Paul Waldman

The Religion of Unreason

Flickr/Dustin Grayson

I think it's safe to say that this period in history is one in which liberals have felt unusually exasperated with conservatives, perhaps more than ever before. I can say this with some confidence as a liberal who runs in liberal circles; it may well be that conservatives are also more exasperated with liberals than they have ever been. Our ability to feed that exasperation is driven by the fact that, for all the polarization of information sources, we're actually more aware of what people on the other side say than we ever have been before. Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea if Rush Limbaugh said something offensive, but today (once it rises to a certain level of horror), Media Matters will record it and put it on their web site, the Huffington Post will put it on their web site, and half a dozen people in my Twitter feed will let me know it happened. So there are all kinds of new ways to become appalled with your opponents.

And there's nothing we liberals find more frustrating than the contemporary conservative aversion to facts, particularly on a few select topics, none more than health care.

Today In American Exceptionalism

This graph will blow your mind. Click inside to see why.

We're going to talk about rich people and government spending, but first, some context. At some point you may have wondered about parliamentary systems like they have in Great Britain, in which the party that gets the most seats in the legislature also installs its leader as chief executive. With complete control over government, why don't they go hog-wild and completely remake the entire country after every election? The simple answer is that they know they'll have to stand for another election before long. But the other key factor is that a transition from, say, Labour to the Conservatives isn't as jarring as a transition of total control from our Democrats to Republicans might be, because there isn't as much distance between the parties.

Future of Television at Stake at Supreme Court Today

Photo courtesy of Aereo.

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in ABC vs Aereo, a case that will (cue drumroll) decide the future of television. Or maybe it won't, but it's a fascinating case, involving the intersection of technology with political and market power. There's a comprehensive explanation here, but the short version is that Aereo is a service that allows you to get broadcast TV, i.e. the major networks and a few others that send signals over the air, through an internet connection instead of a set of rabbit ears on top of your TV. The broadcast networks and the big cable companies want to shut it down, because they'd both rather have everyone getting the signals through cable. You see, your cable company pays a license fee to ABC, NBC, CBS, and every other network, fees that amount to billions of dollars a year (and get passed on to you). Someone who uses Aereo to cut the cable cord isn't paying those license fees, and isn't paying for a cable subscription either.

Aereo is, without question, a potentially disruptive technology that threatens one of the networks' profit streams. The question is whether the Supreme Court should step in to protect those profits.

Manly Men Condemn Obama's Lack of Manliness

Maybe one of these guys should run for president. (Flickr/David!)

Here's a question: If Hillary Clinton becomes president, what are conservatives going to say when they want to criticize her for not invading a sufficient number of other countries? I ask because yesterday, David Brooks said on Meet the Press that Barack Obama has "a manhood problem in the Middle East." Because if he were more manly, then by now the Israelis and Palestinians would have resolved their differences, Iraq would be a thriving, peaceful democracy, and Iran would have given up its nuclear ambitions. Just like when George W. Bush was president, right?

It really is remarkable how persistent and lacking in self-awareness the conservative obsession with presidential testosterone is. Here's the exchange:

Republicans on the ACA: Wrong, but Rational

Courtesy of earloftaint.com

I find it strange," said Barack Obama on Thursday as he announced that the total of Americans getting private insurance through the exchanges has now exceeded 8 million, "that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been. They still can't bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working." But it really isn't so strange. The Republicans' continued refusal to grant that anything good could possibly come from a law they've fought so bitterly for five years, even as encouraging news continues to roll in, is quite understandable. What's more, it's perfectly rational, even when all the predictions they made about its inevitable self-destruction fail to come true.

Would You Let a Robot Give You a Sponge Bath?

Getting ready for their shift on the pediatric ward. (Kai Schreiber/Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine it's 50 years from now, and you've checked into the hospital for a minor surgery that will require you to spend a couple of nights there. There's a nurses' station down the hall, but you know that the nurses are also caring for lots of other patients and may not be able to come quickly when you have a need, particularly if it isn't an emergency, like getting a hand walking to the bathroom, or having someone pick up the TV remote you dropped, or maybe getting a foot rub just because that would be nice. Upon checking in, the clerk says to you, "I see that your insurance provides for a robotic aide while you're here. Is that something you'd like?" What are you going to say?

Where the Death Penalty Stands

Yesterday, the New Hampshire state Senate deadlocked on a bill that would have eliminated the state's death penalty, killing the bill for the moment and leaving New Hampshire as the only state in New England that still has a law providing for executions. The bill had already passed the state House and has the support of the governor, so one more vote would have passed it. I thought this was a nice opportunity to look at the state of the death penalty in America and around the world. On to the charts and graphs!

