Paul Waldman

Romney's New Health Care Problem

(Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
When this campaign started a year or so ago, a lot of people said that whatever his virtues, Mitt Romney simply could not become the presidential nominee of the Republican party, for one reason above all others: health care. He had the misfortune of having passed a popular, successful plan to reform health insurance in Massachusetts, only to watch a nearly identical plan become, in the eyes of his party, the most abominable freedom-destroying monstrosity since the Alien and Sedition Acts. Many smart people thought there was just no way Romney could get past it. Yet here we are, in the wake of Super Tuesday, and Mitt has a healthy delegate lead. No one seriously believes that he isn't going to be the nominee. Throughout this race, health care has certainly been an irritant for him, the cause of many an unpersuasive explanation and absurd protestation. But it hasn't stopped his march to the nomination. The problem Mitt now has is that health care is about to go from being a primary...

His Heart Will Go On

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
In the past couple of weeks, I've probably heard a dozen different Republican operatives say utterly unconvincingly that a lengthy primary season is good for the party. Their nominee will emerge stronger! They get to talk about their issues! No one buys it, particularly since all the evidence (see, for instance, this poll ) suggests that the longer the primary goes, the less popular the Republican party in general and these particular Republicans in particular become. For a long time, Mitt Romney had hoped that Super Tuesday would put an end to all this, and he could stop spending his time pandering to his party's extremists and get on with the more serious business of pandering to independent voters. But after last night, Rick Santorum is going nowhere. And why should he? We can all agree that Santorum, possibly America's most unpleasant politician, will never, ever be president. Whether he knows that I can't say for sure, although I doubt it. But even if he did, is there a reason in...

Self-Driving Cars Can't Come Soon Enough

A thing of the past, eventually. (Flickr/huggs2)
So how long will it be before this whole "driving ourselves around in cars" thing is done with? Atrios predicts that "a whole lot of public money will be spent setting up a 'driverless car' system that will never actually work." Kevin Drum is much more optimistic — he predicts that "There will be a transition period that's likely to be messy—though probably no messier than today's all-human traffic nightmare—but eventually you won't even be allowed to drive a car. Every car on the road will be automated, and our grandchildren will be gobsmacked to learn that anything as unreliable as a human being was ever allowed to pilot a two-ton metal box traveling 60 miles an hour." I'm with Kevin on this — technologically speaking, the ability for cars to drive themselves is coming really soon (see this recent article in Wired for a primer). Yes, it will be difficult to get to the fully automated system where the cars speak to the roads and to each other, but between here and there, there are...

When Do Reporters Start Calling Mitt Romney a Liar?

(Flickr/PBS NewsHour)
Two days ago, Barack Obama went before AIPAC (which is commonly known as "the Israel Lobby" but would be better understood as the Likud lobby, since it advocates not Israel's interests per se but the perspective of the right wing of Israeli politics, but that's a topic for another day), and said , among other things, the following: "I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table , and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency. Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon . And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency...

Chuck Todd Decides Heartland Hasn't Been Sufficiently Pandered To

Aspen Institute
NBC News political director Chuck Todd, singing the oldest self-flagellating hymn in the media book, laments his colleagues' lack of awareness of the good people between the coasts. Todd is ordinarily a smarter and more reasonable guy than your typical pundit, but this is just about the dumbest thing I've heard all week: Nothing chaps my ass more than New York-centric coverage of American politics. Because its through the New York prism that we incorrectly cover American politics 60% of the time. To me, the ideological bias in the media really hasn’t been there in a long time. But what is there that people mistake for ideological bias is geographic bias. It’s seeing everything through the lens of New York and Washington. So, for instance, I’ve always thought we collectively as the media covered this recession horribly, because the two markets that actually weathered it better than almost any in the country were New York and Washington. That didn’t mean we didn’t cover it, but we only...

