Paul Waldman

The Political Failure Behind the Healthcare.gov Debacle

You haven't heard much about healthcare.gov lately, and that's because it's working pretty well. So this is a good moment to think back on both what went wrong and how it got fixed, which we get in a timely article from Steven Brill. The fixing story is an interesting one, but before it's too late, I want to do a little more blame-placing. It goes without saying that much of the responsibility lies with the contractors who did such a terrible job of creating the site. Another way to think about the problems is that there was a missing middle: you had people who understood the technology but didn't grasp the politics, and people whose job was politics who didn't understand the technological challenges. That's intuitively appealing, but I think it lets the political people off the hook. Their screw-up wasn't a result of their unfamiliarity with technology. It was a political failure, full stop. What I mean by that is that the people who are supposed to understand politics should have...

The Revolt of the Elites

Arizona governor Jan Brewer. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
For the longest time, Democrats were the party of infighting and disunity, whose squabbling never failed to find its way into the news. It's a grim inside joke among liberals that the most common headline in the political media is "Democrats in Disarray." But it hasn't been that way for a while. In fact, perhaps the most important political dynamic of the current era is the conflict within the previously monolithic Republican party. Not that there wasn't always tension between the Republican establishment, whose primary concern was laissez-faire economics, and the conservative foot soldiers spread across the country, who cared much more about social issues. But open warfare between the two was rare. Not these days, though. And after a couple of years of the establishment running scared, today they can celebrate (if that's the right word) a momentary victory. Yesterday, Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill passed by the legislature there that would have made it legal to deny...

The Scourge of the Businessman Politician

This highly successful businessman did not, in fact, become president.
Attentive readers will recall that among my many pet peeves (and being able to complain to a wide circle of people about your pet peeves is one of blogging's greatest fringe benefits) is the candidate who proclaims that you should vote for him because he's "a businessman, not a politician." As though the fact that there are a lot of shady car mechanics out there means that when you need a new timing belt, the best person for the job would be a florist or an astronomer, because they're not tainted by the car repair racket. I've written at some length about why exactly success in business doesn't prepare you to be a good senator or governor, but the short version is that the two realms are extremely different. So it isn't too surprising that when businesspeople decide to run for office, most of the time they fail. They come in with a lot of money, flush it down the toilet on an overly expensive campaign, and quickly discover that there is a whole set of skills necessary for success that...

In Shocker, GOP Proposes Cutting Taxes For the Wealthy

Perhaps the world's only caricature of Dave Camp, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. (Flickr/Donkey Hotey)
For some time, I've been saying , perhaps naively, that we ought to have a real debate about tax reform, and maybe actually accompish something. Sure, Democrats and Republicans have different goals when it comes to this issue—Democrats would like to see the elimination of loopholes and greater revenue, while Republicans want to reduce taxes on the wealthy—but there may be a few things they could agree on somewhere in there. You never know. So today, Representative Dave Camp, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, is releasing the latest incarnation of Republican tax reform. And it's...exactly what you'd expect. Unfortunately. In fact, though we're waiting for details, it looks almost exactly like the plan Republicans released two years ago. The centerpiece is an elimination of most tax brackets, leaving only two, at 10 percent and 25 percent. In a total shocker, that means a huge tax break for the wealthy! I know—I too am amazed that Republicans would propose such a thing...

The Size of the Army Tells You Almost Nothing About Our Military Strength

Click inside for the full size-graph. You know you want it.
If you were watching the news in the last 24 hours, you undoubtedly saw a story about the new proposal from the Defense Department to make some personnel cuts. And if you saw one of those stories, you almost certainly saw the same factoid, whether you were reading the New York Times , watching the ABC News listening to NPR, or hearing about it via carrier pigeon: the Army is going to be reduced to its smallest size since World War II! Conor Friedersdorf does a good job of explaining why this is bunk, the main reason being that before World War II there was no Air Force; the people who did the flying and bombing were part of the Army. When you account for the 325,000 uniformed Air Force personnel of today, the Army looks much bigger than it did in 1940. But the weirdest part of this discussion is the idea that American military strength can be measured by the number of people in one service branch, or even in all the branches. If that were the case, the world's strongest military would...

