Paul Waldman

Why the IRS Non-Scandal Perfectly Represents Today's GOP

Darrell Issa by Donkey Hotey.
When John Boehner appointed South Carolina congressman Trey Gowdy to chair a select committee on Benghazi, it was like a manager taking the ball from a struggling starting pitcher and calling in a reliever to see if he might be able to carry the team to victory. Except in this case, the starter being pummelled—Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee—was still pitching in another couple of games, with no improvement in results. Listening to this NPR story yesterday about Issa's continued inability to get where Republicans want to go with the IRS scandalette, it occurred to me that it really is an almost perfect expression of contemporary congressional Republicanism. There's the obsession with conservative victimhood, (For the record, not one of the nonprofit groups scrutinized by the IRS for possible political activity was constrained from doing anything by having its 501(c)(4) application delayed; a group whose application is pending can operate as freely one whose...

Getting the Government Out of Your Wedding

Awesome couple boldly goes, on the bridge of the Enterprise with Tasha Yar presiding from the captain's chair. (Flickr/Trek Radio)
Some years ago, I officiated at a wedding. It was a Quaker wedding, and since there are no Quaker ministers, the happy couple needed a kind of master of ceremonies to keep the program moving along. They handled most everything themselves; my job was mostly to say things like, "Now we're going to do the vows" and such. I wasn't breaking any laws, but a guy in the band did ask me afterward where my congregation was located, which, as a Jewish atheist, I found amusing. I've also been to a wedding or two that was officiated by a friend of the couple's who got ordained in the Universal Life Church (only $28.99 for the Ordination Package ), which is what you do in many states if you want to perform a wedding but you aren't a member of the clergy in one of the religions your state decides is legitimate. The question people inevitably raise on these occasions is, why the heck do we have this system in 2014? If you're going to have to go to city hall and fill out a bunch of forms to be...

Katrina v. Border Crisis: The Trouble With 'Optics'

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
I've been writing about politics for a long time, and it's a tribute to the dynamism of our glorious democracy that every time I think that things couldn't get any stupider, I'm proven wrong yet again. While we face a genuine humanitarian and policy crisis on our southern border, with thousands of children making their way across hundreds of miles to wind up in the arms of the Border Patrol, the news media allowed Republicans to turn the focus to the deeply important question of whether or not President Obama would travel there to mount a photo op. Seriously. Then because it wasn't removed enough from reality already, people in the media are now talking about whether Barack Obama does photo ops and how often, because if he rejected a photo op on this particular issue but has photo-opped before, then I guess he's a hypocrite and therefore...um...therefore something. I'm not saying that "optics" are, per se, a bad thing to discuss. I certainly agree with Kevin Drum that as a general...

Good Obamacare News and the Republican Dilemma

Today the Commonwealth Fund released a new survey on the performance of the Affordable Care Act, and it adds yet more data to the tide of good news on the Affordable Care Act. As a number of people have noted, the law's evident success is making it increasingly hard for Republicans to sustain their argument that Obamacare is a disaster and must be immediately repealed. But it's actually a little more complicated than that, and the ways different Republicans are changing—or not changing—their rhetoric on health care is a microcosm of the GOP's fundamental dilemma. But before we get to that, let's look at what the survey showed: The uninsured rate for people ages 19 to 64 declined from 20 percent in the July-to-September 2013 period to 15 percent in the April-to-June 2014 period. An estimated 9.5 million fewer adults were uninsured. Young men and women drove a large part of the decline: the uninsured rate for 19-to-34-year-olds declined from 28 percent to 18 percent, with an estimated 5...

Health Insurance Is Not a Favor Your Boss Does For You

Flickr/Dani Armengol Garreta
The debate over the Hobby Lobby case has been plagued by many problematic presumptions, but there's one that even many people who disliked the decision seem to sign on to without thinking about it. It's the idea that the health insurance you get through your employer is something that they do for you—not just administratively, but in a complete sense. But this is utterly wrong. You work, and in exchange for that labor you are given a compensation package that includes salary and certain benefits like a retirement account and health coverage. Like the other forms of compensation, the details of that insurance are subject to negotiation between you and your employer, and the government's involvement is to set some minimums—just as it mandates a minimum wage, it mandates certain components health insurance must include. Those who support Hobby Lobby are now talking as though mandating that insurance include preventive care is tantamount to them forcing you to make a contribution to your...

