Paul Waldman

Friday Music Break

"Pearl"
In honor of today's poor job numbers, we've got Janis Joplin, with "Mercedez Benz." For you kids out there, Joplin was a singer who was popular in the 1960s and early 1970s. She performed at a concert called "Woodstock," which was kind of a big deal. Ask your parents about it. This song was recorded three days before she died at age 27.

Obama Gets Personal

Barack Obama prepares to feast on Mitt Romney's entrails. (Flickr/Barack Obama)
Campaigns often feature a division of labor when it comes to speaking about the candidate's opponent, one in which the candidate makes polite but firm criticism, while the surrogates (campaign staff, other elected officials) say much harsher and more personal things. A good campaign makes sure that the two proceed along the same thematic lines so that they reinforce one another, but the fact that the candidate himself is more genteel in his language is supposed to preclude a backlash against him for being too "negative." Frankly, I've always thought this is overblown, particularly the strange custom whereby it's deemed a bit unseemly to refer to your opponent by name, such that saying "Mitt Romney is a jackass" would be horribly uncouth, but saying "My opponent is a jackass" is somehow more acceptable. As the campaign goes on, this protocol fades away. Candidates' comments take on a harder edge, beginning to resemble the comments their staffs make. It seems we may be entering this...

The Myth That Won't Die

A shot from a 2008 McCain for President ad.
John McCain is no longer a substantively important figure in American politics. As a member of the minority party in the Senate, he chairs no committees. He is not a leader among his peers. Since losing in his second run for president, he continued his decades-long record of not bothering to engage in the legislating part of being a legislator (over a three-decade-long career, McCain has exactly one significant piece of legislation to his name, a law that was overturned by the Supreme Court). Yet he continues to be a politically important figure, appearing on the Sunday shows more often than anyone else and having his ideas and his opinions regularly reported on. Which is why I simply must speak up now that the biggest myth about John McCain is cropping up again. It's the idea that, noble and modest as he is, McCain has always been terribly reluctant to discuss the fact that he was a POW in Vietnam. This came up over the past couple of days in a House race in Illinois, where classy...

Look, up in the Sky! It's a Tax! It's a Penalty! It's a Stupid Argument over Semantics!

Flickr/Alyson Hurt
Since not much campaign news happens over the July Fourth holiday, Mitt Romney took the opportunity to change his campaign's tune on whether the penalty in the Affordable Care Act for those who can afford health insurance but refuse to get it is a "tax." To review, the Supreme Court said that the government has the authority under its taxing power to penalize those who refuse to get insurance, leading Republicans to cry, "Tax! Tax! Tax!" with all of their usual policy nuance and rhetorical subtlety. The only problem this poses for Romney is that calling it a tax means that Romney imposed a tax with his health-care plan in Massachusetts, which means admitting that Romney sinned against the tax gods. First his spokesman came out and said that no, it's really just a penalty, but then Romney came out and said, well, if the Supreme Court said it's a tax, then it's a tax, but it wasn't a tax when I did it, because the Supreme Court didn't call it that. What does all this arguing over...

Mitt Goes into the Fog

Flickr/Austen Hufford
I just want to elaborate on a point I made in passing in my column today about Mitt Romney's complex ideological dance. When it became clear that Romney would indeed be the Republican nominee, people began speculating about how he would execute the "move to the center" that every nominee must undertake, since in the primaries you're appealing to your party's base, while in the general election you have to appeal to independents. It's particularly tricky for Romney, since every time he switches positions on something people are reminded that he switches positions on things a lot, and that gives Democrats the opportunity to remind everyone of his flip-flopping past. So has Mitt managed to find a way out of this dilemma? I think he has. The answer to how one should go about moving to the center is: don't. Romney hasn't taken a single position at odds with the hard-right stances he took during the primaries or said anything that would antagonize conservatives, or repudiated any of the...

Can We Take John Roberts's Word at Face Value?

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
For years, conservatives have articulated a clear legal philosophy to guide their beliefs about the proper role of the courts and the way judges should arrive at their decisions, much clearer than the philosophy liberals espouse. They said they supported "originalism," whereby judges would simply examine the Constitution as the Founders understood it to guide its interpretation today. They said they opposed "judicial activism," wanting judges to simply interpret the law instead of making their own laws. Liberals always replied that these ideas were a disingenuous cover for something much simpler: conservatives just want judicial decisions that support their policy preferences. They see whatever they want in the Constitution and define "judicial activism" as nothing more than decisions whose outcomes they don't like. The reaction to Chief Justice John Roberts joining the Supreme Court's four liberals to uphold the Affordable Care Act shows something revealing about the conservative...

Failures of Spin

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell is ordinarily a spinner of unusual skill. He's relentlessly focused on his message and doesn't let any interviewer frame a question in a way he (McConnell) doesn't like. Which is why it was a little odd to see Fox News' Chris Wallace catch him without a handy talking point when it came to covering the uninsured. This excerpt is a little long, but you have to see the whole thing: WALLACE: All right, let's move on. If voters elect a Republican president and a Republican Senate, your top priority will be, you say, to repeal and replace "Obama-care." And I want to drill down into that with you. One of the keys to "Obama-care" is that it will extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured. In your replacement, how would you provide universal coverage? MCCONNELL: Well, first, let me say the single the best thing we could do for the American health care system is to get rid of "Obama- care," get rid of that half a trillion dollars...

Friday Music Break

"The Ghosts That Haunt Me"
For today's edition of Slow, Mournful Songs About Superheroes, we have Crash Test Dummies with "Superman Song." And here's a bonus link to Quentin Tarantino's weird yet insightful monologue from "Kill Bill Vol. 2," in which David Carradine argues that "Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race." To be honest, I always found Superman to be the least interesting of superheroes. He's just too ... super. But I like the song.

