Paul Waldman

The Moral Calculus of Online Shopping

Amazon fulfillment center in Scotland (Flickr/Chris Watt)
I don't know too many liberals who shop at Walmart. The primary reason is principle—the company is notoriously cruel to its largely low-wage workforce, works to crush the faintest hint of a desire for collective bargaining with a ferocity that would be the envy of any early 20th century industrialist, and imposes vicious cost-cutting all the way down its supply chain. But not shopping at Walmart is also easy. The stores are rare in the urban areas where lots of liberals live, and elsewhere, there's probably a Target nearby where you can get stuff just about as cheaply (Target's own corporate citizenship is a complicated topic for another day). So it isn't like not shopping at Walmart is some kind of hardship or costs them any money. But what about Amazon? A few months ago, Harold Pollack explained why he no longer shops there: nearly every sin of which Walmart is guilty, Amazon also commits. And the online world has its own particular sweatshop: the fulfillment center, where people...

Santorum Goes For Gold In Oppression Olympics

(Flickr/Mike Jahn)
So Rick Santorum was being interviewed on "This Week" yesterday, and he said that when he read John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech in Houston to a group of Protestant ministers, he "almost threw up." The context for Kennedy's speech was that the man who would become America's first Catholic president was being subjected to a venomous campaign of religious hatred, in which people like the men in that audience were telling voters that if Kennedy were elected, he would be nothing but a tool of the Vatican, doing the Pope's dastardly bidding instead of what was in the best interest of Americans. So Kennedy gave this speech , in which he asserted that he believed in an absolute separation between church and state, for the protection of both. The ministers in attendance, most of whom considered the Catholic Church an un-Christian abomination, were unmoved. The Kennedy campaign quickly cut ads excerpting the speech, which they used to rally Catholic voters. But here's how Santorum described...

The Republican Al Gore

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia) Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore and his running mate, vice presidential candidate Senator Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, wave to supporters as they take the stage at the start of a campaign rally in Jackson, Tenn., Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 25, 2000. I have a confession to make: Mitt Romney is really starting to get on my nerves. It's nothing I'm proud of. I try to be as rational as possible in my writing and analysis of politics, marshaling facts to support my claims and avoiding impugning people's motives as much as possible. But I think I'm beginning to understand how Republicans felt about Al Gore in 2000. I don't mean what they thought or believed, like the phony story that Gore claimed to have invented the internet ( he didn't ). And I don't mean the simple displeasure we get from having to listen to someone we disagree with talk for a long time. I mean how they felt on an emotional, visceral level, whether those feelings were...

The Republicans' Primary Problem

The wrong analogy. (White House/Pete Souza)
Every presidential nominee faces a similar problem: In the primaries, you have to appeal to your base voters, tickling the tender parts of the ideological true believers, but in the general election, you need to appeal to independents, necessitating a move to the center. The transition from one to the other can be awkward. In the last few days, I've heard a number of Republicans give the same answer when this question is brought up. Isn't their eventual nominee being hurt by the fact that their primaries involve a lot of things like immigrant bashing and coming out against contraception? Nah, they reply, it'll all be OK—after all, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had a hard-fought primary in 2008, and he still won easily in the fall. I suspect we'll be hearing this many times over the next few months, so let me explain why it's completely mistaken. Obama and Clinton did indeed have a hard-fought primary. It was vigorous, at times even a little ugly. But there's one thing it never was...

The Obama-ization of Everything

Man, those guys really don't like me.
For the last few years, liberals have been pointing out that conservatives radically shifted their opinions about certain ideas once those ideas were embraced by Barack Obama. The two biggies are an individual mandate for health insurance, which was conceived by conservatives at the Heritage Foundation as a way to get (nearly) universal coverage while maintaining the private insurance system; and a cap-and-trade system for reducing harmful emissions, which was conceived as a way to use market forces instead of government regulations to achieve an environmental good. All kinds of conservatives liked those ideas, but once Obama advocated them, the ideas became not just disfavored but presented as something so vile and socialistic they could only have been coughed up by Joe Stalin's decaying corpse. That happened a couple of years ago, but now we're in an election year, so it's only going to get worse. And watching the entire conservative universe get pulled toward opposition not just to...

