Paul Waldman

A Truly Ideological Campaign?

Are you ready for some campaignin'? (Flickr/Obama campaign)
Barack Obama's re-election campaign has finally begun in earnest, with a TV ad hitting Mitt Romney as an ally of the oil industry and a speech coming up later today in which he'll attack Paul Ryan's budget, which almost every Republican in the House voted for and Mitt Romney endorsed. Ryan's budget won't ever pass, but it's a pretty forthright ideological statement, and the Obama campaign is endeavoring to make sure everyone understands where it's coming from. And in doing so, he's offering more hints that his campaign could actually turn this into more of a real debate about fundamental values, and less of a clown show about things like who loves America more. Here are some advance excerpts : Disguised as deficit-reduction plan, it's really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It's nothing but thinly veiled Social Darwinism. It's antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everyone who’s willing to work for it — a place where...

When Network Anchors Stop Being Polite ... And Start Getting Real

Peter Finch in "Network"
Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing , among other things, is coming out with a new HBO series called The Newsroom . What can we expect? If Sorkin's oeuvre is any indication, we can expect lots of rapid-fire dialogue delivered while people are walking purposefully down hallways, surprisingly cogent explanations of issues, and, above all, thorny moral quandaries tackled with bold truth-telling. Let's take a look at the trailer: This looks to me to be in some ways a news media version of Sorkin's The American President and, frankly, like a news media version of most films about politicians. I wrote about this a while back: "There's usually a scene in which the candidate begins giving a speech, stops in the middle and says, 'This is ridiculous,' to the horror of his handlers and the confusion of the crowd, then tosses away his prepared remarks and speaks from the heart. And it works—everyone is captivated, and the candidate achieves success, at least temporarily." In this case, it'...

Too Good to Check, Santorum Edition

You might not want to believe a thing I say.
A couple of weeks ago, Rick Santorum got into some trouble for saying that Barack Obama was "a snob" for wanting every American kid to be able to go to college. Santorum elaborated that universities today indoctrinate people in dangerous liberal ideas and convince them to abandon their religious beliefs. And now he's offering more details on just how un-American universities are: I was just reading something last night from the state of California. And that the California universities – I think it's seven or eight of the California system of universities don’t even teach an American history course. It's not even available to be taught. Shocking! And it would be even more shocking if it were even remotely true. But as Think Progress notes , "In fact, of the 10 UC system schools, just one (San Francisco) doesn't offer American history courses. But that’s because it doesn't offer any humanities courses at all — it's a medical school." When Santorum says "I was just reading something last...

What Is George W. Up To?

Not what George W. Bush is doing these days. (Photo by the White House)
Poor George W. Bush. He served his country for eight years, doing all that decidin', trying to engineer a permanent Republican majority, and these days the politicians in his party practically pretend his presidency never happened. The people who worked for him, Politico tells us , are nevertheless convinced he'll be vindicated by history, even as Republican candidates avoid him like the Ebola virus. Yeah, I wouldn't hold your breath for that. Somehow it seems unlikely that the Iraq war and a couple of trillion dollars in tax cuts—mostly for the wealthy—that turned surpluses into deficits will, in retrospect, turn out to have been great ideas. The article also has a lot of bitter sniping from Bush aides at Bill Clinton, who is so "narcissistic" that he has been out, you know, doing stuff since leaving office. What a jerk. Which leads me to this question: What does George W. Bush actually do with his days? I mean hour-by-hour. He gives some speeches, but he's got people to write them...

Will Obama Get Blamed for High Gas Prices?

The good old days. (Flickr/photomatt28)
Everyone involved in politics knows that there is almost nothing the president can do to affect the price of gasoline. Democrats know this. Republicans know this. People in the oil industry certainly know this. But they all, at various times, play a game in which they try to deceive the American public into believing something they know to be false. So right now, an oil industry group is running ads saying the high price of gas is Barack Obama's fault (you'll be shocked to hear that the ubiquitous Koch brothers are involved ). Republican leaders are saying the increasing price at the pump is Obama's fault. And what about the public? Are they buying it? The polls we've seen so far actually show that the answer is, not really. A CNN poll asked how much blame people assigned to various factors, and the oil companies came in first, with 55 percent saying they deserved a great deal of blame. "The policies of the Obama administration" got a great deal of blame from 24 percent, just about...

