Paul Waldman

American Public Oddly Reasonable on Syrian War

President Obama addressing the nation on Syria.
When public opinion is running against the position you've taken on something, it's natural to conclude either that the people just haven't yet heard your argument clearly, or even that opinion doesn't matter. And in one sense, it doesn't. If you're right, you're right, even if most Americans disagree. Not long ago, most Americans had a problem with people of different races to get married; they were wrong about that even if they were in the majority. Of course, that's a matter of substance, which is distinct from matters of politics, which can constrain your behavior whether you're substantively in the right or not. So I wonder what Barack Obama thinks of public opinion on Syria these days. I doubt that he's like George W. Bush, who was forever certain that "history" would judge the Iraq War to be a smashing success. By now Obama may have concluded that he'll probably never win the public over on this question, so he should just try to move things along as best he can. There's a new...

The Carnage Continues

Just another of the dozens of mass shooting sites in America. (Flickr/NCinDC)
Here are some names that have been in the news in the last year; see if you can remember any of them: Andrew Engeldinger. Kurt Myers. Dennis Clark. John Zawahri. Pedro Vargas. Ring any bells? In another country, each of these men would be nationally famous. But not here; they were in the news for a couple of days, and then quickly forgotten. Each of them committed a mass shooting in 2013. We have so many mass shootings— over 50 in the last two decades alone—we don't even bother to recall the perpetrators' names. And guess what: yesterday's horrific shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington will be forgotten pretty quickly, too. In this morning's New York Times , the Navy Yard shooting merited a one-column headline, along with "U.N. Implicates Syria in Using Chemical Arms" and "Push for Yellen To Lead at Fed Gathers Steam." My guess is that for most national news outlets, this will be a three-day story: yesterday was the first day ("This is happening"), today is the second day ("This...

The Sum of Its Parts

Flickr/Will O'Neill
We're just two weeks away from the start of open enrollment for the new state health care exchanges established as part of the Affordable Care Act, and it's safe to say that Republicans will not be able to repeal the law between now and then. It's equally safe to say that they won't be able to repeal it by January 1, which is when the people who sign up for insurance through those exchanges start on their new plans. That's also the date when a whole bunch of other components of the law take effect. When that day comes, will Republicans have to abandon all hope of ever repealing it? The ones who don't understand the law (and let's be honest, that's probably most of them) might answer yes. Once it goes into effect and begins destroying lives, sapping us of our precious bodily fluids, and generally turning America into a socialist hellhole where all hope has died and the flickering flame of freedom has been snuffed out, people will quickly realize what a disaster it is and support repeal...

America's Exception Deception

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster I n a democracy, politicians seldom counsel the public to be modest. They flatter and praise the voters, telling them that they are just and wise, hardworking and principled, possessed of boundless vision and common sense. And here in America at least, they also generalize those virtues from the people to the nation itself. America, Americans are endlessly reassured, is unique and special among the world's countries. It i sn't just that we're the most important country, which is undeniable, since we have the biggest economy, the biggest (and most frequently deployed) military, and the most influential popular culture. Those things could change someday. Instead, what voters are told over and over again is that we're "exceptional." We're not just stronger or richer; we're better. Indeed, we're stronger and richer because we're better. And we may well be exceptional in how often we're told that we're exceptional. My knowledge of the electoral politics of other...

No One Has to Tweet

I really doubt Paul Krugman would do this.
I can recall, back in around 2008 or so, sitting in an airport listening to a radio story about this thing called Twitter, in which some tech booster was explaining how great it was to be able to send out little 140-character updates on what he was doing all the time, so the the people he cared about could have a sense of his daily life. I thought it sounded both inane and horrifying, but like most things governed by network effects , its value not just increased but changed in nature as more and more people got on it. I resisted going on Twitter for a long time (despite the pleading of my then-editor), in part because I was worried it would just be a distraction from my work. But it turned out, once I got on, that it became invaluable to my work. Most of the people I follow are writers or other people who point me to things I might need to know or want to write about; when I'm lost for something to say, Twitter will often send me on a path that will ultimately lead to a post or a...

Could You Live on $11,940 a Year?

