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.

Recent Articles


At long last, Barack Obama is on the air with his first ad of the general election. Take a gander: Like every Obama ad, this one features high production values and a crisply defined message. The script is all about this great land of ours, which you can hardly blame them for, given the sustained attempt by the right to characterize Obama as a flag-hating, terrorist-coddling, Al Qaeda Manchurian candidate. But this isn’t just a reaction to the smear campaign. It’s actually consistent with what Obama has been saying all along. Let’s remember that Obama has been telling a story about America from the moment he emerged on the national scene at the 2004 Democratic convention. (I wrote about this back in October 2006 here . As a bonus, the article has a link to none other than Ezra Klein arguing that Obama should wait to run for president. Even the best among us can be wrong!) He has always presented himself as the embodiment of what we all want America to be: inclusive, future-oriented,...

McCain's Desperate Debate Gambit

John McCain knows his campaign is in trouble, and so he's trying to pressure Barack Obama into a long series of town hall meetings. But speeches are the real way the president appeals to the public.

Few controversies of the presidential campaign seem less momentous once they conclude than the traditional “debate over debates.” One campaign pushes for more debates, the other pushes for fewer, and the two perform a ridiculous tango of dudgeon, disappointment, and expectations-gaming. As with so much else in this long, long campaign, the debate over debates has started early this year. John McCain is pressing Barack Obama to join him for ten town hall-style debates, while the Obama campaign has countered with an offer of five debates, only one of which would be a town hall. But, posturing aside, how much will the debates, and the rest of the campaign, really tell us about the next presidency? It’s hard to blame the McCain campaign for wanting to turn the race into little but one town hall after another. They seem to have noticed that what’s tickling their ankles is the quicksand of defeat. Desperate for a hanging branch to grab onto, they have seized on the town hall, the forum that...

The Soft Art

Obama's defining political skill may prove to be his ability to parry attacks and turn them to his advantage. It kept his campaign moving forward and upward when others would have found themselves unable to go on.

In the modern age of American presidential elections, primary campaigns have followed a very specific pattern. First, a front-runner is anointed by the elite journalists. He is either a vice-president (current or former) or someone who has been a longtime national leader, but in either case he is the most famous of his party's contenders. Next, a challenger emerges, donning a glittering cloak of "new ideas." He briefly captivates the voters, though few can quite put their finger on what his ideas are, or what makes them so new. Then voting begins, and the front-running candidate's advantages of recognition, money, institutional support, and organization prove too much for the challenger, who fizzles out ignominiously, with everyone left wondering what it was about him that was supposed to be so appealing in the first place. To one degree or another, this has been the pattern in almost every contested primary since the current system was inaugurated in 1972 (when the smoke-filled room...

The POW Dodge

John McCain maintains that he doesn't exploit his captivity in Vietnam for his campaign, but in reality he can barely talk about anything else. That's fine, but McCain's service should be the start of a conversation -- not the end of one

When John Kerry made his Vietnam heroism a centerpiece of his 2004 presidential campaign, his colleague John McCain thought it unwise. "I said, ‘Look, you shouldn't talk about Vietnam because everybody else will. Let everybody else do it,'" McCain told the Washington Post. "In my [2000] campaign, as you know, I didn't talk about it because I didn't need to." McCain was half right. It's true that he didn't need to; in that campaign, as in this one, reporters seldom forgot to mention that McCain was a POW in Vietnam. In fact, according to Lexis-Nexis , in the first three months of 2008 over a thousand newspaper articles mentioned that McCain was a prisoner of war. Journalists often use "former POW" in their stories as an identifier on par with "Arizona senator" or "Republican" -- even when his years in Hanoi have nothing to do with the issue or event being discussed. But when McCain asserted that he "didn't talk about it," he was being either strikingly dishonest or simply delusional...


In his current round of rejecting and denouncing his radical cleric supporters John Hagee and Rod Parsley , John McCain was careful to note , "I've never been to Pastor Hagee's church or Pastor Parsley's church. I didn't attend their church for 20 years. I'm not a member of their church." In other words, my relationship with them is much less important than Barack Obama' s relationship with Jeremiah Wright . But we should take careful note of what this means. McCain's argument, in essence, is: Hey, this was just cynical politics. Sure, I begged Hagee for his endorsement, and stood next to Parsley and called him a "moral compass" and a "spiritual guide," but I didn't actually mean any of that. I didn't know anything about these guys, and until it became a political problem, I didn't really care. You tell me some preacher can bring in a few votes, and I'll kiss his ring, no matter how repellent his ideas are. The reason this matters is that for so long, McCain's amen corner in the press...