Paul Waldman

Americans Paying Historically Low Taxes

The top marginal income tax rate, a testament to our oppression. (Flickr)
When the Tea Party movement started in 2009, some of its adherents made signs that read, "Taxed Enough Already!"—the movement defined itself in large part as a reaction against the oppressive tax policies of the federal government, sucking ordinary people dry in its endless search for cash to fund its freedom-destroying schemes. This was always an insane inversion of actual reality—the truth is that as part of the stimulus bill, President Barack Obama actually cut taxes for almost everyone, and the only tax increase he imposed in his first term was a hike in cigarette taxes. It's true that the Affordable Care Act contains a number of different tax increases (on things like "Cadillac" health plans), but those have not taken effect yet. But to many conservatives, it just feels like they're paying more taxes, because ... well, because there's a Democrat in the White House. Today, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on the taxes we have actually been paying, and guess what:...

Investment without Job Creation

A well-known job creator. (Flickr/Vaguely Artistic)
Some time within the last few years, conservatives decided that people who have lots of money shouldn't be called "the rich" or "the wealthy" but "job creators." Give them credit—they know how to use language to turn a problem into an opportunity. After all, defending low tax rates for the rich is hard, but defending low tax rates for job creators is easy. Every now and then you might get an apostate like this venture capitalist coming out and saying that the real job creators are middle class people who buy things and not rich people, but on the whole the "job creator" framing allows conservatives to make their tax arguments without any discomfort. That gentleman's argument is completely valid: if you have enough middle class people buying Acme Widgets to require 100 people working in the widget factory to meet the demand, it doesn't really matter whether C. Montgomery Acme gets his income taxed at 35 percent (the current, Bush-established, free enterprise-supporting level) or 39.6...

A Test of Ideology

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Texas has a higher proportion of its population living without health insurance than any other state. But like many other states with lots of poor people, it has the misfortune of being governed by Republicans. That explains why yesterday, Governor Rick Perry announced that the state will refuse to accept the federal money offered for expanding Medicaid eligibility to everyone who makes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Perry says that this expansion of Medicaid, which is almost entirely paid for by the federal government, will nevertheless bankrupt the state and put the oppressive boot on the necks of Texans. So he's happy to keep 25 percent of his population uninsured. In case you're wondering, Texas currently sets eligibility for Medicaid at 26 percent of the federal poverty level, which means that if you earn more than $6,000 a year for a family of four, you're not eligible. That's not a typo. Six thousand dollars a year for a family of four is what the state of...

Their Mind on Mitt's Money and Mitt's Money on Their Mind

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Remember when the knock on Mitt Romney was that he's an unprincipled flip-flopper? That seemed like it would be at the very least one foundation of the campaign Barack Obama would run against Romney, if not the primary foundation. It's a potent attack, and there may never have been a candidate more vulnerable to it than Romney. Yet aside from passing remarks here and there, we don't hear much about flip-flopping from Obama and his surrogates anymore. Instead, it's going to be all money, all the time. Or to put it another way, the Obama campaign's central message will be that Mitt Romney is an out-of-touch rich guy who spent a career screwing ordinary people in his endless lust for profits and now wants to be president so he can continue to screw ordinary people and reward his rich friends. Look at the ads produced by Priorities USA Action, the main pro-Obama super PAC. There are about 20 ads focusing on Romney's record at Bain Capital, and not one about flip-flopping. The ads produced...

Out of Touch Meets Really out of Touch

The Hamptons (Google Maps)
Mitt Romney has taken lots of abuse for being an out-of-touch rich guy whose struggles to connect to regular folks often produce comical results. But the stories coming out of Romney's one-day fundraising marathon in the Hamptons (three separate events at the no doubt spectacular vacation homes of Ronald Perelman, Clifford Sobel, and David Koch) on Saturday actually make Romney look good. Because the thing about Mitt is this: He's trying. He may be terrible at it, but he's making an effort to connect with ordinary people. He talks to them almost every day. Yes, the encounters are awkward and superficial, but he wants to be one of the fellas, and he understands that this is something he could be a lot better at. Whereas the people who came to these fundraisers are actually as pretentious, condescending, and elitist as Democrats would like people to believe Mitt Romney is. Let's stipulate that among the attendees at these events were some folks who are thoughtful and modest, treat their...

