Paul Waldman

Ending the Practical Argument About the Death Penalty

The Halifax Gibbet (scarletharlot69)
When he was running for president in 2000, George W. Bush was often asked about the fact that as governor of Texas, he executed 152 people, more than any other governor in modern history at the time (though his successor Rick Perry has since surpassed him ). Bush always responded that he believed the death penalty saves lives. In other words, his primary justification was a practical argument, not a moral argument. But the empirical evidence on the question of whether the death penalty was always fuzzy at best. Like most death penalty opponents, I was always very skeptical of claims like Bush's (isn't that odd, how our beliefs about what is always seem to line up so neatly with our beliefs about what ought to be ). Despite what you might believe from watching Law & Order , most murders aren't carefully planned so that the perpetrator can get his hands on his grandmother's fortune, giving him plenty of time to contemplate the potential consequences if he gets caught. People who...

The 16 Percent

A bus with Mitt Romney's name on it. (Flickr/Roger Barone)
Like many a candidate before him, Mitt Romney is getting on a bus and driving from one place to another to campaign. For some inexplicable reason, this is supposed to be more down-to-earth and folksy than driving in a car or flying. I don't know if that's because in their public transportation form buses are lower-cost forms of travel than planes, cars, or trains, but if so that doesn't make a lot of sense, given that like all candidates Romney will be riding on a luxurious, tricked-out bus, and not just hopping on a Greyhound (now that would be something). Anyhow, Romney's little sojourn has been christened the "Believe in America: Every Town Counts" tour. So, will the tour be going to every town? Not exactly : Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday announced a five-day bus tour through six battleground states, beginning with New Hampshire on Friday. The likely Republican nominee will meet with families and business owners in small towns in New Hampshire,...

The Meaninglessness of "Scoring Political Points"

Where the magic happens. (Flickr/Josh Berglund)
On Friday, President Obama gave a press conference, and in one of his answers to questions he said that "the private sector is doing fine." You may have heard about this. When I got my Washington Post on Saturday morning, I found that the editors of the capital's most important newspaper had judged this comment to be so momentous that it required not one but two separate articles devoted to it. This morning, determining that this subject required much, much more investigation, the paper had a column by Chris Cillizza explaning why this comment is so very important. Plenty of things Cillizza said are perfectly valid as far as they go, though it would have been better if he had mentioned that "gaffes" like this can't become important unless he and his colleagues decide that they're important. There are a couple of lines in his column that deserve particular notice, since they really hold the key to understanding the absurd focus on "gaffes" like this one: Then there is the reality that...

The GOP's Next Internal Debate

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
This morning, Jeb Bush said some somewhat surprising things in a meeting with reporters, at least for a Republican. He noted that neither Ronald Reagan nor his father could be elected in today's GOP, and said in essence that Mitt Romney had moved too far to the right on immigration. He also said some of the things you'd expect a Republican to say, like that the blame for the current partisan atmosphere lies with President Obama, because he didn't seek common ground with Republicans enough. Anyone who has been watching politics for the last three and a half years knows how utterly insane this is, but in case you missed this tidbit , a bunch of influential congressional Republicans got together on the night of Obama's inauguration to lay out a plan for how they would obstruct everything they could and sabotage his presidency. The question of what Jeb is up to sheds some light on where his party is going to find itself this coming fall, should it lose the presidential election. The...

The Press Is Unfair to Everybody

Flickr/Dorry Samuels
A few weeks back, President Obama expressed his belief that the Supreme Court would be wrong if it overturned his signature domestic policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act. Republicans immediately had a hissy-fit, accusing Obama and his allies of trying to "intimidate" the Court in yet another frightening example of thuggish Chicago-style politics. As Dahlia Lithwick points out , the only ones who have leveled any actual threats at the courts lately are conservatives—Newt Gingrich proposed that if judges made decisions that some people (i.e. Republicans) didn't like, they ought to be hauled before Congress to explain themselves, and arrested by federal marshals if necessary; Rick Santorum (and others) have suggested eliminating the 9th Circuit appeals court, since it has issued some decisions he disagrees with. But as Lithwick explains, the Supreme Court is really of two minds when it comes to being criticized publicly: RoNell Andersen Jones, a professor at Brigham Young...