No Credit For Trying

A few years back, when George W. Bush was still president, I attended an event at the Pew Research Center, and at one point a discussion got going about the varying opinions of Democrats and Republicans about whether their respective parties stood up for their beliefs. At the time, far more Republicans than Democrats answered this question in the affirmative, and people had a variety of explanations for the result. Perhaps it was the fact that Republicans tend to be more respectful of authority, or perhaps the greater ideological and demographic diversity within the Democratic coalition had something to do with it. Feeling rather clever, I raised my hand, and said, "Maybe it's because they're both right." At the time, Republicans did indeed stand up for their beliefs, and Democrats didn't so much. After all, this was a period in which Republicans were getting pretty much everything they wanted from their president and their national party—tax cuts! Wars! Right-wing Supreme Court...

The Fatal Flaw in the Right's Latest Case Against Marriage Equality

Parents at a gay pride parade imparting dangerous values to their children. (Flickr/Caitlin Childs)
A trial starts tomorrow in federal court about whether Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional, and as the New York Times explained over the weekend, it will offer an interesting test of the best research conservatives could come up with to support their contention that gay parents are bad for children. When we take a close look at what they'll put on the stand, it shows something that I think applies to a lot of areas of the conservative movement these days: when they try to play seriously on the field of ideas, what they come up with is, frankly, pathetic. After years of watching researchers fail to find any ill effects of children being brought up by gay people, conservatives felt like they had to do something, and here's what they did: In meetings hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington in late 2010, opponents of same-sex marriage discussed the urgent need to generate new studies on family structures and children, according to recent pretrial depositions of...

Platinum-Level Citizenship

AP Images/Robert F. Bukaty
A sk a conservative Christian about the President of the United States, and you're likely to hear that Barack Obama has been waging a "war on religion" since pretty much the moment he took office in 2009. As laughable as the assertion may be, there's little doubt that many have come to believe it, spurred on of course by opportunistic politicians and right-wing talk show hosts whose stock in trade is the creation of fear and resentment. In response, those conservative Christians have mounted a little war of their own, fought in the courts and state legislatures. The enemies include not just the Obama administration but gay people, women who want control of their own bodies, and an evolving modern morality that has left them behind. In the process, they have made a rather spectacular claim, though not explicitly. What they seek is nothing short of a different definition of American citizenship granted only to highly religious people, and highly religious Christians in particular. They...

Political Consultants Have Never Been Richer, But Are They Endangered?

Richard Gere in Sidney Lumet's "Power" (1986), the best film ever made about a political consultant.
These are flush times for the political consulting industry, as Citizens United allowed billions of new dollars to pour into every political campaign, with spending seemingly going nowhere but up. In a lot of cases, you'll have campaigns spending millions, while outside groups on both sides come in and spend millions more. In the end, they often all fight to a draw, their efforts cancelling each other out, with the final result being pretty much what it would have been if there had been almost no spending at all. And who really wins? The consultants, of course. So how long can they keep this game going? Lee Aitken of the Shorenstein Center has a new report urging journalists to pay more attention to where all this money is really going, and she highlights one remarkable figure. There was $6 billion spent on campaigns in 2012, but that's only part of the story: So who pocketed all that cash? Most of it went for ads on TV, radio and the Internet, of course; media buys are the biggest...

Rand Paul Plays Ted Nugent Like a Fender Stratocaster

Flickr/David Defoe
Rand Paul continues to win my admiration, I have to say. There are people who come into the Senate with a kind of celebrity status and get lots of good press—one Barack Obama comes to mind—but I can't think of anyone who has gotten so much good press through their own initiative, coming up with one clever way after another to get people to pay attention to them in ways that are almost always positive. His latest move required a subtle ideological tightrope-walk, one that Paul played perfectly. And all it took was a tweet. This has to do, you'll be happy to know, with Ted Nugent. Republican politicians have a soft spot for Nugent, partly because they're blinded by the celebrity of a guy who 37 years ago had a song that rocketed all the way to #30 on the charts, and partly because Nugent is kind of an expression of the conservative id. I'm sure there are more than a few people on the right who would like to hold up a pair of assault rifles and say , "I was in Chicago and said, 'Hey,...

