Paul Waldman

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...

The Rich, Still Different From You and Me

Photos by some tool via Rich Kids of Instagram.
When the news broke that Los Angeles Clippers owner and creepy racist misogynist billionaire Donald Sterling would be banned from the NBA for life (perhaps resulting in him selling the team) and fined $2.5 million, a lot of people probably said, "$2.5 million? The guy's got a couple of billion dollars! Why not give him a fine that'll hurt?" Frankly, I think any fine at all is a little strange in this case. We usually think of fines as punishment for violations of some rule or law, not as a response to someone just being a horrible human being (though there could well be some clause in the the secret NBA owner bylaws about behavior that reflects poorly on the league). The ban, on the other hand, seems perfectly appropriate, even if when he sells the team he'll net a few hundred million dollars on his original $12 million investment. But the fine—and the weird fact that he was about to get a "lifetime achievement award" from the NAACP for his contributions to the welfare of black people...

The Conflicted Voter

Flickr/marta...maduixaaaa
One of the most persistent and defining features of American public opinion is that as a whole, the electorate is what political scientists call "symbolic conservatives" and "operational liberals." That is, when you ask them abstract questions they sound like conservatives expressing a dislike of big government. But when you ask them specific questions they sound like liberals, expressing support (and wanting to increase funding) for just about everything government does. The parties understand that, which is why Republicans tend to talk about principles and Democrats tend to talk about programs. This extends to specific policy choices; most of the things on the agenda of Democrats have majority support. So why don't Democrats always win? The answer is complicated, and today, Kevin Drum points us to this odd result in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll : on most of the issues the poll tested, voters said they trust Democrats more than Republicans, yet when you ask them whom they...

Words, Ideas, Actions, and the Tangle of Race

Beware of these. (Flickr/Pierre Metivier) (AP Photo of Cliven Bundy/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher)
We seem to be having one of those moments when a series of controversies come in rapid succession and make everyone newly aware of the relationship between language, ideas, and actions. And naturally, it revolves around our eternal national wound of race. Nevertheless, it's nice to see that in a few of these controversies, we aren't actually arguing about what words mean. This is often a focus of disagreement when somebody says something that other people take offense at; for instance, when Paul Ryan said a few weeks ago that "[w]e have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working, and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of the culture of work," conservatives believed he was being unfairly tagged as racist for using a common phrase, while liberals objected to the connection between the word and the idea that followed. There's nothing racist about the term "inner city" in and of itself, but when people say...

In Defense of Mitch McConnell--Sort Of

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell campaigning in Kentucky. AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee
I come before you today to defend Mitch McConnell. Because although McConnell can spin with the best of them, late last week some kind of misfire deep within his brain caused him to experience a moment of candor and inadvertently shine a light on the absurdity of campaigns—not just what candidates tell us, but what we expect of them. The immediate topic was jobs, and whether McConnell would bring them to one particular region of Kentucky. "Economic development is a Frankfort issue," he said, citing the state capital. "That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet." Horrors! Naturally, his opponent jumped all over him for it. As Steve Benen reminds us, something similar happened in 2010 to Sharron Angle, the nutball then running for U.S. Senate in Nevada, who once said, "People ask me, 'What are you gonna do to develop jobs in your state?' Well that's not my job as a U.S. senator, to bring industry to this state." Angle was wrong about a lot of...

Walmart Does Something Good

Flickr/Walmart
Walmart is able to use its enormous size and market power to mercilessly squeeze its suppliers and bring its prices down to extraordinarily low levels. Liberal elitists like the ones who read this magazine tend to believe that although those low prices provide a boon to the store's largely low-income customer base, that is outweighed by the negative effects Walmart has on wages and benefits, when it comes not only to its own employees but also those through its supply chain and the larger labor market. And that's not to mention its dependence on government—the company not only makes billions of dollars every year in sales from food stamps, because of its meager wages and benefits, taxpayers subsidize tens of thousands of Walmart employees with those very food stamps, and Medicaid insurance as well. OK, so you know all that. But what if Walmart uses its huge footprint to create a separate benefit for low-income people in an area where they could really use it, and without hurting (...

With Cliven Bundy, the Right Is Reaping What It Sows

One of the Bundys' many interviews on Fox News.
Some great causes achieve their goals and transform the world, while others fizzle out when it's discovered that their leaders are unadorned racists who think black people were in much better shape when they were slaves. Isn't that how it goes? At least that's what some conservatives must have thought today as they learned of the New York Times report on Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been grazing his cows on federal land and refusing to pay grazing fees, what you or I might consider "stealing," but what the folks at Fox News, who have given Bundy hour after hour of glowing coverage, consider a principled stand against federal overreach in the finest American traditions. Prior to this morning, Bundy's fans were a limited but influential group, including senators Rand Paul and Dean Heller, the entire Fox network (but especially Sean Hannity), and the National Review , where one writer compared him to Gandhi . Now that Bundy's fascinating ideas about "the Negro" have come to...

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...

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. In many of our peer countries in Europe and elsewhere, some things we fight bitterly over have basically been settled. For instance, everyone in the U.K. accepts that the National Health Service is a good thing, even if there might be some...

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...

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