Paul Waldman

Free Speech Weirdness from Overseas

The Bill of Rights, nothing but trouble.
Today, Philip Bump at Grist passed along this interesting story about a shock jock in Australia who, after spewing some false nonsense about climate change on the air, "has been ordered to undergo 'factual accuracy' training, and to use fact-checkers." Obviously, the government has no such powers here in America, but it's a good reminder that America's particular version of free speech wasn't handed down from above, or even by the Founders. The words in the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press") are very general; the contours and details of that freedom have been given shape over the decades by a succession of Supreme Court cases. James Madison didn't have an opinion about whether it was OK for Rush Limbaugh to go on the air and call Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," so we had to figure out later how to handle that, and we chose, for some good reasons, to let it slide (legally speaking). In other countries where...

Salad Days for the Gun Industry

Time to stock up! (Flickr/ElCapitanBSC)
This week's town hall debate featured only one really surprising question, on gun violence. In any other election one might have expected a question about this topic, but both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been completely silent on the issue, so in all likelihood neither one of them expected it. And they gave answers that should have warmed the heart of any gun advocate. Obama, whose action on guns has consisted of signing two laws expanding gun rights (you can now take your guns into national parks and on Amtrak), said that "what I'm trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally." When his turn came, Romney gave his nod to the standard pro-gun line, "I'm not in favor of new pieces of legislation on guns," and went on to say that the real problem is single-parent homes. So if you're a gun advocate, these are really the best of times. On one hand, you have a president who has not and will not do anything to restrict gun rights. Yet on...

And On to the Next Pseudo-Issue We Go

He's ready to deliver. (Flickr/Just a Prarie Boy)
So remember how the question of whether Barack Obama said the right words at the right time about the Benghazi attack was the most important thing happening in the world and a burgeoning scandal that we absolutely had to get to the bottom of lest Americans' faith in our democratic system be destroyed? Eh, not so much : In the post-debate spin room Tuesday night, Romney campaign aides and surrogates tried to make up for a botched exchange on the Libya attacks by promising to aggressively prosecute President Obama's handling of the situation — but 36 hours later, no such prosecution has materialized. Instead, Mitt Romney spent the next day on the stump criticizing the president for his lack of a second-term agenda, and conspicuously avoiding the Libya issue. Asked why the issue was absent from Romney's public remarks, senior adviser Kevin Madden told BuzzFeed the campaign decided to focus their post-debate Virginia swing on exposing Obama's lack of specific proposals, and challenge him...

What Mitt Romney Will Actually Do On Abortion

Flickr/OZinOh
During Tuesday's debate, Mitt Romney did a sneaky little pivot on the issue of contraception coverage that surely went over the head of most of the people watching. What Romney supports is a Republican bill, the Blunt amendment, that would allow any employer to refuse to include coverage for contraception in employees' health insurance. For many women, that would mean they would be shut out of getting contraception through the plans that, we should note, they paid for themselves (insurance coverage isn't a favor your employer does for you, it's part of your compensation that you get in return for your labor, which means you paid for it). But when it came up in the debate, Romney said this: "I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And—and the—and the...

It's All In the Words

Flickr/Pierre Metivier
When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney got into their little back-and-forth over Benghazi last night, I tweeted that it would probably going to get more press attention than anything that happened in the debate, yet of all the topics they addressed, it may be the least relevant to which of these two would make a better president. And here we are. Think about this: the argument isn't about what sort of policy we should be pursuing toward Libya, or how we can address anti-Americanism or terrorism, or what sort of security our embassies and consulates should have. Instead, it's about which words Obama said on which day . Seriously. And you wonder why people are cynical about politics. All along, Republicans have been acting as though within hours of the attack, had Obama said, "This was a terroristic terror attack, full of terrorizing terror," then ... what, exactly? The perpetrators would have turned themselves in? Potential al-Qaeda recruits would have said, "Hold on—this is a terrorist...

No, Candy Crowley Did Not Show Any Favoritism

Candy Crowley questions President Obama during last night's debate
Before last night's debate, both the Obama and Romney camps expressed their concern that moderator Candy Crowley might go rogue and act like something resembling a journalist, not merely keeping time and introducing questioners but interjecting to get clarifications and ask follow-ups. Once the debate was over, it was only conservatives complaining about her. Some found her biased from start to finish, but all criticized her for her intervention on the somewhat absurd question of what words President Obama used and when to describe the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. But a close look at what went on in the debate reveals that Crowley was actually judiciously even-handed, and if anything, may have done more favors for Romney. Before we discuss how, here are some of the reactions from the right: "We're done with the second presidential debate, but it was apparent 45 minutes in that between the questions Crowley chose and her handling of who was allowed to speak and when, that...

In Defense of Paul Ryan's Fake Dishwashing

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and his wife Janna wash pots at St. Vincent DePaul dining hall, Saturday, October 13, 2012 in Youngstown, Ohio. In case you haven't heard the story, the other day Paul Ryan's team thought it would be a good idea to show his compassionate side, so they had him show up at a soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio to help out. The only problem was that lunch had already been served, the patrons were all gone, and everything had been cleaned up. Undeterred, Ryan and his wife donned aprons and proceeded to wash pots for the cameras, despite the fact that the pots they were washing appeared to have already been washed . The head of the charity that runs the soup kitchen was a bit perturbed about the whole thing, saying later, "Had they asked for permission, it wouldn't have been granted. … But I certainly wouldn't have let him wash clean pans, and then take a picture." Yes, this came in for plenty of ridicule. But let me...

