Paul Waldman

Your Guide to the Polls on U.S. Military Involvement in Syria

Flickr/Freedom House
It's obviously a bad idea for the administration to decide whether to jump into a whole new Middle East quagmire based on whether the famously inattentive and uninformed American public thinks it's a good idea. Nevertheless, public opinion is inevitably going to play a role in President Obama's decision-making on this. That isn't to say Obama won't take any particular step unless the polls show the public approves, but any time a politician does something unpopular, he'll always be looking over his shoulder a little bit. So what do the American people think about the prospect of American military involvement in Syria? The first thing to understand is that they're not paying very much attention to the issue, which means few have given it a great deal of thought. According to a new Pew poll , only 15 percent of the public says they're following the story very closely, a figure that has been basically unchanged over the two years of the civil war there. (Another 30 percent say they're...

The Gang of 8 Lobbies Fox News

Ryan Lizza has a behind-the-scenes article about immigration reform in the New Yorker , based mostly on interviews with members of the Senate's Gang of Eight, which shows some of the personal aspects of how big legislation can get accomplished. For instance, John McCain, ever the prima donna, comes across as seething with resentment that Marco Rubio has gotten more attention on the issue than he has. And the part that may get the most notice is the blunt words of an unnamed Rubio aide, who in regard to the question of whether certain immigrants take jobs from Americans, says, "There are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can't cut it...There shouldn't be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer. There are people who just can't get it, can't do it, don't want to do it. And so you can't obviously discuss that publicly." Hey dude, guess what: you just did! But in any case, here's the part that interested me: Fox News has notably changed its tone since...

When Republican Governors Do the Right Thing

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
One of the oddest political turnarounds in recent days has been the emergence of Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona as an Obamacare hero. Up until now, Brewer was known primarily for her forceful advocacy of the notorious anti-immigrant measure S.B. 1070, for supposedly wagging her finger at the president of the United States on an airport tarmac, for claiming weirdly that headless bodies were showing up in the Arizona desert, and for perhaps the most epic brain freeze in the history of televised debates. Yet despite being a fervent opponent of the Affordable Care Act, Brewer not only decided to accept the expansion of Medicaid that is being rejected by many of her fellow GOP governors, she campaigned aggressively for it over the objection of many Arizona Republicans, and yesterday she won the battle when the expansion passed the Arizona Legislature. So will other Republican governors follow her lead? Perhaps, but it's going to depend a lot on their own personal political calendars. Let's...

What Will Republicans Do if Obamacare Turns Out OK?

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue
Ramesh Ponnuru has a long piece at National Review imploring conservatives to come up with a health-care plan they can swiftly put in place when Obamacare inevitably collapses under the weight of its disastrous big-government delusions. Though I disagree with almost every point Ponnuru makes along the way, from his analysis of what will happen with Obamacare to his recommendations of what a conservative health-insurance system should look like (the fact that anyone, even a free-market dogmatist, thinks catastrophic coverage plus high-risk pools would work out great is just incredible), I'll give him credit for trying to get his ideological brethren to come up with a proposal to solve what they themselves keep saying is a terrible problem. But alas, his effort is doomed to fail. Why? Because when it comes to health care, conservatives just don't care . I'll elaborate in a moment, but here's the crux of Ponnuru's argument: Opponents of Obamacare should plan instead for the likelihood...

Shocking Public Health Ads that Probably Don't Work

Yep, that's your brain.
We've had something of a dearth of memorable public-service announcements in recent years here in America. When was the last time something stuck with you or became part of our cultural memory like "This is your brain on drugs" ? But in the UK, they try really hard to shock the hell out of you with PSAs, perhaps because they sometimes don't seem to get the difference between "memorable" and "effective." Take a look at this, which made the rounds yesterday. I'll talk in a moment about whether stuff like this actually works, but before you watch it, a warning: although it has only a bit of gore, you probably don't want to be raising a mug of hot coffee to your lips as it plays: Clever, in that "We paid an elite ad agency half a million pounds to come up with this" kind of way. But it's far from the most horrifying PSA about automotive safety; for that, I'd nominate this Welsh PSA from a few years ago trying to discourage people from texting while driving, which vividly portrays not only...

Where's the Intelligence Fallout?

