Paul Waldman

Disillusioned on Wall Street

Flickr/Matthew Knott

Having never worked on Wall Street, I don't know much about the psychology of the typical stock analyst or bond trader. So I've been as bewildered as anyone when I see stories quoting denizens of the Street complaining about the Obama administration. Not about, say, the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—that's not surprising, since it's an agency created to rein in their abuses, and so it directly impinges on their financial interests—but about how their feelings have been hurt. After Wall Street gave more money to Obama than to John McCain, these days those masters of the universe feel put upon. As former Prospect writer Nicholas Confessore wrotein the New York Times Magazine about a discussion an Obama representative had with some of them not long ago, "They felt unfairly demonized for being wealthy. They felt scapegoated for the recession. It was a few weeks into the Occupy Wall Street movement, with mass protests against the 1 percent springing up all around the country, and they blamed the president and his party for the public’s nasty mood. The administration, some suggested, had created a hostile environment for job creators."

The natural response one has to this, of course, is "Cry me a frickin' river." You destroyed the American economy then got bailed out by the taxpayers, and your feelings are hurt because Barack Obama once used the term "fat cats" in an interview? You're shocked that all American's don't understand that every time a derivatives trader buys a Ferrari, an angel gets her wings? And you expected Obama to help the public understand that? Please. As Noam Scheiber points out, these guys may be very clever when it comes to creating intricate webs of collateralized debt obligations, but they don't understand the first thing about politics...

It's the Economy, Smartypants

Flickr/DonkeyHotey

Karl Rove's signature contribution to campaign politics was the insight that the most effective way to defeat an opponent was not to attack his greatest weakness, but to attack his greatest strength. (There's some vivid detail from Joshua Green's classic 2004 article on Rove's history as a campaigner. Sample: Your client's opponent volunteers to help abused children? Spread rumors that he's a pedophile!) There's no doubt that at the moment, Mitt Romney's greatest strength is the idea that as a successful businessman, he will do a good job stewarding the American economy. In fact, that may be his only strength. He's stiff and awkward, he has a well-earned reputation for changing his stated beliefs to suit the political moment, he just went through a primary campaign in which he took numerous unpopular positions in order to please an extremist party base, the severe unpopularity of his party in Congress will drag him down, he has nothing particularly compelling to say about foreign policy—you get the picture.

For a while, Democrats believed that if the economy kept improving, that would leave Romney with no rationale for his candidacy. But at the moment, the economy looks like it will continue to shamble forward, moving in the right direction but not with enough momentum to make everyone feel things are going really well (though there will be six more monthly job numbers released between now and election day, and anything could happen). That means that it will be necessary for the Obama campaign to go after Romney on the economy...

The Problem of Motive Questioning

Divisive? Me?

The questioning of motives is one of the most common and most pernicious of rhetorical habits in political debate. It's pernicious because it encourages people to conclude not that your opponents are wrong about whatever matter it is we're discussing, but that they're bad people. When you question someone's motives you're automatically calling them a liar (since they will have offered an entirely different justification for why they are advocating what they're advocating), and you're also saying they're untrustworthy, cynical, and driven by some nefarious goal.

We see this all the time, and I'm not saying I've never questioned anyone's motives, because from time to time I have. But we have to acknowledge that someone can take a different position from the one we do without the disagreement coming from some place of evil. To see what I'm talking about, here's today's column by Charles Krauthammer, probably the most admired columnist on the right. Appalled that President Obama is now running for re-election and disagreeing with his opponents on matters of policy after saying he would try to unite the country, Krauthammer says this:

Friday Music Break

Back to Basics

Since Tuesday was May Day, I thought I'd give you a little Billy Bragg, with "World Turned Upside Down" from 1985. It sounds like he's singing about Occupy Wall Street, but the song is actually about a seventeenth-century agrarian socialist movement in England, which I'm guessing wasn't embraced by the economic leaders of that day, either.

You Know Who Else Had Six Letters In His First Name? Hitler.

Atilla the Hun, who would probably have believed in climate change.

In 2007, amid intense debates about the war in Iraq, MoveOn.org placed an ad in the New York Times criticizing General David Petraeus for some of the arguments he was making about the war. In a not-so-clever bit of punning, they referred to him as "General Betray Us." The response was furious. The controversy dominated the news for days, and both houses of Congress passed resolutions condemning the ad, with many Democrats joining Republicans to express their outrage at MoveOn's action (there's a good summary here, if you want to remind yourself of the details).

I raise the MoveOn ad because of a new billboard campaign from the Heartland Institute, one of the foremost climate change denial outfits in existence. Behold:

Mitt Romney: Still Afraid

Mitt Romney is apparently terrified of this guy.

The departure of Ric Grenell from the Romney campaign is something that approximately zero undecided voters know or care anything about, but does it tell us anything interesting or useful about Mitt Romney himself? In case you haven't heard, Grenell is a longtime Republican communications professional who was hired by the Romney campaign to be a spokesperson on foreign policy; then liberals started criticizing Grenell for some nasty tweets he had sent, while social conservatives started criticizing him for being gay. The Romney campaign didn't care much about the liberals' criticism, but was apparently quite unnerved by the conservatives' criticism.

