Paul Waldman

Obama Insufficiently Audacious for Press Corps

Barack Obama, lazing about. (White House/Pete Souza)
There are few deeper ironies than to hear campaign reporters complaining that candidates are not being substantive and detailed enough, and it seems that they now may be turning their wagging finger toward both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Don't get me wrong—I'm all for substance, and there are some kinds of vagueness that have to be confronted. For instance, the fact that Romney says he can cut taxes but keep things revenue neutral by also cutting loopholes, yet steadfastly refuses to say which loopholes he'll eliminate, is just absurd and should be called out. Yet if he came out tomorrow with a dozen new lengthy policy papers, would the campaign reporters on his bus stay up late studying them so they could produce one policy-dense analysis after another? No, they wouldn't. Just as candidates often want to seem substantive without actually being substantive, the reporters want to judge substance without having to actually examine substance. Which is why this Politico article is so...

We Never Liked You, Anyway

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
As often as not, parties nominate candidates for president that pretty much all their own partisans acknowledge are less than inspiring. Democrats were so excited about Barack Obama in 2008 partly because their previous two nominees, John Kerry and Al Gore, rode to the nomination on a stirring sentiment of "Well, OK, I guess." The same happened to Republicans, who adored the easygoing George W. Bush after the grim candidacies of Bob Dole and Bush's father. And now that Mitt Romney has suffered through an awful few weeks—a mediocre convention, an embarrassing response to the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi, then the release of the "47 percent" video in which Romney accused almost half of America of refusing to "take responsibility for their own lives"—the knives have come out. First it was a widely shared Politico story full of intramural Romney campaign sniping, most directed at chief strategist Stuart Stevens (the article full of anonymous backstabbing is the hallmark of a struggling...

The Republicans' Foreign Policy Problem

textsfromhillaryclinton.tumbler.com
Pop quiz: if you had to describe the Obama foreign policy in one sentence, what would you say? Not easy, is it? Back in 2008, it was pretty simple: "Not Bush." Now back then, there was something called the "Bush doctrine," which may have had a subtle meaning to those working in the administration, but as far as the public was concerned mostly meant "invading lots of countries and making everyone in the world hate us." So it was easy to imagine Obama as a breath of foreign policy fresh air. He'd use a less-bumbling combination of diplomacy, "soft power," and carefully restrained force. He'd get us out of Iraq. Things would change for the better. But now that Obama has been president for four years, "Not Bush" has lost its relevance. Obama's actual foreign policy is too complicated to sum up easily, and probably therefore too complicated for most voters to understand. We did get out of Iraq, but things don't seem to be going too well in Afghanistan; Obama has dramatically increased the...

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

She's getting a bit displeased. (Flickr/Josh Janssen)
Seven months ago, I wrote a column explaining that my increasing irritation with Mitt Romney had made me understand how Republicans probably felt about Al Gore 12 years ago. The politician with the "authenticity" problem whose goals you share just seems awkward—undesirable from a strategic perspective, but hardly morally blameworthy—while the one from the other party seems irredeemably phony and dishonest. But I'm guessing lots of liberals, maybe most, feel the way I do, which is that is seems I like this guy less and less every day. This has happened before. Before John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, he seemed like a fairly reasonable person for a Republican, extremely conservative to be sure, but with an admirable willingness to buck his party every now and again and a refreshing honesty. But by the end of the race, I couldn't stand him, and I'm sure most liberals felt the same way. He had revealed himself to be unprincipled, petty, mean, and a whole bunch of other things. I...

Nine Is the Loneliest Number

(Flickr/Paul Downey)
I try to resist the temptation to argue that any particular statement a candidate makes represents his "true" self, revealing what he wants to conceal the rest of the time. This is something that campaigns say whenever their opponent makes a "gaffe," but in general what matters isn't what someone says once off the cuff, but what they repeat multiple times. That's why I have pointed to something Mitt Romney said repeatedly when asked about his taxes, that "I don't pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don't think I'd be qualified to become president." He really seemed to be saying that if you don't game the system as much as you can, then you're a sucker, a chump, and you wouldn't want a chump to be president. This quote—and he said variations of it on more than one occasion, remember—is now coming back to haunt him, because Romney is releasing his 2011 tax returns, and his team of accountants and tax lawyers has fashioned them in a very...

