Paul Waldman

The Only Mandate That Matters

On Wednesday, we'll begin talking about whether whoever gets elected has a "mandate." We'll talk about it even more if Barack Obama is re-elected, because when a new president takes office we accept that he'll be doing all kinds of new things, changing course on almost every policy, replacing all the members of the other party who populate the executive branch with members of his own party, etc. With a re-elected president, on the other hand, there's a real question about where he goes from here and how much he can try to accomplish. There's a fundamental problem with the mandate idea, however, that makes it almost meaningless in today's Washington. The mandate notion assumes that the larger the president's margin of victory, the greater the proportion of the public has signed on to his policy agenda. That's not completely unreasonable, though in practice most voters have only the vaguest notion of what the person they're voting for wants to do. But the idea of the mandate is about...

Why the Romney Campaign Screwed Up

Mitt Romney's last-minute screw-up.
In the last week or so, Mitt Romney has accused Barack Obama of focusing his campaign on "small things," but let's be honest—at this point, everybody is focused on small things. And these small things are unlikely to make much of a difference with so little time left. Which is why it was odd to see the Romney campaign stumble so badly with the Jeeps being built in China attack. How did they manage to take a criticism that would likely have just glanced off Obama anyway, and turn it into something that not only had everyone talking about Obama's best case to Ohio voters (the auto bailout), but also made Romney look cynical and dishonest? Here's what I think happened. They heard the first, somewhat unclear report that Chrysler was going to be manufacturing Jeeps in China, without quite understanding what it meant, namely that they will be making them for the Chinese market (because of Chinese tarriffs, Chrysler would only be able to sell the Jeeps there if they make them there). By the...

The Future of Star Wars

Flickr/The Official Star Wars
Though it may be four days before a presidential election, I just don't feel I can let the issue of the future of Star Wars pass without comment. In case you don't pay particular attention to these things, Disney is buying the franchise from George Lucas, and plans to release more Star Wars movies. Our own Tom Carson responds without much enthusiasm, writing that though he was never particularly crazy about Star Wars , "I think one reason for the deep bond fans feel with Star Wars is the awareness that the whole stupid, nutty legend all came out of one man's head. Those tin-eared character names, goofball non-human sidekicks—Jar Jar Binks (boo) no less than Chewbacca (yay)—and inane narrative compulsions are all homely testimonials to an authorship that stayed idiosyncratic and personal even when Lucas hired other hands to direct four out of the six installments." I agree up to a point, and in Disney's hands the next installment will probably end up expertly executed but without the...

Conservatives Confidently Predict Romney Victory

Flickr/kpishdadi
There's a case to be made that people who write about politics should just avoid making predictions altogether. There are plenty of substantive matters to talk about, and one's readers aren't much enlightened by your average opinion-monger's call on what's going to happen on Election Day, or whether a particular bill will pass, or which country we'll invade next. There is certainly value to be had in systematic examinations of polling data, but is there really anything to be gained from your average ideological writer's call on what will happen on Tuesday? Maybe it's best left for the office pool. Yet the temptation is so strong. There's an equally powerful temptation to have your assessment of what is likely to happen be colored by what you want to happen. We're all extremely good at convincing ourselves that unlike everybody else, we've looked at things objectively. Yet if you look around at all the pundits and bloggers making predictions about the election, you'll find that almost...

Heckuva Job, Barry

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Although some may find it crass to speculate on the political impact of The Storm, I'm going to go ahead and do it, for two reasons. First, I've earned the right , and second, because complaints that things are "politicized" are almost always misconceived. Politics is important. It concerns choices that affect all our lives. And campaigns ought to be connected to the actual business of governing, so when an event occurs that implicates our government, it should be talked about. Problems sometimes arise not from the fact that something is politicized, but the way it's politicized. For instance, when in the 2002 election, Republicans charged that Democrats were on the side of al Qaeda because those Democrats favored a different bill establishing the Department of Homeland Security than the bill Republicans favored, it was despicable not because September 11 had been "politicized," but because of the manner in which it was politicized. Anyhow, back to the storm. This morning, an editor...

