Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

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Photo of the Day, Mature Butt-Kickers Edition

That, of course, is Venus Williams. At the age of 34, and despite suffering from Sjogren's syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disorder, Williams is staging a mini-comeback of sorts. She just beat former world #1 Caroline Wozniacki to reach the quarterfinals at the Miami Open.

Carly Fiorina, As Ridiculous As Every Other Businessperson Politician

Yesterday, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that the chances that she'll run for president are "higher than 90 percent." And what will Fiorina be offering? Why, hard-nosed business sense, of course! Her political experience may begin and end with one failed run for Senate, but that doesn't mean she isn't ready for the job. Let's see her answer to the inevitable question of why she's qualified to be president:

Because I have a deep understanding of how the economy actually works, having started as a secretary and become the chief executive of the largest technology company in the world, because I understand how the world works and know many of the world leaders on the stage today, because I understand technology, a transformational tool, because I understand bureaucracies—how they work and how you need to change them and our government is a huge bureaucracy, and because I understand executive decision-making, which is making tough calls in tough times with high stakes for which you're prepared to be held accountable.

So she knows that decision-making is about making tough calls! And does the substance of those calls matter? Nah. If someone who had success in a field unrelated to business—let's say a great trial lawyer—said to a corporate board, "Hire me to be your CEO, even though I've never worked in business, because I know how to make tough decisions, and that's what business is about, right?" they'd be laughed out of the room. That's not even to address Fiorina's stormy tenure at HP, which wouldn't put her on anyone's list of highly successful chief executives.

But there are a couple of other things about this interview I want to point out:

Well, I think we have two fundamental structural problems in our economy. One is that we have tangled people up in a web of dependence from which they can't escape. We're leaving lots of talent on the field. Secondly, we're crushing small businesses now. Elizabeth Warren is right, crony capitalism is alive and well. Big business and big government go hand in hand. But for the first time in U.S. history now, we are destroying more businesses than we are creating.

So the biggest problem with the economy is the "web of dependence" we've trapped people in. Americans are a bunch of slackers cashing their government benefits, and if we could just cut those benefits and get them off their lazy duffs, then the economy would be supercharged. OK.

And what is this about "For the first time in U.S. history now, we are destroying more businesses than we are creating"? I have no idea what she's talking about, but the economy constantly creates and then destroys businesses. You may have heard that idea that 90 percent of businesses fail in their first year; turns out that isn't actually true, but the majority of businesses don't last more than five years. Create, destroy, create, destroy—that's how capitalism works.

And I love her attempt at Republican populism: "Crony capitalism is alive and well. Big business and big government go hand in hand." And if you think that's a problem, the person to solve it is the one whose sole quasi-qualification is having been CEO of a huge corporation.

But the best part of the interview is this, where Fiorina drills down to the problem that's really holding our economy back:

So, if we want mainstream and the middle class going and growing again, we've got to get small and family-owned businesses going and growing again. Washington, D.C., has become a vast unaccountable bureaucracy. It's been growing for 40 years. We have no idea how our money is spent.

I think there are two things that would help tremendously. One, zero base budgeting, so we know where the money is spent. We're talking about the whole budget and not just the rate of increase.

And two, pay for performance in our civil service. We havehow many inspector general reports do we need to read that say, you know, you can watch porn all day and get paid exactly the same way as somebody who is trying to do their job?

There you have it. If we could only get federal employees to stop watching porn, we could really get this economy going.

I've got some shocking news for Ms. Fiorina. You know those tens of thousands of people who worked for you at HP? Plenty of them were watching porn, too. It isn't just something that federal employees do.

Those Rootin' Tootin' Shootin' GOP Presidential Candidates

(AP Photo/LM Otero)
(AP Photo/LM Otero) Rick Perry, then governor of Texas, waits to be introduced at a gun shop in Dallas, Thursday, September 16, 2010. Perry, touting his pro-gun credentials in his re-election campaign, was on hand to pick up the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. T here was a time not too long ago when Republicans knew that when an election got tight, they could trot out "God, guns, and gays" to drive a cultural wedge between Democrats and the electorate, since the GOP was the party that, like most Americans, loved the first two and hated the third. It's more complicated now, both within the parties and between them, but there's no doubt that 2016 will feature plenty of culture-war sniping. For better or worse, Democrats and Republicans really do represent two different Americas. I thought of that this weekend reading this article in The Washington Post about the personal relationships the potential Republican candidates have with guns. That they are all opposed to any...

Rootin' Tootin' Shootin' Presidential Candidates

There was a time not too long ago when Republicans knew that when an election got tight, they could trot out "God, guns, and gays" to drive a cultural wedge between Democrats and the electorate, since the GOP was the party that, like most Americans, loved the first two and hated the third. It's more complicated now, both within the parties and between them, but there's no doubt that 2016 will feature plenty of culture-war sniping. For better or worse, Democrats and Republicans really do represent two different Americas.