The Data Are Speaking

The only singular data.
I have more than my share of pet peeves about language usage, none greater than the ubiquity of the phrase "I could care less" when what people are actually trying to say is "I couldn't care less" (it's one thing to say something wrong, but something else entirely to say the opposite of what you're trying to say, for frack's sake). But whenever I'm feeling doctrinaire, I think of "February," and ask myself whether I really think anyone ought to be saying "Feb-ROO-air-ee." Then I get sad thinking about how in 50 years, we'll all be saying "nuke-yoo-lar" like a nation of George W. Bushes. The point is, pronunciation and usage are constantly evolving, and there's only so long you can hold out for what's correct against what's common. Which brings me to "data." Although I agree with Kevin Drum about most things, I found out today that he and I have different ideas about this word: But I won't rest until they — and everyone else — accept the plain fact that data should be treated as a...

Friday Music Break

"Pearl"
In honor of today's poor job numbers, we've got Janis Joplin, with "Mercedez Benz." For you kids out there, Joplin was a singer who was popular in the 1960s and early 1970s. She performed at a concert called "Woodstock," which was kind of a big deal. Ask your parents about it. This song was recorded three days before she died at age 27.

Obama Gets Personal

Barack Obama prepares to feast on Mitt Romney's entrails. (Flickr/Barack Obama)
Campaigns often feature a division of labor when it comes to speaking about the candidate's opponent, one in which the candidate makes polite but firm criticism, while the surrogates (campaign staff, other elected officials) say much harsher and more personal things. A good campaign makes sure that the two proceed along the same thematic lines so that they reinforce one another, but the fact that the candidate himself is more genteel in his language is supposed to preclude a backlash against him for being too "negative." Frankly, I've always thought this is overblown, particularly the strange custom whereby it's deemed a bit unseemly to refer to your opponent by name, such that saying "Mitt Romney is a jackass" would be horribly uncouth, but saying "My opponent is a jackass" is somehow more acceptable. As the campaign goes on, this protocol fades away. Candidates' comments take on a harder edge, beginning to resemble the comments their staffs make. It seems we may be entering this...

The Myth That Won't Die

A shot from a 2008 McCain for President ad.
John McCain is no longer a substantively important figure in American politics. As a member of the minority party in the Senate, he chairs no committees. He is not a leader among his peers. Since losing in his second run for president, he continued his decades-long record of not bothering to engage in the legislating part of being a legislator (over a three-decade-long career, McCain has exactly one significant piece of legislation to his name, a law that was overturned by the Supreme Court). Yet he continues to be a politically important figure, appearing on the Sunday shows more often than anyone else and having his ideas and his opinions regularly reported on. Which is why I simply must speak up now that the biggest myth about John McCain is cropping up again. It's the idea that, noble and modest as he is, McCain has always been terribly reluctant to discuss the fact that he was a POW in Vietnam. This came up over the past couple of days in a House race in Illinois, where classy...

Look, up in the Sky! It's a Tax! It's a Penalty! It's a Stupid Argument over Semantics!

Flickr/Alyson Hurt
Since not much campaign news happens over the July Fourth holiday, Mitt Romney took the opportunity to change his campaign's tune on whether the penalty in the Affordable Care Act for those who can afford health insurance but refuse to get it is a "tax." To review, the Supreme Court said that the government has the authority under its taxing power to penalize those who refuse to get insurance, leading Republicans to cry, "Tax! Tax! Tax!" with all of their usual policy nuance and rhetorical subtlety. The only problem this poses for Romney is that calling it a tax means that Romney imposed a tax with his health-care plan in Massachusetts, which means admitting that Romney sinned against the tax gods. First his spokesman came out and said that no, it's really just a penalty, but then Romney came out and said, well, if the Supreme Court said it's a tax, then it's a tax, but it wasn't a tax when I did it, because the Supreme Court didn't call it that. What does all this arguing over...

