Paul Waldman

What We Don't Need to Know About Bain Capital

Mitt Romney, capitalist.
The debate over Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital has moved through a number of phases, from "Did Mitt Romney do awful things at Bain Capital?" to "Should the Obama campaign be criticizing Mitt Romney for what he did at Bain Capital?" and now, "Is private equity a good thing or a bad thing?" Shockingly, people in the private equity business think the answer to the last is that it's quite good. The predominant opinion from other people is that it's sometimes good and sometimes bad, which from what I can tell it's a pretty good summation of Romney's PE career. At times, he helped start companies that went on to thrive, or helped companies perform better and survive. And at other times, he acted as what Rick Perry called a "vulture capitalist." But while it may be an interesting discussion for economists and economic writers to mull over, "Is private equity good or bad?" really isn't a question we need to answer in the context of this presidential campaign. The question we need to...

Accentuate the Negative

What real negativity looks like.
Campaign reporters are often conflicted. You could say hypocritical, but that might be unnecessarily judgmental. For instance, they condemn rigorous adherence to talking points, but any display of candor is severely punished with the kind of coverage that makes what are widely known as "Kinsley gaffes" (i.e. inadvertently telling the truth) far less likely. They despise the culture of the political consultant, with its emphasis on style over substance and perception over reality, but simultaneously embrace that culture as their own, focusing relentlessly on appearances and how things are going to play with the public, acting like theater critics evaluating the show of politics. And they condemn negative campaigning, while at the same time they hunger for negativity, since nothing is more boring than a campaign in which the contestants are polite to each other. One of the ways this is apparent is in how any bare-knuckled move by Barack Obama is greeted by tut-tutting that he has turned...

GloboNewtCorp Meltdown Update

Newt in happier times.
A month and a half ago, we learned that in contrast to what usually happens to a not-entirely-unsuccesful presidential contender, the candidacy of one Newton Leroy Gingrich had seriously hampered the former Speaker's ability to get people to give him money for doing very little other than spout off his opinion on things. You see, Newt had carefully constructed a network of organizations whose main purpose was getting people to give him money for being Newt. In the course of the campaign, however, the world learned just how much people gave him, and how little they got for it, most notably in the case of Freddie Mac, which paid Newt $1.6 million for "strategic consulting" that consisted of little more than giving a couple of speeches and having a couple of meetings. It'll now be awfully hard for Newt to run that scam on anyone again, and as a result, GloboNewtCorp is well and truly disintegrating. The Center for Health Transformation, one arm of GloboNewtCorp, went bankrupt, and the...

The Soft Sell

This woman's dreams were destroyed, and her hair turned grey, by Obama's broken promises.
According to The New York Times , American Crossroads, Karl Rove's super PAC, has decided that trying to make the American people hate and fear Barack Obama just isn't going to work. So their advertising is going to use a softer sell, a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger approach to convincing Americans to vote for Mitt Romney in the fall. It seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do—I've been arguing for some time that it's absurd to believe that large numbers of voters are going to radically alter their view of the president they've been watching for the last three years because of some television ads they saw—and it's backed up by Crossroads' own opinion research: Behind the story of the ad’s creation rests one of the greatest challenges for Republicans in this election: how to develop a powerful line of attack against a president who remains well liked even by people who are considering voting against him. The concept for the newest advertisement and even some of the lines in the...

Missing Massachusetts

Remember this place? (Image from U.S. Census)
In all this back-and-forth about Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital (which, by the way, I think is a very good thing for the public, but that's a topic for another post) there's one other subject that has been crowded out, seemingly by a tacit agreement by both campaigns. And that's this place called Massachusetts. You might remember it. Mitt Romney lived there for a time. Ordinarily, when a former governor runs for president, the two sides engage in a vigorous debate about the former governor's state. He says it's the most dynamic, exciting, splendiferous state in the union, and his opponent says it's actually a little slice of hell on earth. My favorite example of the latter is this ad from George H.W. Bush's 1992 campaign, which portrayed Bill Clinton's Arkansas as a post-apocalyptic hellscape where the only living thing in evidence is a vulture looking for the last few scraps of gristle it can pull off the carcass of little children's dreams. You can almost see Mount Doom in the...

Eternal Coach Class

So no complaining.
Ever wonder what it'll be like when we can finally live forever? Oh, come on, sure you have. In case you're new to this subject, there are essentially two possibilities out there. One is that an ever-growing series of advances in the science of aging allows us to arrest the process to where we can keep our bodies going indefinitely, or at least for a very long time. The other is that advances in brain science eventually allow us to map your entire brain down to every last neuron, and we're able to upload your mind . At that point, provided nobody drops the thumb drive containing your consciousness down the toilet by mistake, we can either transfer the file into some kind of robotic body, or, more plausibly, download you into a virtual environment where you can exist forever. And presumably, by the time we're able to do that, the virtual environments we're able to create will be orders of magnitude more realistic, complex, and vivid than what we can create today. In other words, you'll...

Message: I Am Amused

Mitt Romney yukking it up during a primary debate.
If any comedian ever gets around to producing a good Mitt Romney impression (the lack of which I've lamented before), Romney's laugh is going to have to be a key part of it. The laugh was probably best described by New York Times reporter Ashley Parker, who wrote , "Mr. Romney’s laugh often sounds like someone stating the sounds of laughter, a staccato 'Ha. Ha. Ha.'" Gary Wills wonders what exactly Mitt's laugh is meant to communicate (his possibilities include "I want to show I am just a regular fellow, so I'll try out my regular-fellow laugh"), but that's the easy question. Romney's laugh is meant to say, "I am amused." The more important question is, why does Mitt Romney laugh? I think I know the answer to that one too. But before I tell you, we should understand that there is more than one Romney laugh, even though they all come out suddenly, tiny explosions of unfelt mirth. Sometimes it's that "Oh my, that is crazy!", but at other times Romney's laugh sounds like he's surrounded...

The "Vetting" Obsession

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
When the Washington Post story about Mitt Romney's high school years (including an incident in which the former Massachusetts governor forcibly cut the hair of a student whose commitment to conformism was insufficiently vigorous) came out, leading Republicans were fairly quiet about it. Whether the incident happened or not, they said, it tells us virtually nothing about the man Romney is today and the issues at stake in this election. That's a perfectly reasonable argument, but it isn't the one you would have heard from many of the foot soldiers in the Republican base. Among the troops, there was outrage, not so much about the Romney story, but about what they saw as a double-standard. As one e-mailed me after I wrote a piece on the topic, "I saw your article on CNN. When does the vetting of President Obama begin? Have you delved into his past? The next time I read an article about a young Barrack [sic] Obama will be the first." As I replied to this person, there were hundreds, maybe...

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...

Pages