Paul Waldman

Memo to Republicans: You Lost. Now Deal with It.

Artist's rendering of the House Republican Caucus. (Flickr/Ian Turk)

Imagine you're a third grade teacher, and the school announces that all the classrooms are going to be repainted, and the kids will get to choose the colors. You let your students each make a case for the color they'd like for their classroom, and it comes down to a choice between blue and green. The two sides give cute little speeches to the class about their favorite colors, and then you take a vote. There are 20 kids in the class; 12 choose blue and 8 choose green. Blue it is.

But then the kids who wanted green insist that the color has to be green. They go to the principal's office and make their case that blue sucks and green rules. The principal tells them that the class chose blue, so the walls are going to be blue. Then the pro-green kids return and say that since there was a new kid who joined the class since the vote, we have to have the vote again. Another vote is held; it's still blue. Then the pro-green kids announce that because anyone can see that blue is sucky, they're going to write in green magic marker on any wall that gets painted blue. Then they announce that if the walls get painted blue, they're going to break the windows in the classroom, smash the chairs, and fling the contents of everybody's cubby on the floor.

When they're told they can't do that, they say, "OK, tell you what: we'll refrain from breaking the windows and trashing the class, but only if you give us pro-green kids cupcakes every day, excuse us from homework for the rest of the year, and let us choose all the games we play at recess. It's either that, or we start smashing." Would you respond to these children, "Well, what if we just give you the cupcakes?" Of course not. You'd say, "Listen, you psychotic little turds. The goddamn walls are going to be blue. YOU LOST. Now suck it up."

Cory Booker and the Vegan Strip Club: A One-Act DM Play

To call Newark mayor and soon-to-be senator Cory Booker extroverted would be something of an understatement. If he sees you on the street, he'll shake your hand. If he meets you in the hall, he'll give you a hug. If you're snowed in, he'll shovel your walk. If your building is burning down, he'll come in and rescue you. And if you follow him on Twitter, there's a fair chance he'll follow you back, which means that the two of you can start sending direct messages (DMs) to each other. He follows over 75,000 people, which is a lot to keep up with.

Boom Times for the NRA

Flickr/Sea Grape

There's a lot happening at the moment—government shutdown, war in Syria, Iranian president sort of maybe not denying the Holocaust—so there was very little attention given to the fact that yesterday, the United States government signed the United Nation Arms Trade Treaty, commonly known as the small arms treaty. It's meant to prevent the arming of human rights abusers, potential perpetrators of genocide, and the like, by obligating states not to sell conventional weapons, from small arms up to tanks and helicopters, to foreign governments or entities that are going to use them to commit war crimes and massacre civilians. When it was voted on by the UN, the only countries that voted against it were Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

And today, the National Rifle Association is celebrating. That might strike you as odd, but the ATT is political gold for them. It's the international equivalent of a failed gun control effort in Congress, which is far, far better than no gun control effort at all. It gives them the opportunity to scream, "They're coming for your guns!", raise money, keep their congressional allies asking "How high?" when they say jump, acquire new members, and reinvigorate their existing members. And it all happens without even the tiniest threat to anyone's actual gun rights. Who could ask for anything more?

Why "Duck Dynasty" Became the Latest Conservative Cultural Touchstone

In a 21-hour speech full of weird moments, few were weirder than when Sen. Ted Cruz abandoned all talk of health care, Nazis, and freedom to talk for a while about Duck Dynasty. "This is a show about a god-fearing family of successful entrepreneurs who love guns, who love to hunt, and who believe in the American Dream," Cruz said. "It's something that according to Congress almost shouldn't exist." He then spent the next four minutes reciting a seemingly random collection of quotes from the show, along the lines of "You put five rednecks on mower, it's gonna be epic." It seemed as if one of his staffers, searching for things Cruz could talk about to pass the time, grabbed the list from a website somewhere.

