Paul Waldman

Our Laws Are Made By Idiots

A bag of hammers (R-FL)
Back in 2009, Michele Bachmann told an interviewer that she was refusing to answer any questions on the census form other than how many people lived in her household. It seems this passionate advocate of the Constitution as sacred text found Article 1, Section 2 incompatible with her small-government ideology. But that's the problem with seeing things through such narrow blinkers: when you are convinced that every question in public debate has but a single answer ("Government is bad!"), then your answers to some ordinary questions can become absurd. So it was when the House of Representatives, a body now seemingly devoted to seeking out new ways to make itself look stupid when it isn't pushing the country toward economic calamity, recently voted to undermine the American Community Survey, a supplement to the decennial census. The ACS gathers information on many different measures of Americans' lives, providing valuable data that demographers, historians, and all manner of social...

High-Ranking Crazy

Arizona Secretary of State and certified nutball Ken Bennett
Astute readers may have noticed that over the past year or so, I've made an effort not to be too knee-jerk about my partisanship. Not that I've changed my beliefs about any substantive issues lately, but I've tried to be as thoughtful as I can about people on the other side, whether it's conservative writers or conservative politicians. I don't always succeed (the occasional insult still filters through now and then), but I'm doing my best. And I understand that writing about how the other side is evil can be satisfying. It's also popular; I've written or co-written four books, and the most partisan one sold the most, even though it's not a book I'd have much appetite to write again. That being said, there are times when it isn't enough to say that conservatives are wrong about a particular matter. Being truthful requires saying that many of them are, in fact, nuts. Not all of them, but many of them. And there are both qualitative and quantitative differences in the nuttiness. One of...

Friday Music Break

"Ya ka may"
Some have asked, when will the Friday Music Break feature a song produced in, say, the last 30 years? I'll put aside my initial reaction to this complaint ("Get yer own blog, whippersnapper"), and respond to the voice of the people. Here's Galactic, with some help from Irma Thomas, with "Heart of Steel." Just try not to bob your head. Go ahead, try. I bet you can't.

Mitt Romney Gets More Resolute All the Time

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
There are times when you can just see the wheels turning in Mitt Romney's head, as he cycles through the possible responses to a question, realizes there really is no good one, then spits out something that sounds like the least bad answer possible. It's almost sad. That frenzy of mental activity is what produces things like this bit of hilarity, after Romney got questioned about the story of a rich Republican thinking of running an ad campaign attacking President Obama with Jeremiah Wright: "I repudiate that effort," Mr. Romney told reporters at an impromptu news conference Thursday in Jacksonville, Fla. "I think it's the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign." At the same time, Mr. Romney stood by remarks made in February on Sean Hannity's radio show that Mr. Obama wanted to make America "a less Christian nation." "I'm not familiar, precisely, with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was," Mr. Romney said. Oh, Mitt. You see, this is what happens when you're...

Rich People: Not That Smart

Previously unseen video of shadowy character nobody has ever heard of.
Most of us would agree that Citizens United has been bad for democracy, with corporations and wealthy people now permitted to spend as much as they want to buy the kind of representatives they prefer. But there is one factor that we didn't really anticipate, something that mitigates the harm they can do: it turns out that rich people aren't necessarily that smart with their money. So during the presidential primaries, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent $16.5 million to help out the campaign of Newt Gingrich, whom you might have noticed is not the GOP nominee. And in today's New York Times , we get an interesting story about Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, who is preparing to spend $10 million to defeat Barack Obama. And what is the magic bullet Mr. Ricketts has located, the zinger that will bring down this incumbent president? Jeremiah Wright! Seriously. Jamelle discussed the racial aspect of this story, but I equally interesting is just how naive this demonstrates that...