FineGaffeGate!

President Obama says something horrible.
If you don't follow a bunch of conservatives on Twitter, you may have missed the fact that in a press conference this morning, Barack Obama said the most horrific thing any president has ever said, an extemporaneous utterance so mind-boggling, so vile, so earth-shatteringly awful that it will forever transform the way all Americans look at him and make it plain that he should not be re-elected. What was it? "You know, Hitler had some good ideas," perhaps? "I saw Milli Vanilli on tour three times and every show was awesome"? No such luck. Behold: We've created 4.3 million jobs over the past 27 months. The private sector is doing fine. Where we're seeing problems is with state and local government, often with cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help they're accustomed to from the federal government. Madre de dios! Sacre bleu! Holy crap! If you said that this would make Mitt Romney very fake-indignant, you'd be right . "Is he really that out of touch?,"...

Friday Music Break

Mr. Rogers rocks the slide whistle.
The Friday Music Break is coming a bit early in the day today, and the reason is that I got this in the old Twitter feed and wanted to pass it along before it spreads across the Internet. Astute readers may know that I'm a huge fan of Symphony of Science , which is one of those rare needles of awesomeness in the haystack of awful autotune videos. Well, the creator of Symphony of Science, John Boswell, has worked his magic on Mr. Rogers for PBS, and the result should make your day. Enjoy:

Joe Scarborough and the Hostile Media Effect

The New York Times, showing blatant pro-Romney bias.
I have a soft spot for Joe Scarborough. Back when I was more of a partisan warrior I used to go on a lot of conservative radio and television shows, including "Scarborough Country," and he was without question the most fair-minded of the hosts I dealt with. There were even a couple of times when he admitted he had been wrong about something, which is pretty rare. But I'm going to have to object to some of his recent remarks, in particular because they offer a vivid demonstration of what communication scholars call the Hostile Media Effect. Here's the quick version of what happened: The New York Times published a story in their Home section about Mitt Romney's house in La Jolla (the one with the car elevator) and how the neighbors are reacting to having the Romneys in the neighborhood. There are some not-particularly-friendly comments from some of Mitt's Democratic neighbors, and some details that are complimentary (Mitt was recently seen touching up the paint on the fence, just like a...

The Ongoing Triumph of Radical Individualism

A figure from a bygone era.
Scott Walker's victory in the Wisconsin recall has been gleefully hailed on the right as a death knell for American unions, and while that may be an exaggeration, there's no doubt that the labor movement is in a long and perhaps inexorable decline. How did it happen? One answer is that conservatives have of late found increasing success in a tactic they've used for decades: getting non-unionized workers to resent unionized workers for the better pay, benefits, and working conditions that unionized workers have used collective bargaining to obtain. This is only possible if you convince people to see everyone around them as not potential allies but as competitors in a zero-sum contest. Rich Yeselson offers a story about watching William Winpisinger, the head of the machinists' union, on television 30 years ago: As always, the conflict formula for talk shows eventually took hold, and Winpisinger received a barrage of hostile questions from Donahue's audience. So, he stood up—a big, bald...

Why "Outside Money" Isn't Something to Get Angry About

Center for Public Integrity
The chart of the day, which comes via the Center for Public Integrity , is both vivid and, I'll argue, mostly beside the point. But before we get to my objections, the first thing to notice is what's obvious: Scott Walker and his allies spent way, way, way more money than the other side did in Wisconsin. While it's true that the more high-profile an election is the less a spending advantage matters, and while it's also true that as long as the other side has enough funds to compete, a spending advantage matters less, we're talking about a 7-to-1 difference here, which is pretty striking. Now, to the chart: I'll ignore the fact that they use a pie chart, which is if not a capital crime of data visualization, at least a misdemeanor. In any case, there are two points this chart is making: the difference in Walker's money versus Barrett's money, and the difference in the amount each raised from out of state. To the latter, I say, who cares? This data point—that one candidate raised more...

