Paul Waldman

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...

Is the Religious Right in Trouble?

Pat Robertson, possibly fending off a hurricane. (Flickr/Daniel Oines)
If we're going to count the losers of the 2012 election, the religious right has to be high on the list. Its members said they would turn out in extraordinary numbers to fight that infidel in the White House, but Ralph Reed's turnout push fizzled. Gay marriage is now legal in three more states than it was on November 5, with more sure to come. In response, some on the religious right are wondering whether this politics thing just isn't working out for them. It isn't that they failed to get their message out, said influential religious-right quote machine Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, "it's that the entire moral landscape has changed. ... An increasingly secularized America understands our positions and has rejected them." We've heard this kind of thing before, and Ed Kilgore warns that the religious right's stranglehold on the Republican Party hasn't lessened at all: Lest we forget, every single Republican candidate for president in 2012 toed the...

Law Enforcement and Decriminalized Marijuana

A happy Seattle police officer. (SPD)
On Election Day, Colorado and Washington passed initiatives legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. The future of both laws is uncertain, due to the fact that the drug is still illegal under federal law, which makes the creation of a legal market complex, to say the least. Nevertheless, within a few days, prosecutors in Washington dismissed hundreds of misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, even though the new law doesn't officially take effect until December 6. Which is an indication that in the short term, the laws may have a substantial impact on the work of law enforcement, and the relationship of citizens to the police, in those states. We don't know that for sure, of course. But the Seattle Police Department is already showing how hip it can be. As we learn via Romenesko , the SPD has a blog run by a journalist, who wrote a piece called "Mariwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use in Seattle," that is, to say the least, not the kind of thing you expect from an employee of...

But One Mitt to Give for His Country

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
I don't know how many words I wrote about Mitt Romney over the last five years, but I'm sure it topped 100,000. So I'll almost miss him now that he's gone, and I'd like to offer a couple of (perhaps) final thoughts on him. In defeat, Romney's sins become easier to forgive, and we can acknowledge that he isn't without personal virtues. We'll never know how he would have performed in the difficult moments, when forced to deal with an unexpected crisis or confronted with choices in which every option was a bad one. Perhaps his lack of rigid ideology would have helped him. It's sometimes said that presidential candidates come in two forms, the "conviction" candidates like Goldwater, McGovern, or Reagan who run for a cause, and the others, who run for themselves. Though it may be impossible for any politician, even the most ideological, to run for president without being an egomaniac, Romney stands apart even among his peers for having run for no cause in particular. That isn't necessarily...

The Time Is Right to Get Rid of the Debt Ceiling

A much more attractive ceiling. (Flick/Richard Carter)
Kevin Drum has written a very helpful explainer on everything you'd want to know about the fiscal cliff/curb/staircase/trap, and near the end he reminds us that the debt ceiling is going to come up again early next year. "However, an agreement to raise the debt ceiling will almost certainly be part of the negotiations surrounding the fiscal cliff." Which is good, but I'd like to suggest that Congress go a step further. Instead of raising the debt ceiling, meaning we'd have to revisit the issue again in a year, why don't they go ahead and eliminate it once and for all? Just because something has been around for three quarters of a century, that doesn't mean it's in any way useful, and this is one little legislative artifact we can do without. Before last year the debt ceiling was raised 75 times since its creation in 1939, and nearly all of those increases were nothing more than an opportunity for the opposition party of the moment to give a few floor speeches railing against the...

The Business of the Ideological Media Is Business

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
There now appears to be a healthy debate going on in Republican circles about the problems created by the information cocoon in which conservatives have embedded themselves in recent years (I wrote about this last week). That's good for them, but I doubt it's going to work. My guess is that a couple of years from now, the conservative media's rhetoric will be just the same as it is now—just as angry, just as prone to race-baiting, just as unwilling to acknowledge reality when it conflicts with their beliefs. Jonathan Martin of Politico took the time to interview a bunch of younger Repbublican operatives and thinkers, and they all seem to be in agreement that something has to change. But the right has a real generational problem, and it isn't about their leaders. It's about their audience. Conservative media is a political force, but first and foremost it's a business. And that business' primary customers have grown used to a particular product. Those customers are, above all, older...