Personality Is Not Policy

Flickr/Center for American Progress
As we know, Mitt Romney is not all that likeable . Now Mike Huckabee, there's a likeable guy. He used to say (and maybe still does) that he's a conservative, but he's not angry about it. It was a clever line, positing himself as the happy warrior and other Republicans as needlessly unpleasant. Huckabee has an easy smile and a friendly laugh. He plays bass. He invites liberals on his television and radio shows to have respectful discussions about issues. So how do we interpret it when Huckabee allows fundraising letters to be sent out under his name that say things like this : "Listen, you're a person of faith and so am I. In his administration and now on his re-election campaign, President Obama has surrounded himself with morally repugnant political whores with misshapen values and gutter-level ethics." Yeesh. Should this lead us to change our opinion of Huckabee? Or can you be a likeable guy and a vicious partisan at the same time? Now maybe Huckabee never saw the letter, but I...

Crazy and Crazier

Fear this baby, America!
In the last few years, many different kinds of communication technologies have been democratized. For instance, up until not too long ago, making a film that didn't look amateurish was impossible without a whole bunch of equipment whose expense made it out of reach for almost everyone, not to mention the technical expertise required. But today, you can buy a professional-quality HD video camera for a couple thousand dollars and video editing software like Apple's Final Cut Pro for a couple hundred, and presto, you can make what looks to be a "real" movie. That means that a kid with a dream to be the next Steven Spielberg can see that dream realized. It also means that a crazy person with a conspiracy theory can see his dream realized. Which brings us to two new movie previews for anti-Obama films that, when you look at them, seem remarkably like "real" movies. The first, called "2016," is based on Dinesh D'Souza's nutty book "The Roots of Obama's Rage." It explains how Barack Obama is...

Government's Extrapolation Problem

Flickr/Kevin Harber
The always wise Tom Schaller raises a very important question in a column about government and the private sector: why do we blame "government" when government does things wrong, but we never blame "markets" or "capitalism" when they screw up? When you wait for three hours at the DMV to get your license renewed, there's a fair chance you'll walk away perturbed at government, and at those government bureaucrats who weren't as speedy or helpful as they could have been. But when you wait three hours for the cable guy to show up and he never does, you never say, "Damn you, markets!" So why not? Tom doesn't actually answer this question in his column, so I'll hazard a guess. Translating that particular experience into a larger complaint about a system requires a certain kind of mindset. You have to be trained to make the connection. For instance, as someone who has written dozens of articles in support of government-provided health insurance, I am in that mindset when I deal with my...

Marriage, Already Redefined

Now that's a traditional marriage. (Flickr/Sam Fam)
As the debate over same-sex marriage has proceeded, one of the arguments you hear most often from those opposed to marriage equality is that there is this thing called "traditional marriage" that has been exactly the same for thousands of years, and if we "change the definition of marriage" to include gay people, well then things are really going to get crazy. There'll be no more rationale for keeping siblings from marrying, or keeping a guy from marrying his dog, or keeping a fish from marrying a toaster. What I don't often hear liberals say in response is: Yes, we are changing the definition of marriage. And that's OK. I think it's because advocates of marriage equality understand that change can often be scary, so the impulse is to say, don't worry, this really isn't any big deal unless you're gay. There's no reason why your extremely, adamantly heterosexual marriage will be affected one way or another if your gay neighbors tie the knot. That happens to be true, and one of the...

The Hobgoblin of Little Minds

Washington, DC, image from Google Earth
Journalist Marc Ambinder is leaving DC, and on his departure he wrote a pretty good listicle on what he's learned in his time here. His piece goes relatively easy on our nation's capital when it comes to its moral and spiritual depravity, but he makes some excellent points, including this: Consistency is not a terribly interesting or useful proxy for effectiveness in a politician, and yet it seems to be the value held most high—or the value that, because someone is most easily able to convince you that someone else lacks it, becomes important. Politicians and the media haven't developed the vocabulary to explain how positions evolve. Marc is absolutely right about this. You don't have to be a flip-flopper of Romnulan (I'm trademarking that word, by the way; feel free to contact me for licensing opportunities) proportions to fear the consequences of anything that looks like inconsistency; even the slightest deviation from what you've said previously can be punished. Yet how many of us...

Is Mitt Romney a Job Creator or a Job Destroyer?