Mitt Goes into the Fog

Flickr/Austen Hufford
I just want to elaborate on a point I made in passing in my column today about Mitt Romney's complex ideological dance. When it became clear that Romney would indeed be the Republican nominee, people began speculating about how he would execute the "move to the center" that every nominee must undertake, since in the primaries you're appealing to your party's base, while in the general election you have to appeal to independents. It's particularly tricky for Romney, since every time he switches positions on something people are reminded that he switches positions on things a lot, and that gives Democrats the opportunity to remind everyone of his flip-flopping past. So has Mitt managed to find a way out of this dilemma? I think he has. The answer to how one should go about moving to the center is: don't. Romney hasn't taken a single position at odds with the hard-right stances he took during the primaries or said anything that would antagonize conservatives, or repudiated any of the...

Can We Take John Roberts's Word at Face Value?

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
For years, conservatives have articulated a clear legal philosophy to guide their beliefs about the proper role of the courts and the way judges should arrive at their decisions, much clearer than the philosophy liberals espouse. They said they supported "originalism," whereby judges would simply examine the Constitution as the Founders understood it to guide its interpretation today. They said they opposed "judicial activism," wanting judges to simply interpret the law instead of making their own laws. Liberals always replied that these ideas were a disingenuous cover for something much simpler: conservatives just want judicial decisions that support their policy preferences. They see whatever they want in the Constitution and define "judicial activism" as nothing more than decisions whose outcomes they don't like. The reaction to Chief Justice John Roberts joining the Supreme Court's four liberals to uphold the Affordable Care Act shows something revealing about the conservative...

Failures of Spin

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell is ordinarily a spinner of unusual skill. He's relentlessly focused on his message and doesn't let any interviewer frame a question in a way he (McConnell) doesn't like. Which is why it was a little odd to see Fox News' Chris Wallace catch him without a handy talking point when it came to covering the uninsured. This excerpt is a little long, but you have to see the whole thing: WALLACE: All right, let's move on. If voters elect a Republican president and a Republican Senate, your top priority will be, you say, to repeal and replace "Obama-care." And I want to drill down into that with you. One of the keys to "Obama-care" is that it will extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured. In your replacement, how would you provide universal coverage? MCCONNELL: Well, first, let me say the single the best thing we could do for the American health care system is to get rid of "Obama- care," get rid of that half a trillion dollars...

Friday Music Break

"The Ghosts That Haunt Me"
For today's edition of Slow, Mournful Songs About Superheroes, we have Crash Test Dummies with "Superman Song." And here's a bonus link to Quentin Tarantino's weird yet insightful monologue from "Kill Bill Vol. 2," in which David Carradine argues that "Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race." To be honest, I always found Superman to be the least interesting of superheroes. He's just too ... super. But I like the song.

Peggy Noonan Feels the News

She's feeling something. (Flickr/kylebogucki)
When he began his still-brilliant show a few years ago, Stephen Colbert said, "Anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news at you." And there's nobody who feels the news quite like Peggy Noonan, America's most unintentionally hilarious columnist. Pretty much every time she writes a column or goes on television, Noonan can be counted on to tell us about a feeling out there in the land. It's seldom a powerful feeling; instead, it's more often a stirring, an inchoate emotion still in the process of crystallizing. It might be a yearning, or an unease, or a doubt or a fear, but it lingers just out of our perception until Peggy Noonan comes along and perceives it for us. Did you think the impact of yesterday's Supreme Court ruling was that millions of uninsured Americans will now be able to get health insurance, and after 2014 none of us will ever need to fear the words "pre-existing condition" again? Nay , good-hearted Americans: The ruling strikes me as very bad for the...

Pages