Paul Waldman

Government Oppression of Religious People Continues With National Day of Prayer

Flickr/C Jill Reed
One summer when I was in college, I worked for a tiny lobbying firm, most of whose clients were disease-related. If the firm wasn't able to get you increased funding for research into your disease, at the very least it could get a friendly member of Congress to introduce a proclamation about it. Framed on the office walls were documents declaring the first week in June to be Copious Earwax Awareness Week or November to be Toenail Fungus Month. The government declares lots of national days of this and weeks of that, most of which go unnoticed. Today, however, is the National Day of Prayer, in which, that pesky establishment clause notwithstanding, the federal government encourages you to get down on your knees and implore your deity to deliver whatever you happen to lack, or to be merciful toward those he might otherwise smite. Don't confuse it with the National Prayer Breakfast; that's an entirely separate national prayer event. Here 's Barack Obama's proclamation of the day, though...

House of Representatives Now a Scene from "Life Of Brian"

The People's Front of Judea holds a meeting.
Here in America we have a long tradition of candidates who run for office telling voters that they'll be good at making laws because they know nothing about making laws. This is a longtime pet peeve of mine, particularly the "I'm a businessman, not a politician" variant ( see here , for example), but the idea that "outsiders" who aren't beholden to the ways of the Capitol can be successful in curing it of its less appealing habits is almost as old as the republic itself. In ordinary circumstances, people who don't know anything about legislating are usually equally unfamiliar with what it takes to run a successful campaign, so most of them get weeded out by election day. The last couple of elections have not, however, been ordinary. I bring this up because of a story today in Politico that makes the Republican House of Representatives look like even more of a mess than you might have imagined. I'll get to the issue of "outsider" politicians in a moment, but here's an excerpt: The GOP...

Why the Fight over Obamacare May Never End

Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in early 2010, I've held more than one opinion on just how the American public will feel about it as time goes by. Initially, perhaps influenced by the momentousness of the Act's passage, I wrote that once it was implemented, it would be much harder for Republicans to attack. They would no longer be able to frighten people with phantoms of death panels, and instead would have to talk about reality. Since people would have their own experience with the law to judge from as opposed to some hypothetical future, the attacks would lose their potency, Republicans would back off, and the law would rise or fall in public esteem on its own merits. Then I began to have second thoughts. One of the biggest problems, which I wrote about a few months later, is that Obamacare isn't a single program like Medicare that people can come to love. It's a whole bunch of pilot programs and new regulations, many of which involve private insurance or existing programs...

Is It Too Late for the GOP to Save Itself with Latinos?

Outreach!
Since the 2012 election, there's a story we've heard over and over about Republicans and the Latino vote. After spending years bashing immigrants, the party got hammered among this increasingly vital demographic group this election cycle, whereupon the party's more pragmatic elements woke up and realized if they don't convince Latinos the GOP isn't hostile to them, they could make it impossible to win presidential elections. They've got one shot on immigration reform. Pass it, and they can stanch the bleeding. Kill it, and they lock in their dreadful performance among Latinos for generations. This story is mostly true. But I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't already too late for the GOP to win Latinos over. It's going a little far to suggest that Latinos could become the equivalent of African Americans, giving 90 percent or more of their votes to Democrats in every election. But is it possible that so much damage has already been done that even if immigration reform passes,...

The Utter Irrelevance of "Personal Charm"

President Obama exercising his charm, to no avail. (White House photo)
You'd think that if you're an experienced political reporter for The Washington Post , after a while you would have acquired a sense of how things happen in the nation's capital these days—how legislation gets passed, how the different power centers in town relate to each other, and what factors do and don't matter in determining the outcome of events. Yet for some unfathomable reason, we're still talking about whether Barack Obama can exercise his "personal charm" or "powers of persuasion" on members of the Republican party, convincing them to vote for things they're otherwise inclined against. Here's an article from today's Post : There was little time to mingle Tuesday night at the White House. Five minutes after greeting them, President Obama ushered 20 female senators into the State Dining Room and invited each to offer her thoughts on the issues of the day. And that was about it. That took up our entire two hours, to go around the table, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), recalled...

