Paul Waldman

The Politics of Polarization: Not as Simple as They Seem

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong P olarization is everywhere these days. Voters are polarized, legislators are polarized, the courts are polarized , all perhaps to different degrees at different moments, but the movement of the parties—and those who represent them—away from each other is evident in one realm after another. But too often, journalists talk about this phenomenon as though it were symmetrical, with Republicans and Democrats moving away from the center at roughly the same rate, even though that's not true. For instance, Congress has seen asymmetrical polarization in recent years, with Democrats growing slightly more liberal and Republicans growing much, much more conservative. There are a lot of reasons that has happened, but what I want to focus on at the moment is the differing internal dynamics of the two parties that help produce it. Political scientist Hans Noel, fresh from a conference on polarization, reports that his colleagues may be paying too much attention to the...

Koch Brothers Struggle Against Misconception That They Care About the Wealthy

Jared Rodriguez/Truthout
Politico's Kenneth Vogel got hold of some internal strategy documents from Americans for Prosperity, the pass-through for much of the political spending by cartoon villains Charles and David Koch, and while apart from the eye-popping spending being planned ($125 million this year) there isn't too much that's shocking, there is this poignant passage about how misunderstood free-market ideology is among the voters: "If the presidential election told us anything, it's that Americans place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak," reads the AFP memo. Echoing Charles Koch's opposition to the minimum wage , it asserts that free market, low-regulation policies "create the greatest levels of prosperity and opportunity for all Americans, especially for society's poorest and most vulnerable." Yet, the memo says, "we consistently see that Americans in general are concerned that free-market policy — and its advocates — benefit the rich and powerful more...

Meet Trey Gowdy, GOP Benghazi Attack Dog

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
AP Photo/Cliff Owen Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina Since House Speaker John Boehner announced the creation of a select committee to investigate the Benghazi affair, Republicans have been saying it will be a serious investigation, while Democrats have been saying it will be a partisan circus. To get a sense of who might be right, I spent some time watching YouTube videos of Rep. Trey Gowdy, the heretofore obscure second-term Tea Party congressman from South Carolina whom Boehner named to lead the committee. There are a lot of these videos of Gowdy in congressional hearings, posted by conservatives, with titles like "Gowdy DESTROYS Obama Admin Stooge!" He's obviously very popular among the base. To call Gowdy prosecutorial would be an understatement. Uniformly angry and outraged, these videos show Gowdy always seemingly on the verge of shouting, he's so damn mad. Like any good lawyer, he never asks a question to which he doesn't already know the answer. But when a witness gives him...

Daily Meme: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Our theme today is desperation, which seems to be gripping our nation's capital. Last night the House of Representatives voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress because she asserted her right not to answer their questions, a final desperate attempt to get people angry about yet another scandal that didn't turn out nearly as scandalous as they had hoped. Republicans may carry around copies of the Constitution in their pockets, but that Fifth Amendment can be awfully annoying. Republicans are also desperate for America to understand that their select committee on Benghazi will not just be a bunch of grandstanding and feigned outrage, producing nothi ng . "The goal here will be to select serious, sober-minded members who will make this about finding answers to some troubling questions and will not make this a partisan shouting match," an anonymous aide told Politico . "We’re not going to convene a kangaroo court." What would ever have made people think such...

Why Republicans Should Go Ahead and Raise Money Off Benghazi

Are you outraged?
Let it not be said that Democrats are incapable of meeting umbrage with umbrage. Yesterday, it came out that the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a fundraising email touting the new select committee on Benghazi; once you click through, you're told, "You're now a Benghazi Watchdog. Let's go after Obama & Hillary Clinton." Democrats got faux-outraged, and Rep. Trey Gowdy, who will be heading the committee, said he would never do any such thing: "I have never sought to raise a single penny on the backs of four murdered Americans." Now John Boehner's being hounded at press conferences about the propriety of such shameless politicization of a tragedy. Everybody get a grip. This is Washington. Everything is political. Are you telling me that as long as nobody used Benghazi to raise money, it would remain somehow outside the messiness of politics? Politics is all it's about, and all it has been about from the beginning. The unstated assumption is that there's some...