That's what you say, but how can we be sure? (Flickr/sunnyUK)
You can make a reasonable argument for why Edward Snowden was wrong to release the information he did to The Guardian and The Washington Post (for instance, here 's Jeffrey Toobin and here 's Josh Marshall making that argument). But if you're going to turn Snowden into a villain, you'd have to show that the leaks did some kind of demonstrable harm to American national security. Even if you don't find Snowden's action heroic, it's quite possible that leaking this classified information was illegal and wrong, but nevertheless didn't do much damage or make us less safe than we otherwise were. So what is that harm? What the government has been saying so far isn't all that persuasive. While some of the details are new, we've known for years that the NSA was tracking phone and Internet traffic. This reminds me a little bit of 2006, when The New York Times reported on a government program to track and disrupt financing for terrorist groups through the banking system. The Bush administration...

Follow the Leaker

I don't know about you, but I don't feel like I'll truly understand the citizen's relationship to government in an age of sweeping electronic surveillance until I read Edward Snowden's girlfriend's blog. And this morning, Fox & Friends answered the question everyone in America was surely asking: Does Lou Ferrigno think Snowden is a traitor? (For the record, Ferrigno's response was nuanced, but leaned toward "yes.") But let's say you're glad you found out what The Hulk thinks, but you're still asking yourself, "Has Rob Schneider weighed in on this yet?" Politico has you covered . We all know that the news runs on personalities; a "story" without protagonists and antagonists isn't a story at all, it's just an "issue," and that's dullsville. But I'm sure the White House couldn't be happier that the NSA story is quickly becoming dominated by a discussion of Edward Snowden himself, which naturally crowds out discussion of the substance of his leak and whether we want to make...

When the Bushies Return

Remember this guy? (Department of Defense/Denny Cantrell
Last week I noted that most people are being pretty consistent in how they're reacting to the revelations about NSA spying on your phone records, your Internet surfing, your toenail hygiene practices, and whatever else we're going to learn they've been up to (Glenn Greenwald is promising more revelations). There are some liberals defending it and some conservatives criticizing it, but most people seem to be holding to roughly the same positions they held when George W. Bush initiated these kinds of practices. Having said that, it's far from black and white. There's a very strong temptation when a controversy like this arises to just step in with your party's official position, but in this case neither party has an official position. Most liberals look to be at odds with a Democratic president, and there is some disagreement on the right between the neo-cons and libertarians despite their mutual dislike of Barack Obama, as Michael Tomasky discusses . Nevertheless, if this were a...

Game of Thrones and the Problem of Unhappy Endings

AP Photo/HBO, Paul Schiraldi, File
AP Photo/HBO, Nick Briggs T hroughout America, fans of HBO's Game of Thrones slept soundly last night, or at least more soundly than they had the week before. On the finale of the series' third season (warning, spoilers ahead!), no major characters were killed and no key story lines came to an abrupt halt. But last week's episode, featuring the dramatic "Red Wedding" at which three key characters met their end—including Robb Stark, the closest thing the series had to a protagonist—generated an unusual amount of consternation and even anger among viewer, directed at the show's producers and George R.R. Martin, the author of the books on which it is based. Twitter exploded with comments like "I WANT TO KILL THE WRITERS AND PRODUCERS OF GAME OF THRONES," and "I'm pissed right now. Seriously want to scream. Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin, you evil, evil man," and "YOU RUINED MY LIFE GEORGE R R MARTIN + IF YOU DIDN'T LOOK LIKE SANTA I'D PUNCH YOU IN YOUR STUPID OLD MAN FACE." There...

A Shocking Outbreak of Intellectual Consistency

National Security Agency headquarters (photo from nsa.gov)
As soon as an issue like the NSA surveillance comes along (and by the way, it needs a name—BigDataGulp, perhaps?), we immediately start hearing charges of hypocrisy. When a Democratic administration does something normally associated with Republicans, we've come to expect everybody to give their partisan affiliations precedence over their prior substantive beliefs, and switch sides. So liberals should now be fervently defending the government's right to see who you called and read your emails, and conservatives should be decrying the expansion of the national security state. And most of all, everyone should be accusing everyone else of hypocrisy. But weirdly enough, though there are some charges of hypocrisy, actual hypocrisy is in relatively short supply, outside of a few isolated cases here and there. I've spent the morning going around to websites of various political stripes, and amazingly, most commentators seem to be taking the same positions they did on this matter during the...