But it wasn't just like reading the phone book, because Duck Dynasty has become for conservatives an island sanctuary in a roiling cultural sea of liberal dangers. In case you're some kind of commie or you live in a monastery, Duck Dynasty is one of the most remarkable American cultural phenomena of the last few years. It's not only the highest-rated show on cable, it's also an endless font of best-selling books, wall calendars, T-shirts, and all manner of other cultural paraphernalia. The show is the most successful of a reality TV format one friend calls "wacky family has interesting business"–maybe they make cakes, or build custom motorcycles, or track down fugitives. In the case of the Robertson clan, they made millions manufacturing duck calls, but retained their homespun charm and (for the men) spectacular beards.

Politico Published More than 30 Articles about Ted Cruz Today

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

A few months back, I wrote a post with the whimsically counteruntitive title "Rand Paul Is a Genius," about how Paul had managed to garner a huge (if temporary) amount of media attention with a couple of clever moves, the most important of which was staging a real talking filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director. For a couple of days there, all anybody could talk about was Rand Paul. And today, Cruz is the Newz; in the last 24 hours, Politico has run more than 30 articles on Ted Cruz and his speech, examining the topic from every possible angle. You can bet that his staff, once they're done responding to media requests, will raise a glass in salute to the most exciting day in their boss' short Senate career. But if you're a senator with national ambitions, where does this momentary prominence leave you?

Senator Talks for Hours, While in Real World, Things Proceed According to Plan

Politics is, to a degree we don't often notice, mostly about talking. Politicians describe what they do in heroic, usually martial terms—they "fight" for things, they wage "battles," and so on—but what they actually do is talk, and talk, and talk some more. They talk on the floor of Congress, they talk in committees, they talk to constituents, they talk to each other. There are a few of them, oddly enough, who are not particularly good at talking. But the successful ones are almost all good talkers. So it isn't too surprising that Ted Cruz, the former debate champion who is known as an exceptionally good talker, is able to get up and talk about the satanic plot that is Obamacare for 18 hours straight. There's something fitting about this last stand.

Let's recall that just a few days ago, Cruz was being branded a traitor by Tea Partiers simply for acknowledging that the defunding effort will fail in the Senate. So what better way to get back in their good graces than a grandiose, utterly futile symbolic gesture? That's pretty much what the Tea Party is all about, after all. Cruz's long speech won't actually change anything, either on the question of whether the Senate will pass a continuing resolution defunding the Affordable Care Act (it won't) or whether the ACA will take effect (it will). But in case you are one of the 99.99 percent of Americans who didn't bother to tune in to this remarkable feat of rhetorical endurance, here's a good description:

Historical Analogies, From Wrong to Awful

It's the shoes that make this outfit. (Flickr/Fibonacci Blue)

Here's a little tip for those commenting on public affairs, whether politician, writer, or just someone who finds yourself with a microphone before you. You'll be tempted from time to time to use a historical analogy, comparing present events and controversies to more momentous ones from the past. But there are a few you definitely want to avoid, including the following: I am like Jesus. The people I disagree with are like Nazis. The people I disagree with are like slave owners or segregationists. I or people I like am as oppressed as slaves were, or as Jews in Nazi Germany were. Those comparisons will pop into your head, but do yourself a favor and try to come up with something better. That shouldn't be too hard, should it?

Apparently, it is. Today we saw one of these analogies, and another one that isn't quite so bad but still has some issues. The first was from Robert Benmosche, the CEO of AIG, the company that, you'll recall, kind of destroyed the world economy a few years ago, then was bailed out by the taxpayers. Benmosche complained to the Wall Street Journal that the controversy over whether AIG executives should get bonuses "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that–sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."

Oh dear.

Arcane Senate Rules Will Save the Country (Maybe)

As always, this guy knows exactly what he's doing. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

I doubt you're eager to hear a great deal more about the impending government shutdown (if you find yourself interested in it for more than four hours, consult a medical professional immediately), but there's a glimmer of hope today that things may actually turn out OK, at least until we have to fight over the debt ceiling in two weeks. And it's all thanks to absurdly complex Senate procedures, which could allow Republicans to save face while keeping the government from shutting down.