Clinton Derangement Syndrome Will Soon Be Back

This drives some people to distraction. (White House photo)
There was a time when I thought that the heights of derangement to which Barack Obama drove his political opponents were even greater than what we saw during the Clinton years. The dark warnings of socialism, the inability to accept that he is actually a U.S. citizen, the musings from prominent Republican figures about his "Kenyan anti-colonial behavior," the conspiracies sketched out on Glenn Beck's chalkboard , the "unskewed" polls, the fifty Obamacare repeal votes (and counting), the tricorner hats, the whole mad chaotic mess of the last five years—surely these people were nuttier than they had ever been. But now, as the possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and thus of a Hillary Clinton presidency, becomes real, I'm beginning to wonder. There are some things you just can't compare with any precision—what's crazier, believing that Barack Obama's parents planted a false birth announcement in Hawaii newspapers when he was born so that one day he could illegitimately...

In Defense of Star Wars

Flickr/tzotzil
The new Star Wars movie is in production , and this has occasioned a round of revisionist writing on the film, with lots of people saying, "Wait a minute— Star Wars sucks!" As the resident Gen-Xer here, I feel it is my duty to address this matter, and offer some thoughts about why Star Wars had the cultural power it did, and maintains so much of it to this day. In some ways, it did suck. The dialogue was awful, the acting was mediocre at best (Carrie Fisher's intermittent British accent is just one of the many sins), and there are some glaring plot holes. We can debate whether its ultimate influence was positive or malign, but even with its weaknesses, the film's success, and its persistence, were no accident. It has to be understood in the context of the moment at which it arrived. The first reason Star Wars made such an impact when it was released in 1977 was that it just looked so spectacular. Even though today we might see the special effects as primitive and some of the creatures...

What a Real Propaganda Campaign Looks Like

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements
Unfortunately, I have the sense that I'll be writing quite a bit about Benghazi in the coming months, since Republicans are cranking up their scandal calliope and the news media will eventually turn its bored gaze to the noise and fireworks. As we should keep in mind, the alleged misdeed at the heart of this matter has been downgraded from "the administration allowed four Americans to be killed" to "the administration tried to spin the story to make sure they didn't look bad." That is, quite literally, the terrible crime Republicans now believe the Obama administration committed, and the thing about which we're all supposed to be outraged. That's it. They spun. And how can we get to the bottom of this spinning without a select committee, and hour upon hour of hearings, complete with a blizzard of feigned outrage, to pile on top of the hour upon hour of hearings we've already had? Last night, the Daily Show gave us a little reminder of what a real propaganda campaign looks like: The...

The Difference Between Liberal Justices and Conservative Justices

You don't like it? Tough luck. (Flickr/Stephen Masker)
Liberals have for some time believed that all of conservatives' high-falutin' talk about "original intent" and judges who will "interpret the Constitution, not make laws" is just a crock. Rather, what they want is judges who will give them the results they want, whatever the Constitution may happen to say. "Original intent" is a particularly flexible, and therefore fundamentally bogus, rationale, since it's usually impossible to apply 18th century ideals to 21st century legal questions and arrive at a judgment based solely on your impression of what was in James Madison's mind, and therefore no matter what your preferred outcome is, you can justify it on the basis of original intent. And no one is more guilty of flinging that kind of baloney than Antonin Scalia. But conservatives respond that liberals do the same thing, pretending to believe in abstract principles when they really just want the people they like to prevail in every case that comes before the courts. Resolving the...

Why Cultural Affinity Isn't Enough

As you travel the political web today, you'll probably be seeing this ad a lot, the latest from Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst. Like many a candidate (mostly Republicans) before her, Ernst wants voters to know that, like them, she enjoys firearms. And she'll prove it by shooting one, while the narrator says, "Once she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni's gonna unload" over the sound of her bullets travelling freedom's path on their way to rip through the guts of tyranny: And if you go to Ernst's web site today, you'll see this ad under a huge headline reading "Give Joni a Shot," with the "o" in "shot" made into a target. In other words: "Vote for me because gunsgunsguns!" If you're a Republican and you want to send a signal of cultural affinity, there's no easier way to do it than by firing a gun . Guns have carried symbolic weight for a long time, but never more so than now. They send a message both about conservatives and about liberals; not only "I'm one of you," but also, "...

