Paul Waldman

Will Congress Pass Obama's Gun-Control Legislation Proposals?

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
President Obama unveiled his package of proposals to reduce gun violence today, a mix of executive actions he can undertake unilaterally (23 of them) and ideas that will require new laws passed through Congress. I'll tell you what I think about the package as a whole in a moment, but here are the major provisions: Universal background checks. Right now, about 40 percent of gun sales—those at gun shows, or between two private citizens—require no background check. This is a significant change. A new assault weapons ban. The ban in place between 1994 and 2004 was riddled with loopholes. This one is likely to be much stricter, making it harder to get new military-style weapons. But it won't affect the millions of such guns already in circulation. A ban on high-capacity magazines. Magazines would be limited to 10 rounds. A renewal of effective data-gathering and research into gun violence. Today, not only is the FBI required to destroy all background check information within 24 hours, the...

The NRA Opens Fire

In case you were waiting for the National Rifle Association's reasonable, constructive contribution to our current debate on how best to curb gun violence in America, your wait is over. They are locked, loaded, and ready to bring the crazy. This is an ad they put out yesterday, calling President Obama an "elitist hypocrite." Take a gander: What an elitist, that Barack Obama, thinking he's somehow above ordinary people, like he has some particularly critical job or something, and he and his family might be unique targets for violence requiring special protection! It's almost like he thinks he's the president! This does actually reveal an important aspect of the NRA's world view. As far as they're concerned, all of us should act as though we exist in the same security situation as the president of the United States. You may think you're just the assistant regional manager of a widget company, but in fact, a terrorist commando strike force could be coming to lay siege to your home at any...

The Last Four Years, and the Next Four

Tonight, PBS's Frontline will be broadcasting a documentary called "Inside Obama's Presidency," about the President's first term. The story told in this preview is about a now-somewhat-famous dinner that a bunch of Republican muckety-mucks held on the night of Obama's inauguration, during which they made the decision that the best way to proceed was implacable, unified opposition to anything and everything the new president wanted to do. As we all know, this plan was then carried out almost to the letter. Watch: Watch Facing a Permanent Minority? on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE. The story of this inauguration-night dinner was told in Robert Draper's book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the House of Representatives , which came out eight months ago. Seeing the story retold, what's striking is that beforehand, one would have considered the participants—Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Jim DeMint, John Kyl, Tom Coburn—to be extremely, sometimes infuriatingly, conservative. But...

White Districts and White Sensibilities

Joe Heck, a conservative white guy with a difference.
You may have heard that in the incoming Congress, white men will constitute a minority of the Democratic caucus for the first time. That's an interesting fact, but it's only part of the story. At National Journal , Ron Brownstein and Scott Bland have a long, Brownsteinian look at how "the parties glare across a deep racial chasm" not only in the members of Congress themselves, but in the people they represent. "Republicans now hold 187 of the 259 districts (72 percent) in which whites exceed their national share of the voting-age population. Democrats hold 129 of the 176 seats (73 percent) in which minorities exceed their national share of the voting-age population. From another angle, 80 percent of Republicans represent districts more heavily white than the national average; 64 percent of House Democrats represent seats more heavily nonwhite than the national average." The implications for the GOP of the fact that most of their members represent mostly white districts are profound,...

Bring Me Your Angry, Your Paranoid, Your Masses Huddled In Their Bunkers...

Beckistan is revealed.
Independence is the new media thing. Andrew Sullivan is doing it . Trey Parker and Matt Stone are doing it . And Glenn Beck, who did it already when he got booted from Fox News and created his own internet TV ... um ... thing in response, is taking it even farther. Inspired by "Galt's Gulch," the place in Atlas Shrugged where the Randian übermenschen retreated, Beck is unveiling plans for an entire city he will build, a city to embody all that is right and good and libertarian about America, a true refuge where those who have proven their mettle by watching hundreds of hours of his programs can come and live just as the Founders intended. It'll be called, naturally, Independence, U.S.A. Behold : Your browser does not support iframes. You'll notice how right at the beginning Beck says, "You will have to literally wipe us off the face of the earth and wipe us off the map before you can erase the truth that is America." Presumably in the regular America, the sinister forces can just come...