Don't Give Up on Green Tech Yet

flickr/Chris Wevers
W hen in 2008 George W. Bush signed the law creating the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program (ATVM), which gives loans to car companies investing in green tech, conservatives were outraged. They took to talk radio to express their dismay, they introduced bills to dismantle the program, they poured contempt on Bush for trying to "pick winners and losers" with a bunch of hippie-mobiles running on patchouli and idealistic delusions. I'm just kidding, of course. Conservatives didn't actually do those things. It was only when Barack Obama took office in 2009 that they discovered their antipathy to the ATVM (though their dislike of electric cars was evident long before). The program got some scrutiny last week when the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the dire straits of Fisker Automotive, the recipient of a Department of Energy loan. Despite the fact that a number of the Republicans on the committee, including chairman Darrel Issa, had previously requested...

Is Washington the Worst Place on Earth?

Flickr/Skillishots
Today we learn that New York Times Magazine reporter Mark Leibovich has penned a book called This Town: The Way It Works in Suck Up City , exposing all the awfulness of our nation's capital. As Politico reports , "Two people familiar with the book said it opens with a long, biting take on [Tim] Russert's 2008 funeral, where Washington's self-obsession—and lack of self-awareness—was on full display. The book argues that all of Washington's worst virtues were exposed, with over-the-top coverage of his death, jockeying for good seats at a funeral and Washington insiders transacting business at the event." Sounds about right. In the past, I've offered Washington some gentle ribbing, employing colorful phrases like "moral sewer" and "festering cauldron of corruption." In truth, D.C. is a complicated place, and like any city it has its virtues and flaws. But you don't find many other cities where the inhabitants regularly write about how despicable the place is. Obviously, there's "...

The Unending War on Obamacare

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue
I'm not a historian, so maybe there's something I don't know, but it seems to me that there may never have been a piece of legislation that has inspired such partisan venom as the Affordable Care Act. Sure, Republicans hated Medicare. And yes, their rhetoric at the time, particularly Ronald Reagan's famous warning that if it passed, "We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free," was very similar to what they now say about Obamacare. But once it passed, their attempts to undermine it ran more to the occasional raid than the ongoing siege. I bring this up because Kevin Drum makes an unsettling point today about the future of Obamacare: No, my biggest concern is what happens after 2014. No big law is ever perfect. But what normally happens is that it gets tweaked over time. Sometimes this is done via agency rules, other times via minor amendments in Congress. It's routine. But Obamacare has...

Are We Finally Achieving Some Sanity on Terrorism?

Flickr/AnubisAbyss
Now that it's been almost an entire week and a half since the Boston bombing, we can look back with some satisfaction, because America handled this pretty well. Sure, you might question whether it was necessary to shut down an entire major metropolitan area for the purpose of catching one guy. And there was (and still is) some predictable buffoonery on the part of conservative politicians and media figures. But on the whole, we seem to have weathered this attack without losing our collective minds. Is it possible that we're now able to look rationally at what kind of a threat terrorism is, and isn't? Are we capable of having a measured reaction to a terrible event? To look toward the future without being driven mad by fear? Holy cow, maybe so! Nobody's cancelling major events because we're terrified. The calls from the right to postpone immigration reform or come up with some new form of ethnic/religious profiling to find and stop the next disgruntled young Chechen immigrant are being...

Are the Koch Brothers Getting in the Newspaper Business?

David Koch, possible future newspaper mogul. (AP photo/Carlo Allegri)
If you ask ten conservatives what they think of The New York Times , seven or eight of them would probably tell you that it's an organization whose primary purpose is advancing a sinister liberal agenda, and journalism just happens to be the tool it uses to accomplish that goal, though they'd be more likely to call it propaganda than journalism. The rest of us think that's nuts, but those conservatives sincerely believe it. So it's not surprising that some of them would dream of creating a conservative version of what they imagine the liberal media to be. Sure, they've got Fox News, and they control most of talk radio, and they have their magazines and websites. But wouldn't it be something to have some real old-fashioned newspapers to advance the cause? And not just ones that are ridiculed like The Washington Times , but papers that already have respected names and large audiences? Sounds like an interesting idea, which is why Charles and David Koch—who, depending on your perspective...

