Paul Waldman

Why Liberals Love (and Trust) NPR

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The Pew Research Center has one of its ginormous studies out today, this one about polarization and media use, and as usual it's full of interesting stuff. I want to make a point about news in general and NPR in particular, and then after that, for those who care about these things, I have a methodological point to make about how we measure ideology. One of the distinct things about the Pew results is that conservatives love, love, love Fox News, while no single news outlet has the same kind of near-universal use among liberals. Look, for instance at this chart showing which sources each group cites as their main source of news: But the really interesting difference emerges when they ask which sources people trust: You'll notice that for the consistent conservatives, trust is basically a function of ideology and partisanship. The only sources that over 50 percent of them trust are Fox and a bunch of conservative radio hosts (and yes, conservatives would argue that that's because all...

John Kasich Successfully Begins Two-Year Ritual of Self-Flagellation

Does the fact that it was 1985 excuse this Bieber-plus-mullet? Only the voters can decide. (Wikimedia Commons)
At Holy Cross-Immaculata church in Cincinnati, there's a Good Friday tradition called " Praying the Steps ," in which parishioners slowly climb the 85 steps up to the church, saying a prayer on each step. It may take a while to get to the top, but that's the entire point of the exercise—the time and effort it takes is a symbol of one's devotion. Keep that in mind for a moment as we talk about that state's governor, John Kasich, and his complicated feelings about the Affordable Care Act. Yesterday, Governor Kasich went through a ritual that has grown no less absurd for being so familiar. It goes like this: 1) Republican politician accidentally acknowledges that the ACA is the law and repeal efforts are futile (or even that it actually helps people); 2) Conservatives do a collective spit-take; 3) Politician issues apology/clarification, making clear his unshakeable belief that the ACA was vomited out of the very fires of hell and of course he wants to repeal it; 4) Conservatives say, "...

On Ebola, Like Terrorism, We Don't Actually Have to Be Right 100 Percent of the Time

I'm done (for the moment, anyway) writing entire posts trying to remind/convince people that the chances of you dying from Ebola are incredibly small. But that doesn't mean there isn't more to say about the often idiotic reactions people are having to a disease that has infected a grand total of two Americans on U.S. soil. This struck me this morning : Rep. Tim Murphy, who chaired a hearing last week questioning the Obama administration's response to the Ebola virus, argued again on Sunday for restricting travel from West African countries where the disease is threatening to spill over into the rest of the continent. "This is like dealing with terrorism," the Republican congressman from Pennsylvania said on "Fox News Sunday." "We have to be right 100 percent of the time, and Ebola only has to get in once." Representative Murphy is both exactly right and spectacularly wrong. He's wrong because Ebola doesn't only have to get in once. It already got in! And most Americans remain weirdly...

What Would Elections Be Like If Everyone Voted?

Click inside for the charty goodness.
Imagine, if you would, an election in which almost everyone turned out to vote. Campaigns would have to reorient their persuasion efforts, because they'd have to talk to everyone. It wouldn't matter whether it was a presidential year or a midterm year. All the time, money, and effort that goes into identifying potential voters, making sure they're registered, and then getting them to the polls would no longer be needed. And of course, people like me wouldn't be able to spend months talking about which voters were going to turn out and which ones weren't. One of the most fundamental features of a midterm election like this one is that the electorate will be different from the one that comes out in a presidential year. It'll be older, whiter, and generally more Republican. While Republicans try to reinforce this difference, Democrats try to counteract it. The degree to which each succeeds determines the outcome, and if this year is like previous midterms, turnout will be around 40...

The Return of the 'Different Kind of Republican'

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
There's always a market, particularly in the media, for the politician who can surprise by running counter to the stereotypes of his or her party. As the two parties become more ideologically unified, that figure becomes even more compelling. The trick is to do it without making your party's loyal supporters angry at you. Which brings us to Rand Paul , who has a plan to become 2016's "Different kind of Republican," the label that was placed on George W. Bush back in 2000: Sen. Rand Paul tells POLITICO that the Republican presidential candidate in 2016 could capture one-third or more of the African-American vote by pushing criminal-justice reform, school choice and economic empowerment. "If Republicans have a clue and do this and go out and ask every African-American for their vote, I think we can transform an election in one cycle," the Kentucky Republican said in a phone interview Thursday as he was driven through New Hampshire in a rental car. Paul — on the cover of the new issue of...

