Paul Waldman

Some Context for Our Upcoming Bombing Campaign

Flickr/Christopher Ebdon
It seems obvious at this point that 1) The Obama administration is going to drop some bombs on something or someone in Syria, even if no one is yet sure what or whom; and 2) This is something they'd rather not do. Back when George W. Bush was president, he and his team were practically giddy with excitement over the Iraq War, and much was made of the fact that nearly all the top people whose loins were burning to blow stuff up and send other people's children to fight had themselves worked hard to avoid serving in Vietnam. But the truth is that whether we're talking about a Republican administration filled with eager armchair warriors or a Democrat administration filled with peaceniks, every American president eventually scrambles the jets and orders the bomb bays loaded. And when you step back to look at all our military adventures, every invasion and police action and no-fly zone, you can't help wonder whether we'll ever see a presidency in which we don't project our military force...

Heroes "Without Rank or Wealth or Title or Fame"

President Obama's speech at the event marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington will almost certainly be remembered as one of his most important. Presidents only get so many opportunities to speak at events like this one, laden with the trappings of civil religion and what we might think of as a contested consensus. That's a contradiction, I know, but I think it fits. The civil-rights struggle of the 1960s was among the most divisive controversies in American history, yet today there's no more argument about who was right. Even the National Review , at the time a vigorous defender of the privilege of the white South to continue oppressing black people ( see here for some details) today claims Martin Luther King, Jr. as one of their own: "The civil-rights revolution, like the American revolution, was in a crucial sense conservative," they write, and they're not the only ones on the right trying to make the same case. That's both consensus and contestation right there, the...

It's Alive!

This is not exactly what a vital political movement looks like. (Flickr/Jeffrey Scism)
Back in what if memory serves was early 2011, I ran into a former Prospect writer and now semi-famous person in the lobby of a building near the Capitol where a bunch of TV stations have studios. We began chatting about the Tea Party, and I suggested that once the Republican presidential primary campaign got underway in earnest in a few months time, all those tricorner hats would be put away as the Republican activists who made up the movement turned their attention to the race to pick their party's standard-bearer, and the Tea Party would peter out. He agreed, and we parted ways, satisfied with our sage prediction that all that unpleasantness would soon be over and the country would return to its prior, more manageable level of political silliness. OK, so it didn't exactly work out that way. What happened to the Tea Party was more a slow dissipation than a rapid fizzling out, and it still persists. Sure, they aren't organizing any well-attended protests, and the hundreds of Tea Party...

Not That There's Anything Wrong with That

New Jersey Senate candidate Steve Lonegan, a man's man. (Flickr/Nick Step)
Any time a politician gets past his or her 20s without getting married, the rumors about him or her being gay start to bubble up. That's certainly true of Cory Booker, and has been for some time; I happen to know a friend of a relative who knows a guy who swears he had a serious relationship with Booker. The most common response from the politician is to laugh at the rumors to show how secure he is, but make sure everyone knows that he is, in fact, straight. Which was why it was somewhat refreshing to see Booker say this in a profile in yesterday's Washington Post : "And people who think I'm gay, some part of me thinks it's wonderful. Because I want to challenge people on their homophobia. I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I'm gay, and I say, 'So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I'm straight.' " But the really interesting thing was how Booker's opponent reacted. That opponent is a testosterone-...

Bill Kristol Is Getting the Band Back Together

We haven't started a new war in years, but Bill Kristol knows what to do about that. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Back when George W. Bush was president, William Kristol—editor of the Weekly Standard , former Dan Quayle chief of staff, and general conservative man-about-town—co-founded something called the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, whose purpose was to beat the war drums until the American government and public saw the wisdom of an invasion. Kristol was eventually mocked not only for his status as a "chickenhawk"—like nearly all the war's most visible boosters, he was eager to send other people to fight and die, but had avoided military service during the Vietnam War—but for his confidently offered yet comically wrong predictions about Iraq, like "This is going to be a two-month war" or his immortal assertion that there was no reason to think there'd be any conflict between Sunnis and Shias since "Iraq's always been very secular." In the end, Kristol and his allies got what they wanted, and that Iraq thing turned out great for everybody involved. And now, in case you were on the fence...