As you may have heard, the House recently passed a continuing resolution (CR) temporarily funding the government so long as the Affordable Care Act is defunded, President Barack Obama publicly renounces any intentions to help people get insurance ever again, and a nine-year-old girl with leukemia is delivered to the House floor so members of the Republican caucus can tell her to her face that she's a loser who should get a job and stop being such a drain on society (well OK, not those last two, but perhaps they'll be passed at a later date). This CR can't pass the Democratic-majority Senate, and sane Republicans know that if the government shuts down, the GOP will get the blame. But they also know they need to make as many pointless, symbolic fist-shaking gestures against Obamacare as they possibly can to forestall challenges from the right. No one understands this better than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, possibly the savviest politician in Washington, who is getting just such a Tea Party primary challenge in his ongoing re-election race. What to do?

The Real Origin of "Clinton Fatigue"

White House photo by Pete Souza.

This week sees two big articles about the Clintons, one on Hillary in New York magazine, and one on the Clinton Global Initiative (but also about Hillary) in the New Republic. So it isn't too surprising to see Salon's Joan Walsh pen an article titled, "I have Clinton fatigue—and it's not even 2014 yet." I don't have much of a problem with any of the particulars Walsh cites, but since this is likely to be the first of about twelve zillion articles on the phenomenon of "Clinton fatigue" over the next couple of years, it's as good a time as any to point out that there's something problematic about the whole notion.

There are, without doubt, legitimate gripes you can have about the Clintons, whether it's their Third Way ideology or their accompanying comfort with corporate America (and of course, one can argue that in both these things, Barack Obama isn't much different). You can have legitimate concerns that Bill Clinton could find a way to "distract" (wink wink) from his wife's campaign. But I can't help but suspect that the real problem here is an emotional one, and it's about how Democrats felt in 2008.

The Arbitrary Nature of Media Attention

Let's be realistic: neither of these guys is ever going to be president.

Do you have an opinion about John Boozman? How about Joe Donnelly? Any strong feelings about John Hoeven? Or Jim Risch? I'm guessing that you haven't actually heard of them, or if you have, you certainly know almost nothing about them. To most Americans they might as well be infielders for a double-A baseball team or Cedar Rapids-area plumbers. In fact, they're United States senators. So why is it that these guys are ignored (perhaps rightfully), while nobody can stop talking about Ted Cruz and Rand Paul? After all, the job of a senator is to make laws, and Paul has no more influence on that process than Boozman. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if no matter how long Rand Paul stays in the U.S. Senate, he never authors a law with any kind of meaningful impact on American lives. He'd hardly be the first; John McCain has been in Congress for over 30 years, and he wrote exactly one important piece of legislation, which eventually got overturned by the Supreme Court.

But the news media (and I'm including myself here) has collectively decided that the things that Paul and Cruz do and say are worth considering. Do a Google News search on "Ted Cruz" and you come up with 67,700 results. "Rand Paul" gets you 28,700 (for comparison, "John Boozman" gets a lonely 506, and "John Hoeven" only 572). Every once in a while it's worth stepping back to note that the decisions that lead to one lawmaker getting that kind of attention are pretty capricious.

Rick Perry Deserves a Second Chance, Thinks Rick Perry

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

After his comical pratfall of a presidential campaign in 2012, many may have forgotten that it wasn't as though Texas governor Rick Perry's performance really came as a surprise. Oh, he looked pretty good on paper—never lost a race, fundraising prowess, governor of a big state, truly spectacular hair—but even before he ran, Republicans were expressing unease about Perry's less than razor-sharp intellect and his penchant for doing things like firing guns in the air (or at least pretending to). And when he actually got on the trail, he sure didn't disappoint, from fantasizing about doing violence to Ben Bernanke if the Federal Reserve chair attempted to improve the economy, to airing disturbingly tribalistic television ads, to the famous "Oops" that seemed to sum up his entire campaign.