Are You Ready for Some Terror?

I don't know if Ebola is actually going to take Republicans to victory this fall, but it's becoming obvious that they are super-psyched about it. Put a scary disease together with a new terrorist organization and the ever-present threat of undocumented immigrants sneaking over the border, and you've got yourself a putrid stew of fear-mongering, irrationality, conspiracy theories, and good old-fashioned Obama-hatred that they're luxuriating in like it was a warm bath on a cold night. It isn't just coming from the nuttier corners of the right where you might expect it. It's going mainstream. One candidate after another is incorporating the issue into their campaign. Scott Brown warns of people with Ebola walking across the border. Thom Tillis agrees : "Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors that can come across the border. We need to seal the border and secure it." "We have to secure the border. That is the first thing," says Pat Roberts, "And in addition...

Fear of Lawsuits Is Not Why We Spend So Much On Health Care

Let's get you in there, shall we? (Flickr/Joe Shlabotnik)
You surely know that a good part of the reason our health care system is so expensive is the scourge of "defensive medicine," where doctors order test after test just so that if the patient doesn't get the outcome they want, it'll be harder for them to sue on the grounds that one more MRI or CAT scan would have made all the difference. Making it difficult for people to sue, then, should bring down the cost of health care, right? Actually, no : There's been a long-running theory that one reason medical costs are bloated is that doctors are scared of medical malpractice suits, so they order expensive and unnecessary tests to protect themselves from liability. But in three states over the past decade that enacted laws to put stricter limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, there hasn't been much of an impact in the volume or cost of emergency room care, a new Rand Corporation study shows. The finding suggests that doctors "are less motivated by legal risk than they themselves believe,"...

Some Things More Likely to Kill You Than Ebola

With the Ebola virus having now infected fully .0000006 percent of the American population, it's obviously time to panic, because you're probably going to die from it. But while you're panicking over Ebola, are there other things you should be fearing simultaneously, to really take your terror into the stratosphere? Why yes there are. And I've decided to make a chart, so you'll know just what to be afraid of. These data are drawn from statistics put out by the Centers for Disease Control ; 2011 is the most recent year for which the numbers are available. From the 113 different causes of death they list, I've chosen a few, then added one extra one down at the bottom: There are things that don't appear in this particular set of data; for instance, medical errors kill as many as 440,000 Americans every year. And some of those diseases are the result of other factors; for instance, the CDC says that smoking is responsible for 480,000 deaths in America each year. But you get the idea. Of...

It's Not Your Senator's Job to Stop Ebola

Flickr/Krysten Newby
To the endless list of inane things candidates accuse one another of, we can now add this: My opponent has not done enough to stop Ebola! Or actually, in this case it's local media , and the politician in question is Pat Roberts; but Roberts' opponent is picking up on it (and may have been the source of the story, since a nearly identical report appeared on a second local news station ): On the stump and in television interviews, Senator Pat Roberts has taken aim at the White House's response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, and in the United States, including calling for a travel ban to effected [sic] West African nations. But when Roberts had a chance, as a member of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, to attend a special joint hearing with top public health officials briefing lawmakers on the virus and the fight against it—he was a no-show. If only Pat Roberts had been at that hearing, we'd all be safe. There are few criticisms more meaningless and yet...

Can Robots Offer Amazon Moral Redemption?

An Amazon fulfillment center in Scotland. (Flickr/Chris Watt/Scottish Government)
If you're like many liberals, you probably feel conflicted about Amazon. On one hand, they seem to carry every mass-produced product in universe, and they usually have the lowest price, or nearly so. Shopping with them is incredibly convenient. On the other hand, the " fulfilment centers " at which people toil to pick and pack all the products people buy are basically the 21st century sweatshops, where workers endure horribly demanding work and demeaning treatment for low pay (Amazon isn't the only company that uses them, but they're the biggest). A few years ago, we learned that in the summer at some fulfilment centers they would park ambulances outside to cart off the workers who got heat stroke, because it was cheaper than installing air conditioning (which they eventually did in the face of a bunch of bad publicity). And the Supreme Court just heard a case involving Amazon workers who want to be paid for the time they are required to stand in line waiting to be searched like...