When the World Is Your iPhone

If your iPhone is the center of your existence, you might be wondering what life is going to look like in a couple of decades as this kind of technology advances. Corning, the company that you might associate with things like dishes, but these days makes things like the glass on that iPhone, has the answer. Unlike, say, Kodak—another large upstate New York-based company that flourished in the 20th century—Corning has managed to adapt to recent technological changes and find its niche (although it had a fourth quarter slump , the company is still extremely profitable). And guess what they think the future is: more glass! Everywhere! Just take a look at the glass-based techno-utopia they're promising in this video: It may not turn out exactly like this, but it actually seems a pretty plausible projection of where we're headed. I'd be pretty surprised if 20 years from now we're still carrying around powerful computers in our pockets, each of which has huge amounts of storage space to...

The Church, Taxes, and Health Insurance

The Bishops have never seen one of these.
The other day Tim Noah used the occasion of the Senate's vote on allowing any employer to prevent their employees' insurance from covering anything and everything the employer doesn't like (which every Republican senator except Olympia Snowe voted for) to argue that this is yet more evidence that employers ought to get out of the business of providing health coverage, and we ought to just have the government do it. In a single-payer system, these kinds of decisions can be made by our democratic process, and not by every employer individually. There's just one note I want to make about this. Conservatives have been talking a lot about the importance of preserving the "conscience" of the Catholic Church, their right not to participate in anything that violates their beliefs. That, of course, is a privilege that the rest of us, being citizens of a democracy, don't enjoy. We pay taxes, which go to a lot of things we dislike. I don't like the fact that our government spends as much on the...

What's Behind the Slut-Shaming

The Tree of Death and Life, Berthold Furtmeyr, 1481
As leading Republicans have been asked about Rush Limbaugh's typically despicable attacks on Sandra Fluke—the law student who testified before congressional Democrats about the importance of health insurance coverage for contraception—they've offered some pretty weak responses. Mitt Romney said that when Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," "it's not the language I would have used." Perhaps he meant that he would have called her a "harlot" or a "trollop." Rick Santorum, whose opposition to contraception is well-established, said that Limbaugh was "being absurd, but that's, you know—an entertainer can be absurd." Before we move on to this week's controversy, it's important to note just what kind of venomous beliefs this episode has brought to the fore. Republicans are insisting that this isn't really about contraception, it's about religious freedom. But for some people, it's about something much more fundamental: the dire threat of uncontrolled female sexuality. Limbaugh...

America Needs a Good Mitt Romney Impression

(SNL/NBC)
A year and a half ago, I wrote a column lamenting the fact that it's kind of hard to make fun of Barack Obama. Naturally, conservatives responded that I was saying that because I'm an Obama shill, and I thought he was so terrific that he was impossible to mock. But here was my actual point: Politicians who make good targets for humor tend to have a personality feature or physical characteristic, like a particular accent or a distinctive set of gestures, that are easily identifiable and thus can be exaggerated to make the politician look foolish, because exaggeration is what impressions and satire are built on. Some of these are simple and straightforward, like Bush's tendency to mangle his words. Others are more complicated but no less distinct, like Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" charm, which simultaneously made you suspect you were being conned and like it. The trouble with Obama is that he doesn't easily lend himself to mockery. He's famously cool -- never too hot, never too...

Ken Mehlman's Regrets

(Flickr/Kat Ruddy)
In 2005, the chairman of the Republican National Committee went before the NAACP and told them that the "Southern Strategy" the GOP had been employing for the previous few decades was, for all its political benefits, a moral misjudgment. "I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong," he said. That chairman—Ken Mehlman, the campaign manager of George W. Bush's 2004 re-election—didn't get a lot of love from conservatives for what became a virtual apology tour (he gave multiple versions of the same speech to African-American audiences), and it didn't seem to have any impact on his party. And today, Tom Schaller interviews Mehlman about same-sex marriage, and hears similar notes of regret about the way Bush's 2004 campaign used the issue as a wedge to paint visions of a homosexual threat and get conservatives to the polls: "At a personal level, I wish I had spoken out against the effort," he says. "As I’ve been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of...

