Paul Waldman

A Good Old-Fashioned Campaign

Don't you people get it? (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
In 2008, Barack Obama ran what was in some ways a revolutionary campaign. He took advantage of the possibilities of social media more than any candidate before him, allowing supporters to connect with each other without (too much) involvement or guidance from the campaign itself. They could design their own signs, set up their own meetings, figure out how to connect with the people they knew on their own. As a result, Obama volunteers felt a sense of ownership over the campaign in a way volunteers seldom do, leading them to work all the harder. But as far as I remember, Obama didn't go around saying, "This campaign is revolutionary" all that often. He may have talked about the campaign in lofty, poetic terms as something unique, but he didn't spend too much time talking about how special the campaign was specifically as an organizational effort. In fact, when a candidate starts saying how unique his campaign is, it's usually because he's failing at the traditional measures by which...

How Far Will the Supreme Court Go?

"Balls and strikes" my ass. (Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
Just a few days ago, most people ( including me ) thought that while Thomas, Scalia, and Alito might display their naked partisanship in deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act, both Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts, concerned with maintaining the Court's legitimacy and integrity, would surely uphold the law. And now after the spectacle the justices made of themselves for three days, everyone seems certain that the law is doomed, in whole or in part. And it really was a spectacle, one in which, as E.J. Dionne says , the "conservative justices are prepared to act as an alternative legislature, diving deeply into policy details as if they were members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee." What, you thought the Supreme Court's job wasn't to decide if they personally like a particular law, but whether it's constitutional? How quaint. Justice Scalia even asked whether if the government can regulate the insurance industry, it can make you buy...

Obama Administration Oddly Scandal-Free

President Obama at the Solyndra factory (photo by the White House)
A little over a year ago, Congressman Darrell Issa, who as chairman of the House committee on government oversight is in charge of investigating the Obama administration, called Obama's "one of the most corrupt administrations" in American history. So to work he went, ferreting out wrongdoing and malfeasance, following the trail of corruption wherever it led. And most prominently it led to Solyndra, the solar cell manufacturer whose bankruptcy left the government holding the bag for half a billion dollars in loan guarantees. The investigation is finally nearing its end. Tremble, ye betrayers of the public trust, and behold Issa's wrath : "Is there a criminal activity? Perhaps not," Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa told POLITICO after last Tuesday’s showdown with Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "Is there a political influence and connections? Perhaps not. Did they bend the rules for an agenda, an agenda not covered within the statute? Absolutely." Wow. It's...

Voters Pre-Disappointed In Mitt Romney

I'm not so bad, am I? (Flickr/davelawrence8)
As Jamelle noted , a new Washington Post /ABC News poll reinforces what other polls have shown, that folks haven't really taken a cotton to Mitt Romney. Most worrying for him is that only 35 percent of independent voters view him favorably. The good news for him is that voters, having already been disappointed with him, won't go through that inevitable period of a presidency in which your unreasonably high hopes are dashed and you turn against the president. The creation of those unreasonable hopes requires two things: an inspiring individual and an inspiring story. Sometimes "change" is enough of an inspiring story, but without the inspiring individual, change doesn't sound poetic and glorious. And all along, Romney has presented himself primarily as an effective manager, which might be what you need, but it won't make your heart go all aflutter. Nevertheless, the Post has also managed to find a few people who are nuts for the Mittster: These are the sasquatches of American politics...

Where Hating Liberals Leads

Case...um...closed?
The Trayvon Martin case is both an individual tragedy and a symbol of a larger problem, the way some people are treated as "suspicious," as George Zimmerman described Martin, and the myriad consequences that suspicion brings. Lots of conservatives don't really think that larger problem is much of a big deal, and apparently, the way they've decided to make that case is by focusing on this individual incident, namely by trying to convince everyone that Trayvon Martin was a no-good punk who had it coming. Dave Weigel informs us that the right-wing blogosphere is alight with pieces attacking the teenager, and "The Drudge Report has become a one-stop shop for Trayvon contrarianism," pushing one article after another about the alleged defects in Martin's character. The conservative web site The Daily Caller obtained and published Trayvon Martin's tweets, for the purpose of ... what, exactly? Showing that he was a teenager and capable of tweeting stupid stuff and therefore demonstrating that...

More God Stuff

Tiny heads; see larger heads to left.
In addition to my column this week about the secular movement (such as it is), I also had a bloggingheads conversation with Sarah Posner, senior editor at Religion Dispatches and frequent TAP contributor on the same topic, which you can enjoy without all the stress and strain of "reading." Give it a look:

Americans Prefer Having Cake, Eating It

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act.
The wise Harold Pollack has argued that health care reform is in some ways the best covered social policy story in the history of American journalism. That isn't to say there hasn't been plenty of crappy coverage, but there has never been the same volume of informed and insightful reporting and analysis available in so many places on a pressing policy debate. And yet it's easy to get depressed about the impact all that good work didn't have. From our perspective over here on the left, the arguments offered by reform's opponents are a collection of hypocrisy, faulty analysis, and outright lies. The public, unfortunately, hasn't really been persuaded. In the broadest terms, they mostly see health care reform through partisan lenses. In the particular, they want all the benefits without any of the responsibilities. I'm painting with a broad brush here, of course. But this morning the New York Times is out with a new poll on the Affordable Care Act that doesn't really show much that's new...

