Paul Waldman

The Rewards and Pitfalls of Ideological Dissent

Bruce Bartlett, talking to a bunch of liberals.
At any given time, there will be a few people celebrated among partisans on each side in Washington because they have left their own tribe and come to the other side to assure them that their opponents are just as terrible as they imagined. The apostate promises not only a validation of what you believed, but a thrilling insider perspective on the other side's true nature. Becoming one of these dissidents is surely painful, but it also promises both professional opportunity and intellectual satisfaction, as you may well find yourself lauded more often and more loudly than you had been when you were just one of hundreds of operatives or thinkers on your own side. In the American Conservative , Bruce Bartlett, a longtime conservative who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, worked at numerous conservative think-tanks, and was a member in good standing of the right's intellectual elite until he turned on George W. Bush and began rethinking some of his ideas about...

Why Obama Won't Be the One to End the War on Drugs

Not this guy.
In New York magazine, Benjamin Wallace-Wells has a long article about the failure of the War on Drugs, in which he says, "Without really acknowledging it, we are beginning to experiment with a negotiated surrender." This is in reference to the recently passed marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, which will likely be followed by other states in upcoming elections. Hanging over these policy changes is the still-to-be-determined reaction of the Obama administration, which hasn't yet said whether it plans to send DEA agents to crack down on the businesses these laws allow for, or the growing operations they'll produce. And I'm beginning to suspect that the administration will try to set some kind of policy course intended to be as low-key and neutral as possible, neither giving the two states the green light to proceed as their new laws envision, nor embarking on some kind of dramatic and visible crackdown. Why? Because that's what Barack Obama appears to want...

They'll Be Back

Robots, as yet unarmed, created for the military by Boston Dynamics.
Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report raising alarms about the specter of "killer robots." The report urged that we develop an international treaty to prohibit the development of fully autonomous robotic weapons systems that can make their own decisions about when to use deadly force. So is that day coming any time soon? The Pentagon wants everyone to know it has no plans to allow robots to make decisions on when to fire weapons; Spencer Ackerman at Wired points us to this memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter released two days after the HRW report, making clear that the DoD's policy is that robots don't get to pull the trigger without a human being making the decision (or in bureacratic-speak, "Autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force"). It seems obvious that we don't want a bunch of Terminators walking through our streets deciding...

The Election Heard Round the Watercooler

(Flickr / striatic)
This year's election wasn't the most negative in history, or the most trivial. But it did see a few new developments, including one particularly troubling one: the spread of politics into some places it used to be unwelcome. And not just any politics, but a kind of ill-informed, antagonistic kind of politics, the kind that says that your party losing is literally a national catastrophe and that there is no such thing as an opponent, only an enemy. When we hear ridiculous stories like that of the gun store owner in Arizona who took out an ad in the local paper proclaiming, "If you voted for Barack Obama, your business is NOT WELCOME at Southwest Shooting Authority," we aren't surprised. After all, hundreds of thousands of people—maybe millions—got an extra dose of partisanship at their jobs this year for the first time. When the Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case in 2010, most of the focus was on the fact that the decision allowed corporations and wealthy individuals to...

Good News from the Supreme Court

A stop-and-frisk in New York, recorded by a bystander.
There are a lot of ways that police, prosecutors, and other government officials argue that they can check on you without rising to the level of a "search" that would require a warrant. In recent years, officials at various levels and in various places have held that they can attach a GPS to your car to track your movements, get your cell phone records, or aim a heat-sensing device at your house to see what's going on inside, all without getting a judge's permission (they lost in court on the first and third). Yet when it comes to you recording them, they have a very different view. But in a rare bit of good news on criminal procedure, the Supreme Court has, by denying an appeal in a case from Illinois, effectively affirmed your right to record police officers in public: The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from the Cook County state's attorney to allow enforcement of a law prohibiting people from recording police officers on the job. The justices on Monday left in place a lower...

What Do Republicans Want?

