cases that attract a lot of attention do end up being those with compelling human...

I Am Not a Crook -- I Mean a Witch!

Well, this certainly isn't what I would have expected from Christine O'Donnell 's first ad: Way to take that witchcraft issue head-on. The problem with saying, "I'm not X" -- crook, witch, whatever -- is that it makes people think about whether you are, in fact, the thing you're claiming not to be. Not that anyone thinks that O'Donnell is actually a witch, of course, but it does bring right up to the front of your mind all those silly things O'Donnell has said. As for the "I'm you," that's one of the not-infrequent cases where a candidate tells us explicitly what she's supposed to be imparting implicitly (George H.W. Bush's "Message: I care" being the prototypical case). Problem is, unless she really is you -- and how many 41-year-old, not particularly well-informed female culture warriors are there in Delaware? -- it sounds kind of phony and pandering. A voter might say, "You're not me -- I'm a dude!" Or "You're not me -- I'm 72 years old!" And so on. -- Paul Waldman

The Truth About Lies

In politics, truthfulness is a virtue -- except where it matters most.

Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell (AP/Rob Carr)
As children, we all heard the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. The rambunctious young George, age 6, was playing with his new hatchet when he decided to do a number on the family's backyard tree. When confronted about this act of vandalism by his father -- who apparently didn't have the foresight to predict that giving a 6-year-old a hatchet might result in some destruction -- George immediately fessed up. "I cannot tell a lie," he said. Instead of delivering the vigorous beating an 18th-century lad might expect, Washington's father praised the future president for his honesty. The incident never actually happened; it was the invention of the early Washington biographer known as Parson Weems. But 210 years after Weems' biography appeared, the tale is still valued for its lesson: The integrity and fortitude that made Washington the "father of our country" can be witnessed in his unshakeable commitment to the truth, even at such a tender age. Oh, that all our leaders...