Paul Waldman

Context Is Everything

President Obama, about to get yelled at. (White House video)
In the wake of Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro's heckling of President Obama the other day (I called him an "asshat," a judgment I'll stand by), many people argued that we should be respecting "the office of the presidency," even if you don't like the person who occupies it. Jonathan Chait says this is wrong: This wave of fretting over respect for the institution implies that we owe the president more respect than we owe other Americans — a common belief, but one at odds with the democratic spirit. In his farewell address, Jimmy Carter (or his speechwriter, Hendrik Hertzberg) summed up that spirit quite pithily when he said that he "will lay down my official responsibilities in this office to take up once more the only title in our democracy superior to that of president, the title of citizen." The problem with Munro's heckling of Obama is that heckling is wrong, whether the speaker is president or a candidate for the PTA. You don’t start screaming at somebody in the middle of...

That's How He's Gonna Roll

Do I come down to where you work and heckle you? (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
There isn't all that much benefit to civility in politics. Oh, everyone will say that they prefer candidates who are polite and courteous, but in reality most of us find it amusing when our own side is uncivil, and appalling when the other side is. There are limits, of course—that asshat from the Daily Caller who heckled President Obama during his prepared remarks the other day was condemned by pretty much everybody across the ideological spectrum. But of late, things have gotten pretty juvenile, as when the Romney campaign sent its bus to an Obama event to drive around out front honking its horn. Truly an inspiring testament to the democracy forged by the Founders those many years ago. Naturally, somebody asked Romney himself about this, and he reacted with the kind of response candidates give when asked about something strategically critical to their campaigns, like negative advertising: Mitt Romney has declined to call on his supporters to stop heckling President Barack Obama's...

Romney Tells Inane Lie About Post Office, No One Notices

Not even close to 33 pages.
UPDATE : Turns out that Romney may have been talking not about the change of address form the doctor had to file with the Post Office, but the one he had to file with Medicaid. But as Greg Sargent tells us , the form providers have to file with Medicaid to change their addresses is ... two pages long! More than a postcard, in other words, but a whole lot less than 33 pages. I think my point—that candidates shouldn't repeat any damn fool thing some random person tells them as though it were the truth, just because it accords with their ideology—stands. In all the furor that gripped the country over Wawagate , I almost missed this tidbit from James Fallows, who despite being a national treasure and one of America's finest journalists is subjecting himself to the indignity of traveling with Mitt Romney's campaign. Apparently, on the stump yesterday Mitt described how "a doctor told him that he had to fill out a 33-page change-of-address form, several times, to get the post office to send...

We Will Forever Remember Wawagate

The scene of the crime. (Flickr/Eric Harmatz)
Today's installment of what Prospect alum Adam Serwer has termed the "dumbgeist"—the latest idiotic trumped-up controversy of the day—offers a demonstration of something important about Mitt Romney. It's just that it doesn't offer a demonstration of the thing the media says it does. I'll explain below, but first, witness the horror of ... Wawagate! For those of you who aren't familiar with the mid-Atlantic convenience store industry, Wawa is basically a much nicer 7-Eleven, a chain of convenience stores where, among other things, you can get a perfectly adequate hoagie. Because it's much nicer than 7-Eleven (and by "nicer" I mean generally clean, well-stocked, and free of junkies shooting up by the dumpsters), people praise Wawa, have a favorite Wawa, etc. (my own favorite, from my years in Philly, was a large one near Rittenhouse Square that the missus and I referred to as the Taj MaWawa). Anyhow, the story you'll be hearing is that Romney's amazement at the Wawa touch-screen display...

Economic Hearts and Minds

Image from Obama ad; Obama campaigning.
The term "hot button issue" first appeared in the mid-1980s, but came into common usage during the 1988 presidential campaign, when the nation soberly contemplated such questions as whether Michael Dukakis was planning to unleash a horde of dusky criminals to prey upon our precious white women. Alas, this year's campaign is nearly devoid of hot buttons for the candidates to push. God? Mitt Romney is the last person who wants to talk about religion. Guns? The Obama administration has done nothing to restrict their ownership, and the NRA's fevered warnings of government confiscating your weapons grow ridiculous even to gun owners themselves. Gays? Just a month and a half after President Obama surprised almost no one by announcing his support for marriage equality, Republicans haven't bothered to make it an issue, probably because they understand that the public has little taste for their past demagoguery. So aside from the occasional temporary flare-up over things like contraception or...

