Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger, and a contributing editor. 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

Seventeen Candidates in Search of a Story

Only a few of the '08 frontrunners have grasped the importance of the campaign narrative and built a successful story around their candidacies.

Last week, I described how successful presidential contenders construct their candidacies as a three-part narrative: part one tells what's wrong with the country and its government, part two describes the place they want to take the country, and part three explains why they, and only they, can deliver us from the bleak present to the brighter tomorrow they promise. It's now time to look at what kind of a job the current presidential candidates are doing in constructing the broad campaign narrative that tells voters not just who they are and what they want to do, but what a vote for that candidate means. It is the last feature of the campaign narrative -- what my vote says about me -- that is most important, and most often ignored. Let's start with the Republicans. In recent years, Democrats have marveled at their opponents' skill at campaigning, their deft media management, and their finely honed message. But one can scour the '08 GOP field in vain for anything resembling a coherent...

WHAT WE THINK ABOUT WHEN WE THINK ABOUT EDWARDS' HAIR.

WHAT WE THINK ABOUT WHEN WE THINK ABOUT EDWARDS' HAIR. Watching the coverage of John Edwards has been pretty depressing lately. It's obvious that a significant proportion of the political press corps has decided they just don't like him, and they're going to do whatever they can to destroy his candidacy. The principal vehicle through which this destruction is currently taking place is the haircut story, the vivid, emblematic tale that is supposed to tell us all we need to know about what a big, fat phony Edwards is. They drop it into story after story, no matter what the context is about, just as a reminder. This could be lethal. It brings to mind the lie that " Al Gore said he invented the internet," which appeared in literally thousands of stories during the 2000 race. The Gore campaign never figured out how to handle it. At first they tried to explain that it wasn't true, but reporters just didn't care -- they kept repeating it anyway. Then they tried to joke about it, and that...

IT'S NOT WHAT YOU SAY ABOUT POVERTY...

IT'S NOT WHAT YOU SAY ABOUT POVERTY... Garance makes some interesting observations in her piece about John Edwards and low-income voters, but I have to say, I doubt Edwards is banking on a huge groundswell of support for his candidacy from poor Americans. That's not really the political point of his emphasis on poverty. Before we get to why, let me say emphatically that I don't doubt for a second Edwards' sincerity on this issue. It's plain that he cares about it deeply, and that's why he's spending so much time talking about it. At the same time, though, he is running for president, so he has obviously thought about the politics involved. So if he isn't looking for the votes of lower-income Americans, what's the calculation? To understand, we can revisit something Mark Schmitt wrote back in 2004, in an all-time classic post : If I were running the issues department of the Kerry campaign, or any campaign, the sign above my desk would not be James Carville 's "It's the Economy Stupid...

The Power of the Campaign Narrative

All successful candidates have had a coherent, appealing story, while the losers tell bad stories -- or more often, no story at all. Plus, a gallery of narrative campaign ads.

On November 4, 1979, Senator Ted Kennedy, preparing to announce his primary challenge to President Jimmy Carter, sat down for an interview with Roger Mudd of CBS News. Polls showed Kennedy far ahead of the beleaguered incumbent, and many political experts at the time expected the youngest son of America's political royal family to take the mantle from his two slain brothers and charge to the White House. But when Mudd asked him a simple question -- "Senator, why do you want to be president?" -- Kennedy could not offer a simple response. His rambling, muddled answer dealt his campaign a terrible blow. It may seem strange that someone who had made the decision to run for president couldn't sum up in a few sentences what the purpose of his candidacy was. Kennedy's problem was not that he didn't have a good reason to run -- he had plenty of them. His problem was the way he thought about that run. He thought about issues, he thought about the weaknesses of the president he was trying to...

NOW THAT'S SOME FAMILY VALUES.

NOW THAT'S SOME FAMILY VALUES. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has interviewed the prostitute Senator David Vitter used to frequent back in Louisiana. But the article contains this puzzling passage: Yow, contacted through relatives, called The Times-Picayune Wednesday night and said Vitter was a regular customer of hers, but said the two did not have a romantic relationship. She claimed to have severed ties with him after she found out he was married. So they weren't dating, he was just a customer. But when she found out he was married, she told him not to come around anymore. I realize they have a long and honorable tradition of prostitution in New Orleans, but do the working girls down there have some stringent code of ethics that demands different standards than their counterparts everywhere else in the world? They don't service married Johns? Isn't that a significant portion of their business? What's going on here? You may now return to your regularly scheduled wonky policy...

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