House Republicans Are Seriously Serious

Artist's rendering of the House Republican Caucus. (Flickr/Rafael Edwards)
As any parent knows, when your children are young, you have one distinct advantage over them: you're smarter than they are. It won't be that way forever, but if it comes down to an argument, using words, with a six-year-old, you're probably going to win. Faced with this disadvantage, children often resort to things like repeating the thing they've already said a hundred more times, or stomping their feet. Which brings us, of course, to the House Republicans. This morning, Politico has a classic Politico story about the struggle between the beleagured Speaker John Boehner, who would prefer that the country not default on its debts, and the maniacs who make up his caucus, many of whom seem to have been reduced to chanting "Burn it down! Burn it down!" whenever the subject of the United States government comes up. I say it's a classic Politico story because it contains a lot of anonymous quotes, on-the-record quotes the authors don't consider might be tactical and not sincere, and...

Media Violence versus Real Violence

In the days since Wayne LaPierre of the NRA blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on violent movies and video games (in particular, for some reason, Natural Born Killers , a film that came out 19 years ago and was a critique of the media's obsession with violence), a number of people in the entertainment industry have been asked about whether their products contribute to real-world violence, and they've seemed extremely uncomfortable answering the question. They seem to have no idea what the answer might be. As it happens, this is a question that has been studied extensively, although the research is a bit ambiguous and unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I thought it might be worthwhile to go over just what evidence there is for the assertion. So if you're a Hollywood big shot, read on so you'll have some idea what to say next time the question comes up. But before we get to that, I was prompted to write this by seeing this interview Quentin Tarantino did with the UK's Channel 4. When the...

The Problem with "the Wrong Hands"

The other day, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly (or as he is for some reason always referred to as, "Astronaut Mark Kelly"; I guess if you're an astronaut you get that) announced that they have started a new initiative, Americans for Responsible Solutions , to push for new laws to limit gun violence. I have great admiration for both of them and I hope they succeed, but there was something I heard Kelly say in an interview that was worthy of note, and a bit unfortunate. He noted that they're not trying to take away anyone's guns, and they're gun owners themselves. They just want to make sure guns stay out of "the wrong hands." The problem with this—and I think it's something well-meaning people probably say a lot without giving it too much thought—is that it assumes that the lines are clear between the right hands and the wrong hands, and if we could just make sure no wrong hands got guns, we'd all be safe. There are some people who should definitely...

The Great and Terrible News about American Health Care

This is how much people elsewhere love their health systems. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
If you've been paying attention to debates on health care over the last few years, you're probably aware of how poorly the American system performs compared to other similar countries. We're the only advanced industrialized democracy that doesn't provide universal health coverage to our citizens, and though there are many variations in those systems ranging from the completely socialized (as in Great Britain) to the largely private but heavily, heavily regulated (as in Switzerland), they all do better than we do on almost every important measure you could come up with. That's the big picture. But a new report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine compared the United States to 16 similar countries (mostly in Europe but including Canada, Australia, and Japan) on a range of health measures has some fascinating details. Unsurprisingly, the United States comes out at or near the bottom on most measures of health. We have the highest infant mortality, the highest...

The Only Solution Is Fewer Guns

AP Photo/Robert Ray
On an April Sunday in 1996, a young man named Martin Bryant went to the popular tourist site of Port Arthur in Australia, and using a pair of semi-automatic rifles, undertook a massacre that spread over several locations and killed 35 people. The crime was so horrific that previously pro-gun politicians changed their positions, and less than two weeks later the government announced sweeping changes to the country's gun laws, outlawing automatic and semi-automatic weapons, instituting lengthy waiting periods and background checks for gun purchases, and creating a gun buyback program that eventually resulted in a fifth of the country's firearms being destroyed. In the years since, the country's rates of gun homicide and suicide have fallen dramatically, and Australia has not had another mass shooting. What happened in Australia—a terrible tragedy galvanizing public sentiment and leading to a significant change in policy—is something many Americans fervently wish would happen here in the...