The Circle of Scam Keeps Turning

Flickr/Kevin Trotman

A couple of times in the past I've written about what I call the conservative circle of scam, the way so many people on the right are so adept at fleecing each other. Here's a piece about high-priced consultants milking the Koch Brothers for everything they can get, and here's one about my favorite story, the way in 2012 Dick Morris played ordinary people who wanted to see Barack Obama driven from office (he solicited donations to a super PAC for that purpose, laundered the money just a bit, and apparently kept most of it for himself without ever spending any of it on defeating Obama). The essence of the circle of scam is that everybody gets rich at some stage of the game, with the exception of the rank-and-file conservatives who fuel it all with their votes, their eyeballs, and their money.

And today there are two new media stories showing that the circle of scam is humming along nicely.

Daily Meme: Voting Machinations

    • We're all about voting and elections today, starting with this Fox News poll showing a wide-open race for the 2016 GOP nomination. Chris Christie leads with 15 percent, followed by Jeb Bush and Rand Paul with 14 percent each, going all the way down to Bobby Jindal with room to move at 2 percent. Looks like it's time for some traffic problems in Des Moines.

Judging Obama's "Evolution" on Marriage Equality

White House photo by Pete Souza

Years from now, Barack Obama will almost certainly be seen as the most significant American president in the history of the gay rights movement. Under his watch, the military ended its policy of discrimination against gay servicemembers, the Defense of Marriage Act was abandoned by the administration and then overturned by the Supreme Court, and a majority of Americans came to embrace marriage equality, not least the president himself.

But there's another way to look at that story, which is that on marriage at least, Obama had to be dragged to the position he eventually took. An article in next Sunday's New York Times Magazine by Jo Becker details just what the process was, and if you're looking for evidence that Obama's "evolution" on the issue was purely political, there's plenty. I don't know too many liberals who would doubt it—or conservatives either, for that matter. The former see a president whose heart was in the right place but was cautious about when it would be possible for him to embrace same-sex marriage, while the latter see a president who dishonestly hid his radical agenda.

The Culture War Goes On

The Louisiana state house, threatened by the dark clouds of sin and wickedness. (Flickr/Ken Lund)

These days, liberals might be forgiven for feeling that they've won the culture war, or at least that they're winning. With the large exception of abortion (on which opinions have basically not budged in decades and conservative states have moved aggressively to curtail women's rights), on most hot-button social issues the country continues to move left. Marriage equality is now embraced by a majority of Americans, as is marijuana legalization. Basic conservative ideas about family life—that women should stay home whether they want to or not, that children benefit from a good beating now and again—live on in the hearts of many but have been vanquished from the realm of reasonable debate.

Uncivil Disobedience and the Opposite of Patriotism

BLM land in Nevada (Flickr/Ken Lund)

Back when George W. Bush was president, liberals were regularly accused of being disloyal or anti-American if they disagreed with the policies the administration was undertaking. As Bush himself said, you were either with us or with the terrorists, and as far as many of his supporters were concerned, "us" meant the Bush administration and everything they wanted to do, including invading Iraq. You may have noticed that now that there's a Democrat in the White House, conservatives no longer find disagreeing with the government's policies to be anti-American; in fact, the truest patriotism is now supposedly found among those whose hatred of the president, and the government more generally, burns white-hot in the core of their souls.

We've gotten used to that over the last five years, but I've still been surprised at the conservative embrace of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been in an argument with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees.

Hillary Clinton, Youth Candidate

Who is this hip and with-it young person? (Photo from the Clinton Library)

Our old colleague Patrick Caldwell has an interesting article up at Mother Jones about the way the Hillary Clinton campaign—or whatever we can call it at this point, since it isn't actually a campaign but it isn't exactly just a bunch of independent people doing their own thing either—is going after college students. I had forgotten how idiotically hostile the Hillary '08 campaign was toward college students in Iowa, but that's just one of innumerable mistakes that one presumes she'll attempt to correct this time around. This, though, is the part that caught my eye:

Strike a Pose

A salt-of-the-earth Louisianan nods approvingly while Mary Landreiu gets mad on his behalf.

One of the central dynamics of American politics in the last few decades has been the sorting of the parties, the way that the Republican and Democratic coalitions have become ideologically clearer and more narrow. There are some ways in which this has been a salutary development; for instance, if like many Americans you're a low-information voter, its easier to figure out which party to vote for than it once was. But while the GOP has become particularly unified—the northeastern liberal Republicans who once constituted a substantial faction within the party are all gone—there are still some moderate Democrats around, even in the South.

That means, among other things, that other Democrats have to put up with those Southern moderates doing things that would get them excommunicated if they were Republicans, like making bashing a Democratic administration one of the centerpieces of their campaigns. To wit, this new ad from Louisiana senator Mary Landreiu, who is facing a tough race this fall:

Three Cheers for Taxes

Flickr/Tobias Scheck

Tomorrow is tax day, when millions upon millions of Americans find themselves saying, "Grumble grumble govmint taxes grumble grumble" as they stand in a slow-moving line at the post office to mail their returns off to the tyrants in Washington. Every year at this time, I feel it's my duty to remind everyone of a few important facts about taxes, the most important of which comes at the end, so you'll have to wait for the payoff. But here we go:

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