Paul Waldman

The Rich Really Are Different

Not actually Mitt Romney (image from richkidsofinstagram.tumblr.com)
In the last couple of years, we've occasionally seen stories where Wall Street types justify their enormous compensation packages by saying they work really, really hard. They stay late, they work weekends, they just keep their noses to the grindstone, and that's why they get paid what they do. Sure, $30 million a year is a lot of money. But the hedge fund manager who made it probably worked 1,000 times harder than the electrician who made $30,000. Right? I thought of those Wall Streeters and their rhetoric about hard work when considering the question of Mitt Romney's tax returns. One of the things we've found out in the whole when-did-Romney-leave-Bain controversy is that even after he retired/went on a leave of absence, he was being paid at least $100,000 a year for doing what he swears was absolutely nothing. That's a lot of money for doing nothing, at least to people like you and me, but remember that to Mitt Romney, it's peanuts. According to the information he has released , he...

In the Beginning Was the Word

Flickr/nofrills
I'm beginning to wonder whether Mitt Romney and all of his supporters weren't linguistics majors in college. After all, the thing you choose to study reflects what you think is important. If you major in physics, it's because the laws and operation of the universe are what you find most important. If you major in economics, it's because you find money to be the prime organizing force of human activity. And linguists, like the Republicans of 2012, believe that language is the key to understanding who we are as humans. Here's what I mean. Let's say you wanted to indict not Barack Obama's handling of the economy, but his beliefs about the economy, to get at the very essence of who he is. How would you do it? Some of us would say, we can determine who he is by looking at his actions. If he's a committed Marxist undertaking the dismantling of capitalism, surely we could find the evidence in what he has done. Did he nationalize the steel industry? Well, no. He (and George W. Bush) kind of...

If Only They Knew

If only we could go back in time and get Barack Obama to write a candid book about his youth!
For a long time now, Mitt Romney and the people who work for him have seemed like the reasonable people in the Republican party. That isn't to say that Romney's policies or rhetoric were particularly reasonable, but we all accepted that when he started breathing fire, it was an act. Buffeted by the winds of extremism, he made a bargain with his party's base: I'll pretend to be as crazy as you, and you'll learn to live with me as your nominee. But now, Barack Obama has finally opened the can of whoop-ass on Romney that many of us had long been expecting, and as McKay Coppins reports , both Romney himself and his people don't like it one bit. Their reaction indicates that maybe they were never that different from the Republican base after all. "[Romney] has said Obama's a nice fellow, he's just in over his head," the adviser said. "But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond...

The Meaning of "That"

Barack Obama, out hating America. (White House/Pete Souza)
Mitt Romney is, without doubt, a representative of contemporary capitalism, a spectacularly rich financier who got his money not by making things but by buying and selling companies, exploiting leverage, and a whole bunch of other things folks like you and me will never have the privilege of understanding. So it isn't surprising that this campaign has featured a debate about the nature of our economic system. That debate could be a salutary and educational discussion that leaves us all more informed and aware. Or it could be an occasion for some of the most vile demagoguery you could imagine. Do you need to ask which course it will take? By now, we can all agree that a large portion of the Republican party has created in their minds an imaginary Barack Obama, one who is either a literal or philosophical foreigner (Romney has begun dropping the word "foreign" in as often as he can when discussing Obama), who hates America (here's Rush Limbaugh on Monday : "I think it can now be said,...

Mitt's Troubles Never End

I'm comin' fer ya, Mitt! (Flickr/akseabird)
It's looking like Mitt Romney might name his VP pick pretty soon, which is probably a good idea given that the release of the pick will result in a few days of positive coverage when the news media is consumed with something other than what Bain Capital did when, or what juicy nuggets might be contained within Romney's hidden tax returns. But there's a downside: once we do get to the Republican convention, the VP nominee will be old news, so the media can pay much more attention to intra-party squabbling. And nobody likes a good squabble more than Sarah Palin. Remember her? The Romney camp will not comment on Palin, or on plans for the convention, but one adviser associated with the campaign suggested that Palin would be prohibited from speaking at the Republican convention by her contract with Fox News. "It's true I'm prohibited from doing some things," Palin says, "but this is the first I've heard anyone suggest that as an excuse, er, reason to stay away from engaging in the...

Good Ads and Bad Ads

Vivid evidence of the Romney campaign's skill.
By now you've probably seen the Obama ad that juxtaposes Mitt Romney's tender rendition of "America the Beautiful" against information about Romney's extra-national financial activities, including Bain Capital's involvement in outsourcing and the worldwide distribution of Romney's personal accounts. The ad has been praised for its skillful sound design and powerful message, so in attempt to hit back, the Romney campaign countered with its own ad featuring Barack Obama singing. Unfortunately, the Romney ad is no longer viewable—it has been taken down because of a copyright claim, since Obama is seen singing a line from Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." But it's pretty simple—it shows Obama singing that line, then displays information about Obama allegedly rewarding his political contributors and cronies with government contracts and such, while ignoring the middle class. They obviously put it together quickly, but nevertheless, the difference between the two ads provides an excellent...

Why "Knowing How the Economy Works" Is Not Enough

George W. Bush has the answers.
This week will see the release of The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs , a collection of essays from the George W. Bush Institute with a forward by the former president himself. It's true that annual GDP growth never actually reached 4 percent during Bush's two terms in office and averaged only 2.4 percent even if we generously exclude the disastrous year of 2008. But look at it this way: Who knows more about what the president ought to do about the economy than Dubya does? After all, there's only one living American (Bill Clinton) with as much experience being president, so Bush must have the answers we need. A ridiculous argument? Of course. That's because experience only gets you so far. It's obviously a good thing, all else being equal, for the president to know a lot about the economy, just as it's a good thing for him to know a lot about foreign affairs or domestic policy. But the truth is that although the government has to solve many practical problems...

