Paul Waldman

What This Election Means, Revealed at Last

Soon-to-be governor Terry McAuliffe yukking it up with media big shot John King. (Flickr/Adam Fagen)
Pop quiz: Who's the governor of Georgia? It's a pretty important state, with a population greater than that of Virginia or New Jersey, to pick two others at random. Can't recall? Don't much care? You get my point—the fact that we momentarily care about who the governors of those other two states are is just an accident of the electoral calendar. It's perfectly fine to pay a lot of attention to the two states with gubernatorial elections in odd years just because there aren't many other elections happening. But come tomorrow, there's going to be a lot of media chin-scratching about What the 2013 Election Means. Was it a harbinger? A bellwether? A foreshadowing? An omen? Here's the answer: In the grand scheme of things, this election means ... almost nothing. For example, did you know that in every election since 1978, the winner of the Virginia governor's race has been from the party that didn't control the White House? Fascinating! And yet Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, is almost...

In Shocking Development, Health Insurance Companies Still Suck

The Affordable Care Act was designed to solve the big problem of health security—namely that nobody in America had it—and find a way to get coverage for the 50 million Americans who were uninsured. It also attempted to address lots of other problems, and this week it's a good time to remind ourselves that many of its provisions came about because, to put it bluntly, health-insurance companies are despicable scum who will literally kill people (more on this below) if it makes them more money. I bring this up because now, people in the news media are learning about a scam insurance companies are trying to pull on some of their customers, and are not only not portraying it as such, but are simply taking the insurance companies' word and blaming the whole thing on the Obama administration. I realize that part about "despicable scum" is a little intemperate, and without question there are employees of the insurers who are good people. But as a whole, outside of the tobacco companies or gun...

Two Days until Brief Explosion of Christie Mania

Flickr/Bob Jagendorf
Only two states, New Jersey and Virginia, hold their gubernatorial elections in odd years. Since there's generally a dearth of other political news at that time, Washington-based reporters usually decide that whoever got elected in Virginia is suddenly a national figure with a future as a presidential or at least vice-presidential candidate. They say this because they have become familiar with the Virginia race and therefore perceive it as important, and because Virginia is a swing state, which is supposed to mean that someone who got elected there might also appeal to voters elsewhere. This year, however, the Virginia race features two candidates no one much likes: Ken Cuccinelli, who seems like he might launch a campaign to reintroduce witch trials to the commonwealth if he became governor, and Terry McAuliffe, an almost comically smarmy operator whose most profound talent lies in separating people from their money. Obviously, neither of those two is ever going to be president, so...

Double Down to Dullsville

I suppose we should be pleased that every couple of months, a book , that old-fashioned communication form in which ideas are related at considerable length, is able to captivate official Washington for a moment or two. A while back it was Mark Leibovich's This Town , which cast a jaundiced eye on the incestuous world of press and politics in the capital, and the latest is Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's Double Down: Game Change 2012 , which won't be officially released until tomorrow but already stands at #8 on Amazon. I haven't read Double Down , but if it's anything like the authors' previous work, there'll be no jaundice to be found. As in Game Change , their best-selling account of the 2008 election, the authors show themselves to be aficionados of the scoop for scoop's sake, giving us the inside skinny from campaign operatives with scores to settle but avoiding saying anything interesting about what it all means. That's perfectly fine—if you're interested in politics, reading...

How's about You and Him Fight?

White House photo by Pete Souza
Hillary Clinton has about a year and a half before she needs to make the final decision on whether she'll run for president in 2016. Between now and then, and after she becomes an actual candidate (if she does), we're going to be seeing an awful lot of stories that read as though an editor said to a reporter, "Give me a story about Hillary turning her back on Barack, and the two camps sniping at each other," and the reporter replied, "Well, I haven't seen much evidence of that, but I'll see what I can come up with." That gets you stuff like a piece in today's Washington Post , under the headline, " In the Clintons' talk of brokering compromise, an implicit rebuke of Obama years ." Let's get to the stinging barbs Hillary and Bill are aiming at the President: In recent stump speeches and policy remarks, Bill and Hillary Clinton have offered sharp criticisms of the partisan gridlock paralyzing Washington, signaling a potential 2016 campaign theme if Hillary Clinton chooses to run for...