Why There Are No Easy Answers to the Latest Border Dilemma

AP Photo/Eric Gay
After the 2012 election, Republicans realized that if they were going to have any chance of winning back the White House, they'd have to stanch their electoral bleeding among Hispanic voters, and several high-profile GOP politicians suggested that passing comprehensive immigration reform was a necessary (if perhaps not sufficient) step toward doing so. Nothing happened, of course, because House Republicans have little interest in seeing comprehensive reform. So we entered a sort of holding pattern, in which Democrats criticize Republicans for their unwillingness to act on legislation, and Republicans try to argue that their refusal is really Barack Obama's fault. First they said they couldn't pass reform until Obama "secured the border" (more on that in a moment) and then they said they couldn't pass reform because Obama is so lawless and tyrannical that they didn't trust him to enforce whatever they passed. All that was fine as long as the problems of the immigration system remained...

Why Your Employer Can't Cut Off Your Contraception Coverage

Flickr/Sarah C
On the Fourth of July, while you were stuffing your face with patriotic burgers and watching patriotic fireworks, the Supreme Court handed down an emergency injunction in a case involving Wheaton College's objection to the Affordable Care Act's contraception benefit, a decision that acted as an addendum to the Hobby Lobby decision. As I ranted over here , this is the decision that could really open the floodgates to thousands of claims from all kinds of organizations and companies that don't want to let their employees get contraception. But after thinking and reading about it for a while, there's something I think everyone seems to be missing, and it could mean that no one is actually going to lose their coverage, even temporarily. I should say that it's entirely possible that I'm completely wrong about this, and there's some bureaucratic detail deep within the ACA that I've overlooked. But the first thing to remember is that the ACA requires that insurance plans cover a variety of...

Can 'Reformicons' Save the Republican Party?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
New York Times Cover of the July 6, 2014, New York Times Magazine T he conservative reformers are about to have their moment—or so it would appear, if you're a reader of some publications predominantly read by liberals. A small band of thoughtful conservatives has been saying, for some time, that if the Republican party is going to survive—and, more specifically, win a presidential election in the next decade or two—it has to change. It has to get serious about policy again, grapple with contemporary economic and social realities that simple appeals to free markets and small government don't address, and find a way to attract voters from outside the demographic of old white people. This weekend, the "reformicons," as E.J. Dionne dubbed them in a recent essay in Democracy , were the subject of a cover article by Sam Tanenhaus in the New York Times Magazine. (If you want to learn who they are, read Tanenhaus' piece; if you want to learn about their ideas, read Dionne's.) The natural...

Searching for the Next Great Conservative Novel

Lots of room on this shelf. (Flickr/Luis Guillermo Pineda Rodas)
Conservatives often complain that the machinery of entertainment and popular culture is controlled by liberals, which is basically true. So periodically, one of them tries to encourage the rest to get behind a project to produce a right-wing culture, to get conservative ideas into the collective consciousness in more subtle and lasting ways than another "Why Liberals Are Destroying America" book from Ann Coulter or Brent Bozell. The latest of these pleas is an essay by publisher Adam Bellow in the National Review , which has the distinction of offering fiction, in the form of books(!), as the most important means of doing so. While the essay is overwrought at many points and self-contradictory at others (he says of the left, "Political power eludes them," then later laments their "decades-long march through the institutions of government, academia, and popular culture"), Bellow makes some interesting points even as, I think, he shows why this is such an uphill climb for his...

