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

Daily Meme: Sanctions; So Hot Right Now

  • Everyone who's anyone is either sanctioning someone today, or getting sanctioned themselves. First, the Obama administration announced new sanctions on Russia, including 20 Russian officials and a Russian bank.

Some Thoughts On New Journalistic Ventures, Internet Time, and Your Media Diet

This man is unstoppable clickbait. (Flickr/Greg Peverill-Conti)

This week, I've been substituting for Greg Sargent at his Plum Line blog at the Washington Post, which has been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed getting exposed to a new and larger audience. But it has also been challenging, particularly since I've tried to keep posting here on the Prospect as well. Greg's blog runs on a pretty strict schedule—his readers expect a post to be there when they get to their desks at 9 am, then a couple more through the day, and finally a roundup of links to other stories at the end of the day. They also expect writing that is pegged to today's events, but gives a broader perspective that will still be relevant tomorrow.

So that's demanding, even if there are people out there who write a lot more than that every day (Bekah Grant, a former writer for VentureBeat, recently wrote how "I wrote an average of 5 posts a day, churning out nearly 1,740 articles over the course of 20 months. That is, by all objective standards, insane." And don't even ask about the demands made on the people who write for sites like Gawker.) In the few moments when I haven't been panicking about whether my idea for the post that's due in an hour will be sufficiently interesting (or when I have no idea for the next post at all), it has given me some perspective on what we do here at the Prospect and how our writing and reporting fits into readers' lives.

Why the GOP Won't Change

Flickr/Rob Chandanais

Exactly one year ago, a committee of Republican party bigwigs issued the report of its "Growth and Opportunity Project," better known as the "autopsy." The idea was to figure out what the party was doing wrong, and how on earth Barack Obama had managed to get re-elected when everybody knows what a big jerk he is. There were some recommendations on things like improving the party's use of technology and its fundraising, but the headline-grabbing message was that the party had to shed its image as a bunch of grumpy old white guys and become more welcoming to young people and racial minorities.

It was always going to be a tricky thing to accomplish, both because the GOP is, in fact, made up in large part of grumpy old white guys, and because "outreach" can only go so far if you aren't willing to change the things you stand for. Mike Huckabee, that clever fellow, used to say, "I'm a conservative, but I'm not angry about it." Which is all well and good, but if, for instance, you say to young people that you don't think their gay friends ought to be allowed to get married, saying it with a smile doesn't really help.

And a year later, it's not just that the Republican party hasn't changed, it's that they don't have much reason to change.

The Missing White Poor

A famous white poor person. (photo by Dorothea Lange)

You may have heard about how last week, Paul Ryan made some unfortunate remarks about poverty, blaming it at least partly on, well, lazy black people: "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular," Ryan said, "of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with." The reason many people got angry about this is that when we talk about poor white people, nobody suggests that it's a product of a pathology that lies within those particular people. Republicans may think persistent poverty in rural areas is a regrettable thing, but they aren't delivering lectures to those people about their "culture." It's kind of a generalized version of the fundamental attribution error—people like me are poor because of conditions outside themselves, while people unlike me are poor because of their inherent nature.

Ryan's words set off a predictable round of "Is Paul Ryan racist?" contemplation (see here, for example), and in response to that we have to remind ourselves that that is always the wrong question. It's impossible to know with certainty whether anyone is racist, because that requires looking into their heart. But much more importantly, it doesn't matter. What matters is what people say and do, not what lurks within their souls. You can say to Paul Ryan, "Here's what's wrong with what you said" without shouting "You're racist!" which not only doesn't convince anyone of anything, it only leads everyone who doesn't already agree with you to shut down and refuse to listen to anything else you have to say. Before we get to today's chart about race and poverty (oh yes, I do have a chart), you should play this classic from Jay Smooth every time you're tempted to call a politician a racist:

The Imagined Reagan Will Live Forever

In 2012, the most popular baby names, according to the Social Security Agency, were Jacob for boys (18,899 little Jacobs) and Sophia for girls (22,158 wee Sophias). But holding on strong in the girl category, still cracking the top 100 at #97, was Reagan. No fewer than 3,072 proud, freedom-loving Americans named their girls after our 40th president that year, nearly a quarter-century after he left office.

Liberals, it need hardly be said, don't go in for that sort of thing. Would you consider naming your kid after a Democratic president? Probably not. I have a friend who named his son Truman, but let's just say that in school when the teacher calls his name, nobody has to ask which of the class' many Trumans she means. I'm sure there are some parents who have named their boys Barack, but even in 2009, at the height of President Obama's popularity, the name Barack didn't crack the top 1,000.

What's interesting about this isn't just the contrast between liberals and conservatives but the fact that even among conservatives, there's no one who even comes close to the kind of quasi-religious worship Reagan gets. It's partly because, depending on your definition of success, he was the most successful Republican president in the lifetime of most living Republicans. But even for people who remember his presidency, the actual details of that presidency have become completely irrelevant. Ronald Reagan now exists as purely as a symbol, an embodiment of every virtue one might admire, whether Reagan himself actually embodied those virtues or not.

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