A Grand Unified Theory of Romney

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
In advance of Tuesday's primary in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel gave a tepid endorsement to Mitt Romney, worrying that "Romney's finger-to-the-wind tacking across the political sea leaves us to wonder if he is anchored anywhere," but also citing his "moderate inclinations" and saying, "it's those moderate impulses that make Romney the best candidate. His challengers don't share the same sense of pragmatism or were woefully shortchanged on the temperament gene." But here's the question: What, exactly, is the evidence that Mitt Romney has moderate inclinations? Here's what we actually know. When Romney ran for Senate and then governor, he was a fairly liberal, pro-choice, pro-gay Republican—in other words, the only kind of Republican who would have had a chance to win in Massachusetts. Then when he ran for president, he became a fire-breathing conservative—the only kind of Republican with a chance to win his party's nomination. The only way you can conclude that he's a...

Friday Music Break

Welcome Interstate Managers
For today's edition of Ridiculously Catchy Pop Songs By Bands Named After Towns In Northern New Jersey, we have "Hey Julie" by Fountains of Wayne. The offices of The American Prospect look strangely like the one depicted here, at least in so far as the constant, embarrassing group dancing goes. Which is why I work at home.

After the Affordable Care Act

Flickr/José Goulão
Today, the members of the Supreme Court will meet in private to begin deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act, and the millions of Americans whose lives and futures stand to be made more secure because of the ACA. It's entirely possible that Anthony Kennedy will discover some place in his heart where integrity and a respect for the true role of the Court are supposed to be and the Act will be upheld, but at the moment you won't find too many people willing to bet on it. So I'd like to spend a few moments working through what might happen if the Court takes the middle course, which could be the most likely—striking down the individual mandate, but leaving the rest of the law intact—both in the short and long term. The immediate problem would be the fact that the individual mandate is what makes the law's most popular provision, the end of exclusions for pre-existing conditions, possible. Once nearly everyone is insured, the risk pool is expanded and insurance companies can...

Waiting for the Real Romney

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
Apparently, Mitt Romney's supporters are concerned that the real Mitt isn't coming through, and some of them are practically begging him to show us the true heart beating beneath the finely tailored suits and presidential hair: YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The voters were pleading with Mitt Romney to share personal details of his life. They stood at town-hall-style meetings and chatted before rallies, clamoring for a story or an anecdote that would help them connect with the real Mitt Romney. "I wish that you would speak more to a lot of the things that I think you should speak about — the fact that you were pastor at your church, the fact that you were a missionary, the fact that you do speak about helping with the Olympics," Mary Toepfer, 40, of Warren, Ohio, said at a recent event. Without these kinds of stories, she added, "it's hard for us, who are trying to support you, to address them when trying to explain to them why you would be the better candidate." I feel bad for them, and I...

Someone's Lucky Day

(Flickr/doncav)
Since the Mega Millions jackpot is now at a record $540 million, I thought it'd be a good time to link back to an interview I did in 2010 with the brilliant filmmaker Jeffrey Blitz, whom you may know from his Oscar-nominated documentary Spellbound , or his excellent feature film Rocket Science . I interviewed him about his film Lucky , which offers portraits of lottery winners to see how their lives changed after coming in to millions of dollars. The film doesn't offer simple answers to the questions it poses, but overall it's not a pretty picture. Here's an excerpt: You have one subject who had his siblings put a hit out on him (unsuccessful, I should note). Were there any other depths of human depravity this subject exposed that surprised you? That was a winner named Buddy who, indeed, had his siblings try to kill him. Once was through a hit man. Buddy also told us that the bolts were taken out of his car and that he was given arsenic twice. And while this gives the movie some...

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...

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