Faster, Higher, Stronger, More Refreshing, and Dandruff-Free

I'm fairly certain that is not the American flag.
In these contentious and polarized times, it warms the heart to see that every once in a while Republicans and Democrats can join together to engage in some meaningless bombasticism. So it was when last week it was revealed that the uniforms Ralph Lauren designed for the American Olympic team to wear at the opening and closing ceremonies were sewn in China. Politicians in both parties rushed to the cameras to shake their fists and bare their teeth in defense of American textile producers, of which there are vanishingly few anymore. But what I saw no politician complaining about was the fact that the uniforms feature a gigantic corporate logo, Lauren's polo player, on the left breast pocket. You'd think that upon seeing the design, someone on the Olympic committee would have said to the company, "Hey, we love the uniforms, but I think we'll lose the logo, mmmkay? You're already getting millions in free publicity out of this, so don't push it." But I guess no one said that. Even though...

A Few Questions That Would Clear Up This Whole Bain Thing

Mitt Romney subjects America to the horror of his singing.
The question of when exactly Mitt Romney "left" Bain Capital may not be the most trivial campaign controversy in history (it certainly has more importance than the dozens of "My opponent said something that when taken out of context sounds troubling!" kerfuffles we have to suffer through every four years), but when it has gotten to the point that we're checking the Wayback Machine to see if Romney was listed on Bain Capital's website in 2000, we're drifting far away from the reasons this is supposed to matter. Just to remind you, Romney's departure date tells us whether he is an honest job-creating business leader (1999), or a rapacious job-destroying vulture capitalist (2002). I was hoping that the five interviews Romney did with the TV networks on Friday might clear this up, but unfortunately they focused on things like whether Barack Obama's campaign representatives are super-meanies for how they're criticizing Romney. But a couple of simple questions might clear this whole thing...

Friday Music Break

"I Don't Like Mondays"
For today's edition of Pretty Songs About Schoolyard Massacres Sung By An Irish Guy Inexplicably Wearing a Bolo Tie, we have the Boomtown Rats with 1979's "I Don't Like Mondays." It may be the only #1 U.K. hit to mention a telex machine, which for you kids out there was basically halfway between the telegraph and the fax. If you're interested in the background on the schoolyard massacre, here's that story .

What's in Mitt Romney's Tax Returns?

Mitt Romney delivers fake, uncomfortable laugh at being asked about his tax returns.
To a certain degree, all this back-and-forth over precisely when Mitt Romney left Bain Capital is an argument about almost nothing. We might reasonably ask, what does it matter? The Romney campaign thought it mattered when they insisted that Romney wasn't part of the firm when it was doing stuff he was being criticized for, like shutting down factories and laying off workers. The Obama campaign thought it mattered when they wanted to make those charges in the first place, and now that they want to keep Romney on the defensive and stretch this story out longer by focusing on things like who Romney was deceiving when he attested on various documents that he either was or wasn't still in charge of Bain during the period between 1999 and 2002. But if we settled this argument once and for all (and don't worry, we won't), would it change much? Not really. Nevertheless, this whole thing is only going to increase the pressure on Romney to release more tax returns. During the primaries, he...

No, Candidates Don't Have to Lie

Lies lies lies yeah!
We reached some kind of a milestone this week when the Romney campaign decided it would use the word "lie" when complaining about criticisms the Obama campaign is making of the Republican soon-to-be nominee. It's a word journalists almost never use, since it sounds too judgmental and they know they'll be accused of taking sides, and candidates seldom use, perhaps because it sounds too whiny, I'm not precisely sure. What we do know is that while some candidates are bigger liars than others, no presidential candidate seems capable of getting through a campaign without saying things that aren't true. Conor Friedersdorf asks , "Can anyone become president without lying? Without misrepresenting their opponent? Without using people as a means to an end? I don't think anyone can." The complaints about Barack Obama that he cites are more about broken promises, which are different from lies, but I'll grant that Obama has said some things that weren't true. Yet I'd have to disagree. First, let'...

I Did Not Have Economic Relations with That Company

Still image from a Romney campaign ad.
There's something weird about Bain Capital. It seems that the company was going along doing what ordinary private-equity firms do—buying and selling companies, making lots of money—until about 1999 or so, when things took a sinister turn. At that point, terrible things began to happen. The firms they backed went into bankruptcy, costing thousands of people their jobs, while Bain still walked away with millions in management fees. They invested in companies that profited from outsourcing and offshoring. Who knows, they may have been producing magical hair-thickening elixirs made from the tears of orphans. Every time one of these new revelations comes out, it seems to concern the period after 1999. But fortunately for Mitt Romney, he has an explanation: When all these bad things happened, I was no longer part of the firm. I left in 1999, when I took the job leading the Salt Lake City Olympics. Yet today, the Boston Globe comes out with an investigation that seems to reveal that Romney...

The Insidious Threat of Telecommuters

Jeremy Bentham's plan for a panopticon.
A couple of weeks ago, upon the release of a study suggesting that people who work at home spend a lot of time not working but nonetheless are more productive than their office-bound colleagues, I argued that people who work at home don't goof off less, we just goof off differently. Not only is there probably no less non-work-related Web surfing/Twitter reading/Facebooking going on in the office, but people in offices (at least every office I've ever worked in) spend a lot of time doing things like talking to each other, which we home workers don't waste a moment on. In any case, The Wall Street Journal reports that bosses are not satisfied with the fact that their telecommuting employees are perfectly productive. Gripped by the suspicion that they might be slacking off, they're upping the surveillance: These days, working from home is more like being in the office, with bosses developing new ways to make sure employees are on task. Some track projects and schedule meetings on shared...

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:...

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