Friday Music Break

"Motorcade of Generosity"
For today's edition of Weirdly Bad Videos For Anti-Hipster Anthems That You'd Think Would Alienate a Band's Fanbase But Probably Didn't Because Everyone Thinks They're Authentic While Other People Are the Phony Ones, we have Cake, with "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle." How much did you pay for that bad Moto Guzzi?

What's Wrong With Politics-Driven Policy?

Flickr/Antonio Villaraigosa
Today's big news is that the Obama administration, through executive action, is enacting a kind of mini-DREAM Act to help undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children. We'll get to the details in a moment, but one thing we know for sure is that Republicans are going to be very, very mad, or at least they'll sound very, very mad. They'll make three separate arguments: First, they'll have a substantive argument about why it's a bad idea to allow any undocumented immigrant to work here legally. Second, they'll have a process argument about why it's an appalling power-grab for Obama to do this without congressional approval. Of course, they're quite happy with all sorts of executive orders and similar actions when a Republican is in the White House, but that hypocrisy doesn't necessarily make them wrong on that point. Finally, they'll say this is blatant "election-year politics" meant only to secure Latino votes in the fall election. Which it may well be, at least in...

Republicans Possibly Pretending to Be Mad At Other Republicans Definitely Pretending to Care About Health Care

Congressional Republicans discuss health care. (Flickr/nkenji)
The Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act soon, and that has concentrated some Republicans' minds. It was all well and good to shout "repeal and replace!" when there wasn't really anything they could do about it, but if the Court actually strikes down some or all of the law, they'll be under greater pressure to put their money where their mouths are. The central quandary is this: if the law's least popular provision—the mandate for everyone to carry insurance—is struck down, that means the law's most popular provision—the requirement that insurance companies accept everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions—has to go as well. Not only that, some other popular provisions, like the requirement that insurers allow young people up to age 26 to go on their parents' insurance, would disappear if the Court strikes down the whole law. Should that happen, President Obama and other Democrats will immediately begin attacking Republicans for taking away...

The State of the Economic Debate

Gallup
Today, President Obama is going to roll out a new speech laying out his case on the economy. From the previews , it looks to be a contrast between what the economy will look like in a second Obama term, and what it will look like in a first Romney term. Essentially, he'll be trying to make this a "choice" election instead of a "referendum" election. Which is exactly what it should be. After all, we wouldn't be replacing something with nothing if we elected Mitt Romney, we'd be replacing something with something very, very different. And as I'm sure Obama will argue today, we have some experience with what Mitt Romney is proposing. Obama will characterize Romney's policies as "exactly what got us into this mess" or some such, but you don't even have to tar him with the 2008 catastrophe to make the case. As I've asked before , if the entire rationale for Mitt Romney's candidacy is that his business experience gives him such unique insight into the workings of the economy, why is it that...

People Who Wish They Were Working On Obama Campaign Complain About Obama Campaign

Barack Obama doing something he's pretty good at. (White House/Pete Souza)
Let's say you're a Democratic political consultant who has never worked for Barack Obama. How do you feel about him and his team? Well, chances are that although you respect their skill, you also think they're too insular and too unwilling to listen to outside advice. Like yours! Because after all, if you're a Democratic political consultant and you don't work for the Obama campaign, you probably wish you did. There's a lot of prestige, and not a little money, in working for the president's re-election effort. If you didn't work for the historic 2008 effort, you probably feel a little left out. And you probably also feel that you're just as smart as David Axelrod or David Plouffe, and you ought to be going on Meet the Press to share your wisdom just like they do. But you can't. So what can you do? You can complain anonymously to reporters that the Obama campaign is doing it wrong : That kind of unflappability is a hallmark of the Obama political operation — and was a crucial...

Facts? We Don't Need No Stinking Facts.