Land of the "Free Stuff," Home of the Brave

(AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
If you want to explain why your party lost a presidential election, there are a number of places to look. You can blame your candidate and his campaign (which usually means, "If only they had listened to me!"). You can blame your party and ask if it should examine its ideology or its rhetoric. You can blame the media. Or you can blame the voters. As the old political saw says, "The people have spoken—the bastards." And that is what one conservative after another has been saying over the last week. They aren't saying that the voters are uninformed, or that they allowed themselves to be duped. Instead, Barack Obama's re-election is said to be a moral failing on the part of the American public. They got what they wanted, conservatives are saying. And what was it they wanted? Universal health coverage, higher taxes on the wealthy, strong environmental regulations, legal abortion? Nope. They wanted free stuff. Because that's just how those people are. This was perhaps articulated most...

When "We Don't Like Your Kind" Becomes a Problem

New York, where not many Republicans live. (Flickr/iPhil Photos)
There are a lot of ways to parse a loss like the one the GOP suffered on Tuesday, but what ought to be increasingly clear to smart Republicans is that there's something fundamentally problematic in how they've gone about assembling their electoral coalitions. Conservatives are complaining a lot in the last couple of days that Obama ran a "divisive" campaign, I guess because he once called rich people "fat cats" or something, but the truth is that Republicans have been experts at division for a long time. Much of their appeal, at one level or another, has been "We don't like those kind of people." Sometimes it's welfare recipients, sometimes it's undocumented immigrants, sometimes it's people who come from big cities or have too much education or enjoy a coffee drink made with espresso and steamed milk. They've been very good for a very long time at telling voters, "We're just like you, because we both hate those people over there." As a political strategy, this can be very effective,...

A New Side of Barack Obama

Forty years ago, the campaign of Senator Ed Muskie, until then the presumed nominee of the Democratic party, effectively ended on a snowy day in Manchester, New Hampshire. Angered by the attacks on him and his wife by the conservative Manchester Union-Leader , Muskie held a press conference outside the paper's offices to denounce them. Reporters at the scene thought that Muskie was crying, though he later said the wetness on his face was only melting snow. But David Broder's story in the Washington Post about the press conference began, "With tears streaming down his face and his voice choked with emotion ... " He was obviously not presidential material. Eight years later, a different kind of president was elected, one who understood intimately how to convey emotions through television. Ronald Reagan wasn't afraid to get choked up at appropriate moments—when lauding the heroism of an ordinary person called to do something extraordinary, or just when speaking about how great America is...

Who's to Blame for the "Fiscal Cliff" Misnomer?

Flickr/su-lin
Now that the election is over, the next big item on the government's agenda is dealing with two sets of changes that are scheduled to begin at the start of 2013. The first involves changes to the tax code: The Bush income tax cuts will expire, bringing rates back to where they were during the Clinton years, and so will the payroll tax cuts enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus package and later extended. The second set of changes is the "sequester," under which a series of rather dramatic cuts to government spending will take place. Collectively, these events are being referred to by everybody as the "fiscal cliff," a term that is both misleading and dangerous. Which got me wondering: Where did it come from? And whose fault is it? I'll keep you in suspense on that for a moment, but here's a good brief explanation from Jonathan Chait about why the term "fiscal cliff" is such a misnomer: But here is a case where a bad metaphor has caused everybody to think about the matter in exactly the...

Are Conservative Media Only Hurting Conservatives?

Liberals like me have spent a lot of time in recent years mocking conservatives for the silliness of their media, wherein Steve Doocy is a star, Sean Hannity is an insightful analyst, and Rush Limbaugh is a brave crusader for truth. Beyond the jokes, we've talked a lot about the pathologies produced by the self-reinforcing worldviews propagated in the conservative media ether. One of the key features of those media, and what differentiates them from partisan left media, is the way they talk about the rest of the media. Liberals may like to watch MSNBC, but if you watch MSNBC you won't be reminded ten times an hour that everything you see in your newspaper or on another television station is a vicious lie concocted by conservatives to deceive you as part of their plan to destroy the country you love. But that is what you'll get if you watch Fox, listen to Rush Limbaugh, or consume many other kinds of conservative media. It's not just a diet of information congenial to your beliefs; it'...

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