Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

Recent Articles

How to Win a Presidential Debate

The debates, for better or worse, may decide the outcome of the election. Here's how the press will decide who won.

It's beginning to look a lot like 2004, and 2000 before that: a presidential election that is, as Dan Rather used to say, "as hot and tight as a too-tight bathing suit on a too-long car ride back from the beach," with pressure building for the debates that begin Sept. 30. Given how many people watched the conventions, it's a good bet that this year's debates will reverse the downward trend in viewership seen over the years (the last Kennedy-Nixon debate was watched in 61 percent of homes, while only one of the three debates in 2000 cracked 30 percent) and pull in a huge audience. That means that the outcome of the race could actually hinge on what happens when the presidential candidates (and, to a far lesser degree, the vice-presidential candidates) meet face to face. So Barack Obama, John McCain, Joe Biden, and Sarah Palin are no doubt devoting an increasing portion of their schedules to debate prep -- studying briefing books, practicing with supporters portraying their opponents,...

The Politics of Contempt

John McCain is declaring war on the media, the elites, really, anyone who's not you. The Republicans' thirst for contempt is limitless.

When John McCain secured his party's nomination at the beginning of this year, many of his admirers in the media offered assurances that because the Republicans had chosen a man of such impeccable integrity, so different from every other politician, this campaign would not be like those we have gotten used to. It would be respectful, it would be substantive, it would be so high-minded and civil as to make Pericles himself weep with joy. Oh well. "Cultural affinities," wrote the Los Angeles Times at the end of the Republican convention, "are now central to the campaign strategy of GOP presidential nominee John McCain." No kidding. But it's more than just cultural affinity, the standard issue "Our candidate is one of you, their candidate isn't" routine (after all, John McCain's life, from being the son and grandson of admirals to dumping his first wife for the beer heiress with the $100 million fortune, isn't really "like" anyone's). The real focus of the Republican convention, and the...

Character Study

What Obama did so well in his convention address was taking the raw material of policy and turning it into an indictment not just of what John McCain wants to do but of who John McCain is.

Barack Obama has given lots of great speeches -- about his personal story, about hope, about change, and about race, to mention a few of his topics. Last week, I asked whether Obama would use his convention speech to offer an argument for progressivism and a critique of conservatism, pointing to a commencement address he gave in 2005 at Knox College as a model. I have to confess that I wasn't expecting him to take the advice, given that he has carefully eschewed ideological argumentation in favor of high-minded talk of bipartisanship. But it turned out I was wrong. Not only did he make an ideological case, Obama did something even more important to his electoral fortunes. For the first time, he devoted a significant portion of a speech to directly critiquing the character of John McCain. Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle wrote that there are three modes of persuasion: logos (facts and logic), pathos (emotion), and ethos (argument based on the good character of the speaker). The...

The Speech Progressives Have Been Waiting For?

Let's hope in his acceptance speech Obama includes a full-throated endorsement of progressivism.

It's hard to think of a speech that was more eagerly anticipated and subjected to as much prior commentary as the one Barack Obama will deliver tomorrow night at Invesco Field in Denver. Given the track record of Obama and his speechwriters, chances are that the speech will be eloquently written and skillfully delivered, and as it reaches its climax, hearts will swell, goosebumps will rise, and Democrats will find themselves putting aside their cynicism (at least for a while) and hoping for grand things from the next presidency. But there's something else worth hoping for in Obama's speech, something that has been glimpsed only occasionally in his presidential campaign: a full-throated defense not just of his candidacy or of the vague ideas of change and progress but of progressivism as an ideology. And while he's at it, he could offer an attack not just on the actual failures of George W. Bush or the potential failures of John McCain but on the failure that is conservatism. Fat...

It's Not About the Medals

The Olympics remind us of the real reason why all of us should be proud of our country -- diversity.

This February, Michelle Obama caused a spasm of faux outrage on the right when, in attempting to argue that her husband's campaign had brought something new to a political climate that had been so ugly for so long, she said that for the first time in her adult life, she was proud of her country. Though she obviously meant her country's politics and not her country per se, the reaction was predictable. One voice joining the chorus of condemnation was that of Cindy McCain, who made sure to say that she has always been proud of her country. (She'd have her husband beat on that one; John McCain has said , "I didn't really love America until I was deprived of her company," meaning the first 31 years of his life.) Now that the quadrennial exercise in skill, endurance, and jingoistic chest-thumping we call a presidential campaign has been interrupted by the Olympics, there is a lot of patriotic feeling around. As usual, our athletes are showing themselves to be capable of spectacular...

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