'Benghazi! The Musical': Dancing, Shouting, Not Much Plot

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. I f Republicans in Congress really want to get Americans to pay attention to the Benghazi scandalette, they're going to have to do some creative thinking. Since hearings and periodic expressions of outrage haven't worked so far, maybe a musical would do the trick. A soaring ballad or two, some hopping dance numbers, maybe a pair of star-crossed lovers. Naturally, it would be called Benghazi! , kind of like Oklahoma! , only rather more grim. But in the meantime, they're going to go with a select committee to investigate the matter, as House Speaker John Boehner announced on Friday . One does wonder whether they think that if they just do some more investigating, they'll uncover the real crime. No one knows what it is yet, but just you wait. Or, as is far more likely, they're just hoping to create a lot of bad news days for the administration, where the whiff of "...

Guillotine Revival Movement Gains Momentum

Flickr/The Tedster
When things began to go terribly wrong with Clayton Lockett's execution in Oklahoma the other day—when instead of drifting gently off into unconsciousness and death, Lockett began to moan and buck on the gurney—one of the first things the officials did was lower the blinds over the window through which observers peered into the death chamber. Because after all, people shouldn't have to witness a man suffer as the state is killing him, right? Lockett's execution was hardly the first botched one we've had, particularly with lethal injection, a process prison officials seem extraordinarily incompetent at implementing properly. But for whatever reason, it has brought about a more substantial debate about the death penalty than we've had in some time. And as part of that, it looks like my semi-serious advocacy for the return of the guillotine is finally gaining momentum. It already has endorsements from Conor Friedersdorf and Sonny Bunch , with more sure to follow. Frankly, I've never...

Daily Meme: The Demise of the Viral Obamacare Victim Story

The political ground on the Affordable Care Act seems to be shifting—perhaps enough to help Democrats in the fall, perhaps not. But as more and more information about the law's operation comes in, Republicans are having a harder time arguing that all those people getting insurance is a terrible thing. Yesterday, we learned that health care spending spiked in the first quarter of 2014. Even before Republicans could open their mouths, Jonathan Chait (among other people) informed them that this was exactly what everyone knew would happen . Because when you give millions of people coverage, they go to the doctor. Simon Malloy of Salon notes that "we seem to be past the era of the viral Obamacare victim story." And after that, what can Republican candidates say? Because weirdly, "It turns out that Americans really, really like having access to affordable healthcare, and when they finally get it, they use it." So Republicans are trying a new tack. They've released a report claiming that...

Could a Clinton Candidacy Give Us a Healthy Debate About Sexism?

Yeah, there'll be more of this.
Hillary Clinton has had, let's say, a difficult relationship with the media. It isn't too surprising for someone who's been in the national spotlight for over two decades; outside of John McCain, I can't think of many politicians who love the press and feel like they always get a fair shake. But there's a piece in Politico today by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman that goes into some interesting detail about Clinton's feelings on this topic, particularly about some of the sexism she's had to endure. "Look, she hates you. Period. That's never going to change," says one anonymous Clinton ally, referring to the media. Here's more: If Clinton says yes, she'll have access to a bottomless pool of Democratic political talent and cash to match all those hyperbolic pronouncements about her inevitability. If she doesn't run, the single biggest factor holding her back will be the media, according to an informal survey of three dozen friends, allies and former aides interviewed for this article...

Are Liberal Mega-Donors Just As Bad As Conservative Mega-Donors?

We are not so different, you and I. (Flickr/East Coast Gambler)
Democrats are spending a lot of time criticizing Charles and David Koch these days, for a few reasons. They'd like to inoculate people against the Koch brothers' political ads, most of which are funneled through Americans for Prosperity (though it's difficult to do that when people have no idea that an AFP ad comes from the Kochs). It's also good to personify the issue of the influence of big money in identifiable individuals, particularly if those individuals are the billionaire owners of an oil company. And, as my colleague Greg Sargent has argued , it's about putting a face on policy differences between the two parties, a way of demonstrating that Democrats are the party of regular folks with an economic agenda to match, and Republicans advocate for the interests of the wealthy. And when people ask those Democrats, "Well, don't you have your own billionaires pumping money into campaigns? How is that any different?" the Democrats reply, "It's totally different!" Do they have a case...

Pages