One Nation, Not Under God

(Flickr/djwhelan)
Picture this scene: A recently elected president announces that he will decline to place his hand on a Bible when taking the oath of office. When people object, he replies that he doesn't believe in God, so it wouldn't make much sense for him to go through the motions of a religious ritual when he does not share that religion's beliefs. Chances are you think such a thing is unlikely. After all, the politician would never have gotten elected in the first place without proclaiming his belief in God. It has happened, however—just not in America. The current prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, is forthright about her atheism and did not put her hand on a Bible at her 2010 swearing-in, generating a meaningful but not outsize controversy . Back here in the United States, however, our politics seem to be consumed more with religion than they have been in quite a while. That's partly because we're in the midst of a contentious Republican primary in which candidates are competing to...

Why "Obamacare" (the Name) Won't Matter

barackobama.com
I don't know about you, but every time I read the term "Obamacare," I can't help but hear Michele Bachmann's voice saying it, in that singsongy Minnesota accent. But I guess Team Obama thinks I'm in the minority, because they've decided to go ahead and embrace the term. As David Axelrod wrote in an email to supporters, "Can you imagine if the opposition called Social Security 'Roosevelt Security'? Or if Medicare was 'LBJ-Care'? Seriously, have these guys ever heard of the long view?" Which is fine. There's nothing inherently pejorative about "Obamacare," unless you react with an involuntary retch every time you hear the name "Obama." The people who have used the term most enthusiastically up until now certainly do, so they thought that everyone else would be repelled by it. But the thing is, in the long run it doesn't really matter what we call the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That's because unlike Social Security or Medicare, Obamacare isn't actually a program. Which...

Dogs and Cats Living Together

Santorum isn't saying Obama personally kidnapped and murdered this child. But kind of.
It often happens that when campaign negativity reaches a fever pitch, a candidate will take a small step back from the vitriol and say something like, "My opponent is a nice guy—he's just wrong about everything." What they almost never do, however, is say, "My opponent is wrong about a lot of things, and if he gets elected, things won't be good. I'm not saying it'll be a disaster, but it'd be better if you elected me." The imperatives of campaigning lead candidates to spin out the most disastrous scenarios and apocalyptic warnings. And there's no doubt that some people believe them; you wouldn't have to interview too many Republican voters to find a few who sincerely believe that if Barack Obama is re-elected, within a few months freedom will disappear, Christianity will be outlawed, everyone's guns will be confiscated, and so on. But usually, presidential candidates—who know they must appeal to people who retain a grip on reality—try to keep these arguments within limits. But not all...

The Affordable Care Act On Trial

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
Today the Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments to determine the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. It's the timid (or maybe wise) pundit who fears making predictions, so I'll go ahead and say this: the Court is going to uphold the ACA, by a vote of 6-3. Chief Justice John Roberts will join the four liberal justices and Anthony Kennedy in the majority, and Roberts will write the decision. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito will offer a vigorous and at times comically overstated dissent, in which they will decry the end of the freedom that universal health coverage will bring. That may just be optimism talking; I've certainly allowed my hopes to outrun good sense before. There's a voice inside me that says "Don't forget Bush v. Gore !" In other words, the Court is perfectly capable of acting in a nakedly partisan manner if it so chooses, so the five conservatives could well decide that the opportunity to undo a Democratic president's signature domestic policy...

Engaging on Philosophy

Even imperial stormtroopers know we're all in it together. (Flickr/kalexanderson)
As the Republican party has moved farther and farther to the right in recent years, I've often felt that practical discussions of the effects of policy have gotten less and less important. The true believers who now dominate the GOP—and the politicians who feel the need to pretend they're true believers—are much more comfortable talking about the role of government than they are talking about how you solve actual problems, so they make practical arguments almost half-heartedly. Listen to a Republican talk about how they'd solve the problem of over 50 million Americans without health insurance, for instance, and you'll hear something like, "Well, we need free market solutions that don't infringe on freedom, because Obamacare represents the most profound expansion of government since Joe Stalin, and big government kills freedom…" Ask them why the free market will work better than government when in this case the opposite has proven true again and again, and they'll quickly move back to...

Friday Music Break

The cover of Bob Dylan's first album, "Bob Dylan."
This week marks the 50th anniversary (!) of the release of Bob Dylan's first album, so I've chosen "Senor," from Dylan's underrated 1978 album Street Legal . It's the pregnant pause before the line "I'm ready when you are, Senor" that makes it so great.

Kinder, Gentler Secularists

Carl Sagan, happy atheist. (Flickr/Aleiex)
Tomorrow, a coalition of non-believers is gathering for a rally on the Mall in Washington, an event that is mercifully not being called the Million Atheist March, but rather the Reason Rally. I predict it will be almost completely ignored by the press. That might be justified if turnout is small, and the secular agenda is pretty vague at this point. The latter point is really the key question for the secular movement, such as it is. While they have a few high-profile spokespeople, the movement is a collection of organizations that are small, underfunded, and, forgive me for saying so, not particularly impactful (sorry for using that awful word, but it gets across my point). But whatever the success of tomorrow's event, they may be moving in the right direction. Many of the usual suspects will be speaking at this rally (Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, James Randi). But they've also got Adam Savage from Mythbusters , so that's something. And Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa is going to send a...

Etched In Stone, Before Long

(Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
Yesterday, I wrote a post sticking up for Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom on the whole Etch A Sketch thing. But in the 24 hours since, it has only gotten bigger. It isn't, we should be clear, "taking on a life of its own," because saying that is a way of excusing the individual decisions involved in the growth and spread of a meme like this one. The fact is that actual people—Romney's primary opponents, Democrats, and reporters—are making the choice to drop the Etch A Sketch comment, and what it is supposed to represent, into discussions, speeches, news stories, and ads. And at this point it's looking more and more like this is a metaphor that's going to stick around. Why? Let me offer some suggestions. It's both novel and clever . How many different ways can you say Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper? However many there are, they've been utterly exhausted by now. But Fehrnstrom, in a perfectly reasonable attempt to describe the way a general election campaign differs from a primary...

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