Paul Waldman

Sequester Stupidity

President Obama arguing against the sequester cuts.
Next week, the "sequester," a package of severe cuts to government spending, will take effect. Although the consequences won't all be felt the first day, they will come fairly quickly, and they'll be painful. Not only to people on an individual basis—say if you're one of the thousands of government employees being furloughed, or when you're waiting in longer lines at the airport—but to the broader economy as all these effects begin to ripple outward. And so, the administration and Congress are engaging in what surely looks to most Americans like a spectacularly idiotic argument about whose fault it is. But before we start blaming both sides equally for indulging in a battle over blame, we have to be clear on who's to blame for all the blaming. The truth is that while both sides are trying to spin things their way, there's a difference in how each is talking about the sequester. President Obama's principal argument is this: The sequester is a really bad thing, so Congress needs to stop...

Why Liberals Make Better Political Pop Culture than Conservatives

An image from the libertarian animated film "Silver Circle"
In my ongoing quest to reach across the aisle and foster bipartisanship, I come to praise Jonah Goldberg—yes, that Jonah Goldberg, the author of Liberal Fascism and innumerable appalling columns, for what he writes in the Los Angeles Times , in which he recoils at the suggestion by some of his brethren that they need to buy a movie studio and start churning out conservative films: There's a difference between art and propaganda. Outside the art house crowd, liberal agitprop doesn't sell. Art must work with the expectations and beliefs of the audience. Even though pregnancies are commonplace on TV, you'll probably never see a hilarious episode of a sitcom in which a character has an abortion — because abortion isn't funny. The conservative desire to create a right-wing movie industry is an attempt to mimic a caricature of Hollywood. Any such effort would be a waste of money that would make the Romney campaign seem like a great investment. There's something Goldberg doesn't mention,...

White House Reporters versus the Obama Administration

White House reporters getting the story.
At some point in every presidency, the White House press corps begins to complain about how they're being treated. Sometimes these complaints are legitimate and necessary, the Fourth Estate demanding that the public be adequately informed of what its government is up to. At other times, it's little more than a bunch of overpaid prima donnas whining that the White House staff isn't treating them with the deference they feel they deserve and doing their jobs for them. So let's say you're one of those reporters, and your frustration has been mounting. How can you make sure everyone understands that your gripe is of the first kind and not the second? Well for starters, you might not want to rise up to express your outrage over the fact that you didn't get to watch the President play golf with Tiger Woods. But that's just what happened over the last couple of days. It seems that when Barack Obama hit the links with Woods over the weekend, White House reporters weren't allowed to follow...

The New Liberals

AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnny Crawford, Pool
When he leaves office in January of 2017—provided there isn't a terrible scandal or some kind of economic or foreign policy disaster between now and then—Barack Obama will likely be hailed as the greatest Democratic hero since John F. Kennedy. He got most of the way there just by winning a second term, before we even get to his already substantial policy successes. But the real reason is that for a long time to come, Obama will represent for Democrats the moment when they and their beliefs were ascendant. You can see it in the way some Democrats are already positioning themselves to run for president in 2016. We'll get to those particular candidates in a moment, but what's important to know about them is that this new Democratic coalition you've heard so much about is going to produce its own kind of candidate. That isn't to say they'll necessarily be people you had never heard of until a couple of years ago; some will be politicians who came of age in an earlier era adapting to the...

On "Emboldening" Republicans

Flickr/Secretary of Defense
I want to expand on something I brought up yesterday on the utility, for the opposition party, of doing nothing more with your efforts than becoming the biggest pain in the president's ass you possibly can. As of now, Republicans have mounted an unprecedented filibuster against Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Secretary of Defense, the latest in a long line of cases in which they looked at a prevailing norm of doing business in Washington and realized that there was no reason they couldn't violate it. Sure, up until now we had an unspoken agreement that the president would get to appoint pretty much whoever he wants to his cabinet unless the nominee was a drunk, a criminal, or grossly unqualified. But Republicans feel perfectly free to cast that agreement aside. Why? Because screw you, Obama, that's why. In any case, it looks at the moment as though this filibuster will be temporary, and Hagel will eventually get confirmed. So now, there are two ways to look at this. Having caused all...