Mitt Romney creating, or possibly destroying, jobs.
The Obama and Romney campaigns have released competing ads, both concerning Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital. The Obama ad, which Jamelle posted here , attacks Bain Capital for buying, eviscerating, and then selling off a company called GST Steel in Kansas City, leaving the good hard-working people there jobless and desperate. The Romney ad, on the other hand, tells an entirely different story, that of Steel Dynamics, a company that employs thousands of good hard-working people, thanks to Mitt Romney. So which story should we believe? I'll give you the answer in a moment, but first, let's look at the Romney ad: So who's right? Is Mitt Romney a job-creator, or a job-destroyer? The answer is ... yes! Obama would like people to believe that Romney's work in private equity consisted of buying companies, tearing them to pieces, and selling off bits of the carcass, perhaps running over a child's toe with his limousine as he drove away from the shuttered plant. Romney would like people to...

Mitt Romney Reads Rob Portman's Amazon Reviews

Not whom Mitt Romney will pick as his running mate. (Flickr/Marc Nozell)
I don't know about you, but when I have to make a large consumer decision — pretty much anything over $100 — I put way too much thought into it. This is partly the curse of the internet, where there is a near-infinite amount of information available about everything. So I read a million reviews, obsessing over every detail, trying in vain to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of every conceivable feature, eventually reaching a point where every option seems like the wrong one and I'm sure I'll be disappointed no matter what I choose. The last time I bought a smartphone it took me about six months. I suspect that Mitt Romney is going through something similar right about now. Romney is a famously methodical thinker, and I picture him with a ten-page pro/con list for every possible vice-presidential candidate, going over and over them all until none of them looks like a winner. All his options have weaknesses, and none of them seems to have the ability to do anything but make Romney...

You Like Me! You Really Like Me! Or Maybe You Don't.

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
In an excellent column over at The Daily Beast , former Prospect czar Michael Tomasky points out Mitt Romney's enormous likeability deficit, which seems to grow worse with each passing week. It's not only true impressionistically, polls back it up: Gallup recently found 60 percent of Americans saying Barack Obama is likeable, compared to only 31 percent for Romney. Tomasky does a good job of breaking down all the reasons why, and points out that the last time the candidate considered less likeable won the presidency was 44 years ago, when grumpy Dick Nixon edged smiling Hubert Humphrey. This could well be one of those interesting-but-probably-meaningless correlations, like the taller candidate always winning (which held true for many years until 2004). But given the preponderance of "gut" voting among the American people, it's likely to make a significant difference in November. But what is it that makes a person—not a politician, but someone you meet face to face—likeable? There are...

Going Meta

Tamron Hall about to bring the hammer down on Tim Carney.
Since I wrote a couple of pieces about the story of Mitt Romney possibly being a high-school bully, I've gotten some unsurprising responses. The first, perhaps predictable one, is from conservatives complaining that Barack Obama was never "vetted," and the fact that we've learned about Romney's youthful "hijinks" just shows the media's double-standard. Needless to say, this is just absurd; there were hundreds of articles written in 2008 (and since) about Obama's family and his youth, not to mention the fact that he wrote a pretty frank book about it himself before he ever ran for office. The second complaint—less silly, but related—is that this is all a distraction, and we ought to be talking about real issues. I've already said most of what I have to say about what kind of meaning we should ascribe to the bullying story, assuming it's true. But even if I disagree with the conservatives who are saying that The Washington Post should never even have pursued the story or that it shows...

Romney's Lost Opportunity to Demonstrate Empathy

Mitt Romney's high school yearbook photo.
Allow me one more point on this whole Romney bullying thing. If you haven't read my previous post on it, that's here , but today I have a piece on CNN.com arguing that this was a real missed opportunity for Romney. Here's the key passage: A candidate who has struggled with seeming human, as Mitt Romney has, could have done himself a favor by using this as an opportunity to show a little more of himself. He could have said: Yes, it happened. It was stupid and cruel. I wish I could go back and undo it. But part of growing up is realizing where you failed when you were young, and learning from your mistakes so you can become a better person. Most importantly, Romney could have said something that indicated he had a conception of how horrible the assault must have been for John Lauber, the victim. His only mention of Lauber, who died in 2004, was to say "I had no idea what that individual's sexual orientation might be." By referring to Lauber as "that individual" he makes Lauber a...

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