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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The End of the Siege of Obama

White House photo by Pete Souza

This is an auspicious week, because it saw the first real controversy of Hillary Clinton's campaign (there were a couple of "She said what?!?" mini-stories, but those don't count). And why is that so important? I explain in my Plum Line post today:

Mark the first week of March 2015 down: This was the moment when Republicans officially shifted their focus from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton.

Not that they’ll stop being angry about what the Obama administration does. But shaking their fist at the White House is now a secondary concern. The energy, the focus, and the attention will now be primarily on Clinton. When Republicans sit up at night trying to devise clever strategies to hamstring the other side, it’ll be Clinton on their minds. And the Benghazi select committee gives them a vehicle to attack her. After not being heard from for months, the committee and its chairman Trey Gowdy popped up to issue subpoenas for Clinton’s emails from her time at the State Department. It shouldn’t be long before they’re demanding that she come to Washington to testify in front of the cameras.

You may look on this transition with breathless anticipation, or horror, or something in between. But I'll bet that if you charted the mentions of "Obama" and "Clinton" on Fox News, this week is when the lines would cross. 

What Do the GOP Candidates Think of State 'Conscience Clause' Legislation?


There's an interesting/horrifying piece in today's New York Times about a trend across the country, but mostly in the South, to enact "conscience" legislation at the state level that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay people if they can justify it on the basis of their religion. One interesting facet of this issue is that the moneyed interests in the GOP, along with big corporations (not the same thing, but there's plenty of overlap) are completely spooked by these bills. We'll get to that in a moment, but here are some colorful details:

"The L.G.B.T. movement is the main thing, the primary thing that's going to be challenging religious liberties and the freedom to live out religious convictions," said State Senator Joseph Silk, an Oklahoma Republican and the sponsor of a bill in that state. "And I say that sensitively, because I have homosexual friends."

Of course he does. He goes on:

"They don't have a right to be served in every single store," said Mr. Silk, the Oklahoma state senator, referring to gay people. "People need to have the ability to refuse service if its violates their religious convictions."

I mean, come on. Gay people want to be able to go into every single store? Who do they think they are?

But this brings up a question for me. When the religious conservatives pushing these bills argue for why they're needed, they always mention a retailer whose work gets right down into all that gayness. Like the baker who might have to make a cake for a gay couple and live through the horror of placing two female figurines on top of the cake, or the photographer who might have to take their picture, trying to see his camera's viewfinder through the veil of tears he weeps at the destruction of the American family represented by two people making a commitment to spend their lives together.

But no legislator is going to specify an exhaustive list of who would and wouldn't be able to refuse service, because doing so would be a very difficult thing to write into a bill's text. Instead, the right to discriminate is inevitably written broadly. For example, one bill in Oklahoma says: "No business entity shall be required to provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges related to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association." Which would mean, for instance, that it would be legal for any store or restaurant to put up a sign saying, "We don't serve gays." Other bills (here, for example) are written even more broadly, just saying that the state can't stop you from acting on your sincerely held religious beliefs, which would include discriminating against gay people if that's your thing.

As the Times story details, some of these bills have died in the face of opposition from business interests; for instance, when Walmart came out against the one in Arkansas, it was pretty much doomed. The company may be conservative in many ways, but it doesn't want its state to be known as a bastion of hatred and discrimination.

So I'd be interested to hear specifically from some influential Republicans—like, say, the ones running for president—on what they think of these laws. I looked around a bit and didn't find any of them commenting on it, which isn't too surprising given that it's been playing out at the state level. But maybe someone should start asking. Do they think a baker ought to be able to discriminate? And if they say that there ought to be a way for the baker to exercise his "conscience," then the next question is, what about a restaurant? What about a hardware store? 

Republicans Hankering for Ground War Against ISIS. What Could Go Wrong?

We're going to hear more and more Republican politicians coming out for a re-invasion of Iraq. And how 'bout a strike on Iran while we're at it?