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) In this November 16, 2012, file photo, President Barack Obama acknowledges House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio while speaking to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, as he hosted a meeting of the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress to discuss the deficit and economy. A big coalition of business groups says there must be give-and-take in the negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of massive tax hikes and spending cuts. But the coalition also says raising tax rates is out of the question. The group doesn’t care that President Barack Obama campaigned to raise tax rates on the rich. A s we head into negotiations on the Austerity Trap (better known by the inaccurate moniker "fiscal cliff," which I refuse to use), there's a clear narrative emerging. This narrative has it that Democrats want to see taxes increase on rich people, which Republicans aren't happy about, while Republicans want to see entitlement "reform,"...

Another Defeat for the NRA

Earlier this year, I did a lengthy series for Think Progress detailing how the National Rifle Association's power to influence elections is wildly overestimated by nearly everyone in Washington (here's Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , and Part 4 ). The group's advocates argued that I was wrong, and in fact the NRA retains the ability to get its friends elected and defeat its enemies. So how did they do in this year's election? The answer is, abysmally. The Sunlight Foundation put together data on outside spending from a variety of interest groups, and the data show how poorly the NRA did. At the top of the ticket, of course, they failed to defeat the man whom they have promised is coming to take everyone's guns (despite the fact that he is not actually coming to take anyone's guns). Through their two political committees, the Political Victory Fund and the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA spent $13.4 million on the presidential race, to no avail. But the Senate is where their...

Weird Science

This totally happened, probably.
Twenty years or so ago, a few politicians got caught when somebody asked them the price of a gallon of milk and they didn't know the answer. As a consequence, campaign managers and political consultants started making sure their candidates knew the price of milk and a few similar items like a loaf of bread, should they ever be called upon to assure voters that they do in fact visit the supermarket and are thus in touch with how regular folk live their lives. In a similar but somewhat more complex game of gotcha, Marco Rubio is the latest Republican politician to express discomfort about the question of the earth's age. Unfortunately, unlike the price of milk, that's not a question upon which people of every ideology agree. But if you're a politician wondering what you should answer if you get asked the question, here's a guide to the possibilities, and what each one says about you. There are four possible answers: 1. "The earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old." This answer says...

Ideological Positioning for the 2016 Primaries Has Begun

Andrew Cuomo, looking confidently into the future. (Flickr/Patja)
In 2012, the ideological question Republican candidates confronted was nothing more than whether or not they hated Barack Obama, a test they all passed. But what if you're running for the Democratic nomination in 2016? There may not actually be much to distinguish the candidates from one another. Now that the issue of marriage equality is pretty much settled within the party, if you put together a group of Democrats with national ambitions, they'll have the same positions on pretty much everything. Which brings us to the interesting case of New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who is almost certainly running for president in 2016. Over the weekend, Chris Hayes explained that "Democrats can't count on New York's supposedly Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo," and Salon 's Alex Pareene wrote a piece headlined "Andrew Cuomo, Fake Democrat." Both were criticizing Cuomo for seeming to undermine his chances of getting what you'd think every governor would want, a legislature controlled by his...

No, Conservatives, Benghazi Is Not Worse Than Watergate

Richard Nixon delivering his resignation speech.
On Friday, I got into a little Twitter tete-a-tete with Jim Treacher of the Daily Caller over this post I wrote last week, which argued that the reason conservatives are acting as though the aftermath of the events in Benghazi is the scandal of the century is that they're frustrated that Barack Obama hasn't had a major scandal, so they're making as big a deal as possible out of whatever's handy. What ensued opened my eyes to something I found surprising, though I suppose I shouldn't have been so naïve. It turns out that many conservatives not only believe Benghazi is far, far more serious than Watergate was, they seem to have no idea what Watergate was actually about or how far-reaching it was. After the number of Treacher's followers tweeting me with "How many people died in Watergate? Huh? Huh?" reached triple digits (each tweet no doubt considered by its author to be a snowflake of insight), I decided that since the story broke 40 years ago, we all might need a reminder of why...

