Paul Waldman

The Struggles of the War Correspondent

NPR's Kelly McEvers in 2005. (Flickr/uniondocs)
You may have heard that there is a certain kind of breed of journalist who becomes a war correspondent. Maybe they're thrill-seekers to begin with, or maybe the rush of reporting from war zones changes them, but many of them keep returning over and over again to one hotspot after another, putting their lives at risk for the sake of their job. Some of them are wounded, some are even killed. Some, I'm sure, suffer from the same kind of post-traumatic stress disorder that soldiers endure. What we don't often hear, though, is those reporters talking candidly about it as something that is perhaps not too healthy. That's why this segment on the Public Radio Exchange program Howsound is so striking. Kelly McEvers, a terrific NPR reporter based in Baghdad, opened up in a surprising way about her feelings about what she does and the effect it has on those around her: "I have a problem. I mean that's, you know…Yeah. I like that stuff [war reporting]. It's a problem. I mean, I wouldn't do this...

Bait and Convert

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
The 2012 Republican primaries were without question the most religious party contest in memory. Nearly all the major candidates put their religious beliefs at or near the center of their public personas, from the puritanical scold Rick Santorum, to the prayer warrior Rick Perry, to Newt Gingrich, producer of books and movies on the importance of God in American politics. As for the Almighty himself, He apparently told no fewer than three separate candidates (Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Santorum) that they should run. Awfully sneaky of Him not to tell them they were going to lose, but who has time to consult the fine print when you're hearing messages from above? Yet in the end, the candidate who prevailed was the one least interested in talking about his religion. That's not because Mitt Romney isn't devout, but because he's all too aware that his Mormonism presents some political complications. Many evangelicals consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) a...

What Contempt for Democracy Looks Like

Democratic legislators in Michigan try in vain to get their votes counted.
One of the old saws about the different ways partisans see the world is that both sides think the other side is more underhanded, more vicious, and more corrupt than their own side. And as far as it goes, that's true: Democrats think this, and Republicans think this. That doesn't mean, however, that they're both right. One side might in fact be more underhanded, vicious, and corrupt than the other. We can debate which one is, and both sides might have data points they'd use to support their contentions. But I'm pretty sure I've never seen a legislature controlled by Democrats do something as unbelievably shameless as what Rachel Maddow documents in this segment . All I could say after watching was, holy crap. The whole segment is a bit long (16 minutes and change), so I've clipped the part where it gets really shocking. The brief setup is this: According to the Michigan constitution, no bill the legislature passes can take effect until after the end of the session, which is usually...

Friday Music Break

TMBG's "Here Comes Science"
In honor of the recent discovery of a 125 million year-old, 30 foot-long dinosaur with feathers, the largest feathered dino ever found, we have They Might Be Giants with "I Am a Paleontologist," from the terrific Here Comes Science , an antidote to every insipid kids' song you've ever heard:

Some Actual Corporate Accountability

200 calories, and a side of voter suppression. (Flickr/twm1340)
You may have heard that in response to a campaign by the progressive group Color of Change, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and now Kraft Foods have all withdrawn their support for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the group that pushes conservative laws at the state level, in part by having corporate lobbyists write model legislation which they then pass to friendly Republican legislators to introduce in their states. It seems that the companies were happy to give ALEC money so long as no one knew about it. But the real question is, why did they support the group in the first place? Coca-Cola's explanation was that "Our involvement with ALEC was focused on efforts to oppose discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have no direct bearing on our business." But when you sign on with a group like ALEC, your money is going to advance the entire conservative agenda. That means not just pro-corporate laws, but "Stand Your Ground" laws, voter suppression laws, and laws...

You're Gonna Make It After All

The 20th century's most important hat toss.
The first grownup television show I can remember watching as a wee pup in the 1970s was the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was a favorite of my mother's (and millions of other women's). It was pretty revolutionary for its time, a show built around a single working woman who was uncertain of herself and vulnerable (and the victim of constant casual sexism), but also smart, competent, and determined to be successful in a world ruled by men. It made Moore probably the central cultural icon of the feminist movement's key period. The show ended its run in 1977, but it was no surprise when Jimmy Carter's re-election campaign in 1980 recruited Moore to encourage women to vote for Carter. Here's the ad she did: If Moore was the central cultural feminist icon of the 1970s, the central political/activist icon was Gloria Steinem, who is still going strong 40 years after she co-founded Ms. magazine. And she's now doing ads for Barack Obama. As Ari Melber observed , the Obama campaign on YouTube is...

A Coming War On Universities?

UC-Berkeley, where young minds are being poisoned at this very moment. (Flickr/Nina Stawski)
When Rick Santorum went after the University of California the other day, it might have seemed like a one-off, fact-free hors d'ouvre of resentment, the kind of criticism of elitist liberal professors that we've come to expect from conservative culture warriors like him. Sara Robinson, however, sees this as the first shot in a coming war on public universities, following up as it did on a report from the Hoover Institution about how the academy is dominated by liberals. And she may be right: But the content of this Hoover report isn't as important as the fact of its provenance, its existence, and its publication on the pages of the WSJ. Right-wing crusades almost always start with think-tank reports; and are issuized on the pages of conservative magazines and newspapers. From there, the ideas are picked up and disseminated by Fox, politicians, conservative ministers, and right-wing bloggers. If all goes well, within weeks, legislators will be paying attention, and lobbyists will be...