Show Us Your Model

Nate Silver's latest electoral projection.
It might be easy to believe we're approaching Peak Trutherism, what with good old-fashioned birthers now being supplemented by BLS truthers and poll truthers . But just you wait—should Barack Obama win this election, we'll see an explosion of election trutherism that will be truly unprecedented in scope. In the meantime, we can content ourselves with the newest variant, Nate Silver trutherism, which isn't coming just from conservatives. In case you don't know, Silver runs the blog FiveThirtyEight , which after producing a series of highly accurate predictions during the 2008 campaign got swallowed up by The New York Times . Silver makes electoral projections by taking as many different polls as he can find and running them through an algorithm. Rather than just averaging the polls' results, the algorithm uses a series of variables, including state polls and each pollster's prior record, to produce a number of different estimates. As of today he gives Obama a 77.4 percent chance of...

Power and Privilege in the Workplace

Flickr/daysofthundr46
Today, Adele Stan uncovers another example of a big employer trying to bully their employees into voting for Mitt Romney. We've seen a number of these stories in the last few weeks, as one company after another sends out notices to their workers saying, Hey, we're not telling you whom to vote for or anything, but if that socialist Barack Obama gets elected, we might have to fire you. The twist in this case is that the company, home improvement retailer Menards, is using an online "civics" course as its means of persuasion. Employees who take the "voluntary" (which means you don't have to take it, but your bosses are keeping account of who did and who didn't) course are fed a bucket of anti-Obama propaganda. As this kind of thing becomes more common, there are a couple of things to remember. First, though the CEOs inevitably say they're just giving their employees the straight dope on business realities, this has absolutely nothing to do with business realities and much more to do with...

Considering an Electoral-Popular Vote Split

In this final stage of the presidential race, the tension grows with each passing day, even as the campaign itself ceases to be interesting at all. There might be some kind of October Surprise, as happened in 2000, when five days before the election it was revealed that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunk driving at age 30. But barring something like that, between now and election day nothing much will happen. There will be lots of rallies and ads and door-knocking and phone calling, of course, but reporters are going to have a hard time coming up with new things to talk about. Which is why this is the time when we start spinning out "what if" scenarios. What if there's an Electoral College tie? Let's join Wolf over at the virtual reality dome to game out the possibility for the next ten minutes! But this year there is a real possibility that we could get a crazy scenario, one in which Mitt Romney wins the popular vote, but Barack Obama wins the Electoral College. If that...

The Most Mysterious Man in the Election

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
It's often said that the way a candidate runs his campaign gives insight into the way he'll run the government, but unfortunately it usually isn't true. A campaign has a few similarities to a government, but not many; likewise, while there are similarities between running for president and being president (lots of speeches, for instance), most of the really important things couldn't be more different. As the presidential election nears its end—a vote of tremendous consequence preceded by a campaign of unusual triviality—is there anything left to learn about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney? Despite the fervid hopes of those on the extreme right that there is some secret revelation waiting to be unearthed about Obama, we know most of what we need to know about his potential second term just by taking stock of his first. We know that domestically, where he needs Congress's cooperation he'll pursue the policies his party supports, just as Mitt Romney will. In foreign policy and national...

Friday Music Break

Look Sharp
A media tragedy occurred in New York today, when because of a truly awful story about a nanny murdering two of her charges, the New York Post found themselves unable to run the story of the cannibal cop on their front page, depriving New Yorkers of what could have been a headline for the ages. The hive mind stepped in with suggestions (my favorite was "You Have the Right to Remain Soylent," with "Cook 'Em, Danno" in second), but who knows what the geniuses at the Post might have come up with? It could have been another "Headless Body In Topless Bar." Which leads me to the Music Break: Joe Jackson, with "Sunday Papers."