All Due Respect

Find out what it means to me.
As I was going through old presidential debates in writing this piece , I came across a moment in the 2004 town hall debate in which John Kerry got asked by a woman in the audience what he would tell someone who thought abortion was murder and wanted reassurance that their tax money wouldn't be going to abortion. He began his answer in the way we have come to expect Democratic politicians to: "First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins." He then went on to explain how he was an altar boy, religion is very important to him, but he won't impose his personal beliefs on others. At the end of it, he wrapped up with a discussion of the importance of family planning, and said, "You'll actually do a better job, I think, of passing on the moral responsibility that is expressed in your question. And I truly respect it." Which got me thinking: When was the last time you heard a Republican express their deep, deep respect for the moral...

Five Fool-Proof Tips for Winning a Town Hall Debate

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/Joe Marquette, File) In this October 15, 1992 file photo, Moderator Carole Simpson, background center, presides over the Presidential debate between, from left, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, Independent candidate Ross Perot, center, and Republican candidate, President George H.W. Bush, at the University of Richmond, Virginia. The every-four-years ritual of a national "town hall" style debate began as a nerve-racking experiment in live television. Simpson was so nervous about turning over the microphone to regular folks and their questions that she spent days mapping out the presidential candidates and their issues on "a zillion 3-by-5 cards," in case she had to take over the questioning herself. T uesday night, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will meet in a "town hall" debate, which doesn't actually much resemble a town hall, but does provide an opportunity for ordinary voters to ask the candidates questions. So does this kind of forum actually give us any...

Time to Try the "Romney Is Lying" Debate Strategy

You're getting sleepy...
One of the triumphs of Mitt Romney's performance in the first debate was that he told an enormous number of outright falsehoods ( see here ) with virtually no response from Obama, or at least no effective response. So one of Obama's challenges tomorrow night—perhaps the key challenge—is how to handle it when Romney says things that aren't true. What he can't do is what he did in the first debate, offer a muttering response filled with details and failing to emphasize his central point. I realize there's at least some chance that the President is too busy to be reading this blog today. But just in case, let me offer a suggestion. What Obama needs is a set of responses that cover the topic at hand, but that all follow a single theme . He needs, to put it bluntly, a single phrase that he will repeat every time he's refuting a Romney falsehood. It could be something slogan-y, like "That's another Romney Reinvention," or could be something simple, like "Once again, Governor Romney thinks...

Friday Music Break

Today's Friday Music Break is for my friends in AC15. Message being: You're old. It's the Talking Heads, with "Psycho Killer." Stop Making Sense came out a remarkable 28 years ago.

Does Mitt Romney Want to Raise Taxes on the Wealthy?

Mitt Romney, not sharing with job creators what he's really proposing to do to them.
At last night's debate, the mathematical impossibility of the Romney tax plan came up, just as it did during the first Obama-Romney debate, and just as it surely will in the second Obama-Romney debate on Tuesday. The real problem with Romney's proposal, though, isn't just that it's mathematically impossible, but that it's logically strange in one important way nobody seems to have noticed yet, namely that Romney seems to be proposing big tax increases for the wealthy. I'll get to why that is in a minute, but before I do let's review the problem. Since Kevin Drum gave a nice explanation , I'll just steal it: Romney has promised a 20 percent across-the-board rate cut, which includes people making over $200,000 per year. This would reduce tax revenues by about $251 billion per year. But wait! What about the economic growth this will unleash? That's mostly mythical, but let's bend over backwards here. If you incorporate the growth estimate of one of Romney's advisors, Greg Mankiw, Romney'...

Phew!

Keep talking, buddy. I'm coming for you.
We all know that vice-presidential debates don't matter, or at least that's what we knew until last night. This one, however, may turn out to matter quite a bit, even if it doesn't produce any major movement in the polls, for two reasons. The first is the obvious one: it has already made despondent Democrats feel a lot better. They wanted to see their guy aggressively take on the other side, and that's exactly what they got. Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos probably spoke for most Democrats when he wrote , "Tonight felt great, didn't it? ... we base liberals are happy again, which means we'll be productive bees because no matter what some of you claim, no one likes to work hard for the team that is 10 points down (or feels that way)." Conservatives, on the other hand, are unanimous in their judgment that Biden was overbearing and mean. Last night on Fox, Brit Hume called him "a cranky old man." "Biden Bombed," reads the Fred Barnes piece on the Weekly Standard web site. "Classless Joe,"...

White House High Rollers

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke, File) In this January 25, 2006 file photo, Senator John McCain, left, chats with Senator Russ Feingold on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Supreme Court on Thursday, January 21, 2010 threw out a 63-year-old law designed to restrain the influence of big business and unions on elections, ruling that corporations may spend as freely as they like to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress. The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns. W hen George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, he assembled a fundraising effort more effective than any the country had ever seen. During the primary campaign, Bush's fundraising approached $100 million, an unprecedented total many at the time found mind-boggling. Yet just eight years later, Barack Obama's campaign raised $191 million in the month of September alone. This year'...

Could the VP Debate Be a BFD?

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
(AP Photo/David Goldman) A banner made by a local middle school depicting Republican vice presidential candidate, Representative Paul Ryan, at left, and Vice President Joe Biden, at right, hangs on the wall inside the media center ahead of Thursday's vice presidential debate, Wednesday, October 10, 2012, at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. I f you find yourself moved to prepare for tonight's debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan by watching the 2008 vice-presidential debate , your first response will be, "Holy cow, I'd almost forgotten what a nincompoop Sarah Palin is." But after that, you'll be reminded that before he became the shirtless, Trans Am-washing guy so hilariously lampooned in The Onion , Biden was known as one of the most eloquent speakers in his party. He was well prepared for his meeting with Palin; not only did he talk fluidly about a range of issues, but he came armed with an array of factoids that he parceled out effectively and he was ready with practiced...

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