Once Again, Obama Does Something No GOP President Bothers to Do

Ten points if you know who this is.
I'm sure there are many reasons why President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to be secretary of Defense, but the fact that Hagel is a Republican surely played at least some part. After all, if he nominated a Democrat to head the Pentagon, congressional Republicans would surely oppose the nomination and charge that the nominee was too dovish. Which of course is exactly what has happened with Hagel (along with some truly despicable phony accusations of anti-Semitism*). I'm not the first liberal to be disappointed with the fact that Democratic presidents seem to feel the need to placate their opponents by picking Republicans for this particular position. As Michael Beschloss observed , Republican presidents have never picked a Democrat for this job, but about half the secretaries of Defense in Democratic administrations have been Republicans. What's most important to note about this is that there is no equivalent on the other side. Republican presidents don't feel the need to appoint...

The Question Torture Apologists Can't Answer

There may not be much point in trying to relitigate the torture question from the Bush years, but every once in a while that era's torture apologists come back around to make their case, and there is one vital question I've never heard any of them answer: How do the defender's of "enhanced interrogation" (perhaps the most vulgar euphemism since "ethnic cleansing") define torture? I'll explain more in a moment, but this was prompted by an op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post about the film Zero Dark Thirty by Jose Rodriguez, a CIA officer who has defended the administration's torture program on many occasions. Since I haven't seen the film I can't say anything about the way it depicts torture, but Rodriguez takes the opportunity to say this: "I was intimately involved in setting up and administering the CIA’s 'enhanced interrogation' program, and I left the agency in 2007 secure in the knowledge not only that our program worked — but that it was not torture." And why aren't the things the...

Conservative Projection Takes a New Angle

Flickr/kylebogucki
Peggy Noonan is, without doubt, America's most hilariously ridiculous opinion columnist, someone forever pleading that we ignore piffle like "facts" and focus instead on the collective emotions that are bubbling just out of our awareness until she identifies them. But in her column today , she does something that we ought to take note of, because I suspect it will become a common Republican talking point. Noonan asks why Obama is so darn mean to Republicans, and answers the question thusly: Here's my conjecture: In part it's because he seems to like the tension. He likes cliffs, which is why it's always a cliff with him and never a deal. He likes the high-stakes, tottering air of crisis. Maybe it makes him feel his mastery and reminds him how cool he is, unrattled while he rattles others. He can take it. Can they? He is a uniquely polarizing figure. A moderate U.S. senator said the other day: "One thing not said enough is he is the most divisive president in modern history. He doesn't...

Will There Be a Second-Term Obama Administration Scandal?

Just after the election, I wrote that the reason conservatives were so worked up about the tragic events in Benghazi was scandal envy; they were livid that a president they despise so much had gone an entire term without a major scandal, so they were desperately grasping for whatever was handy. The response I go from many conservatives was vigorous, including assertions that Benghazi was a far worse scandal than Watergate (that necessitated another post explaining, for those who had apparently forgotten, why Watergate was a big deal). But as President Obama's second term begins, we have to wonder: What's the big Obama administration scandal going to be? There might not be one, of course. It's possible that his second term will proceed with nothing but low-grade controversies on the order of Solyndra or Fast and Furious, Darrell Issa's best efforts notwithstanding. The lack of a scandal so far might be a testament to Obama's integrity, but it's just as attributable to good luck. After...

Boehner Opens 113th Congress with Sad Posturing

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
John Boehner has held on to his job as Speaker of the House for now, mostly because no one ran against him. That may be because none of his Republican colleagues wants that nightmare of a job, or it may be because they want it, but just think biding their time a little longer is the best play. In any case, Boehner now faces the challenge of dealing with a caucus full of nutbars who would happily send the country off all manner of cliffs, fiscal and otherwise, if it meant sticking it to Barack Obama or those mooching 47 percent of Americans they think he represents. And how do you deal with a group like that? Empty symbolic gestures, of course! Boehner has apparently made it clear to his caucus that he'll no longer participate in one-on-one negotiations with President Obama, letting them know that just like them, he thinks Obama is such a low-down dirty snake that there's no point in even talking to the guy. But can they still talk on the phone? What about texting? If Obama calls...

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