Paul Waldman

The Unending War on Obamacare

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

I'm not a historian, so maybe there's something I don't know, but it seems to me that there may never have been a piece of legislation that has inspired such partisan venom as the Affordable Care Act. Sure, Republicans hated Medicare. And yes, their rhetoric at the time, particularly Ronald Reagan's famous warning that if it passed, "We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free," was very similar to what they now say about Obamacare. But once it passed, their attempts to undermine it ran more to the occasional raid than the ongoing siege.

I bring this up because Kevin Drum makes an unsettling point today about the future of Obamacare:

Are We Finally Achieving Some Sanity on Terrorism?

Flickr/AnubisAbyss

Now that it's been almost an entire week and a half since the Boston bombing, we can look back with some satisfaction, because America handled this pretty well. Sure, you might question whether it was necessary to shut down an entire major metropolitan area for the purpose of catching one guy. And there was (and still is) some predictable buffoonery on the part of conservative politicians and media figures. But on the whole, we seem to have weathered this attack without losing our collective minds.

Is it possible that we're now able to look rationally at what kind of a threat terrorism is, and isn't? Are we capable of having a measured reaction to a terrible event? To look toward the future without being driven mad by fear? Holy cow, maybe so.

Are the Koch Brothers Getting in the Newspaper Business?

David Koch, possible future newspaper mogul. (AP photo/Carlo Allegri)

If you ask ten conservatives what they think of the New York Times, seven or eight of them would probably tell you that it's an organization whose primary purpose is advancing a sinister liberal agenda, and journalism just happens to be the tool it uses to accomplish that goal, though they'd be more likely to call it propaganda than journalism. The rest of us think that's nuts, but those conservatives sincerely believe it. So it's not surprising that some of them would dream of creating a conservative version of what they imagine the liberal media to be. Sure, they've got Fox News, and they control most of talk radio, and they have their magazines and web sites. But wouldn't it be something to have some real old-fashioned newspapers to advance the cause? And not just ones that are ridiculed like the Washington Times, but papers that already have respected names and large audiences?

Sounds like an interesting idea, which is why Charles and David Koch—who, depending on your perspective, are admirable and civic-minded businessmen committed to economic freedom, or dangerous plutocrats committed to bespoiling the Earth and enhancing their own wealth and that of their class at the expense of the rest of us—are considering buying a group of newspapers from the troubled Tribune company, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Hartford Courant. So what are the implications of the Kochs getting so heavily into the newspaper business?

Should You Still Despise George W. Bush?

C'mon, I'm not so bad, am I?

Twitter was alight this morning with mockery of this post from Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, explaining a marginal improvement in George W. Bush's post-presidential approval ratings (from 33 percent when he left office to 47 percent now) by noting that Bush won that ugly Iraq War (who started that again?), gave us a great economy, and pretty much solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other accomplishments, and also had a "tender, tearful love of country," unlike some people she could mention. I'll leave it to others to respond to the particulars of Rubin's journey to Bizarro World, but if we assume this poll to be accurate, the question is, why might Americans' opinions of Bush be somewhat less dreadful than they used to be?

Let's think about it this way: How do you feel about Bush?

Beware Of "Ties"

Flickr/Fernando de Souza

Something to think about as we learn more in the coming days about both Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his deceased brother Tamerlan. Everything investigators have released so far suggests that they acted alone, and you can easily find instructions to make the kind of bomb they used on the Internet. But as details get fleshed out about where they went, what they did, and whom they met in the last few years, there's a phrase we'll be hearing a lot: "ties to al-Qaeda." So before people start saying the brothers had "ties to al-Qaeda," we should make sure we know exactly what we're saying when we use that term.

Pete Williams Is a Good Journalist, But He's Not a Hero

At one point during its coverage of the events in Boston on Friday, NBC News brought in a feed from a local station, and it seemed to be recording not the station's broadcast but someone talking on the phone, perhaps a reporter or someone in the control room. "Oh, you're not listening?" the person being recorded said to whomever he was talking to. "We don't know shit." After a pregnant pause, Brian Williams returned to say smoothly, "Well, that was a fortuitous time to dip into the coverage of New England cable news." But it was a pretty fair summary of television news' overall performance through the course of this whole drama.

There was one part of NBC's coverage, however, that came in for a great deal of praise. At a time when the New York Post was publishing one piece of false information after another (including splashing a photo of two completely innocent men on its front page and accusing them of being suspects) and CNN was coming in for much-deserved ridicule for its hours of pointless, ill-informed blathering, everyone seemed to agree that NBC's national security reporter Pete Williams was a hero. As Politico reported, "Inside the studios of NBC, Williams is being widely referred to as a hero." "Pete Williams Becomes the Reporting Hero of the Boston Bombings," said the Huffington Post. "NBC's Pete Wililams: Media Hero of the Boston Bombing Coverage," said the Atlantic Wire. Other outlets didn't use the "hero" word but still rushed out laudatory stories about Williams.