So naturally, Perry is getting ready to run for president again!

The Finger of Blame Points Only One Way

It's pointing. (Flickr/Gabe Austin)

Sorry to subject you to another post about the pending government shutdown (It's Friday—shouldn't I be writing about robots? Maybe later.), but I just want to make this point briefly. As we approach and perhaps reach a shutdown, Republicans are going to try very hard to convince people that this is all Barack Obama's fault. I'm guessing that right now, staffers in Eric Cantor's office have formed a task force to work day and night to devise a Twitter hashtag to that effect; perhaps it'll be #BarackOshutdown or #Obamadowner or something equally clever. They don't have any choice, since both parties try to win every communication battle. But they're going to fail. The public is going to blame them. It's inevitable. Here's why.

Ted Cruz Is Not Well-Liked

He doesn't like you, either. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

"Be liked and you will never want," said Willy Loman, the protagonist of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. "That's the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked!" Of course, the great tragic figure of the American theater was terribly wrong about that. But in politics, personal relationships still matter, even if the days when Lyndon Johnson would call up a senator and sweet-talk him into changing his vote on a bill are long gone.

I'm thinking about this because Ted Cruz—Tea Party hero, up-and-comer, future presidential candidate—is suddenly finding himself on the receiving end of a whole lot of hostility from House Republicans. By way of context, there's a broad consensus that Cruz is, as George W. Bush would put it, a major-league asshole. He's not someone who wastes time and energy being nice to people or cultivating relationships that could be useful down the road. He's pretty sure he's smarter than everyone, and doesn't mind making it clear that's how he feels. People consider him rude and condescending. This was apparent from the moment he got to Washington, and it was true back in Texas as well. But if you agree with his politics, then does that matter?

It sure seems to matter today.

It's Not about the Video Games

No, these are not mass murderers in training. (Flickr/Abraxas3d)

The pattern has become familiar: There's a mass shooting, and while some liberals try to raise the issue of the fact that our society is drowning in guns, more "realistic" commentators quickly turn the discussion away to some of different questions. Did the mental health system fail? And what about those violent video games? Aren't they a big part of the problem? That's what people are asking now about Aaron Alexis.

The answer is simple: No, video games aren't part of the problem of gun violence in America. Or more specifically, even if they're part of the problem, they're such an infinitesimally small part of the problem that blaming them for the endless gun slaughter in America is like blaming one of the leaves on the tree that fell on your house for all the damage to the roof.

My Shutdown Lament

Truly this is a place of darkness. (Flickr/K.P.Tripathi)

I have a problem. My job is to keep up with the world of politics and then write commentary, explanations, and analysis that readers will find interesting, entertaining, or informative. Sometimes that involves big-picture looks at policy issues, sometimes it involves making pretty pictures (look here—I made maps!), but much of the time, it's about giving some kind of novel perspective on the things that are happening today, this week, or this month. I try very hard to always add something, to not just repeat what everybody else is saying but to offer something different, so that people who read this blog will come away feeling they understand the world just a little bit better. Perhaps I don't always succeed, and you may or may not get value out of any particular thing I've written. But what do you do when the news turns into some kind of hellish version of Groundhog Day, repeating the same abysmal scenario over and over, in which even the happy ending doesn't involve finding true love and better understanding of yourself and your role in the world like Bill Murray did, but at best a return to the status quo ante of mindless political squabbles and unsolved problems?

What, then, can I add about the latest twist in the pending government shutdown? How many different ways are there to say that the Tea Party Republicans are both crazy and stupid? How often can you point out that John Boehner is pathetically weak, quite possibly the most ineffectual Speaker in the history of the House of Representatives? How many times can you remind people of all the awful things that would happen if the government shuts down and/or we don't raise the debt ceiling? How many times can you scream at Republicans that they are never, ever, ever going to repeal the Affordable Care Act so they should just give it the hell up already? How many times can you cry that this would be an insane way to run a junior-high student council, much less the government of the mightiest nation on earth?