The New York Times does Mitt Romney a favor.
People like me often complain about "he said/she said" reporting, which treats all claims by competing political actors as having equal validity, and doesn't bother to determine whether one side or the other might not be telling the truth. There are lots of reasons why that kind of reporting is harmful, but it's important to understand that it doesn't just keep people soaking in a lukewarm bath of ignorance, it can actively misinform them, leading them to believe things that are false. Today's New York Times has a textbook example of what happens when political reporters can do when they refuse to adjudicate a factual dispute between candidates. In the story , Michael Barbaro doesn't just allow Mitt Romney to deceive, he actively abets that deception in the way he constructs his narrative. Here's the key excerpt: In a speech here in Orlando, Mr. Romney seized on a statement that the president made on Monday about the Affordable Care Act. In an interview, a television reporter had...

Ending the Practical Argument About the Death Penalty

The Halifax Gibbet (scarletharlot69)
When he was running for president in 2000, George W. Bush was often asked about the fact that as governor of Texas, he executed 152 people, more than any other governor in modern history at the time (though his successor Rick Perry has since surpassed him ). Bush always responded that he believed the death penalty saves lives. In other words, his primary justification was a practical argument, not a moral argument. But the empirical evidence on the question of whether the death penalty was always fuzzy at best. Like most death penalty opponents, I was always very skeptical of claims like Bush's (isn't that odd, how our beliefs about what is always seem to line up so neatly with our beliefs about what ought to be ). Despite what you might believe from watching Law & Order , most murders aren't carefully planned so that the perpetrator can get his hands on his grandmother's fortune, giving him plenty of time to contemplate the potential consequences if he gets caught. People who...

The 16 Percent

A bus with Mitt Romney's name on it. (Flickr/Roger Barone)
Like many a candidate before him, Mitt Romney is getting on a bus and driving from one place to another to campaign. For some inexplicable reason, this is supposed to be more down-to-earth and folksy than driving in a car or flying. I don't know if that's because in their public transportation form buses are lower-cost forms of travel than planes, cars, or trains, but if so that doesn't make a lot of sense, given that like all candidates Romney will be riding on a luxurious, tricked-out bus, and not just hopping on a Greyhound (now that would be something). Anyhow, Romney's little sojourn has been christened the "Believe in America: Every Town Counts" tour. So, will the tour be going to every town? Not exactly : Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday announced a five-day bus tour through six battleground states, beginning with New Hampshire on Friday. The likely Republican nominee will meet with families and business owners in small towns in New Hampshire,...

The Meaninglessness of "Scoring Political Points"

Where the magic happens. (Flickr/Josh Berglund)
On Friday, President Obama gave a press conference, and in one of his answers to questions he said that "the private sector is doing fine." You may have heard about this. When I got my Washington Post on Saturday morning, I found that the editors of the capital's most important newspaper had judged this comment to be so momentous that it required not one but two separate articles devoted to it. This morning, determining that this subject required much, much more investigation, the paper had a column by Chris Cillizza explaning why this comment is so very important. Plenty of things Cillizza said are perfectly valid as far as they go, though it would have been better if he had mentioned that "gaffes" like this can't become important unless he and his colleagues decide that they're important. There are a couple of lines in his column that deserve particular notice, since they really hold the key to understanding the absurd focus on "gaffes" like this one: Then there is the reality that...

The GOP's Next Internal Debate

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
This morning, Jeb Bush said some somewhat surprising things in a meeting with reporters, at least for a Republican. He noted that neither Ronald Reagan nor his father could be elected in today's GOP, and said in essence that Mitt Romney had moved too far to the right on immigration. He also said some of the things you'd expect a Republican to say, like that the blame for the current partisan atmosphere lies with President Obama, because he didn't seek common ground with Republicans enough. Anyone who has been watching politics for the last three and a half years knows how utterly insane this is, but in case you missed this tidbit , a bunch of influential congressional Republicans got together on the night of Obama's inauguration to lay out a plan for how they would obstruct everything they could and sabotage his presidency. The question of what Jeb is up to sheds some light on where his party is going to find itself this coming fall, should it lose the presidential election. The...

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