John McCain Says Ignorant, Belligerent Things; Press Swoons

Protesters in Kiev, a place John McCain knows as little about as everyplace else. (Flickr/streetwrk.com)
I'll admit that I know next to nothing about Ukrainian politics. And when it comes to the current crisis there, I don't have any brilliant ideas about how the United States could solve this problem, but that's partly because the United States probably can't solve this problem . My limited knowledge and lack of transformative ideas puts me on equal footing with John McCain. Yet for some reason, McCain is once again all over the news, now that the situation in Kiev is turning uglier by the hour . What does McCain have to say? Well, he believes that it's all Barack Obama's fault. "This is the most naive president in history," he said, citing as evidence the fact that five years ago , the Obama administration said it wanted to "reset" relations with Russia. Got 'em there, John. Obviously, if a certain someone was president, and he's not not naming any names here, this whole thing could be wrapped up in an afternoon. What does McCain actually think we should do about Ukraine? We'll get to...

Federal Government Soon to Know Everywhere You've Driven

License plate cameras in New York. (Flickr/lucky_dog)
Well here we go. A few days ago, Ars Technica spotted a listing on a federal government website, explaining that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is looking for a vendor who can assemble for them a database that brings together data from the all the license plate cameras that more and more police departments across the country are installing. You don't like the fact that the government has a file somewhere listing every call you've made on your cell phone? How do you feel about them knowing everywhere you've driven? We're not quite there yet, but all that's needed for this to become a truly national database is the installation of more license plate cameras, and lots of storage, since these cameras capture billions of pieces of information. In other words, it's a piece of cake. You might or might not love your next laptop more than the one you have now, but it's a stone-cold guarantee that it'll have a faster processor and a bigger hard drive. That's just how...

The Good War, Now Not So Good

Flickr/U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Casteel
When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he promised that he would get us out of Iraq, the war everyone hated, and concentrate our efforts in Afghanistan, the good war. We had gone into Iraq on the basis of two false premises, one implied by the Bush administration (Saddam Hussein was responsible in some way for September 11) and one stated explicitly (Saddam had a terrifying arsenal of weapons of mass destruction with which he would be attacking us any day if we didn't attack him first). But Afghanistan was the war we could agree on. Sure, we'd been there for too long, and it was a devil of a mess. But that's where the September 11 attacks came from, so we were justified in going there. Over 12 years later, we've finally passed a milestone. According to the latest Gallup poll , a war that was supported by nine in ten Americans at its outset is now opposed by a plurality of us, with 49 percent saying it was a mistake to ever go there in the first place and 48 saying it wasn't a...

Why Can't You Miserable Commoners Be Happier With Your Lot?

This is the look of satisfaction Tom Perkins gets right after shouting, "Release the hounds!" (Flickr/JD Lasica)
Venture capital billionaire Tom Perkins may be new to the trolling game, but he made an absolutely spectacular debut when he wrote to the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back warning that resentment toward the super-rich in American society reminded him a lot of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Then last weekend, he followed that bit of wisdom by proposing that the wealthy ought to get more votes than the unwashed masses, since they pay more in taxes. "The Tom Perkins system is: You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes," he said in a speech. "But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?" That, you're probably saying, is abominable. Why not just let the richest one person choose the president? He's got the most money, so he's obviously the wisest and has the greatest interest in government, right? Although Perkins might not be too pleased with that outcome, since the richest person...

Sauce For the Gander

Liberal hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer. (Stuart Isett/Fortune Live Media/Flickr)
Today's New York Times has a story about Tom Steyer, a retired hedge fund billionaire who is planning to spend $100 million ($50 million of his own, and $50 million of other people's) in the 2014 election to support action on climate change, which in practice means electing Democrats. That would put Steyer in the big leagues, though not at the top—the network of donors established by Charles and David Koch spent at least $400 million in 2012—and it raises the question of how liberals should feel about this kind of thing. If you believe that Citizens United has been a disaster for democracy, and spectacularly wealthy people shouldn't be able to swoop in to a House or Senate race with zillions of dollars and change the outcome from what it otherwise would be, then should you be bothered? Some conservatives will naturally charge liberals with hypocrisy for being pleased about Steyer's efforts, like this: Fair enough. But in practical terms, Citizens United is the law of the land, and...

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