Peggy Noonan Feels the News

She's feeling something. (Flickr/kylebogucki)
When he began his still-brilliant show a few years ago, Stephen Colbert said, "Anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news at you." And there's nobody who feels the news quite like Peggy Noonan, America's most unintentionally hilarious columnist. Pretty much every time she writes a column or goes on television, Noonan can be counted on to tell us about a feeling out there in the land. It's seldom a powerful feeling; instead, it's more often a stirring, an inchoate emotion still in the process of crystallizing. It might be a yearning, or an unease, or a doubt or a fear, but it lingers just out of our perception until Peggy Noonan comes along and perceives it for us. Did you think the impact of yesterday's Supreme Court ruling was that millions of uninsured Americans will now be able to get health insurance, and after 2014 none of us will ever need to fear the words "pre-existing condition" again? Nay , good-hearted Americans: The ruling strikes me as very bad for the...

On Medicaid, Republicans Explore New Moral Depths

Florida governor and aspiring Bond villain Rick Scott, looking forward to denying poor Floridians health insurance. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
As the lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act worked their way up to the Supreme Court, I always found the challenge to the expansion of Medicaid to be the strangest part. Quick context: the program provides insurance for poor people, splitting the cost between the federal government and the states. But the current rules say that each state gets to set its own eligibility standards, which meant that if you live in a state run by Democrats and you're poor, you can get Medicaid, but if you live in a state run by Republicans, you have to be desperately poor to get Medicaid. For instance, in Mississippi, a family of four has to have a yearly gross income below a princely $9,828 to qualify. Because if a family is living high on the hog with their $10,000 a year, they aren't really poor, right? Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act fixed this, by changing Medicaid so that everyone with up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($30,657 for a family of four) would qualify. And to...

What CNN Could Have Done

Oops!
If you were watching cable news when the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, you were probably confused at first. Initially, both CNN and Fox News announced that the individual mandate had been struck down, only to come back a few minutes later and correct themselves, after their screaming chyrons and web site headlines had already gone up announcing the administration's defeat. Let's forget about Fox, since they're just a bunch of nincompoops anyway. The more interesting question concerns CNN. The most common explanation for this screwup is that they have come to value being first over being right, which is true enough. But I think it also suggests that they don't really understand their audience. And by trying to be just as fast as MSNBC or Fox, they lost an opportunity to differentiate themselves. My guess is that the people who work at CNN have in their heads an imagined audience made up of people like them, people who think it matters if a particular piece of news is delivered...

Republicans Will Soon Stop Talking about Health Care

foxnation.com
The Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), particularly Justice John Roberts siding with the liberals, took most everyone by surprise this morning. But if you tune in to Fox News or surf around the conservative blogs, they seem to be taking it somewhat philosophically. They're not happy, but there's little rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. Mostly they're saying, well, we'll just have to win this in November ( see here for a representative sample). There's also a good deal of discussion of the fact that the Court declared that the requirement to carry health insurance is permissible under the government's taxing power. After all, if there's one thing Republicans know how to do, it's complain about taxes. Mitch McConnell quickly took to the floor of the Senate to condemn the decision, and no doubt Mitt Romney will soon say something so vague that no one can determine what he actually thinks. But here's my guess: Republicans are going to drop health care very...

Romney Campaign Puts the Screws to The Washington Post

Today's Washington Post
Campaign professionals tend to believe that the most potent attacks use your opponent's own words against him, preferably if they're on video and can be replayed over and over. If you don't have that, it helps to have third-party validation of your attack from the most credible, non-partisan source you can find. Which is why it's so helpful when an established news organization reports something damaging about your opponent, which you can then talk about and put in your ads. If the third-party source is credible enough, you won't have to argue about whether the allegation is true, but merely about what it means and how much it matters. Which is why the Obama campaign was so pleased when The Washington Post reported that under Mitt Romney (and after he departed), Bain Capital invested in a number of companies that specialized in helping other companies outsource work to foreign countries. Not only was this new information that could be used to attack Romney, but it had the imprimatur...

Bain Isn't Going Anywhere

Image from Obama campaign ad.
Consider these two headlines. First, from the Atlantic Wire : " Bain Attacks Are Working In Swing States ." Then, from Business Insider : " POLL: Most People Have Never Heard of Bain Capital ." And here's the punch line: Both articles are about the same poll from NBC and The Wall Street Journal. So which is it? As for the latter, it's true that 53 percent of the people in the poll said they didn't have an opinion about Bain Capital, which is not quite the same thing as saying they had never heard of it (and 8 percent said they had a positive opinion of the company, while 20 percent had a negative opinion). But I doubt the Obama campaign really cares whether people remember the name of the company Mitt Romney worked for. The question they're trying to influence is the more basic one about Mitt Romney's business career: Did that career turn Romney into a skilled manager who understands the economy and can help it get back on track, or did it reveal Romney to be a ruthless vulture...

On "Owning" Health Care

These guys aren't too worried about owning health care.
In the search for silver linings to a Supreme Court decision striking down part or all of the Affordable Care Act, many people have suggested that should it happen, Americans will turn all their displeasure about the health care system on conservatives. Specifically, it is that that they will "own" the health care system. James Carville says that if the ACA is overturned on a 5-4 vote, "The Republican party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future." Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger says , "If the court were to strike down this major reform effort, 40 years in the making, the court would own the resulting health care system for the next decade and beyond. It’s a slightly highbrow version of the universal rule: 'You broke it, you bought it.'" The Republican party is one thing, but the Supreme Court "owing" health care? What does that mean? That people will be protesting outside the Court when their premiums go up? First of all, they won't, and second of all, I...

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