The Chemical-Weapon Taboo and America's Next War

A Canadian World War I soldier with mustard gas burns. (Wikimedia Commons)
Back in December, when the White House first declared that any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would constitute a "red line" whose crossing would produce some kind of response (they never said what kind), I wondered why the taboo against chemical weapons exists. Now that it looks like we're about to start bombing Syria , it's worth revisiting the question of what lies behind the taboo and how it is guiding our feelings and actions. Why do we have this international consensus saying that while it's bad for someone like Assad to bomb a neighborhood full of civilians and kill all the men, women, and children therein, it's worse for him to kill that same number of civilians by means of poison gas than by means of "conventional" munitions that merely tear their bodies to pieces? Indeed, we act as though killing, say, a hundred people with poison gas is worse than killing a thousand or ten thousand people with conventional weapons. After all, the Obama administration (not...

Rights, Obligations, and Ignorant Libertarians

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Oh, Rand Paul. What are we going to do with you? I'll tell you in a moment what I'm referring to. But first: One of the principal functions parties serve is that they act as a heuristic, or cognitive shortcut, for voters. If you have to vote for someone to serve on your city council and you know nothing about the candidates, you can use party as a proxy and you'll be right almost all the time. You can also look to your party to see where you should come down on issues. It doesn't necessarily make you lazy; sometimes it's just efficient to look to others with values similar to yours for cues about what policies are worthwhile. We can't all be experts on everything. In a similar way, parties give people who run for office a set of policy positions they can adopt without having to know everything about anything a lawmaker might have to address. But if you call yourself a libertarian, you're saying that parties aren't enough for you, even if you're a Republican. Instead, you're motivated...

In Defense of Cory Booker

Flickr/Steve Bernacki
Liberals, at least some of them, have a problem with Cory Booker, the next senator from the great state of New Jersey. I've certainly heard it privately, and any number of them have written pieces criticizing him (see here or here for good examples). As Molly Ball points out at The Atlantic , this antipathy doesn't seem to come from the positions Booker takes or a critique of his record as mayor of Newark. "Most of his policy stances are conventional liberal ones: pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, in favor of raising taxes on the rich and increasing government spending on welfare and infrastructure programs." He's perhaps uncomfortably close to Wall Street and Silicon Valley, but that makes him a mainstream Democrat; Booker may be no Paul Wellstone, but he's hardly Joe Lieberman, either. So what's going on? Beyond the Wall Street connection, the critiques of Booker usually end up amounting to: he's just too slick, and he isn't the populist progressive we'd like him to be. Which is true as...

The Impeachniks Roar

Coming soon to an overpass near you. (photo from Facebook)
There have been only two presidential impeachments in the 224 years since George Washington became America's first president. Both—of Andrew Johnson in 1868 and of Bill Clinton in 1998—failed to get the required two-thirds majority in the Senate. And Richard Nixon, of course, was about to be impeached in 1974 when he chose to resign instead; unlike the other two, there would have been nothing partisan about Nixon's impeachment and he almost certainly would have been convicted. There are always some partisans of the party out of power who would like to impeach the president, simply because it's the only way to get rid of him if you can't beat him at the polls. But a presidency without too much actual criminality shouldn't produce too many such armchair prosecutors. Or so you'd think. But these are no ordinary times, and the Republican thirst for impeaching Barack Obama (or "Barack Hussein Obama," as impeachniks inevitably call him) has gone mainstream, as evidenced by the fact that The...

Back Soon

Do not let my brief absence cast you adrift on an endless sea of despair. (Flickr/Doug8888)
Worry not, loyal readers: I'm taking a couple of days off to attend to some important matters involving stolen diamonds, a beguiling Russian spy named Natasha, and an original 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card that could hold the key to a conspiracy so vast that leaders from the four corners of the earth will stop at nothing to make sure it stays lost forever. I'll be back on Monday.