This Fall's Media Bias Complaints, Explained Today

Mitt Romney pretends to enjoy hanging out with the press (Flickr/Paul Chenoweth)
It's only February, but I have a pretty good idea about how the election is going to proceed from this point forward. Mitt Romney is going to struggle through the primaries, eventually dispatching Rick Santorum. But unlike many nominees, instead of being strengthened by the primary process, he will have been weakened by it, demonstrating his persistence, but not much else. As the economy slowly improves, President Obama's approval rating will continue to inch up, and the Obama campaign will begin its assault on Romney's character, one that will be largely successful. The Romney campaign, meanwhile, will struggle in the face of that improving economy to come up with a compelling critique of the President, trying in vain to alter opinions about the incumbent that have been formed and solidified over the past four years. Obama will lead the tracking polls pretty much throughout, culminating in a win that is fairly close, but not uncomfortably so. In this it will resemble the 1996...

The Lorax, Soon to Infect Theaters With Insidious Propaganda

I have a friend, a strong environmentalist and all-around lefty of the kind your average conservative talk show host would just love to punch in the face, who has a Lorax tattooed on his shoulder. He got it 10 or 15 years ago, and his ink of Dr. Seuss' exasperated little dude who tries in vain to protect the Truffula trees never fails to win admiration from any and all who see it. But now Hollywood has come along, and using its impeccable logic— Kids love Dr. Seuss; kids love movies; ergo, kids will love Dr. Seuss movies! —has finally gotten around to making a full-length version of The Lorax . There's a mixed record on Dr. Seuss movies ( Horton Hears a Who , not bad; The Cat In the Hat , a soul-sucking crime against nature), but particularly with The Lorax , a rather bleak morality tale with only a couple of characters, they'd have to cram in a whole bunch of humans and events that Dr. Seuss never dreamed of to get it to 90 action-packed minutes. And did they ever; Grist 's David...

Milking the SuperPACs

(Flickr/AMagill)
Back in the dark ages when I worked on campaigns, contributions from supporters always made me feel a little guilty. Some of them anyway—not the rich guy who maxed out, or the candidate's business partner who gave his house as a crash pad for the staff to sleep in when they shuffled out of the office at 1 a.m.—but the nice little old lady who gave $50, or the earnest schoolteacher with a check for $100. I knew it meant a lot to them, but I couldn't help thinking it would go to something that wouldn't do very much to make the world a better place, like pizza or some ineffectual mailer. And that doesn't even get into the money that's milked by the armies of consultants. That's why I was actually pleased to see this analysis by the Los Angeles Times of how some of the people running super PACs are turning them into dandy profit machines. Here's just one example: Winning Our Future, a group backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that has been buoyed by $11 million in donations from...

Rick Santorum's Cross to Bear

Rick Santorum and this guy go way back. (Flickr/
Apparently, Rick Santorum is displeased that he's being forced to talk about stuff like contraception, and Satan's war on America , when other candidates aren't getting the same kind of questions. One of his aides made the complaint to conservative journalist Byron York: But specifically religious questioning of Romney is as rare as specific Romney statements about Mormon beliefs. Given the current grilling of Santorum, that is a source of growing frustration to Santorum's advisers. "Why is Mormonism off limits?" asks one. "I'm not saying it's a seminal issue in the campaign, but we're having to spend days answering questions about Rick's faith, which he has been open about. Romney will turn on a dime when you talk about religion. We're getting asked about specific tenets of Rick's faith, and when Romney says, 'I want to focus on the economy,' they say, OK, we'll focus on the economy." In one way, Santorum's people have a point. Reporters haven't asked Romney lots of questions about...

Was George W. Bush a Real Conservative?

