Paul Waldman

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...

Guns and the Thug Life

AP Images/The Florida Times-Union/Bob Mack
On Saturday night, the jury in the case of Michael Dunn rendered a strange verdict, convicting Dunn of attempting to murder the three teens who survived the hail of fire he sent at their car, but deadlocking on the charge of murdering the one he succeeded in killing. We may never know what went on in the jury room, but if nothing else, Dunn will not be driving into any more parking lots and getting into any more arguments that end in death, at least not for some time. This case is, of course about race, which we'll get to in a moment. But it's also about—to use a word that crops up repeatedly in Michael Dunn's written comments—a culture. It's a culture where manhood must continually be proven, where every disagreement is a test of strength, and where in the end, your fellow human beings are only waiting to kill you, so you'd better draw first. This was the culture of violence that Michael Dunn carried with him to the convenience store, the one that ended the life of 17-year-old Jordan...

Gird Thy Loins; War Is Nigh

Turning the other cheek is for wimps.
Tonight at the Ronald Reagan presidential library—America's greatest library—Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will deliver a speech that will be seen (probably correctly) as an early component of the Jindal for President '16 campaign. Its subject is an old favorite, the religious war currently being waged in America. It's partly Barack Obama's war on Christianity, but since Obama will be leaving office in a few years, it's important to construe the war as something larger and more eternal. The point, as it is with so many symbolic wars, isn't the victory but the fight. Here's how Politico describes the speech, which they got an early copy of: "The American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war," Jindal will say at the Simi Valley, Calif., event. "It threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square and the endurance of our constitutional governance." "This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power," he adds, according...

Marriage Equality Opponents Left With Nothing But Tradition

Now there's a traditional marriage. I believe that's Tasha Yar presiding. (Flickr/TrekRadio)
2013 was not a good year for opponents of marriage equality. Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois, New Mexico, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Minnesota were added to the list of states allowing same-sex marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court. And if anything, 2014 is shaping up to move even faster. Earlier this week, a judge in Kentucky ruled that the state must honor same-sex marriages performed in other states. And last night, a federal judge in Virginia struck down the ban on same-sex marriage the state passed in 2006. The judge stayed her decision until a higher court can rule on the inevitable appeal. But with these cases piling up, it seems obvious that the Supreme Court is going to rule sooner rather than later on the legality of same-sex marriage bans, something they've been trying to avoid until now. And with the continued evolution of American culture and public opinion in favor of equality, the chance that those bans will be...

America In Decline

What freedom looks like.
I've always held that if there's one thing that proves America's superiority to all other nations, it's the quality of our television. Sure, other countries might be able to put together a Borgen or The Returned now and again, but nobody can match the good old U.S. of A. for our sheer quantity of top-shelf, high-production-value programming. But others might find proof of America's dominance not in our cultural hegemony but in our military hegemony. For years since September 11, we've been able to say proudly (or something) that we don't just spend more than every other country on Earth on our planes and bombs and fighting ships, we spend more than every other country on Earth combined . But if that's your measure of American greatness, you might want to sit down. The latest report on global military spending from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute is out, and the story they tell is a bracing one. What with the winding down of the Iraq War—and the increase in...

Just How Much Do Republicans Hate Unions?

The VW plant in Chattanooga. (Photo courtesy of Volkswagen USA)
If you ask Republicans about their antipathy toward unions, they'll say that letting workers bargain collectively reduces a company's ability to act efficiently in the marketplace. If you knew anything about business, the market advocates will patiently explain, you'd understand that unions, with all their rules and conditions and strike threats, only make it harder for the company to make its products. Let management make decisions about things like wages and working conditions, and the result will be higher profits and more jobs, which will benefit everyone. In almost all cases, the corporation agrees; after all, union workers always earn better wages than their non-union counterparts, and they give power to the employees, which no CEO wants. What most people probably don't realize is that this inherently hostile relationship between management and unions isn't something that's inherent in capitalism. In fact, in many places where there are capitalists making lots of money,...

Racial Fears, Gun Fantasies, and Another Dead Teenager

Dirty Harry confronts a punk.
Among the arguments I've made about the troubling aspects of American gun culture is the way so many gun owners have in their heads a dangerous fantasy about what the world is like and what role they play in that world. The people I'm talking about, the ones who think it's terribly important that they be able to bring their firearms into any store or coffee shop or church they might visit, believe that every moment of every day in every place they go is nothing more than a violent situation just waiting to happen. Will they be there to stop a mass shooting at the Safeway? Will they be walking down the street and come upon a group of heavily armed thieves taking down an armored truck? Will they encounter an al-Qaeda strike team at the Starbucks, and this 50-year-old insurance salesman with a concealed carry license will be the only thing that stands between America and disaster? They sure seem to think so. Is that all gun owners? Of course not. It's not even most gun owners. But it's...

Shocking Moment of Sanity Occurs in Congress

A much prettier ceiling. (Flickr/Richard Carter)
If you aren't a political junkie, you may have missed the rather remarkable thing that occurred yesterday in Congress, when the House of Representatives—home of nutbars and nincompoops, extremists, and obstructors—actually passed an increase in the debt ceiling. And it was clean as a whistle, without any spending cuts or other provisions inserted to soothe the savage Tea Party beast. After debt ceiling crises in 2011 and 2013, we now have over a year before we have to tempt fate and default again. How could such a thing have happened? The simplest explanation is that John Boehner put a clean increase up for a vote, and it passed, with mostly Democratic votes (even Boehner himself voted against it, as did the entire Republican leadership). This is something he could have done in the prior crises, but chose not to. The more complete explanation is that Boehner finally felt secure enough to anger some of his caucus's most conservative members, if that was the price of saving his party...

The Death of Dog-Whistle Politics

Flickr/Theron Trowbridge
If you go over to Politico right now, in the "Hot Topics" listed at the top of the page, along with Obamacare, immigration, and the Olympics, is the name Monica Lewinsky. Which might strike you as odd, given that Lewinsky has been rather quiet in the decade and a half since her affair with Bill Clinton became public and led to his impeachment. But aged though it may be, the Lewinsky scandal is back. This is a story about intramural Republican party competition, the GOP's inability to learn from its mistakes, and the death of dog-whistle politics. The problem for the Republicans is that they don't seem to have realized it's dead. The latest round of Lewinsky-mania started when the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication that defines its mission as "combat journalism" ("At the Beacon, we follow only one commandment: Do unto them."), went through the papers of Diane Blair, a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and found notes that described Hillary's words and...

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