Should You Still Despise George W. Bush?

C'mon, I'm not so bad, am I?
Twitter was alight this morning with mockery of this post from Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, explaining a marginal improvement in George W. Bush's post-presidential approval ratings (from 33 percent when he left office to 47 percent now) by noting that Bush won that ugly Iraq War (who started that again?), gave us a great economy, and pretty much solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other accomplishments, and also had a "tender, tearful love of country," unlike some people she could mention. I'll leave it to others to respond to the particulars of Rubin's journey to Bizarro World, but if we assume this poll to be accurate, the question is, why might Americans' opinions of Bush be somewhat less dreadful than they used to be? Let's think about it this way: How do you feel about Bush? If you're like me, your contempt for him isn't what it once was. Back in the day, I took a back seat to no one when it came to displeasure with him. But I'll admit that in...

Beware Of "Ties"

Flickr/Fernando de Souza
Something to think about as we learn more in the coming days about both Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his deceased brother Tamerlan. Everything investigators have released so far suggests that they acted alone, and you can easily find instructions to make the kind of bomb they used on the Internet. But as details get fleshed out about where they went, what they did, and whom they met in the last few years, there's a phrase we'll be hearing a lot: "ties to al-Qaeda." So before people start saying the brothers had "ties to al-Qaeda," we should make sure we know exactly what we're saying when we use that term. We still don't know much about why the Russian government contacted the FBI regarding Tamerlan, and what he did on an extended trip to Chechnya and Dagestan in 2012. Who knows, maybe Ayman al-Zawahiri himself went to Grozny to meet with him, told him how to make the bombs, and ordered him to carry out the attack. But probably not. It's a lot more likely that we'll find out about some far...

Pete Williams Is a Good Journalist, But He's Not a Hero

At one point during its coverage of the events in Boston on Friday, NBC News brought in a feed from a local station, and it seemed to be recording not the station's broadcast but someone talking on the phone, perhaps a reporter or someone in the control room. "Oh, you're not listening?" the person being recorded said to whomever he was talking to. "We don't know shit." After a pregnant pause, Brian Williams returned to say smoothly, "Well, that was a fortuitous time to dip into the coverage of New England cable news." But it was a pretty fair summary of television news' overall performance through the course of this whole drama. There was one part of NBC's coverage, however, that came in for a great deal of praise. At a time when the New York Post was publishing one piece of false information after another (including splashing a photo of two completely innocent men on its front page and accusing them of being suspects) and CNN was coming in for much-deserved ridicule for its hours of...

Boston Changed Nothing

Flickr/Pete Tschudy
We've all seen how the bombing in Boston, as so often happens with events like this, brought out the best in the people who were there. But it also—not surprisingly either—brought out the worst in some other people who were back in Washington. It gave them the opportunity to let loose their most vulgar impulses, the satisfaction they get from stoking fear, and their absolute disdain for so many of the things that make America what it is, has been, and continues to be. You'll recall that after September 11, the phrase "this changes everything" was repeated thousands of times. In too many cases, what that meant was, "This gives me the opportunity to advocate changes pulled from the darkest recesses of my imagination, the things I never would have dared suggest before. This is our chance." We can toss aside those pesky constitutional amendments that protect against unreasonable search and seizure or provide for due process, because we never liked them anyway. Hell, we can even torture...

Substituting Identity for Motivation

A religious right leader offering his insights.
Let's be honest and admit that everyone had a hope about who the Boston bomber would out to be. Conservatives hoped it would be some swarthy Middle Easterner, which would validate their belief that the existential threat from Islam is ongoing and that their preferred policies are the best way to deal with that threat. Liberals hoped it would be a Timothy McVeigh-like character, some radical right-winger or white supremacist, which would perhaps make us all think more broadly about terrorism and what the threats really are. The truth turned out to be … well, we don't really know yet. Assuming these two brothers are indeed the bombers, they're literally Caucasian, but they're also Muslim. Most importantly, as of yet we know absolutely nothing about what motivated them. Nothing. Keep that in mind. But for many people, their motivations are of no concern; all that matters is their identity. The sentiment coming from a lot of people on the right today runs to, "See! See! Mooslems!!!" Some...

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