Remember this guy? Heh-heh-heh.
Conor Friedersdorf responds to a post I wrote, in which I noted that Ron Paul's attack on Rick Santorum basically amounts to assaulting Santorum for having been a Republican senator when George W. Bush was president, and today that means you're not a conservative: Just to be clear, having supported "Dubya" does in fact mean that you weren't a real conservative! His hubristic attempt to remake the political culture of foreign nations via military occupation was not conservative. His profligate spending habits were not conservative. His empowerment of the federal education bureaucracy at the expense of state and local control was not conservative. His approach to immigration reform—a guest-worker program—wasn't conservative either. Perhaps it would be easier to respect his departures from conservative orthodoxy if he'd been a good president. As it stands, he was unprincipled and a pragmatist's nightmare. If the conservative movement was more grounded in substance, and less concerned...

Romney's Out of Flops on Abortion

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Lots of politicians, and quite a few presidential candidates, have changed their minds on abortion. This is partly because, in its broadest terms, it is a weighty, complex issue with a legitimate case to be made on both sides, even if one side has a stronger case (I'm not talking here about subsidiary issues like parental consent or the despicable laws requiring women to get ultrasounds or anything like that, just the basic question of whether abortion is right or wrong). It's also because in recent years, both parties have tolerated less and less deviation on the issue, particularly in anyone who wants to be their presidential nominee. There are still a few pro-life Democrats (like Harry Reid) and pro-choice Republicans (like Olympia Snowe), but the days when someone could hope to get on a national ticket without toeing the line on abortion are gone. So if you've been around a while, there's a chance you held one belief in your early years, but then moved to align with your party...

Quote of the Day

And on the eighth day, He endorsed a candidate.
"Those kinds of things tell me that God is on [Rick Santorum's] side and bringing him forward." — Arizona voter Bill Vogt, speaking to NPR about Santorum's good poll numbers in the state.

Smile For the Camera, Citizen

A taste of what's to come (Flickr/webjones)
The last few years have not been good to people who care deeply about privacy. Every few months, some new story comes to light about how corporations or government are gathering, sorting, and storing huge amounts of information about us. After a brief spate of interest, people generally go back to what they were doing before. "My iPhone is tracking my movements? Wow, that's creepy. But is Siri awesome, or what? I can't wait for the iPhone 5..." But what if the invasion of your privacy was a little more physical? Alexis Madrigal suggests that when drone aircraft start buzzing over our houses, we may finally get off our duffs and demand some limits to the spying: Drones, in my mind, make it clear how many of our feelings about privacy rest on the assumption that surveillance is time consuming or difficult. If someone smokes a joint in her backyard, she [is] making the (pretty good) calculation that a police officer is not watching. In our cars, we assume we can quickly send a text...

Mitt Romney's Wingman

Ron Paul's constant support for Mitt Romney has been one of this campaign's enduring mysteries. Paul has attacked every other candidate, often with vigor, but has never aimed his sites at Romney. And now he's taking on Rick Santorum directly, with his admaker's unusual (for political ads, anyway) style of hyper-kinetic, animation-based frenzy. Check it out: We'll get to the substance in a minute, but first, why is Paul doing this? I guess you could argue that if he helps Romney knock off Santorum, then it's just him and Romney. The hottest conspiracy theory is that Paul is actually working to secure a VP nod for his son, the spectacularly awful Rand Paul, and Dad carrying water for the probable nominee is the best way to do it. But nobody really knows what lurks in the heart of Paul. The attack on Santorum is actually pretty revealing. It all flies by pretty fast, but in there you have that Santorum voted to raise the debt ceiling; "doubled the size of the Department of Education" (...

The Least Funny Republican

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
From our standpoint over on the left, this Republican presidential primary has been a remarkable spectacle to behold. We've watched in wonder as one ridiculous candidate after another has rocketed to the top of the polls, all while the guy everyone assumes will be the eventual nominee struggles to convince voters he's a real human. The race has been a parade of charlatans and fools, with the lead at various times being held by an unhinged religious nut (Bachmann), a governor who made George W. Bush look like Stephen Hawking (Perry), a pizza executive whose ignorance was truly head-spinning (Cain), the nation's most unpopular major politician (Gingrich), and America's most vulgar citizen (Trump). None of these people were remotely imaginable as president, and all were a hoot to watch as they bumbled along toward their inevitable falls. But now that Rick Santorum is the last non-Romney standing, things have taken a serious turn. Santorum is not hilariously buffoonish, amusingly stupid,...

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