Could Romney Have Been a Different Candidate?

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Mitt Romney has made a lot of mistakes in this campaign, not all of which came in the last couple of weeks. Now that we've moved into the "Is he doomed?" phase of campaign coverage, the always thoughtful Ron Brownstein wonders if Romney sowed the seeds of his own undoing by the way he ran his primary campaign: Romney's biggest general-election problem is that he did not believe he could beat a GOP primary field with no competitor more formidable than Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich without tacking sharply right on key issues. Romney repeatedly took policy positions that minimized his risks during the spring but have multiplied his challenges in the fall. His fate isn't sealed, but the choices he made in the primaries have left him with a path to victory so narrow that it might daunt IndianaJones. "To secure the nomination, they made … decisions about immigration, tax cuts, and a whole host of other issues that had no strategic vision," said John Weaver, a senior strategist...

Friday Music Break

Virginia Coaltion, "Home This Year"
For today's Music Break, we're doing kind of a swaying-back-and-forth-with-gentle-head-bob thing. This is Virginia Coalition, doing "Home This Year" in somebody's back yard. The guy in the back is the keyboard player, who, having no keyboards, decides to make the most out of that tambourine.

Our Bipartisan Future?

Is that Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid? No. Definitely not. (Flickr/Go Splat)
Pretty much every presidential candidate in the last couple of decades has said that he was going to bring Republicans and Democrats together and end the partisan bickering in Washington that Americans so dislike. Bill Clinton said he would. George W. Bush said he would. Barack Obama said he would. All of them failed, and the one that tried hardest to do it—Obama—had a harder time than any of them. Despite the partisanship of their eras, both Clinton and Bush had significant pieces of legislation they passed with cross-party support, like Clinton's welfare reform and Bush's No Child Left Behind. But everything important Obama did was accomplished despite unified resistance from Republicans. Conservatives might argue that the reason is that Obama is a uniquely partisan and vicious president, so cruel to Republicans that he's impossible to work with. But the real reason, as anyone who has been paying attention the last four years knows, is that Republicans made a decision upon his...

The Debates Won't Save Romney

Not gonna happen this year.
If you're a Romney partisan, and you've seen Barack Obama move ahead in the polls over the last couple of weeks, you may be saying to yourself, "Maybe the debates can save him." After all, the four debates (three presidential, one VP) are the the only planned events between now and Election Day. Though you never know what kind of unexpected events might occur, tens of millions of voters will be watching. And so many times in the past, the race has been transformed by a dramatic debate moment. Except that's actually not true. As John Sides lays out quite well, after all the sound and fury, debates almost never change the trajectory of a race. Of course, something never happens up until the moment that it happens, but there's strong reason to believe that the debates will change nothing this year in particular. But before I get to that, here's Sides: Why are presidential debates so often inconsequential? After all, many voters do pay attention. Debates routinely attract the largest...

Voters Getting Mixed Signals from the Market

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Until not long ago, there was a widespread assumption that the economy could well be Barack Obama's undoing. After all, no president since Franklin Roosevelt had been re-elected with unemployment as high as it is now, so if Obama were to prevail, it would take an unusual combination of factors that usually matter only on the margins—the skills of the respective candidates, a foreign crisis or two—to allow him to win. But then something strange happened. The political scientists who think about these things began releasing their forecasts (all of which rely heavily on economic variables), and it turns out that most of them project that Obama will win after all. According to these models, the economy isn't doing so bad after all. It's enough to make Republicans tear their hair out. James Carville may have been right when he put a sign reading "It's the economy, stupid" on the wall in Clinton campaign headquarters in 1992. But what we mean when we say "the economy" is good or bad, up or...