Explaining the Farce of the Hagel Hearings

Flickr/Secretary of Defense
It's easy to shake your head and laugh at the incredible things said by some of the nincompoops who occupy the GOP's backbench in Congress, whether it's Louie Gohmert ranting about "terror babies," or Paul Broun (an actual doctor, for whose patients I fear) saying "All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell," or any of a thousand things Michele Bachmann has said over the years. But as we laugh, we know these people don't shape policy, so the damage they can do is limited. Not that the rest of the Republicans on Capitol Hill are a bunch of geniuses or anything, but most of those who have that golden combination of crazy and stupid are pretty far down in the pecking order. But looking forward to the next four years, you have to wonder if Barack Obama is, through little fault of his own, making the entire Republican party dumber with each passing day. Fred Kaplan, a thoughtful journalist who reports on military...

Game of Drones

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Murray Brewster
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File T he recent release of White House memos outlining the legal justifications the Obama administration believes it has to use drone strikes— against both foreign nationals and American citizens— reminds us that while the American public was otherwise occupied, a revolution in warfare was beginning. This revolution has some ways to go—we're not quite at the point where our next war is going to be fought by nothing but robots on land, sea, and air. But drones become more important not just to our military but to militaries all over the world with each passing year. Unmanned aerial vehicles, and their use in war, have a history nearly as long as aviation itself. During a siege of Venice in 1849, Austria launched balloons carrying explosives over the city—the first recorded use of aerial bombing. In 1863, a New York inventor named Charles Perley patented an unmanned aerial bombing balloon for use in the Civil War (it proved less than reliable, so it had no...

Marco Rubio Is Thirsty ... for America

Marco Rubio reaches for his water
It's not his fault, really. Maybe it was understandable nervousness—after all, here he was just a few days after being anointed "The Republican Savior" in a Time magazine cover, following the president, but without an applauding crowd to feed off. Or maybe it was that the room was hot and dry. Whatever the cause, after trying to wipe the sweat from his brow and face for 12 long minutes and repeatedly moving his tongue around his mouth to get some moisture going, Marco Rubio decided he just had no choice but to bend down and grab that tantalizing little bottle of water that lay just out of reach. So don't blame him for that, even though he'll no doubt get plenty of mockery for it today. You can blame him, however, for the insipid speech he delivered, a combination of calumny and cliché that demonstrated just why Republicans are having such problems appealing to voters. Let's start with this: Presidents in both parties – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free...

What Will Actually Happen at the SOTU

As you well know by now, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address tonight. In case you plan to be busy giving the dog a bath or getting a jump on your taxes, here's what will happen: 1. The speech won't be the longest in history, but it'll probably still be a little long for your taste. 2. Democrats will interrupt Obama with applause approximately four-thousand times, including 850 standing ovations, which will stretch out the speech far beyond the length it needs to be (see number 1). 3. Knowing that this is one of the only times he has something close to the whole nation's attention all year, the President will briefly mention a wide variety of policy issues. After the speech is over, commentators will complain that this was a "laundry list" that they found boring. The viewing public, on the other hand, will be perfectly fine with hearing it. 4. Most of the speech will be taken up with arguing for the same policies Obama has advocated for years. But there will be...

If He's For It, I'm Against It

(AP Photo/Tim Sloan, Pool)
Over the past few years, folks like me have pointed out many times that Republicans have, almost as one, changed their minds on the wisdom of a number of important policies, for no apparent reason other than the fact that Barack Obama embraced them. The most notable ones are "cap and trade," which used to be a conservative way to harness the power of markets to address climate change, but then became a sinister government power grab to force everyone to huddle in the cold as the useless solar panels on their roofs provided only enough power to run a tiny hotplate; and the individual health insurance mandate, which used to be a Heritage Foundation-crafted idea to use the power of markets to achieve universal private insurance coverage and avoid single-payer health care, then became the greatest threat to freedom the world has seen since Joseph Stalin was laid to rest. Yet for all the (deserved) ridicule, there's something almost rational lying underneath these changes in position...