Things that Are Still True about Health Care

It isn't quite as bad as this, but there are still problems. (Flickr/Doug Kline)
It's been a pretty intense month on the health-care front, what with the beginning of open enrollment for the new exchanges giving rise to lots of disingenuous fulminating from Republicans, not to mention a whole lot of crappy journalism. Any time a story dominates the news for a couple of weeks, there's a temptation to believe that what's happening now will change everything. So I thought it might be a good idea to take a step back and remind ourselves about some things that are still true about the Affordable Care Act and still true about health care in America. Over the long term, the problems with Healthcare.gov won't have much of an effect on the success or failure of the law. Yes, it has been a huge screw-up, with both the administration and the contractors sharing responsibility. Yes, it has caused a lot of people trying to sign up for new insurance a lot of hassle. But it's the thing everybody's focused on now in part because it's the only thing happening with the law, until...

Why Winning Elections Is the Last Thing the Tea Party Wants

Flickr/Rob Chandanais
Keith Humphreys asks a provocative question: Does the Tea Party even want to win elections? This comes up in response to a long article in the National Review by Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry telling the Tea Party to get its head out of the clouds and start doing things that will help Republicans win. While it's tricky to ascribe specific desires and intentions to a large, complicated collection of people like the Tea Party, to the extent we can, I think the answer to whether they want to win is pretty clearly no. And there's a certain logic to it. The reason is that the Tea Party is an oppositional movement, and oppositional movements only thrive when they're in the opposition. They can talk all they like about both Republicans and Democrats being part of the problem, and being opposed just to "Washington," but we all know that at its heart it's about Barack Obama and everything he represents. If Hillary Clinton or another Democrat becomes president in 2016, most of the anger and...

Facebook Is Watching You

There's an old saying in media that if you're getting something for free, then you are the product. When you listen to commercial radio, the advertisers are the customers, and you're the product that the station sells to their customers. But if you're the company selling those eyeballs or ears, it's best to convince the humans attached to them that you care deeply about them and have their best interests at heart. So I'm wondering exactly how Facebook thinks it could persuade its billion users that this is anything less than horrifying: Facebook Inc. is testing technology that would greatly expand the scope of data that it collects about its users, the head of the company’s analytics group said Tuesday. The social network may start collecting data on minute user interactions with its content, such as how long a user's cursor hovers over a certain part of its website, or whether a user's newsfeed is visible at a given moment on the screen of his or her mobile phone, Facebook analytics...

The "War of the Worlds" Myth

Wikimedia Commons/Henrique Alvim Correa
Seventy-five years ago today, the CBS radio network aired Orson Welles' radio dramatization of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds . Welles took Wells' book and transformed it into a series of radio news reports, duplicating in form and presentation what people would hear if Martians were actually invading Earth. As you probably know, mass panic ensued, with millions of Americans running screaming through the streets, having heart attacks, and generally believing that the world was coming to an end. It's a great story; the only problem is, it didn't happen that way. Not that there weren't some people who flipped out, because there were a few. All indications were that those who believed it was real were socially isolated and highly suggestible for one reason or another. But there was no mass panic, nobody firing their guns at passing clouds, nobody committing suicide rather than be scooped up by the alien invaders. So why has this tale persisted? The simplest answer is that it's a great...

He's a Mean One, Mr. Boehner

John Boehner just read his latest poll numbers. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
What place does John Boehner hold in the American psyche? That's a question that, according to the National Journal , Democrats are going to test out in next fall's congressional election, when they try to tie every Republican in a competitive race to the honey-hued Speaker of the House. Will it work? I'm a little skeptical, but it is true that Boehner's approval ratings have plunged. In fact, they've gone down as low as Nancy Pelosi's were before the debacle of the 2010 election. They made this nice picture from CNN polling data comparing the two: This is mirrored in other polls ; on average, around a quarter of the public likes Boehner, and around half dislike him. But there's a difference between telling a pollster you have an unfavorable opinion of a political figure and being persuaded to vote against said candidate when that political figure's picture is thrown up next to someone they don't particularly care for. As that article points out, while Boehner is at the same overall...