Why the Republican Obamacare Strategy Fell Apart

News flash: these guys never knew what they were doing. (Flickr/Speaker Boehner)
After President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, conservative writer David Frum, who had been a speechwriter for George W. Bush, chided his compatriots for the strategy they had employed in opposing it. Had they worked with Obama on a compromise, he argued, the result could have been a more conservative version of the law; by simply opposing it in its entirety, they wound up with nothing once the law passed. For raising this criticism, Frum was declared a traitor and banished from the conservative movement; these days his (still conservative) ideas get a better hearing on the left than the right. And what has been the Republican strategy on health-care reform since the ACA's passage? Well, first they tried to kill it through the courts. That didn't work, though they won for Republican governors the right to refuse the Medicaid dollars that would enable them to offer insurance to their states' poor (congrats on that), though many of them are coming around to accept the money. In...

Ted Cruz, 100 Percent American

A young lady expresses her support for Ted Cruz. (Flickr/Nimalan Tharmalingam)
I've decided, after many painful hours of reflection, to come out of the closet. I hope when I've told you my secret you won't think less of me, and remember that our shared humanity provides us with bonds that should be secure enough to overcome the repulsion you might feel at learning who I really am. Here goes: Like future presidential candidate and Texas senator Ted Cruz, I too was born in Canada to an American mother. Whew! Feels great to get that off my chest. I've lived in the States (that's what they call America up there) since I was 2, unlike that highly suspicious Cruz, who waited all the way until he was four-years-old to depart for the U.S. of A. What was he doing during those years? Training as some sort of spy for the maple-syrup cartel? Acquiring goods and services with currency stamped with a picture of a foreign monarch ? For the love of George Washington, was he playing hockey ? These questions obviously need answers if we're to decide whether Cruz's particularly...

A Bold Obamacare Prediction

An ad from Organizing For America
Love may not mean never having to say you're sorry (what a dumb idea, anyway), but being a blogger means being able to make predictions and not really worrying about whether you turn out to be right or wrong. Oh sure, if you're spectacularly wrong, and wrong on television (see Kristol, Bill ), people might make fun of you. But usually, nobody remembers. And if you're right, you can remind everyone of how clever you were. In that spirit, let me offer a prediction. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, begins with open enrollment for the state exchanges on October 1, with coverage beginning on January 1. Sarah Kliff, who knows as much about the law as pretty much any reporter, returned from a cruise to report that the regular folks she encountered, when they heard what she does for a living, all wanted to know whether Obamacare was going to work. This was true of supporters and opponents alike. Not that the people Sarah met on the Lido Deck are a...

Seven Reasons You Will Click on This Article about 2016

flickr/ Lufitoom
flickr/Heptahedron W hen you see an article about the 2016 presidential race, your first reaction is probably, "Oh c'mon. It's three years away! Do we have to start talking about this already?" The first votes in Iowa and New Hampshire won't be cast for over two years, and even those politicians who are all but certain to run are doing only the barest minimum to prepare. So what is there to talk about? Not much, but that won't stop us. Here's a New York Times story about Chris Christie quietly building a re-election campaign that can be quickly repurposed for a presidential run, and here's a column about why Jeb Bush should run in 2016, both from Sunday's paper. Here's a Washington Post story about the potential presidential campaigns of Christie and Rand Paul. If your appetite has been whetted, you can go over to Politico 's Hillary Clinton section and read any of the eight gazillion articles about her potential 2016 campaign. The Times already has a reporter assigned full-time to...

Morally Compromised Art, on the Big Screen

A scene from the upcoming film of Ender's Game.
Look around the Internet at any list of the best science-fiction novels of all time, and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game will be at or near the top (see here , here , or here ). Frankly, I've always thought it was a little overrated. A good book, certainly, but better than Dune or 1984 or the Foundation trilogy? Come on. In any case, Ender's Game was published in 1985, and it's finally reaching the screen this November, in a big-budget blockbuster starring Harrison Ford, among other people. As soon as the film was announced, people started advocating a boycott of the film because of Card's views about politics in general and same-sex marriage in particular. Card is not just an opponent of marriage equality, he used to be on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, the most prominent anti-marriage-equality organization. And his writings about politics aren't just conservative, they're positively unhinged, run through with the kind of venomous hatred for liberals in general...

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