Talking to Themselves

Fox with a thoughtful exploration of the topic, featuring Donald Trump.
Mitt Romney and his Republican allies thought they had a way to diffuse the fallout from his now-legendary secretly-recorded fundraising video when somebody unearthed a tape of President Obama saying he favored "redistribution." Sure, the tape is 14 years old. And sure, as Jamelle pointed out yesterday, pretty much everybody favors redistribution in some form, even Mitt Romney (if he didn't, he'd be advocating removing all progressivity from the tax code). Romney is bringing it up whenever he can, as is Paul Ryan , and the Obama tape has been shown on Fox News approximately three million times in the last 24 hours. Are they a little desperate? Of course. But the fact that they think such a thing will have even the remotest impact on what people think of Barack Obama shows that they are existing within an ideological cocoon that makes it almost impossible for them to figure out what they're doing wrong. It isn't just that the tape is 14 years old (and man, has Obama aged in that time...

Newsweek: Is Asking Inane Questions the Future of Journalism?

Was Mussolini Right? "He made the trains run on time," they said about Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and it was more than just a cliché. It was a statement about a government that works, a government that means what it says and does what it wants. Sure, there were some problems with the treatment of dissidents. But some very smart political analysts are asking a question that would have been surprising just a few years ago: Is it time to give fascism another try? To be clear, no one is proposing a Fourth Reich. This isn't about Germany in the 1930s, and it isn't about genocide. It's about fascism as an economic program, where the government stops being ashamed about merging with corporate interests. It's the ultimate pro-business position, and that's why the wonks proposing a new look at an old philosophy have a catchphrase sure to draw adherents: "Fascism means jobs." If they're right, it could remake the American political landscape over the next decade. Our Future Is...

What Mitt Romney Was Really Saying

Whenever we get a glimpse of a candidate speaking in a place where he didn't know he was being recorded, there's a powerful temptation to conclude that the "real" person has been revealed. After all, campaigning is almost all artifice, and every other moment at which we see the candidate, he's acutely aware that he is on stage, with people watching his every expression and listening to his every word. This is how many people are interpreting Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comments we learned about yesterday, even though Mitt was certainly on stage, even if he didn't know he was being recorded. For instance, Jonathan Chait says , "the video exposes an authentic Romney as a far more sinister character than I had imagined. Here is the sneering plutocrat, fully in thrall to a series of pernicious myths that are at the heart of the mania that has seized his party." McKay Coppins reaches the same conclusion, that "Romney seemed to give the closest thing to a candid description of his worldview...

What Romney Left Behind

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
One of the common misconceptions about the presidential candidate version of Mitt Romney is that he disavowed his greatest achievement in public office, health care reform, in an attempt to appeal to his party's base. The truth is that he never actually disavowed it or said it was a failure or a mistake. What he did was tell primary voters that Romneycare was really nothing at all like Obamacare, and anyway Romneycare shouldn't be tried in any other state. His comments were utterly unconvincing, but since they were always accompanied by a thunderous denunciation of Obamacare, Republican voters were assuaged enough to let it slide. Which means that had he wanted to, Romney probably could have entered the general election making a positive case on health care beyond "Repeal Obamacare!" By continuing to maintain that Romneycare was in fact a good thing when he was challenged on it (even if he didn't want to talk about it all that much), he gave himself enough rhetorical room that he...

Two-Faced on Taxes

Chart of economic growth from New York Times.
A lot of the debate we have in America about economics (like many issues) ends up being statements of principle masquerading as analysis of empirical reality. And maybe this is my bias talking, but it seems like most of this comes from the conservative side. For example, it's now become disturbingly common to hear conservatives say that when you cut taxes, total tax revenues actually go up, since the tax cutting creates an explosion of economic growth that brings in lots of new revenue. This idea has zero empirical support. It isn't that cutting taxes can't increase growth somewhat, it's just that it doesn't increase it enough to make up for the lost revenue. Yet no matter how many times economists demonstrate that cutting taxes doesn't actually increase revenue, Republican politicians continue to claim that it does. This is widely known as the " Tax Fairy ," since believing in it makes about as much sense as believing in the Tooth Fairy. But conservatives would certainly like it to...

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