Who Supports the Hobby Lobby Decision? Old People, That's Who

Flickr/+mara
Yesterday, in a post about the political implications of the Hobby Lobby case, I said: "Though I haven't seen any poll that released breakouts by demographics, I'll bet that the populations that support this decision are the ones firmly in the Republican camp already, particularly older white evangelicals." As someone helpfully alerted me on Twitter, there is such a poll, from the Kaiser Family Foundation , taken in April. And while they didn't ask about religious affiliation, it turns out that age shows the starkest differences other than party identification in how people view the contraception issue. Let's look at some numbers, then we'll discuss what they might mean. Kaiser asked the question two ways: first in a simple way, and then by giving a bit more information about each side's perspective. The first question was, "In general, do you support or oppose the health care law's requirement that private health insurance plans cover the full cost of birth control?" When presented...

15 Major Decisions This Year From a Partisan Supreme Court

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais Kristin Hughs, right, announces to supporters the Supreme Court's decision on the Hobby Lobby case in Washington, Monday, June 30, 2014. The Supreme Court says corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women. S ince Monday's dramatic Supreme Court decisions, I've seen a few people recall that back in 2000, a lot of liberals justified voting for Ralph Nader (or not voting at all) on the basis that there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Bush appointed John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the high court, and it's safe to say that Gore's nominees would have been somewhat different, so it's unlikely we'll be hearing that argument again. Wherever you place your priorities in terms of the actions of the executive branch, at this point in history, the nominating of Supreme Court justices has become extremely partisan, in a way...

Watch Paul Waldman on Washington Journal

C-SPAN
The American Prospect 's contributing editor appeared on the June 29, 2014 edition of C-SPAN's Washington Journal .

Why the Fight Over Executive Authority Will Define the Rest of Barack Obama's Presidency

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza President Barack Obama returns to the Oval Office after giving interviews in the Rose Garden of the White House, May 6, 2014. I t's axiomatic to the point of cliché that in their second terms, presidents turn their attention to foreign affairs, where they have latitude to do what they want without having to get Congress's permission. By the time they've been in office for five or six years, they're so fed up with wrangling 535 ornery legislators that they barely bother anymore, and without an election looming (and with approval ratings often sliding down), they concentrate on what they can do on their own. But faced with an opposition of unusual orneriness—perhaps more so than any in American history— Barack Obama has made clear that he won't just be concentrating on foreign policy. He'll be doing whatever he can to achieve domestic goals as well, even if Republicans have made legislating impossible. The conflict over the actions he has taken...

What Americans Think of the Poor

Pew Research Center
The Pew Research Center has released one of their periodic Political Typology studies , and as usual it contains a wealth of fascinating data on what people think about a whole range of issues. One of the most useful things about it is that instead of just asking people whether they consider themselves liberals or conservatives, it constructs a typology based on a series of questions, enabling them to divide people in a more fine-grained way that doesn't rely solely on self-identification (they divide Americans into two strongly conservative groups, one mostly conservative group, one mostly liberal group, and three more strongly liberal groups). When I went through the survey, one question jumped out at me, the one represented here: Those of you who read my writing regularly know that I make an effort to understand where people who disagree with me are coming from. That doesn't mean I'm any less likely to disagree with them, or even that I don't use barbed language sometimes in...

Can the U.S. Stop Drones From Creating a More Dangerous World?

A drone launches from the USS Lassen (U.S. Navy photo)
In an op-ed in today's Washington Post , retired Army general John Abizaid and Rosa Brooks, a former Defense Department official, warn that "[t]he United States' drone policies damage its credibility, undermine the rule of law and create a potentially destabilizing international precedent—one that repressive regimes around the globe will undoubtedly exploit." Their argument, which comes from a report they produced for the Stimson Center together with a task force of former defense and intelligence officials, is essentially that unmanned aerial vehicles make the use of lethal force across borders too easy, and we need to establish strict policies limiting their use. True enough. But the question I'm left with is, how much will the United States' policies really determine the worldwide future of drones and their use? Before we get to that, we should acknowledge that President Obama has declared his intention to establish rules restraining his own and future presidents' use of drones. In...

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