Paul Waldman

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...

Why Obama Can't Be Hopey-Changey This Time Around

Flickr/Will Merydith
It's sometimes said that the most optimistic presidential candidate is inevitably the one who wins. If that's true, Barack Obama is a shoe-in, considering what he said on Friday about the "fever" of Republican intransigence. "I believe that if we're successful in this election," the President mused, "that the fever may break, because there's a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that. My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn't make sense because I'm not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again." And if you believe that, I've got some mortgage-backed securities you might be interested in. But Obama doesn't have much choice. He can't exactly come out and say, "If I'm re-elected, it'll be pretty much the same excruciating, maddening, ridiculous partisan thunderdome we had in my first term, with every accomplishment coming only at the tail end of a horrific legislative...

Letting the Right People Vote

(Flickr/Bettina Neufeind)
For some years, the Republican party has tried to convince Americans that they have put their ugly legacy on issues of race behind them, that Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and Willie Horton have no relationship to the GOP of today. They call themselves the "party of Lincoln," hoping people will forget that the Republican and Democratic parties were very different in 1864 than they are today. (Consider: If the likes of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and the rest of the leading lights of the GOP had been alive 150 years ago, which side would they have been on? The answer seems pretty obvious.) Sometimes, they may even go as far as the National Review did recently, publishing an unintentionally hilarious cover article claiming that Republicans are the real civil-rights heroes, because the Democratic party was once home to white Southern segregationists, so there! Never mind that those folks, like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, eventually found their...

Friday Music Break

Richard Thompson, "1000 Years of Popular Music"
In the wake of today's exceedingly poor jobs report, I thought about giving you something melancholy for the Friday Music Break, and I was leaning toward folk guitar hero Richard Thompson's Beeswing , an achingly beautiful tale of love and loss. But then I decided to mix things up. So here's Thompson doing Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again." Seriously. The crowd, quite appropriately, starts out laughing and ends up cheering.

Mitt Romney's Howard Dean Strategy

Flickr/John P. Hoke
In March 2003, a then fairly obscure former Vermont governor and presidential candidate named Howard Dean stood up in front of a meeting of the California Democratic Party, opened his speech by criticizing the timidity and fearfulness of Democrats in Washington, and said to hearty cheers, "I'm Howard Dean, and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party!" Rank-and-file Democrats were amazed and excited. Dean perfectly captured their frustration with national leaders whom they felt were wimps and capitulators, failing to stand up to a Republican president whom they disliked more than any other in their lifetimes. In short order Dean became the candidate of the most partisan Democrats, and the news media portrayed him as some kind of wild-eyed liberal busting into the race from the extreme fringe. But the truth was that Dean was actually a moderate Democrat. He had opposed the Iraq War from the start, that was true. But he had also been endorsed by the National...

Mitt Romney's Personal Is Not Political

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Conservatives used to say that a conservative was a liberal who had been mugged. In other words, your abstract political ideology has to shift when it bumps up against unpleasant reality. Something similar can happen with politicians—not that they undergo wholesale ideological shifts, but many have some issue on which they have personal experience that leads them away from their ideology. For instance, Alan Simpson, a staunch conservative in almost every way, has advocated against harsh sentences for minors who commit crimes, because he himself grew beyond his run-ins with the law as a teenager. As you've probably heard, Ann Romney suffers from multiple sclerosis. In a new video on the Romney campaign's web site, the Romneys talk about how they've dealt with the disease, and encourage people to donate to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Which is good, but when you run for president, your own personal life is necessarily political. It's important to be sensitive in how we talk...

Working the Refs Continues to Work

Egad.
For the last 40 years or so, conservatives have undertaken a carefully planned and sustained campaign to "work the refs," complaining constantly about "liberal media bias" in an attempt to bully reporters and obtain more favorable coverage for their side. That isn't to say they don't sincerely believe that the establishment media is biased against them—they do—but they also understand that the complaints, no matter how silly they are in a particular instance, keep pressure on reporters and have them constantly bending over backwards to show that they're not biased. And when it works really well, you get stories like this one from POLITICO honchos Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen. "To GOP, blatant bias in vetting," reads the headline. Apparently, Republicans are angry that Mitt Romney's life is being investigated by reporters, while Barack Obama, who has been president for almost four years and went through all this in 2008 , isn't getting precisely the same scrutiny in precisely the same...

It's Hard Out There For a Billionaire

Not an actual billionaire. (Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)
Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America's multi-millionaires and billionaires? Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive (you may remember the time when hedge fund billionaire Steven Schwarzman said that President Obama suggesting that we eliminate the "carried interest loophole," which allows hedge fund managers to pay taxes at only the 15 percent capital gains rate instead of standard income tax rates, was "like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939"). America's barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded in ways that not even a bracing ride to your Hamptons estate in your new Porsche 911 can salve. And now that the presidential campaign is in full swing, their tender feelings are being hurt left and right. David Weigel points us to this remarkable video , in which someone at the...

Mythical Backlashes and Specious Explanations

Barack Obama's favorability ratings over the last year, from pollster.com.
One of the most dangerous temptations of the political reporter is over-interpretation of polls, the need to explain every apparent movement in this week's poll with reference to events that just happened. The result is a whole lot of utterly unsubstantiated claims explaining things lots of reporters don't even understand or that may not actually have occurred at all. Only coverage of the stock market, where every news report confidently explains even the tiniest movement in share prices ("Apple shares fell one-tenth of a point today, with investors expressing concern after Billy Wilson of Saginaw, Michigan decided to buy a Droid to replace the iPhone he dropped in the toilet"), comes close. There are two reasons why: the first is that most reporters don't understand, or willfully ignore, what a "margin of error" represents (meaning they talk about movement within the margin of error as though it represents something real, when it isn't). The second is that when you have to write...

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