A couple of months ago, Fox News host Neil Cavuto went on a rant against fast-food workers striking for higher wages, explaining that when he was but a wee pup of 16, he went to work at an Arthur Treacher's restaurant for a mere $2 an hour, setting him on the road to becoming the vigorous and well-remunerated cheerleader for capitalism he is today. For all his economic acumen, Cavuto seemed to forget that there's a thing called "inflation," and the two bucks he earned in 1974 would today be worth $9.47. That's less than the striking fast-food workers are asking for (they want $15 an hour), but significantly more than the $7.25 today's minimum-wage workers make. Not to mention the fact that so many of them are not teenagers but adults trying to survive and support families. (According to the Economic Policy Institute, 88 percent of those who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage are over the age of 20; that and much more data on the topic can be found here .) Yesterday,...

The Rapid Rise and Humiliating Fall of a Middle East "Expert"

One of Elizabeth O'Bagy's many appearances on Fox News.
It seems as though every few months, some Washington institution—a government agency, a think tank, or the like —finds themselves surprised when one of the people working for them turns out to be a fraud, a purveyor of offensive ideas, or otherwise an embarrassment. After a few days of controversy, the person's resignation is accepted, and they disappear forever. Back in July, a guy working for Rand Paul turned out to be a neo-Confederate. In May, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation, Jason Richwine, turned out to have some colorful ideas about Hispanics and IQ. The latest, and one of the strangest, is the case of Elizabeth O'Bagy, an expert on Syria employed by the Institute for the Study of War, a right-leaning think tank. This often happens when the person achieves precisely the goal they've been working for: wide dissemination of their ideas, and an elevation in their visibility. It's that sudden visibility that leads people who disagree with those ideas to say, "Who is this...

Just What Cable News Needs: More Bickering

The new Crossfire, just as interesting as you'd expect.
Back in 2004, Jon Stewart went on the CNN show Crossfire and begged the hosts to "stop hurting America." The clip became an early viral video (this was before YouTube), and it was like the young boy shouting that the emperor has no clothes. Evidently, people at the network looked around at each other and said, "He's right. This is just awful. We have to cancel this show so we can look ourselves in the mirror again." Within weeks it was off the air. I'm not saying that in the entire two decades of its previous incarnation, Crossfire was uniformly pernicious. But by the end it had reached a truly ghastly low, with Tucker Carlson and James Carville shouting over each other while a studio audience whooped and hollered in the background. Why anyone voluntarily subjected themselves to watching it remains a mystery. And now, Crossfire is back on the air. The obvious question is one you might ask yourself after a hurricane flooded your house or a bear killed and ate your favorite great-aunt:...

Twelve Years Later, Have We Gotten Control of Our Fear?

This kind of thing just doesn't fill us with terror anymore. (Office of the President/Wikimedia Commons)
Reading an article today I came across a reference to the Dixie Chicks and their fall from grace, which happened ten years ago. It was shocking enough at the time, but today it seems beyond absurd, that a musical group could be all but blacklisted out of the American entertainment industry because they expressed opposition to the Iraq War and joked about being ashamed that George W. Bush was from their home state of Texas. Even then, a year and a half after the September 11 attacks, just expressing reservations about a foreign military adventure was enough to put them on the receiving end of a torrent of hate and fear, to the point where radio stations refused to play their songs and concert venues wouldn't book them. But today, we can say with some pride that our level of national terror has been significantly reduced. The situation in Syria and the Iraq War are obviously different in many important ways, but don't forget that despite the ridiculousness of the Bush administration's...

Mobile Phones Continue Inexorable Conquest of Globe

Flickr/Kohei314
Yesterday, Apple released its new iPhones, one a slightly updated version of the iPhone 5 with a fingerprint reader, and one a cheaper version ("unapologetically plastic," in the term the PR wizards came up with) meant to attract new customers in developing countries. In case you didn't catch any of the eight zillion articles written about the release, minds remained rather unblown. Apple may still be an unstoppable engine of profit, but there are only so many times you can tweak a product and convince people it's totally revolutionary (not that that will stop Apple cultists from standing in line to get the latest version). In any case, this is as good a time as any to step back and look at the remarkable spread of mobile phones across the Earth. There are few other technologies that have found their way into so many hands in so short a time. Mobile phones actually date back to the 1940s, when AT&T set up a system that would allow truckers to make calls from certain cities and...