Kentucky Candidates Agree: Coal Is the Future!

Flickr/Matt Zaske
There was a debate in Kentucky yesterday between U.S. Senate candidates Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes, and while there was lots of disagreement, one thing both candidates agreed on is that what their state and America needs is more of that sweet, sweet coal. McConnell accused Grimes of being complicit, because she's a Democrat, in "Obama's war on coal," and Grimes protested that she loves coal more than she loves her own mama (though not quite in so many words). Throughout this campaign they've both been so enthusiastic about coal, you almost expected them to pull out a few lumps of the stuff and start smearing it all over their faces while moaning, "Oh, coal, God yes, coal, coal, COAL!!!" Here's a dose of reality: There are only a tiny number of people left in Kentucky who mine coal. According to the state's department of energy: "At the end of 2013, coal mines in Kentucky directly employed 11,885 people." Since there are about 3.4 million people over the age of 18 in...

Maybe That Wendy Davis Attack Ad Wasn't Really So Bad, After All

(AP Photo/The McAllen Monitor, Gabe Hernandez, Pool)
O n Friday, the campaign of Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor in Texas, released an ad that was powerful enough to not only get condemned by liberals and conservatives alike, but to convince some journalists to abandon their stance of objectivity. "Wendy Davis is running one of the nastiest campaign ads you will ever see," read a headline in the Washington Post . "Outrage spreads" over the ad, said the Los Angeles Times . What has everyone so angry is that the ad refers to the fact that Davis' opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, uses a wheelchair, with a picture of an empty one. I'm going to argue that Davis' ad may be less problematic than many people are making it out to be. But it does tell us a good deal about how these kinds of attacks should be judged. Let's start by taking a look: Here's the text: "A tree fell on Greg Abbott. He sued and got millions. Since then, he's spent his career working against other victims. Abbott argued a woman whose leg was...

Should the Democrats Abandon Hope of Getting Relief from Voter Suppression In the Courts?

Flickr/Theresa Thompson
Yesterday there were two rulings on voting rights cases, both of which were decided in favor of the liberal side of the argument. But don't get too excited. I hate to be eternal pessimist on this issue, but neither case is likely to turn out the way liberals and Democrats want. In fact, we're almost at the point where — until the current makeup of the Supreme Court changes — liberals should keep themselves from ever thinking the courts are going to stop Republican efforts at voter suppression. I'll get to the consequences of that in a moment, but first let's look at the two cases yesterday. The first was in Texas, where a federal judge struck down the state's voter ID law. In refreshingly blunt language, the judge called the law an "unconstitutional poll tax," and said that the legislators who passed it "were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law's detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate." Which is...

Sex, Lies and the Secret Service

MSNBC
Paul Waldman talks with MSNBC's Chris Hayes about the likelihood that someone either in or close to the Secret Service leaked the story of a White House volunteer's alleged dalliance with a sex worker in Cartagena while working advance for President Barack Obama's visit there in 2012—and the implications of a rift between the president's staff and the people sworn to protect his very life.

The Larger Context of Restrictions On Voting

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Yesterday the Supreme Court issued an order overruling an appeals court decision about a series of voting restrictions passed last year by the state of North Carolina, which will allow the restrictions to remain in place for this year's election, until the case is ultimately heard by the Court. And in a happy coincidence, on the very same day, the Government Accountability Office released a report finding that voter ID requirements reduce turnout among minorities and young people , precisely those more-Democratic voting groups the requirements are meant to hinder. There's a context in which to view the battle over voter restrictions that goes beyond whether Republicans are a bunch of meanies, and it has to do with the things parties can change easily and the things they can't. I'll explain exactly what I mean in a moment, but first, the law at issue was passed just weeks after the Supreme Court's conservative majority gutted the Voting Rights Act, allowing North Carolina and other...

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