So what exactly did he do to deserve the title of "hero"?

Boston Changed Nothing

Flickr/Pete Tschudy

We've all seen how the bombing in Boston, as so often happens with events like this, brought out the best in the people who were there. But it also—not surprisingly either—brought out the worst in some other people who were back in Washington. It gave them the opportunity to let loose their most vulgar impulses, the satisfaction they get from stoking fear, and their absolute disdain for so many of the things that make America what it is, has been, and continues to be.

You'll recall that after September 11, the phrase "this changes everything" was repeated thousands of times. In too many cases, what that meant was, "This gives me the opportunity to advocate changes pulled from the darkest recesses of my imagination, the things I never would have dared suggest before. This is our chance." We can toss aside those pesky constitutional amendments that protect against unreasonable search and seizure or provide for due process, because we never liked them anyway. Hell, we can even torture people. This is our chance.

Not many people are saying that the Boston bombing "changes everything," but we need to be clear on this: It changes nothing. There is no new reality to which we must adapt.

Substituting Identity for Motivation

A religious right leader offering his insights.

Let's be honest and admit that everyone had a hope about who the Boston bomber would out to be. Conservatives hoped it would be some swarthy Middle Easterner, which would validate their belief that the existential threat from Islam is ongoing and that their preferred policies are the best way to deal with that threat. Liberals hoped it would be a Timothy McVeigh-like character, some radical right-winger or white supremacist, which would perhaps make us all think more broadly about terrorism and what the threats really are. The truth turned out to be…well, we don't really know yet. Assuming these two brothers are indeed the bombers, they're literally Caucasian, but they're also Muslim. Most importantly, as yet we know absolutely nothing about what motivated them. Nothing. Keep that in mind.

But for many people, their motivations are of no concern; all that matters is their identity.

Obamacare's Delicious Ironies

We don't have health insurance, suckers! (Flickr/Elvert Barnes)

As the various "gangs" in the House and Senate were writing their immigration proposals, it became clear that to win the support of Republicans, the provisional legal status undocumented immigrants were going to get had to be punitive. No coddling those law-breakers; if they're going to get on a path to citizenship, it had better be an unpleasant path. It had to last for a long time—10 years, in the end. And there had to be a requirement that during that time, you couldn't get any federal benefits like food stamps or welfare.

But this has produced a rather amusing irony.

Marco Rubio's Life Is about to Get Complicated

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Marco Rubio has had a pretty charmed political life. He rose quickly through the ranks in the Florida legislature, won a Senate seat without too much trouble at the tender age of 39, then suddenly found himself the "Republican savior" a mere two years after arriving in Washington. At a time when the GOP is desperate to appear to Latinos, he's a young, smart, dynamic Latino who could be their presidential nominee in 2016. What could go wrong?

Immigration reform, that's what. Many elite Republicans feel, and not without reason, that while supporting comprehensive reform might not win them the votes of Latinos, opposing it will pretty much guarantee that those votes will be lost to them. And Rubio almost has no choice but to be one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the party in that effort. He can't be the Great Latino Hope if he isn't. Trouble is, lots and lots of rank-and-file Republicans, particularly the kind who vote in presidential primaries, don't much like reform the way it's shaping up. Sure, under the "Gang of 8" plan in the Senate it'll take 13 years for a current undocumented immigrant to become an American citizen. But for many in the party's base, that's about 113 years too quick. Enter the MarcoPhone. Wait, what? Get a load of this:

It Isn't Just Boston

Sunset at Fenway. (Flickr/slack12)

We've heard many inspiring and heartwarming stories from Boston about how people acted in the aftermath of Tuesday's bombing—rushing to aid the injured, opening up their homes to strangers, being kinder and more considerate than they would have been a week ago, in ways small and large. Many people elsewhere have expressed solidarity with the city of Boston, and I think that's great. But amidst it all there are some strange expressions about how all that admirable response is somehow uniquely Bostonian. I'm not trying to condemn anyone, but it's something we always seem to fall into when there's a shocking and tragic event like this one. It certainly happened after September 11, when stories of heroism and generosity were so often followed with the sentiment that "Nowhere else in the world" would people have acted in such praiseworthy ways, as though had a similar tragedy happened in Tokyo or Copenhagen or Johannesburg, people would have just left each other to die on the sidewalk. I'm not the only one who thinks this way; at Slate, Luke O'Neill is a little discomfited by the way people are talking about his city:

Is the Single-Issue Gun Voter Another Myth?

