Paul Waldman

Obama's Opening Salvo In the War of Words

President Obama making a statement today.
Starting today, Americans are going to learn three things when they watch media coverage about the government shutdown. First, they'll see Republicans say that Obamacare totally sucks and everybody hates it, and also that President Obama is being super-mean by not giving them what they want. Second, they'll learn that their fellow citizens have a pox-on-both-their-houses view on this whole thing, because nothing says "journalism" like going out on the Mall or to the local diner and getting a few quotes from average folk saying, "They're all acting like children!" And third, they'll hear Barack Obama say that with their intransigence, Republicans are hurting regular Americans. And not just regular Americans generally, but actual, specific regular Americans. Many of these Americans will be seen standing patiently behind the President as he tells their stories. That's what he did today in his first post-shutdown statement, which combined a celebration of the opening of the health-care...

This Madness Will Never End

AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander
I wish I could write something optimistic as we begin the government shutdown. I wish I could, but I can't. In fact, this morning I can't help but feel something close to despair. It isn't that this shutdown won't be resolved, because it will. It will be resolved in the only way it can: when John Boehner allows a vote on a "clean CR," a continuing resolution that funds the government without attacking the Affordable Care Act. It could happen in a week or two, whenever the political cost of the shutdown becomes high enough for Boehner to finally find the courage to say no to the Tea Partiers in his caucus. That CR will pass with mostly Democratic votes, and maybe the result will be a revolt against Boehner that leads to him losing the speakership (or maybe not; as some have argued, Boehner's job could be safe simply because no one else could possibly want it). But the reason for my despair isn't about this week or this month. It's the fact that this period in our political history—the...

Why the Tea Partiers Think They'll Win

Their fearless leader. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Way back in the days when bloggers carved their missives out on stone tablets (by which I mean 2005), Digby noted , in response to the nascent trend of conservatives deciding that George W. Bush wasn't a conservative after all, wrote, "Get used to hearing about how the Republicans failed because they weren't true conservatives. Conservatism can never fail. It can only be failed by weak-minded souls who refuse to properly follow its tenets." We've seen that a lot in the years since—the interpretation of every election Republicans lose is that they weren't conservative enough, and if they had just nominated a true believer or run farther to right, victory would have been theirs. There's already a tactical division within the Republican Party about the wisdom of shutting down the government in an attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. The members who have been around a while understand that no matter what happens, Barack Obama is not going to bend on this one. He won't dismantle his...

The Missing Piece in Coverage of Texas Evolution Controversies

Flickr/timuiuc
Once again, there's a dust-up going on over whether students in Texas should be taught about evolution in science class, or whether they should instead be told the lie that there is a scientific "controversy" about whether evolution has taken place, or perhaps be told nothing at all about it, or be told the biblical version of creation. But beyond the obvious, there's something bugging me about this. The current round is about science textbooks, and there's a story you've heard before, which goes like this: Texas is a huge market for textbooks, so big that whatever textbooks get bought by Texas can affect the whole country. The Texas Board of Education appoints reviewers to recommend changes to proposed textbooks, and among these reviewers are a host of young-earth creationists who demand that discussion of evolution portray it as some kind of nutty idea with no empirical support. Then the textbooks get changed in this way, making students across the country just a little dumber. All...

Have Too Many Cooks Spoiled Obamacare?

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
It's safe to say that if Americans don't understand the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by now—and they don't —they never will. The slightly better news is that consumers don't have to understand it in order to benefit from it, but even so, almost all the problems the ACA has encountered or will encounter are a result of the law's enormous complexity. That complexity grew out of early decisions made by Barack Obama, but along the way Congress added their own layers of complexity in order to pass it, then conservatives on the Supreme Court added some more. There were reasons, most of them perfectly good, for each of these decisions; everyone thought they were responding to reality or doing what was in the best interests of the country. But as full implementation of the law is upon us, we should acknowledge how much damage has been done by all this complexity. In a recent article in National Affairs , Johns Hopkins political scientist Steven Teles bemoans the rise of "Kludgeocracy." The term...

Republican Palace Intrigue Gets Interesting

A man alone, beset by enemies on all sides. (Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
Congress is full of factions in both parties. Many of them are ad hoc and temporary—say, two groups that coalesce around differing versions of a bill to do pretty much the same thing. They try to persuade their colleagues, one group wins or loses, and though there may be some hurt feelings, they know they'll be working together again eventually. And of course, there are ideological allies who work with each other more frequently and may come to see some in their own party as opponents or even enemies. But what you don't see too much of is real cloak-and-dagger, House of Cards -style plotting, with clandestine meetings, vicious backstabbing, and high-risk conspiracies. It happens now and again, like the bungled coup that attempted to unseat Newt Gingrich in 1997. But it's the exception, not the rule. So fans of Republican infighting, rejoice. Looks like there's something similar going on right now. Robert Costa of the National Review reports that Senator Ted Cruz is leading a bunch of...

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...

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. So it wasn't too surprising when we learned that Booker had been exchanging messages with a stripper who works at a club in Portland that bills itself as the world's first vegan strip club. Booker might have been able to tell Lynsie Lee's occupation from her profile picture , but either he didn't look or it didn't bother him. Since DMs are private, we don't know for certain what transpired between them, besides what Buzzfeed already published...

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 Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), 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...

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...

Politico Published More than 30 Articles about Ted Cruz Today

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
A few months back, I wrote a post with the whimsically counterintuitive 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. 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's short Senate career. But if you're a senator with national ambitions, where does this momentary prominence leave you? As Alex Pareene says , "Cruz managed to turn a humiliating defeat for his party into a huge personal branding moment." Which is true. The defeat is still...

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,...

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 with a microphone in front of them. 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 Iike me are 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...

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 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'...

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...

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