Paul Waldman

The Debt-Ceiling Crisis to End All Debt-Ceiling Crises

Don't worry--unlike what's going on in Washington now, this is only a drill. (Flickr/USAG-Humphreys)
The most important fact about the shutdown crisis, which is soon to become the shutdown/debt-ceiling crisis, is that Democrats are not making any demands. The only thing they want is for the government to reopen and for the United States not to default. Since these are things Republicans also claim they want, they can't be considered demands. Republicans, on the other hand, have lots of demands, even if they keep changing. That's why the current Republican talking point—"Why won't the Democrats negotiate?"—is fundamentally misleading. One way for this whole thing to end is for Republicans to give up their demands and admit they've lost. Unsurprisingly, they're reluctant to do this. But what if Democrats started making a demand of their own? Today, White House press secretary Jay Carney said something encouraging: that Barack Obama is never again going to negotiate over the debt ceiling. "Whether it's today, or a number of weeks from now, or a number of months from now, or a number of...

The Myth of Obamacare's Bad Sales Job

Flickr/Brent Moore
When they went forward with their plan to shut down the government in order to undo, defund, or otherwise undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA), conservatives convinced themselves that their plan was going to work because Americans hate Obamacare. If you look at it in an extremely narrow, context-free way, that's sort of true. If you just ask people whether they approve of the ACA, you get between 35 percent and 45 percent approval. But the closer you look, the more complicated it gets. Some people disapprove of it because they feel it didn't go far enough; add them with those who say they approve, and you'll get a majority. Furthermore, and most critical for what I'd like to discuss, the actual components of the law, like giving people subsidies to buy insurance, outlawing denials for pre-existing conditions, and so on, are extremely popular (the one exception is the individual mandate). One thing's for sure, though: You can't say that the ACA as an abstract entity is...

Would You Let a Robot Watch You Undress?

Serge greets a visitor.
Let's face it, we all need a break from talking about this god-awful shutdown (acknowledging, of course, that the best break of all would be to end the damn thing). In that spirit, via Technology Review , here's an interesting study out of Georgia Tech about what kind of robots young and old people are more comfortable with, and how those preferences change depending on what it is we're asking the robots to help us with. Generally, the older people preferred more human-looking robots, while the younger people preferred more, well, robot-looking robots. That would make sense if you assume that the young are more comfortable with technology. But things get interesting when you get into details about what the robots are doing: Their preferences changed somewhat depending on what the robot was helping with, though. For example, for help in making decisions (like investing), younger people preferred a face with an in-between human/robot look. The study also found that for a robot that...

Leave Boehner Alone!

He's a very sensitive guy. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
The government shutdown is a crisis with its roots in both policy differences and disagreements about what means are appropriate to settle those policy differences. But it's also a conflict of individual people and personalities. Not that this should be news to anyone, but the key players involved—President Obama and the four congressional leaders, but most particularly Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—really, really don't like each other. Nothing too surprising there, but I'm beginning to wonder whether Democrats are helping things by the way they're talking about Boehner. Ordinarily, this kind of thing might matter only at the margins, but we're in a situation now where personal enmities and bruised egos could play a significant part in how and when this whole thing gets settled. Let's stipulate that Boehner is incredibly weak, even pathetic. Democrats look at him with contempt. It's apparent to all that he knows the shutdown is bad for the...

The Cruelty of Republican States in One Chart

Click through for exciting full-size version.
Many people are talking today about this article in today's New York Times , which focuses on the particularly cruel doughnut hole created when the Supreme Court allowed states to opt out of the expansion of Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act. The problem is that if you live in a (mostly Southern) state run by Republicans, you have to be desperately poor to qualify for Medicaid under existing rules. But it isn't until you get to 133 percent of the poverty level ($31,321 in yearly income for a family of four) that you're eligible for subsidies to buy insurance on the exchanges, because when the law was written the idea was that everyone under that income would get Medicaid. When all those Southern states decided to refuse the Medicaid expansion in order to shake their fist at Barack Obama, they screwed over their own poor citizens. So millions of people will be caught in the middle: not poor enough to get Medicaid, but too poor to get subsidies on the exchanges. But when we say "not...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to the Tea Party

Newly famous Rep. Marlin Stutzman, seen here at left playing dress-up with other members of Congress. (Flicrk/SpeakerBoehner)
I'm always reluctant to make too much of any particular off-the-cuff statement a politician makes, to play that game where people on the other side say, "Aha! You have revealed yourself to the be the scoundrel we always knew you were, and this is the proof!" But sometimes, politicians do say revealing things, particularly in a situation like the one we're in now, where the outcome of a controversy that is already affecting millions of people and could threaten the entire economy is dependent on things like hurt feelings and the desire to feel like you won. So the quote of the day comes from this article in the Washington Examiner , in which a Tea Party congressman sums up nicely the fight over the government shutdown: "We're not going to be disrespected," conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is." And there you have it. The part that's most important isn't that Stutzman doesn't know what they want,...

Outrage-Based Media and the Specter of False Racism Charges

Sadly, life does not embody the harmony of the black and white cookie. (Flickr/veganbaking.net)
I've often wondered how conservatives can tolerate a steady diet of the likes of Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and Hannity. I don't mean why they find those kinds of programs appealing, because there are many reasons for that. I mean as a steady, long-term part of your daily routine. Doesn't the steady stream of outrage just become overwhelming after a while? Can you really shake your fist at the TV and sputter with rage every single night without making yourself crazy? That's not to say there aren't liberals with similar rhetoric, but there are fewer, and they aren't as successful. Keith Olbermann did it for a while, and Ed Schultz isn't that far off. But it does seem that liberals' taste in talk runs more to people like Rachel Maddow, who delivers her outrage with a smile and a joke, or the wonkishly thoughtful Chris Hayes. People on the left aren't averse to getting mad, but they don't want to be mad all the time . Which brings us to this very interesting paper by Sarah Sobieraj and her...

What Happens to Conservatism When the Obamacare War Is Over?

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue
When we look back decades from now, one of the keys to understanding this period in our political history will be the story of how a set of market-based health insurance reforms that started as a proposal from the Heritage Foundation and then were successfully implemented by a Republican governor who later became the GOP presidential nominee, ended up being viewed by virtually all conservatives as not just an abomination but the very essence of statist oppression. Liberals have often expressed wonder or exasperation about the way conservatives changed their opinions about this particular brand of reform. But now that it's driving a government shutdown (and soon a potential default on the debt), we have to acknowledge that it's more than just a policy conservatives hate. The Affordable Care Act is far, far bigger than that. It has become the most important definer of conservatism in America circa 2013. It isn't that conservatives don't still want to cut taxes for the wealthy, or slash...

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...

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