Still Waiting for That GOP Fever to Break

Photo of Bay Bridge construction courtesy of Caltrans
Word is that in tomorrow's State of the Union address, Barack Obama is going to propose some new infrastructure spending. Not only as a way of boosting the economy in the short term by creating jobs in areas like construction, steel, concrete, those little plastic anchors you put around screws when you're putting them in brick, and so on, but also as an investment that pays long-term dividends in the form of bridges that work and sewer pipes that don't burst. As Neil Irwin points out , given the large number of construction workers sitting idle and the incredible fact that the United States can now borrow money at negative interest—something that won't be true forever—it would be crazy for us not to take advantage of this moment and start doing some long-overdue repairs. "One can easily imagine a deal," Irwin writes. "Democrats get their new infrastructure spending, and Republicans insist on a structure that requires private sector lenders to be co-investors in any projects, deploying...

Tomorrow's Republican Post-SOTU Whining Today

Here's a heads-up: After President Obama delivers his State of the Union address tomorrow, Republicans will wave their hands in front of their faces and whine that it was viciously, horribly, frighteningly "partisan." And what will this partisanship consist of? Hold on to your hat here. He's expected to argue for the same policies he has been arguing for and pursuing for the last four years . If the Republican members of Congress restrain themselves from shouting "You lie!" during the speech, it'll only be because of their superior breeding and manners. This, of course, is a follow-up to Obama's inauguration speech, which was condemned by Republicans not because he said anything mean about them, but because he talked about some of the policies he prefers. That, you see, is "partisanship," and when the other side does it, it's beyond the pale. So in today's Politico , under the headline "Obama's State of the Union: Aggressive," we read , without any particular evidence for the...

Marco Rubio Is the Next Big Thing, For Now

Just a year or so ago, a young, smart, dynamic politician was poised to take over the Republican party. He was the future of the GOP, being compared to Ronald Reagan and showing his political chops with a rapid rise in visibility and influence as he charmed the Washington press corps. I speak, of course, about Paul Ryan, whose story shows how quickly one can go from being the Next Big Thing to being last year's next big thing. Ryan was hardly a disaster as a vice-presidential candidate, but while the 2012 presidential race certainly made his name familiar to most Americans, it probably flattened the rather steep trajectory he was on. And now, Ryan can only look on in frustration as Marco Rubio becomes the new Next Big Thing, fawned over by conservative media, delivering the Republican response to the upcoming State of the Union address (just as Ryan did two years ago), getting those Reagan comparisons, and gracing the cover of Time magazine under the headline, "The Republican Savior...

How Hard Will It Be to Find a Gun Dealer for Your Background Check?

Flickr/xomiele
According to some news reports out in the last day or so (see here and here ), a bipartisan group of senators, including two pro-gun Republicans (Tom Coburn and Mark Kirk), one pro-gun Democrat (Joe Manchin), and one not-so-pro-gun Democrat (Chuck Schumer) are making genuine progress in coming up with legislation to approach universal background checks for gun purchases, to close what is commonly known as the "gun-show loophole," but would be more properly known as the private-sale loophole, that when one person sells another person a gun, no background check is required. Never one to pass up an opportunity to make a graph or two, I thought I'd offer some data on federally licensed gun dealers, since they're going to be key to solving this problem. Despite the fact that around 90 percent of Americans in every poll support universal background checks, the NRA says that requiring checks in private sales will impose a terrible burden on law-abiding gun owners. So will it? Right now, if...

Today's Delicious Right-Wing Infighting

Brent Bozell, Washington's angriest man. This was apparently the happiest photo his organization could find to use as his head shot.
For many years, those of us on the left have joked that all it takes is two Democratic members of Congress having trouble deciding what to eat for lunch to produce a "Dems in Disarray!" headline. Overstated though it often is, there's an underlying truth there, which is that liberals have frequently been undone by a lack of ability to herd themselves cohesively toward a desired end. And I'm sure that conservatives get no end of satisfaction from watching their opponents bicker amongst themselves. So it's hard to resist a little schadenfreude when the shoe is on the other foot. As you may have heard, Karl Rove has started a new organization whose goal is basically to stop future Todd Akins from winning Republican primaries. It's not meant to move the GOP to the center or anything, just to push aside the crazies, of whom there are already a couple (Steve King in Iowa, Paul Broun in Georgia) preparing 2014 Senate runs. But that doesn't sit well with some people, which led to this...

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