By All Means, Politicize the Bin Laden Killing

Pete Souza/The White House

Imagine that you called a carpenter to come repair your deck, and after looking at the rotted timbers and split rails, he said, "Well, I can fix this deck. But the one thing I'm not going to do is come over here and engage in a bunch of carpentry. That would be wrong."

You'd probably suspect that the carpenter was insane. Yet politicians and their campaign advisers–people for whom politics is a profession no less than carpentry is the carpenter's profession–are constantly complaining that their opponents are engaged in "politics," or are committing the horrible sin of "politicizing" something that shouldn't be political.

So it was when Barack Obama's re-election campaign took the opportunity of the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden to remind voters who was president when it happened...

"Friends," By Which He Means Not Really Friends

Mitt Romney with some of his friends. Really. (Flickr/World Affairs Council of Philadelphia)

Via Andrew Sullivan, Fox News' Shepard Smith had some kind of weird brain event and burped out a bit of fascinating honesty upon reading Mitt Romney's statement on Newt Gingrich pulling out of the presidential race. We shouldn't treat Smith like a hero just for saying what a normal person might say upon reading this, although the fact that he works for Fox does make his implicit criticism of the Republican party's nominee a bit brave. Anyhow, let's watch:

What Real Government Waste Looks Like

1,822,600 GSA conferences, in flight.

When it was discovered that the General Services Administration spent nearly a million dollars on a lavish conference in Las Vegas, the outrage thundered through Washington like a roiling tsunami. Congressional hearings were quickly organized, the scandal led the news every night for days, and you couldn't turn on a television or radio without hearing more horrifying details. The public trust was betrayed! Our tax dollars were wasted! Government was out of control! Yeah, maybe. But in the end, the whole thing was about $823,000, or .00004 percent of the federal budget for 2011. You want to talk real government waste? Get a load of the F-35 joint strike fighter...

TV Ads Are Not All There Is to Presidential Campaigns

Egad! Negative advertising!

Every election, commentators can be relied on to predict that this will be the most negative campaign in history. We've already heard such predictions this year, and we'll surely hear more. It almost certainly won't be true, but you can also predict that when one side attacks the other, the side being attacked will respond by saying, "Our opponent is just trying to distract Americans from the real issues/his failed record/that disturbing story about him and a goat." But we should keep things in perspective. It's possible to have a lot of negative ads and still have a relatively positive campaign, believe it or not.

That's because ads are not the only thing a campaign does...

The Wonder of TV Debates

Me, some years ago, sneering at a pompous ass who is sneering right back.

Whenever Paul Krugman goes on television, you can see his discomfort coming off him. Or at least that's what I see; since I've never met him in person, I don't know how much his television manner differs from his ordinary manner. But he always looks as though inside he's shaking his head, saying to himself, "This is such bullshit. I can't wait to get out of here." And it's hard to blame him. The other day, Krugman did a debate on Bloomberg TV with noted economic crank Congressman Ron Paul, and came away utterly disgusted...

Mitt Romney, Not Quite As Tough As Jimmy Carter

Tougher than he looks.

Now that we're fighting over just how great it was that Barack Obama gave the order for Seal Team 6 to go in and get Osama Bin Laden, Mitt Romney has given what is probably the most politically wise answer to the question of whether he would have ordered the raid, "Of course." But then he added, "Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order." As James Fallows correctly notes, on the substance of the question, Romney's remark is incredibly stupid:

The Opportunity Society

The Romney grandchildren, in no particular need of bootstraps.

Whenever the subject of inequality comes up, conservatives usually say the same thing: Barack Obama wants equality of outcome, while we want equality of opportunity. The first part is ridiculously disingenuous, of course—no one could honestly argue that Obama's major goals, like raising income taxes from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, would bring us to some kind of pure socialistic society where everyone has precisely the same income and no one is wealthier than anyone else. But the second part is, I think, offered sincerely. Conservatives not only seek a world where everyone has the same opportunities, most of them think that's pretty much what we have already, so major changes aren't necessary, except in the area of getting government off your back. After all, this is America, where any kid, no matter where he comes from, can achieve whatever he wants if he's willing to work hard. Right? Which brings me to the story of Tagg Romney.

The Prospect's Crisis

TAP

You may have heard by now that the American Prospect is facing serious financial trouble. There's more information here, but the short version is that without a substantial infusion of funds in a very short time, this extraordinary magazine could cease its operations.

Magazines like this one, especially ones with ambitions to provide serious coverage of policy and politics, do not make money. Advertising and subscriptions cover part of the cost of operations, but only a part. And unfortunately, the Prospect's politics do not endear us to most of the nation's billionaires.

But if you know one who might feel differently, please give them a call.

Paul Ryan and the Cult of Specificity

Paul Ryan, with facts and numbers and such.

You should read Jonathan Chait's entire epic evisceration of the cult of Paul Ryan, which reveals many things. Perhaps the most important is the way Ryan has come to understand how specificity creates the impression of wonkiness, commitment to facts, and seriousness about tackling tough challenges. When a smarmy pol like Eric Cantor tells you he's only concerned about the future of our country, you know he's full of it. But when Ryan tells you the same thing, he throws in a bunch of numbers, and it sounds very different, at least to reporters' ears. The truth, however, is that Ryan is as full of it as anybody. But reporters don't have the time or the inclination to figure out whether he's handing them a steaming pile of crap, so they just go ahead and write stories lionizing this sober, intelligent, and responsible guy who represents the best Republicans have to offer.

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