The Last Word on Richard Mourdock

Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock was already an extremist, not to mention not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, before he offered up his opinion on abortion and rape the other day. But I'm sure that even as he scrambles to contain the damage from his remarks, he can't quite understand what all the fuss is about. He expressed an opinion that is, among many millions of religious Americans, totally mundane: that God loves every baby and blastocyst, and therefore even a pregnancy that results from rape is good in His eyes. This episode reveals a couple of important things that are worth reiterating before we move on to the next campaign controversy, about both abortion and religion. Folks like Mourdock whose position on abortion is that the only reason it should be allowed is if the pregnant woman is going to die any moment without it—and there are lots of them, including 15 Republican Senate candidates —at least have a position that is consistent with the principle they...

Peeking In on Canada's Election

AlexSBurton Last year, Canada's Liberals—the party of Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien, the party that held power for most of the 20th century—suffered a crushing electoral defeat. Its representation in the House of Commons was cut by more than half, and for the first time in its history, the Liberal Party fell to third place in the number of seats, behind Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives and the more leftist New Democratic Party (NDP). Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff immediately announced that he would step down, triggering a leadership campaign that officially begins this November. The early favorite is Trudeau's son Justin, but a number of other candidates have entered the race. We interviewed one of them, Alex Burton, a prosecutor and party activist from Vancouver, about his campaign to lead the Liberals, the differences between American and Canadian politics, and his views on his neighbors to the south. This year, Mitt Romney spent $233 million during the Republican...

The Superbabies Are Coming

Flickr/Gravitywave
OK, so my headline isn't exactly accurate, unless "coming" means "coming eventually, but not any time soon." Nevertheless, scientists have succeeded in modifying the genetic code of embryos. For the moment it's about replacing a defective gene that causes an illness, but that's an important step toward our superbaby future, as this NPR story reports : So Mitalipov's team figured out a way to pluck these little packets of defective mitochondrial DNA out of eggs and replace them with healthy genes from eggs donated by other women. They fertilized the transplanted eggs in the laboratory and showed they could create healthy embryos. "What we showed is that the faulty genes, which are usually passed through the woman's egg, can be safely replaced. And that way, the egg still retains its capacity to be fertilized by sperm and develop," he says. The researchers haven't taken the next step yet: They haven't tried to make babies out of these modified embryos. But they have made baby monkeys...

Did the Tea Party Win or Lose?

Is the Tea Party dead and gone? To a great degree the answer is yes. There are no longer any Republicans with national ambitions, and precious few with even local ambitions, who will proclaim themselves Tea Partiers (Mitt Romney was smart enough to see this coming, so he carefully avoided saying "I'm a Tea Partier" on tape, though he certainly expressed his agreement with their views). The movement has come to be associated with extremism and recklessness, particularly after Tea Partiers in Congress forced a showdown over the debt limit that let to a downgrading of the nation's credit rating. The Tea Party has also become synonymous with a particular brand of Republican politician, those ideologues so dumb and uninformed they barely realize how crazy their views are. This started in 2010 with the likes of Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell, continued through the briefly successful presidential candidacy of Michele Bachmann, and can now be seen with Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock...

Is Persuasion Over?

Obama volunteers out registering voters. (Flickr/Barack Obama)
If you read only one article about the respective ground games of the Obama and Romney campaigns, it should be this one , from Molly Ball of The Atlantic . As Ball says, it's long been axiomatic that a superior organizing operation can get you about an extra 2 percent on election day. The 2012 presidential election looks to be one where 2 percent will make the difference between victory and defeat, and almost everyone on both sides has acknowledged for some time that Obama has the better ground operation, not only because of their superior use of technology and social media but because they've been building it for four years. Ask Republicans today and they'll say they've nearly caught up, enough so that they can fight the Obama campaign to a draw. But that's not what Ball found. Visiting both campaigns' offices in different states, she saw a pattern: not only does the Obama campaign have nearly three times as many offices as the Romney campaign, the offices of the two camps look very...

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