Over the last year or so, I've written at more length than most readers can probably tolerate about the myth of the gun lobby's power. But there's one part of that myth that I haven't addressed too much, and it comes up today as the Manchin Toomey background check proposal is being voted on in the Senate (as of this writing it looks like it will be unable to overcome a Republican filibuster). This part of the myth isn't completely false, it's just dramatically overstated. As you've probably heard, one of the reasons the gun lobby is successful is that gun owners are "single-issue" voters who not only won't consider voting for anyone who isn't right on guns, they're highly energized, writing and calling their representatives all the time, while the other side is passive and disengaged, not bothering to get involved on the gun issue. That means that representatives feel intense pressure from the right and no pressure from the left, making it all the more likely that any measure to stem the proliferation of guns will fail.

Sounds like a true story, but is it?

Call It What You Will

President Obama speaking about the bombing in Boston.

Conservatives sometimes complain about the "language police" on the left who keep them from using the colorful words and phrases they learned at their pappys' knees, when those words and phrases turn out to be offensive to people. But the truth is that nobody pays the kind of careful attention to language the right does. They're forever telling us that the truth of President Obama's radicalism can be found not in his actions but in a thing he said one time, or on the other hand, criticizing him for something he failed to say. (For some reason, Rudy Giuliani was particularly obsessed with this. He loved to say about a speech an opponent made, "He never said the words 'islamo-fascist terror killers!' How can we trust that he understands the world's dangers if he won't say that???") It's a faith in the power of words to change the world and reveal the truth that I'm sure linguists find touching.

From what I can tell, conservatives were getting only mildly pre-angry at Obama for not calling the bombing in Boston "terrorism" (see here, for instance). Needless to say, this is a kabuki of feigned outrage we've been through before, and not that long ago. You'll recall that there was a big to-do over whether Obama had called the Benghazi attack "terrorism," with Republicans insisting that if he had used the word earlier and more often...well, something would have been different. They're not sure what, but it would have involved us standing tall and not taking any guff.

The Trouble with Scoops

Flickr/Aaron Tang

It seems that every time there's a dramatic breaking story like yesterday's bombing in Boston, media organizations end up passing on unconfirmed information that turns out to be false. This happens, of course, because in a chaotic situation where many people are involved in some way and the causes and results of some event are not initially clear, it can be hard to separate actual facts from what somebody thought or heard or believed. News organizations trying to cover it have an incredibly difficult job to do, and we should acknowledge the ones who do it well, even heroically, in the face of those challenges. For instance, the Boston Globe will deserve all the accolades and awards they get for their coverage of this event. And yet, the news media seem to get so much wrong when something like this happens. Why?

I'd argue that the reason is that in the frenzy of this kind of happening, they fail to realize something important: Scoops are beside the point. When Americans are looking to learn about and understand this kind of horrible event, they really don't care whether you got a scoop. They want to understand what actually happened. I don't think the news organizations, particularly the TV networks, understand this at all.

The Gosnell Case and the Two Kinds of Media Criticism

Fox is on it.

As you might have heard, conservatives are up in arms that the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor charged with multiple murder counts, hasn't gotten more coverage. They claim that the media have ignored the story because of their pro-choice bias. You should read Scott Lemieux's five lessons of the case, but a lot of liberals have been shaking their heads over conservatives' complaints, because the right's argument about the case is wrong in almost every one of its particulars. The truth is that though there hasn't been a lot of coverage in the mainstream media until now, many feminist writers have written about the case at length. And what allowed this horror to happen is exactly what conservatives want more of: a system where there are few (or no) legitimate abortion providers, sending poor women with few options to the back alleys, where they can be preyed upon by people like Gosnell.

But I want to talk about the media angle to all this. As Kevin Drum points out, there have essentially been two phases in the conservative media's attention to this story. In phase 1, they ignored it. In phase 2, they write stories complaining that because of liberal bias, the media are ignoring it. What's missing, of course, actual coverage of the story itself, despite the fact that conservatives have all these media outlets that could be doing what they claim the mainstream media aren't. The Washington Times, for instance, ran one AP story about the start of the trial, followed by 7 separate pieces on how the media are ignoring the story. Did it send its own reporters there to cover it? Nah, why bother? They do, however, have an online poll in which you can answer this vital question: "Online outrage is forcing some media outlets to cover the Kermit Gosnell abortion trial. Will MSNBC be able to continue its blackout?"

There are essentially two kinds of media criticism you'll see if you pay attention to these things. The first is an analysis that has some specificity to it, and aims to address some genuine ongoing weakness of press coverage. The second is just about browbeating and getting people you don't like on the defensive. It's the difference between "Let's see if we can get a discussion started about this problem and make some progress toward fixing it," and "Here's our chance to get those bastards on their heels." The left does both. The right only does the latter.

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