(Sipa via AP Images)
View image | I t's been an entire 12 years since we started a war, and apparently the American people are getting a little antsy. A new Quinnipiac poll finds that 62 percent of Americans, including 72 percent of Republicans, favors the use of ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We should be careful about over-interpreting that, because the question was preceded by another question talking about limited, but not long-term operations for ground troops. But there's no doubt that the public's interest in getting some boots back on the ground is gaining momentum; in Pew polls , support for ground troops went up from 39 percent in October to 47 percent in February; in the same poll, 67 percent of Republicans said they supported ground troops. The reason I focus on the number of Republicans is that I suspect with this increase in support from their constituents, we're going to hear more and more Republican politicians coming out for what we might call a re-invasion...

Every Clinton Scandal Is Exactly the Same

We don't yet know whether there will actually turn out to be something nefarious in the emails that Hillary Clinton somewhat belatedly passed on to the State Department, but I feel confident in predicting that this Clinton scandal will likely play out just like every other Clinton scandal. For those of you who don't remember the 1990s, here's how it works:

1. Bill and/or Hillary Clinton does something that on first glance looks a little sketchy.

2. The news media explode with the story, usually including insinuations that something illegal or corrupt took place.

3. Republicans quiver with joy, believing that this scandal will finally be the one to reveal the true depths of the Clintons' villainy.

4. Clintonworld adopts a bunker mentality, insisting that they did nothing wrong yet trying to limit the amount of information that gets out, thereby antagonizing reporters.

5. As the eight zillion journalists assigned to the story learn more information, the story grows increasingly complex, yet no actual illegality or corruption is found.

6. The story drags on for months or even years, with Republicans never wavering in their certainty that the only reason we haven't learned the awful truth is the Clintons' stonewalling.

7. The more committed conservatives begin to lose their minds, eventually coming to believe spectacularly outlandish theories about what actually happened.

8. The whole thing peters out, and reasonable people conclude that while Bill and/or Hillary might have shown better judgment, they didn't actually break the law, violate their oaths, betray their country, or anything else their opponents imagined.

There are variations, of course, but that's pretty much how things go. And even though it's possible there's an email somewhere in which Clinton instructs her paramour Ayman al-Zawahiri to launch the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, it's probably how things are going to go with this one, too.

The Conservative Information Bubble Lives On, Stoked By Juiced Fox News Polls

After the debacle of 2012, in which conservatives at all levels were gobsmacked that Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney, some of them began to question the information bubble in which they had ensconced themselves. It's reassuring to think that everything is always going your way, but does it really serve you in the end? Then after a few minutes, they essentially said, "But we love our bubble!" and went right back into its warm embrace.

Which brings me to this tweet I saw this morning from Bill Kristol:



Wow, I thought, those are incredible results. Fox News polls are always silly, but this may be worth checking out. So I went to the story, and from there to the actual results, and found the questions in question. Here's the first:

"Do you favor or oppose the United States taking military action against Iran if that were the only way to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons?"

Interestingly, they've been asking this question for a while, but they used to ask it without the phrase "if that were the only way." But I suppose that phrasing didn't produce high enough numbers, so they changed it to this version. And, what do you know, 65 percent of people said yes. Perhaps in the next round, they can add "which would mean you and your children will die a fiery death."

And here's the second question:

"Do you think it's a good idea or a bad idea to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons 10 years from now in return for it agreeing that it won't obtain nuclear weapons before then?"

What? "...allow Iran to get nuclear weapons 10 years from now"? Seriously? That's how they describe the proposed deal between the U.S. and Iran. So naturally, 84 percent of people say no, we shouldn't let them have weapons in ten years. (If you're looking for a survey that described the deal in reality-based terms, you can see this one, which found that 61 percent of people supported it.)

What I wonder is, do the people at Fox think this kind of thing really serves their audience well? I guess they must, or they wouldn't be doing it. But to me, it shows that they look on that audience as a bunch of suckers. This isn't just about partisanship. The folks at MSNBC also deliver their audience a lot of material that they'll find congenial. But I have no sense that MSNBC believes there's any value in deliberately misinforming that audience. You don't actually do them any favors by telling them that everyone in the world (except for the traitorous liberals) agrees with them.

You do keep them watching, I guess; there's no arguing with Fox's financial success. But there's a real contempt for its viewers on display here.