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

The Failure of Antigovernment Conservatism

Issues like children's health insurance and maintaining our infrastructure offer progressives a golden opportunity to say that sometimes government is not the problem, it's the solution.

President Bush tours the collapsed bridge site in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Joey McLeister, Pool)
Visiting the site of the Minneapolis bridge collapse on Saturday, President Bush used the opportunity to get in a standard-issue Republican dig on government -- you know, the entity in charge of things like making sure bridges are safe. "There's a lot of paperwork involved with government," he said, promising to "cut through that paperwork, and to see if we can't get this bridge rebuilt in a way that not only expedites the flow of traffic, but in a way that can stand the test of time." But don't expect too much. "I make no promises on the timetable," the president then said, bringing down the mood a bit. He did, though, go on to say that the tragedy might lead to something positive. A pledge from his administration to push for greater investment in infrastructure, perhaps? Or a promise to repair crumbling roads, bridges, and utilities? Fat chance. "Out of these tragedies can come a better life," he said. "And I, having visited with the people here, believe that not only are they...


HOME OF THE GOOD. Like most Americans, I think this is a great country. As difficult as it is to come up with a composite score of national awesomeness, I don’t even have much of an argument with those who say, as many often do, that America is “the greatest country in the world.” But when we say this, we’re usually talking about things like our freedom of speech and religion, our high standard of living relative to other countries, our superlative achievements in science and the arts, or our absolutely unparalleled selection of televised entertainment options. But that’s not what everyone thinks about. Here’s President Bush , speaking the other day at the site of the Minneapolis bridge collapse: “I met a man who was on the bridge when it collapsed. His instinct was to run to a school bus of screaming children, and to help bring them to safety. We have an amazing country, where people's instinct, first instinct, is to help save life.” We...

Show-Off Nation

How our consumer obsession with originality and authenticity affects our taste in political candidates.

Last week, Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson thrust his intellectual rapier at Toyota Prius drivers, those supercilious owners of "hippie cars" who care only about their image. "Prius politics is mostly about showing off," Samuelson wrote, "not curbing greenhouse gas emissions." As Ben Adler noted on TAPPED , there's no reason why you can't show off and reduce carbon emissions at the same time, and Prius owners are certainly doing the latter, no matter what their motivations. But Samuelson's attack on the eco-righteous raises a larger question: why is it that we assume that people we disdain are consumed with how they look to the rest of the world, while we, and those who agree with us, are all about substance? I'm not arguing that Prius owners aren't concerned about what image they project. As the New York Times reported a month ago, the Prius has outpaced other hybrid cars in sales precisely because, unlike its competitors, it looks distinct from an ordinary car...

Seventeen Candidates in Search of a Story

Only a few of the '08 frontrunners have grasped the importance of the campaign narrative and built a successful story around their candidacies.

Last week, I described how successful presidential contenders construct their candidacies as a three-part narrative: part one tells what's wrong with the country and its government, part two describes the place they want to take the country, and part three explains why they, and only they, can deliver us from the bleak present to the brighter tomorrow they promise. It's now time to look at what kind of a job the current presidential candidates are doing in constructing the broad campaign narrative that tells voters not just who they are and what they want to do, but what a vote for that candidate means. It is the last feature of the campaign narrative -- what my vote says about me -- that is most important, and most often ignored. Let's start with the Republicans. In recent years, Democrats have marveled at their opponents' skill at campaigning, their deft media management, and their finely honed message. But one can scour the '08 GOP field in vain for anything resembling a coherent...


WHAT WE THINK ABOUT WHEN WE THINK ABOUT EDWARDS' HAIR. Watching the coverage of John Edwards has been pretty depressing lately. It's obvious that a significant proportion of the political press corps has decided they just don't like him, and they're going to do whatever they can to destroy his candidacy. The principal vehicle through which this destruction is currently taking place is the haircut story, the vivid, emblematic tale that is supposed to tell us all we need to know about what a big, fat phony Edwards is. They drop it into story after story, no matter what the context is about, just as a reminder. This could be lethal. It brings to mind the lie that " Al Gore said he invented the internet," which appeared in literally thousands of stories during the 2000 race. The Gore campaign never figured out how to handle it. At first they tried to explain that it wasn't true, but reporters just didn't care -- they kept repeating it anyway. Then they tried to joke about it, and that...