Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is a weekly columnist and senior writer for The American Prospect. He also writes for the Plum Line blog at The Washington Post and The Week and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

Recent Articles

Why the Newly Amended Indiana RFRA Is a Real—But Only Partial—Victory

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long speaks as House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) looks on during a press conference about anti-discrimination safeguards added to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the State Capitol April 2, 2015, in Indianapolis, Indiana. They look pretty psyched, don't they?

The Republican leadership in Indiana has released its proposed changes to the "religious freedom" law they recently passed, and it's both an extraordinary retreat and not much of a change at all. Both things are important to understand, but here's the language from the new bill:

This chapter does not:

(I) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, ability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service;

(2) establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution for refusal by a provider to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service; or

(3) negate any rights available under the Constitution of the State of Indiana.

As the Republicans have pointed out, this is the first time the words "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" would be mentioned in Indiana state law. It's a testament to how eager Republicans are to show everyone that they abhor discrimination and have nothing but the most tender feelings toward their gay brothers and sisters. And (presuming it passes and Governor Pence signs it), this would mean that the state's religious freedom law couldn't be used in court as a justification for discrimination.

But—and this is a big but—this doesn't mean it's now illegal in Indiana to deny someone services because they're gay. What it does is return to the status quo ante, under which it's legal to discriminate in some places in Indiana and illegal in others. Right now there are cities like Indianapolis and Bloomington that have their own anti-discrimination statutes, but if you're in other parts of the state, it's perfectly legal to hang a "No gays" sign in the window of your store or restaurant. This amendment to the religious freedom law doesn't change that. If it actually forbade discrimination based on all those classes it mentions, then it would. But all it's doing is saying this particular law doesn't authorize that kind of discrimination. Since there's still no state law forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation, if you're in a town without a local ordinance doing so, you can go ahead and keep your pizza place gay-free.

So: Is it a big victory for gay rights? Yes it is, particularly since it represents a retreat by conservative Republicans and changes the debate around future religious freedom laws. Does it make Indiana a paradise of equal treatment? Not yet.

Photo of the Day, Drought Porn Edition

BIG WATER, UT - MARCH 29: People walk on a beach that used to be the bottom of Lake Powell at Lone Rock Camp on March 29, 2015 near Big Water, Utah. As severe drought grips parts of the Western United States, a below average flow of water is expected to flow through the Colorado River Basin into two of its biggest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Lake Powell is currently at 45 percent of capacity and is at risk of seeing its surface elevation fall below 1,075 feet above sea level by September, which would be the lowest level on record. The Colorado River Basin supplies water to 40 million people in seven western states. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Are America's Corporations Now Pro-Gay?

Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson announced today that he won't be signing the "religious freedom" bill passed by the state legislature, and it sure isn't because of his deep concern for the welfare of gay Arkansans. You can reduce it to two factors: first, he surely wanted to avoid the PR disaster and boycotts that Indiana is now suffering through, and second, Walmart. The Arkansas-based behemoth, the state's pride, joy, and largest private employer, released a statement condemning the bill, saying it "threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold."

You may not think of Walmart as a particularly progressive company, and they aren't. But in truth, they aren't a particularly conservative company either. Why does Walmart fight unions with all its might and pay its workers as little as it thinks it can get away with? It isn't because of some Randian philosophy, it's because they long ago decided that profit can be maximized by keeping prices and costs as low as possible, and they've proven themselves spectacularly good at achieving those goals. You might counter that there are companies like Costco that treat employees better and also make healthy profits, and you'd be right. But Walmart does what it does because of its perception of what's good for its bottom line.

That isn't to say that every business leader sees only dollars and cents in every decision, but personal feelings tend only to come into play when the lack of business risk allows it. Tim Cook of Apple may write an op-ed condemning the Indiana law because of what he personally believes, and because he knows that those beliefs are shared by most of his employees. But Indiana isn't a big part of Apple's long-term plans one way or another. Walmart, on the other hand, has a critical stake in Arkansas, and in 2015, that means they don't want the state to be viewed as intolerant.

We've now reached a point where companies even in very conservative areas realize that being gay-friendly is important to recruiting, not so much because they want to recruit gay employees, but because they want to recruit employees who find an inclusive work environment attractive. And when you're in a state like Indiana or Arkansas, you have to work extra hard to be able to recruit the best people.

I'm not trying to insult those states, but the truth is that there aren't that many kids living in, say, California who dream of one day moving to Pine Bluff or Gary. If your company is headquartered in New York or Seattle or Miami, on the other hand, you don't have to worry as much about whether you're going to be able to convince people to move there, or whether you can keep talented local people from leaving. But that is something that a company like Walmart does worry about.

For every corporation like Hobby Lobby that has an ideology it will pursue even at the expense of profits, there are a hundred others that are happy to shift with changing times if doing so is good business. My guess is that Mike Pence not only didn't expect the firestorm of activism that would greet Indiana's religious freedom bill, he also didn't realize how quickly major corporations would come out against it. But it wasn't personal. It's just business.

Get Ready For the Munich Analogies

Wikimedia Commons

If the negotiators from the U.S. and other nations succeed in getting an agreement to restrain Iran's nuclear program, Republicans will of course object that the deal is terrible and gives away the store to the Ayatollahs. We know this because they've been saying that for months, even though they don't actually know what's in the deal. It's enough to know that 1) it was negotiated by Barack Obama's government, and 2) it's a deal with an adversary, which by definition must be weak and craven. But there's something else we're going to be hearing a lot: Munich analogies.

I can make that prediction with certainty as well, because we've already heard plenty of them. But as I discuss at the Plum Line today, we should be absolutely clear what those who talk about Munich are saying:

Many of us roll our eyes and poke fun at endless Hitler analogies, but in this case their use is extremely revealing. If you believe that the negotiations with Iran are the equivalent of those in Munich in 1938, what you're basically saying is that war with Iran is inevitable, so we might as well get started on it right away. After all, it isn't as though, had Chamberlain left Munich without an agreement, Hitler would have retired and gone back to painting. The whole point of the "appeasement" argument is that the enemy cannot be appeased from his expansionist aims, and the only choice is to wage war.

That's what Iran hawks are arguing: We shouldn't pussyfoot around trying to find a diplomatic solution to this problem when there's going to be a war no matter what.

You can call this clear-eyed realism, or you can call it terrifying lunacy. But it would be nice if they would admit that war is indeed what they're advocating. Up until now, only a few conservatives have been willing to say so. I'd like to hear their argument, and not a bunch of "all options should be on the table" hedging, but a real case for why launching a war on Iran really is the best of the available options.

I'd like to think that after the disaster of Iraq, the American people would hear that debate and emphatically say that war with Iran is such a spectacularly stupid idea that no one who advocates it should get within a mile of the White House, the State Department, or the Pentagon. But maybe they wouldn't — maybe enough dark warnings about how the Iranians will soon turn Omaha and Augusta and Topeka to wastelands of rubble would be enough to get the war juices flowing once again. After all, it has been a whole twelve years since we started a war, and given the history of the last few decades we're way past due. So who's the brave Republican willing to run on a war platform? I'm sure a couple of them will step up.