Brand Newt In Trouble

Newt in happier times.
Since leaving Congress, Newt Gingrich managed to put together a souped-up version of the way congressional heavy hitters make a living after leaving the world of legislating. As befitting a historical figure like himself, simply signing on with one of Washington's elite law firm/lobby shops wouldn't be enough. Instead, Gingrich constructed what I like to call GloboNewtCorp , a network of quasi-think tanks, policy centers, and publishing enterprises whose role was to promote all things Newt. They worked symbiotically, each feeding off each other's work. So for instance, if you're a health-care company, you could pay six figures to Newt's Center for Health Transformation, you weren't only paying for Newt's access to powerful Republicans, you also saw your favored policy ideas show up in the products of other arms of GloboNewtCorp, like Newt's op-eds and books. One would imagine that a presidential campaign could only aid GloboNewtCorp in acquiring new clients and new income, heightening...

Romney's Pivot to the Center Postponed Indefinitely

(AP Photo / Steven Senne)
In a new tactic that TPM appropriately called the "I'm rubber, you're glue" strategy, Mitt Romney has decided to accuse President Obama of being too vague in his plans for a second term. Once you get past the absurdity, there's something meaningful going on. But first, to Mitt's charges : "Nancy Pelosi famously said that we would have to pass Obamacare to find out what was in it. President Obama has turned that advice into a campaign strategy: He wants us to re-elect him so we can find out what he will actually do. With all the challenges the nation faces, this is not the time for President Obama's hide and seek campaign." Riiiiight. This probably seems to you like a weird accusation to make. After all, Obama's plans for a second term seem pretty clear: more of the same! You may think that'd be great, or you may think that'd be a hellish nightmare, but either way it's not like it's some big mystery. It isn't as though he's going to come out and really shock us with some new policy...

Why Do Reporters Think Mitt Romney Is a Moderate?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
I'm sorry, but I refuse to let this one go, even if I have to repeat myself. Time 's Alex Altman writes , "A very conservative party is on the verge of nominating a relative moderate whom nobody is very excited about, largely because none of his rivals managed to cobble together a professional operation." I beg you, Alex, and every other reporter covering the campaign: If you're going to assert that Mitt Romney is a "relative moderate," you have to give us some evidence for that assertion. Because without mind-reading, we have to way to know whether it's true. What we do know is that when he ran in two races in the extremely liberal state of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney was a moderate. Then when he ran in two races to be the Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney was and is extremely conservative. There is simply no reason—none—to believe, let alone to assert as though it were an undisputed fact, that the first incarnation of Romney was the "real" one and the current incarnation...

Republican Pessimism Growing

Joe Scarborough, gloomy gus. (Flickr/WEBN-TV)
As gloomy as liberals can sometimes be, it's been a long time since there was a presidential election in which Democrats actually thought their presidential candidate was certain to lose. The last one would have to be 1984, and before that, 1972. But in the 28 years since Ronald Reagan got re-elected, there hasn't been a Democrat who has been totally blown out of the water, an election in which even his own partisans thought he had little or no chance. The closest would have been Michael Dukakis, who famously had a 17-point lead after his convention, even if he did end up losing by a healthy seven-point margin. But if you listen to Joe Scarborough, Republicans have basically given up on winning in November. He's not the first person to say it (George Will suggested a month ago that the time to give up on the presidential race was coming), but we haven't heard anyone of his prominence say so vociferously that Republicans are all thinking this one's over , as Scarborough did on today's...

The Long Moral View

Map of the uninsured by NPR
Someday, all Americans will have access to health care, just as all people in Germany and France and Japan and Sweden and every other advanced industrialized democracy do today. It may take a decade or two after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014 (if it survives the whims of Anthony Kennedy) to fill in the gaps the law leaves behind, or it may take decades beyond that. But it will surely happen eventually. And at some point after it does, we'll come to a consensus as a society that it was a collective moral failure that we allowed things to be otherwise for so long. In those other countries they came to that realization some time ago, and today they look at us and shake their heads in amazement that their American friends could tolerate and even defend such needless and widespread suffering in their land. But our own collective moral sensibilities still have a good way to go. Over at the New Republic, Andrew Koppelman describes the striking parallels between the...

4,446 Lonely D.C. Republicans

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
One of the strange things about living in Washington, D.C. is the ongoing presence of lots and lots of Republicans. In my adult life I've lived in two other large cities (San Francisco and Philadelphia), and in both of those members of the Grand Old Party are not only few in number but nearly invisible. Sure, there are a few cities where Republicans are plentiful (Dallas, I hear), but on the whole the more urban the area you're in, the more likely Democrats are to dominate the place's political, cultural, and social life. But here in the nation's capital, Republicans are plentiful. You see them going in and out of think-tank offices, traipsing about Capitol Hill, even walking down the street in broad daylight. Famous ones, ordinary ones, ones in all sizes and ages and genders. They're everywhere. Except almost none of them actually live in the District of Columbia. Anyone who's been here for any time knows this; if you're a Republican in these parts, you live in Virginia. You can...

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'...

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