The Moral Question of the Medicaid Expansion

Uninsured people getting medical care at an event in Los Angeles earlier this year. (Flickr/Neon Tommy)
In the last four years, we've seen a lot of reflexive, frankly dickish anti-Obamaism from Republicans at all levels. Much of it is relatively harmless; when some knuckle-dragging congressman goes on talk radio to air his suspicions that Obama's birth certificate is a forgery, there may be some chipping away at the President's legitimacy, but no one's life is affected directly. But there are some cases where Republicans are willing to do direct, substantial, even life-threatening harm to thousands or even millions of people, for no other reason than to demonstrate their unflagging hatred for the man in the Oval Office. I'm talking here about the coming expansion of Medicaid, which didn't get discussed much during the campaign, but which is the most profound effect of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. As you'll recall, when the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate, it gave a gift to Republicans too, saying states could opt out of the law's expansion of Medicaid, under which...

Defending the Right to Treat Your Employees Like Dirt

Papa Johns? More like Papa Jerk's! Thank you, I'll be here all week. (Flickr/jumbledpile)
Getting tired of eating at Chick-Fil-A every day to express your hatred of liberals? Well, now you have a couple more options. You can chow down at Applebee's, where the CEO of their New York franchises went on TV to declare that he won't be doing more hiring because of the costs Obamacare would impose. Or you can head over to Papa John's, whose CEO, John Schnatter, has said that Obamacare could add as much as—brace yourself—10 cents to the cost of a pizza, and since obviously customers would never tolerate such price gouging, he'll just have to cut back employees' hours. In our new era of corporate political activism, we're goin to be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing. So let's make sure we all understand exactly what it is these chieftains are complaining about: They don't want to give their employees health insurance . That's it. They'd prefer to talk about "regulation" in some general sense, so you might get the impression that Obamacare is making them needlessly remodel...

What Benghazi Is about: Scandal Envy

John McCain, still bitter. (Flickr/Chesi-Fotos CC)
If you're looking at the Republican harumphing over Benghazi and asking yourself, "Why are we supposed to be so mad about this again?" you're not alone. Let's review: There was an attack on our consulate that killed four Americans, including our ambassador. Amid confusing and contradictory reports from the ground, President Obama waited too long to utter the magic incantation, "Terrorism, terrorists, terror!" that would have ... well, it would have done something, but it turns out that he did say "terror," so never mind that. But that's not the real scandal! The real scandal is that Susan Rice went on television soon after and amid all kinds of "based on the best information we have"s and "we'll have to see"s, said one thing that turned out not to be the case: that after the protests in Cairo, there was some kind of copycat protest in Benghazi, which was then "hijacked" by extremist elements using heavy weapons to stage an attack. A sane person might say, OK, she was obviously given...

47 Percent, Part 2

Flickr/Austen Hufford
Earlier in the week I wrote about the increasing conservative complaint that too many Americans are mooching off the labors of genuine hard-working job creators. Well now Mitt Romney himself has extended this analysis to the ballot box, telling his big donors in a post-election conference call that the reason he lost was, essentially, that Barack Obama bought off those moochers with promises of free stuff. When the 47 percent video came out, I couldn't have been the only one who wondered just how many times he had delivered that riff; it seems unlikely it was the first and last time he said it. But now the election's over, and he isn't stopping. Romney seems appalled that Obama would be so diabolical as to pursue policies that were beneficial to people who then went to the polls to vote for him. It's worth quoting at length: "With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift," he said. "Free contraceptives were very big with young...

Yes, This Is a Post about 2016.

Who knows - it could be him. (Flickr/dsb nola)
Before you turn away, I'm going to say loud and proud that despite all the people crying "I can't wait until this is over!" in the last few weeks, despite the Bronco Bama girl , despite the torture endured by the citizens of Ohio, I am sorry the election is over. Sort of, anyway. Why? Because I write about politics for a living. When the World Series ends, we don't expect sportswriters to say, "I sure am glad that's over!" So yes, even though in the coming months and years I'll be writing a lot about policy, I'm also going to write about politics, including upcoming elections. Deal with it. Now that that's off my chest, Benjy Sarlin makes an interesting observation about the suddenly moderating Republicans who are publicly saying their party has to find a way to be more friendly to more kinds of people if it wants to win back the White House in 2016: "It's hard to believe now, but the popular punditry [after the 2008 election]—as now—was that Republicans needed to moderate their...

Pages