I thought of that this weekend reading this article in the Washington Post about the personal relationships the potential Republican candidates have with guns. That they are all opposed to any limits on gun ownership is a given, but more interesting is the role guns play in their own lives. With a couple of important exceptions, the potential Republican candidates fall into one of two categories when it comes to guns: those who grew up with them, and those who embraced them once their political ambitions matured.

Some of them have been building their collections since childhood. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) is up to 12 now, including an AR-15 assault weapon that he has talked about using if law and order ever breaks down in his neighborhood. Former Texas governor Rick Perry is so well-armed, he has a gun for jogging.

Others were city kids who didn't own guns until later in life. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) bought a .357 magnum revolver in 2010, the year he ran for Senate, saying the gun was for protection… [Ted Cruz] grew up in the suburbs of Houston and got his first exposure to guns at summer camp. But, as an adult, Cruz bought two guns: a .357 magnum revolver and a Beretta Silver Pigeon II shotgun, according to a spokeswoman… In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker also didn't grow up hunting. But he got his first guns in his mid-30s: a shotgun he won in a raffle and a rifle he got as a gift, said a spokeswoman for his political committee. Now he hunts deer, pheasants and ducks with his motorcycle-riding buddies… Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal purchased a snubnosed, laser-sighted Smith & Wesson .38 revolver after Hurricane Katrina. He still keeps it for home defense, although his home is now the heavily guarded Governor's Mansion. 

Far be it from me to question the sincerity of any politician's enthusiasm for firearms, but buying a gun does seem an awful lot like the kind of thing a Republican politician does just because that's what Republican politicians are expected to do. But there's gun rights, and then there's contemporary gun culture. The two are not at all the same, and it's the latter some Republicans seem so eager to embrace.

There's an important context here, which is that gun ownership has been steadily declining for about four decades now. Yet even as fewer and fewer people own guns, gun sales are increasing, which means that the people who do own them are buying more and more. Ask a certain kind of gun-owner how many he owns, and he'll say, "More than I need, but not as many as I want."

And it's that culture that many Republican politicians feel the need to make their own. You could see it as part of a general conservative nostalgia for a time that's passed, when the law was a distant force and a man might have to protect his homestead from rustlers and thieves. The trouble is that for many gun-owners today, guns are less tools with everyday uses than fetish objects. It's the very fact that they serve no practical purpose in most gun-owners' lives that makes them so emotionally powerful. When a guy like Lindsey Graham says that needs his AR-15 in case "there was a law-and-order breakdown in my community," he's living in a land of fantasy, where a middle-aged guy who wears a suit every day is actually an agent of heroic violence, the very embodiment of physical capability and potency.

But the bare fact is this: There are places in America where gun ownership is common and expected, and places where it isn't. And more Americans live in the latter. So when Republicans proclaim themselves representatives of the first type of place—in both ideas and habits—they put themselves at an immediate disadvantage.

But not all of them do. Jeb Bush, for instance, has the appropriate Republican policy stance when it comes to guns (along with an A-plus rating from the NRA), but he does not himself own a gun. (The only other potential candidate who doesn't is Chris Christie.) Which makes perfect sense if we think about gun ownership being so much a function of geography. Unlike some of his opponents—the emphatically Texan Rick Perry, the extremely Midwestern Scott Walker—Jeb isn't really from any particular place. As a member of the Bush clan, he grew up travelling a kind of elevated platform of wealth and power that traverses the country. Connecticut, Texas, Florida—wherever it was, it was essentially the same. That isn't really his fault; when your grandfather is a senator and your father becomes president, and you go to Andover and summer at Kennebunkport, that's the world you're from. And it isn't a world where people view guns as a vital cultural totem. If Jeb walked out on a stage holding a rifle over his head, he'd look even dumber than Mitch McConnell did.

We don't think about Hillary Clinton representing any particular place either. She grew up in Illinois but left it behind, spent almost two decades in Arkansas then left for Washington, and now lives in New York, but doesn't embody any of those places (or even try to). That's fine with liberals, whose demands for cultural affinity are served well enough by someone who moved around a lot. The president she's trying to succeed most definitely represented a particular place, though it was less Chicago specifically than American cities in general, the dense and diverse places liberals either live or want to live.

And that's where all the Republicans have a problem. They continue to romanticize rural and small-town life, but the number of Americans who actually live in those places is small and getting smaller. Even if plenty of suburban Republicans still imagine themselves out on the range, that isn't the American reality. Planting your flag there may seem necessary to win the Republican nomination, but it won't do you much good the day after.

Photo of the Day, Human-Powered Locomotion Edition

Megan Giglia of the Great Britain Cycling Team in action during the bronze final of the Women's C-3 3km Pursuit on day two of the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images for British Cycling)

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