Government-Shutdown Crisis Proceeding on Schedule

Eric Cantor, liberal stooge. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
What with all the attention being paid to Syria, most people have forgotten that we're just three weeks away from a government shutdown unless Congress passes a continuing resolution (CR), which is the (relatively) quick-and-easy way of keeping the government operating at current funding levels without writing a whole new budget. As you may remember, Tea Party Republicans in the House would like to use the threat of a government shutdown to force a defunding of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, while the Republican leadership, conservatives to a person, realizes that this is spectacularly stupid. If they hold up the CR with a defunding demand, Barack Obama will say no, the government will shut down, Republicans will get every ounce of the blame, and it'll be a complete disaster for the GOP. Eventually they'll give in and pass a CR, but only after having caused a crisis and eroding their brand even further, and by the way not actually defunding Obamacare. So House Majority Leader...

Investigative Journalism Producing Change, Local Edition

Last Sunday's Post.
One of the main arguments for why it's a bad thing if the newspaper industry dies is that newspapers cover local affairs in a way that nobody else does, and that has demonstrable effects on people's lives. Most of the time we don't see those effects, but every once in a while, a story comes along that proves all over again why newspapers are so vital, not just because of what they can expose but because of the change that can come from it. The Washington Post is in the midst of a series of articles about an unbelievable scam victimizing some extremely vulnerable citizens of the District of Columbia. It's one of those combinations of government incompetence, private greed, and sheer immorality that just makes your blood boil. Here's what happened. The D.C. government, like any local government, has lots of outstanding tax bills from citizens it would like to see paid. Some of these are large, and some are small. Since it doesn't have the resources to go out and hound people to pay...

The War on Terror Is Still Everywhere

AP Photo/Doug Mills
In May of this year, Barack Obama gave a speech effectively declaring the end of the "War on Terror." Like many people, I was pleased. The War on Terror, which embodies the idea that terrorism is such an existential threat that all other threats the United States has faced pale before it and therefore we had permission abandon every moral standard we ever held to and wage a global military campaign that never ends, has been a poison coursing through our national bloodstream. Its effects can be seen in things that don't on their surface seem to have almost anything to do with terrorism. And despite Obama's speech, it doesn't seem like much has changed. It was only a few weeks after that speech that Edward Snowden's revelations about the scope of NSA surveillance began to come out, and it wasn't as though President Obama said, "You know what? This just shows how things have gotten out of hand. We're going to be dialing this stuff back." He defended every bit of it as necessary and...

Is Barack Obama a Hawk?

Wikimedia Commons/DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy.
Back in 2008, one of the things—maybe the main thing—that convinced liberal Democrats that Barack Obama was more liberal than Hillary Clinton was that while Clinton had supported the Iraq War and was seen as generally to the more hawkish side of national-security issues, Obama had opposed the war and sounded generally more skeptical about the use of American military power. Having been right on Iraq was a pretty rare calling card, and a lot of liberals took it as a proxy for something larger. It wasn't just that he was less like George W. Bush, it meant that he had the courage to stand up to Republicans and advocate for liberal values when other Democrats quaked in fear. In retrospect, it doesn't seem that Obama was or is more liberal than Clinton in any substantive way, aside from perhaps a small policy difference here or there. And while he hasn't started any new big wars on the scale of Iraq, that isn't saying much, since Iraq was our biggest war since Vietnam. Today Kevin Drum...

What Happens If There's a Split Decision in Congress on Syria?

Flickr/World Can't Wait
As we begin the congressional debate on whether to launch some kind of strike on Syria, one of the main questions animating the political discussion is, what happens if Obama loses? People are saying some predictably stupid things about it, talking about how wounded Obama's presidency would be, and how he'd no longer be able to get Congress to do his bidding, unlike the last few years, when he got whatever he wanted from Congress. But here's a question: What if a resolution on the use of force in Syria passes the Senate, but fails to pass the House? Right now that looks like a distinct possibility. People doing whip counts based on what members have publicly said (see here or here ) are saying that in the House, a majority of members have either come out against military action or say they're leaning that way. In the Senate things are less clear; most senators haven't said how they'll vote. Of course that could change, but if it doesn't, what happens then? It isn't clear. The...

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