Time to Investigate Those Insurance Company Letters

As a follow-up to this post , I want to talk about the thing that spawns some of these phony Obamacare victim stories: the letters that insurers are sending to people in the individual market. People all over the country are getting these letters, which say "We're cancelling your current policy because of the new health-care law. Here's another policy you can get for much more money." Reporters are doing stories about these people and their terrifying letters without bothering to check what other insurance options are available to them. There's something fishy going on here, not just from the reporters, but from the insurance companies. It's time somebody did a detailed investigation of these letters to find out just what they're telling their customers. Because they could have told them, "As a result of the new health-care law, your plan, StrawberryCare, has now been changed to include more benefits. The premium is going up, just as your premium has gone up every year since forever...

Another Phony Obamacare Victim Story

NBC News' Obamacare victim, who it turns out is not actually a victim.
In the last couple of decades, a particular technique of news-story construction has become so common that I'm sure you barely notice it as something distinctive. It's the use of a device sometimes referred to as the "exemplar," in which a policy issue is explained through the profile of one individual, whose tale usually begins and ends the story. It's ubiquitous on television news, but print reporters do it all the time as well. As the Affordable Care Act approaches full implementation, we're seeing a lot of exemplar stories, and I've been noticing one particular type: the story of the person who seems to be getting screwed. If it were true that most Americans were indeed being made worse off by the law, that would be a good thing; we'd learn their stories and get a sense of the human cost of the law. The trouble is that in the real world, there are many more people being helped by the law than hurt by it, and even those who claim to be hurt by it aren't being hurt at all. To see...

The Biggest Design Flaw in Healthcare.gov

The pathway to disaster.
In my column today , I argue that the Healthcare.gov disaster has its roots in the government-contracting system, where big projects that go past deadline and over budget is standard operating procedure. There is one particular design flaw, however, that I didn't get a chance to discuss there but is worth noting. My guess is that it wasn't given all that much thought, or at the very least, somebody had what sounded like a good reason at the time to do it the way they did. But the result was that the administration needlessly multiplied the headaches it would have with the rollout and made everyone's experience significantly worse, and it didn't have to be that way. Before I tell you what it is (the suspense is killing you, I know), let's stipulate that Healthcare.gov did indeed present an extremely complex challenge, much more so than just creating an ordinary website. That's because it isn't a closed loop, but rather needs to communicate in real time with a bunch of outside systems,...

Healthcare.gov 2: The Contractors' Search for More Money

AP Photo/John Amis, File
AP Photo/HHS E veryone agrees that the rollout of Healthcare.gov has been something between a fiasco and a disaster. One of the mysteries is how a famously tech-savvy administration, headed by a president whose campaigns broke new ground in using digital technology to accomplish their goals, could have presided over this kind of screw-up. The answer is nearly as complicated as the website itself, but as the administration has said, the problems are not insurmountable and the site will be fixed (hopefully sooner rather than later). The next important question is what we can learn from this episode. There are vital lessons to be absorbed about how our government functions—not the Obama administration in particular per se. Instead, we got a good peek at what happens when private companies adept at squeezing billions from the taxpayers are hired to build something big. There's plenty of blame to spread around, from the White House to the Department of Health and Human Services to the...

Politician Tries to Be Cool Dad, Destroys Career

Party politicians in the house tonight/Everybody just have a good time...
If you don't live in the D.C. area, you probably haven't heard about the increasingly amusing travails of Doug Gansler, Maryland attorney general and candidate for governor. But his latest problem raises a question we as a nation must confront: Under what circumstances should a politician make the heavily freighted moral decision to be a total buzzkill? To back up a bit, Gansler is a common type: the firm-jawed, ideologically unremarkable yet intensely ambitious politician who'll rise pretty high but may or may not reach the upper echelons of elected office. Chances were that he'd eventually lose the primary (and thus the governorship in this most Democratic of states) to Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, who has the support of the current governor and future presidential candidate Martin O'Malley, among many others. Brown has a glittering resume (Army veteran, Harvard Law School, etc.), hails from vote-rich Prince George's County, and would be the state's first African-American...

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