Game Over

The Pew Research Center is out with a big survey on the public's views on same-sex marriage with lots of interesting things, most of which are continuations of the trend we've seen for a while. But the most interesting findings come from their question about whether people think that marriage equality is inevitable. As you might expect, most of those who support it are optimistic about their preferred outcome, with 85 percent saying it's inevitable. But much more striking, a full 59 percent of those who oppose same-sex marriage say it's inevitable. No wishful thinking here. And when you look at various demographic groups, who thinks it's inevitable? Pretty much everybody: There you have it. Seventy-three percent of Republicans, 69 percent of senior citizens, 70 percent of white evangelicals, and on and on. That might not be much comfort to you if you're a gay person in the Deep South wondering how many decades it'll take before your state legalizes marriage equality, but this debate...

Is the GOP's Tragedy of the Commons Problem Undoing Immigration Reform?

Marco Rubio may be getting thirsty again.
For some time, everyone in Washington assumed that if any major piece of legislation had the chance to pass this year, it was going to be immigration reform. At last it seemed Republican and Democratic interests had come into alignment! Democrats have wanted reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, for a long time. Republicans have finally realized that telling Latino voters "We don't like your kind" every couple of years is very bad politics. So with bipartisan "gangs" in both houses of Congress working on reform packages, it appeared that things were moving toward passage. Until the last couple of days, that is. Things are starting to look bleak. First we heard about an amendment coming from John Cornyn and Marco Rubio that sets almost impossible conditions on any path to citizenship; as Politico described it , the amendment "would require 100 percent operational control of the Southern borders and that 90 percent of illegal border crossers be apprehended...

Republicans Mad that President They Despise, Obstruct, and Lie About Doesn't Call More Often

And not only that, he unfriended me on Facebook! (Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
Iowa senator Chuck Grassley is something of an odd character. As I've said before, he used to be considered a reasonable moderate, but in the last couple of years he has basically turned himself into a Tea Party wingnut, combining the ideological extremism, face palm-inducing stupidity, and general craziness that makes that political movement so charming (although I was recently informed that even a couple of decades ago, before Grassley began publicly yelling at clouds , people in the Senate privately considered him kind of a nut). Today, The Hill reports that Grassley, who has spent the last five years floating conspiracy theories, impugning Barack Obama's motives, and telling truly vicious lies about his policies, is upset that Obama doesn't call him more often. Seriously. In 2009, Obama basically had Grassley on speed dial, calling him frequently during negotiations over an overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system. Grassley at the time was one of three Republicans on the Group...

Let's Talk about Tax Reform

Flickr/tolworthy
A few Republicans out there, struggling to put the IRS scandalette in a larger context, are now saying it shows we need tax reform. It doesn't really, unless their argument is that we've been letting shamelessly political 501(c)(4) organizations get away with a scam and we ought to clarify the law on what such organizations can do. But that's not what they're saying. What they're saying is that the IRS matter shows we need to change the tax code to reflect the same policies they've advocated forever. It wasn't as though this particular scandal arose because filing your personal income taxes is too complicated or because the corporate tax system is riddled with loopholes. It was something very specific, the law regarding how certain kinds of non profit organizations are allowed to operate. Frankly, there's no part of the tax code conservatives care less about. What they're interested in is changing personal and corporate taxes. Ted Cruz, for instance, says, "We ought to abolish the IRS...

Why Republicans Can't Destroy Obama

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Over the past few years, liberals like me have pointed out countless times that the Republican party was being (or would be soon, as the case might have been) terribly damaged by the ideological extremism and general nuttiness of the faction that took over the party between 2009 and 2010. But we have to be honest and acknowledge that it didn't always work out that way. They were able to win a number of tangible victories despite the fact that the public doesn't look favorably on the things they wanted to do. In many cases, an extremist Republican ousted a perfectly conservative Republican in a primary, and now the extremist Republican is in possession of a safe seat. And of course, they won a huge victory in the 2010 elections. For all the fun we've had at the expense of people like Michele Bachmann, the damage they did to the GOP wasn't always as serious as we thought it would be. But I think we're seeing the limits that the House Republicans' extremism imposes on their ability to...

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