The Internet, Explained

60 Hudson Street in New York, which is sort of the Panama Canal of the Internet. (Flickr/Wally Gobetz)
Like many complex technologies, the Internet works because of systems and processes that are opaque to most of us who use it. But it turns out that at its most basic level, it's really not that complicated. What is a bit surprising, in that of-course-that's-true-but-I-never-thought-about-it kind of way, is that there are a lot of physical pieces to the Internet. Wires, obviously, but also buildings you could point to and say, "There's the Internet," and you'd sort of be right. So what happens when you click on a link to go to a web site? The friendly nerds at the World Science Festival created a little video to explain it (via BoingBoing ): Simple! And also pretty amazing. Never forget that it's a great time to be alive, particularly if you enjoy pictures of corgis, or the rapidly growing sideboob industry . Or Prospect.org, of course. And I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that the Internet exists because the United States government, that socialist, freedom-killing leviathan, paid...

The End of 5-4

The Supreme Court in 2010.
Of all the things we talk about during a presidential campaign, the Supreme Court probably has the lowest discussion-to-importance ratio. Appointing justices to the Court is one of the most consequential privileges of the presidency, one that has become more important in the last couple of decades since the Court has become more politicized. But there isn't a great deal to say about it during the campaign, beyond, "If we lose the election, we'll lose the Court." The candidates aren't going to say much of anything about whom they'd appoint other than a bunch of disingenuous bromides ("I'll appoint justices who will interpret the law, not make law!"), and we don't actually know who's going to retire in the next few years, so in the campaign context there isn't much to be said . But if there's anything that ought to make you afraid of a Mitt Romney presidency, it's this. First of all, if Romney wins he will be under enormous pressure to make sure that anyone he appoints will be not just...

What the Affordable Care Act Decision Will Mean

President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act.
Sometime soon—probably in three weeks or so—the Supreme Court is going to hand down its ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Given what happened at the oral arguments, there aren't too many people predicting that the ACA will be upheld, although that of course remains a possibility. Those oral arguments now seem like someone smacking us awake out of a dream in which we believed that the Republican-appointed justices might have something in mind other than the partisan and ideological advantage of their side. It was a weird dream, so weird that in the days before the arguments, some people seriously discussed the possibility that Antonin Scalia might be bound by the logic he had followed in previous cases involving the commerce clause and vote to uphold the law. What a joke. But it seems that the only real question is whether the Court will strike down the individual mandate alone, or strike down the law in its entirety. The former will mean one gigantic problem, namely what to do about...

Mitt Romney Pretends to Court Hispanic Voters

A Romney ad shows how Hispanics have fallen into a dirty, yellowish pit of human misery under Obama.
Before 2008, there was a story I used to tell about how presidential campaigns have been waged over the last few decades. It goes like this: The Democrat comes before the voters and says, "If you examine my ten-point plan, I believe you will agree that my ten-point plan is superior to my opponent's ten-point plan." Then the Republican comes before the voters, points to the Democrat, and says, "That guy hates you and everything you stand for." It may not have applied to every election in our lifetimes (Bill Clinton was pretty good at running for president, you may remember), but it rang true enough that when I said it, liberals tended to chuckle and nod their heads. That changed in 2008, when Barack Obama ran a campaign in both the primaries and general election that reflected a profound understanding that politics is much more about identity than issues. His opponent understood it too, but the statement of identity that a vote for McCain represented just couldn't garner a majority of...

Feel the Romney

Mitt Romney shares an emotional state with fellow humans.
Mitt Romney has always been a candidate more of the head than the heart. He looks presidential enough, and particularly for Republicans, his resume as a successful businessman is admirable. He certainly seems smart and competent. But no rock stars are going to be putting together songs like this one about the Romney candidacy. Not even songs like this one . Nobody is moved to tears by a Mitt Romney speech. In years hence, Republicans will not be telling their grandkids about how the 2012 campaign was the one that meant the most to them, the time when they felt that politics could be uplifting and inspiring, the one that made them feel like citizenship was something participatory and meaningful. All that seems pretty plain. But the Romney campaign isn't willing to go down without giving that whole "inspiring" thing a shot. Here's their latest ad: The ad promises that, of course, on the first day of his presidency Mitt Romney will start creating jobs, what with all his job-creating job...

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