Mitt Romney Is Not An Unusually Negative Candidate

This kid knows negative campaigning. (Flickr/mdanys)
Is Mitt Romney an unusually negative candidate? The New York Times tries to make the case : As successful as the strategy has been, though, it has raised questions about Mr. Romney's role in turning the primary process into something akin to a civil war, even as it has demonstrated a ferocious, whatever-it-takes style that could hearten Republicans if Mr. Romney ends up in a general election matchup against Mr. Obama. "It's clear the negative ads are what's keeping this guy alive," said Nelson Warfield, a Republican strategist who worked for Mr. Perry. "It seems like Republican primary voters will not vote for Mitt Romney unless they are forced into it. And the way they're forced into it is when he beats the other guy senseless." Throughout the campaign, Mr. Romney has also been on the receiving end of attacks from his Republican rivals as well as Democrats. But his aggressive style has been apparent since his first days in politics. For all that he can appear stiff and scripted at...

The Decline of Guns

(Flickr/CyJen)
A while back I started a four-part series for Think Progress on the National Rifle Association and the state of the gun debate in America, which finishes up today. In the first three installments (here's Part 1 , Part 2 , and Part 3 ), I detailed how the NRA's electoral power is largely a myth. Contrary to popular belief, their money doesn't get candidates elected, their endorsements almost never matter, and the stories they tell about their history—that they won the House for Republicans in 1994 and the White House for George W. Bush in 2000—are almost certainly false. In today's final installment , I discuss gun ownership and public opinion, and there are some facts that may be surprising. The one that grabbed me was this: gun ownership has been falling for years, and shows no signs of abating. Here's a chart I made using General Social Survey data: This decline is occurring among all age groups, and across all birth cohorts. Furthermore, the people who are most likely to own guns...

Today's Robot News

UPenn GRASP lab nano quadrotor
The geek superstars at the University of Pennsylvania's GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, & Perception) lab have taught their nano quadrotors—and if you know robots, you know that UPenn's are among the coolest of quadcopters—to play the James Bond theme. My judgment that this is awesome is unaffected by the fact that I went to grad school at UPenn. Just watch until the end for the guitar: And Rick Santorum thinks college is for snobs!

Mitt's Instincts Lead Him Astray, Again

(Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
Yesterday, Mitt Romney demonstrated once again why he has such trouble with his party's base. The issue was a bill in Congress sponsored by Senator Roy Blunt, which would allow any employer who has any objection to any medication, procedure, or treatment—not just objections to ladies doing dirty things with their ladyparts, which is where this all started—to deny their employees insurance coverage for it. Let's say your boss thinks people with diabetes are fatties who deserve to get their feet amputated—no diabetes coverage! Or your boss is one of the nincompoops who thinks immunizations give kids autism—no coverage for immunizations! Obviously, it's a truly awful idea, and when Romney was asked about it by an Ohio television host, he said , "I'm not for the bill. But, look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I'm not going there." What happened next was predictable:...

A Supreme Court Prediction

You'll drag me outta here when hell freezes over. (Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
Barack Obama has made two appointments to the Supreme Court, both of which involved replacing reliably liberal justices (Souter and Stevens) with presumably liberal justices (Sotomayor and Kagan). If Obama is re-elected, there's a fair chance he'll get at least one one more appointment. Four of the justices are in their 70s, and you never know when one might get ill or just decide that enough is enough. So here's my prediction: If Obama wins a second term, and one of the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court retires, Republicans will, for the first time, insist publicly that the president absolutely, positively must appoint a justice who reflects the ideology of the person s/he is replacing. That no one has argued this before will be irrelevant, as will Republicans' own satisfaction with appointments like Clarence Thomas, one of the most conservative justices in history, replacing Thurgood Marshall, one of the most liberal. Republican senators, legal eagles, and commentators...

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