5 Best Friday Columns

Political extremism, human attraction to religion, and why NPR is doing well

This article is from the archive of our partner .
  • Michael Gerson on Political Extremism  The Republican Washington Post columnist finds fault on both sides. "When a Virginia governor speaks of the Civil War, he has a positive duty to disavow the racist sentiments that find refuge in Confederate nostalgia. Context matters," and right now, "passions run high." Sarah Palin has likewise "ignored a positive duty to confront political extremism." Of course, back during the last administration, liberal opponents compared Bush to Hitler and Howard Dean "speculated that Bush might have been 'warned ahead of time [about September 11] by the Saudis.'" The problem, says Gerson, is that "the most basic test of democracy is not what people do when they win; it is what people do when they lose." When losers challenge the vote's legitimacy and trash their opponents, it's "a sign of democratic decline. From the late Roman republic to Weimar Germany, these attitudes have been the prelude to thuggery. Thugs can come with clubs, with bullhorns, with Internet access."
  • Charles Krauthammer on the Logical Disaster of the New Nuclear Policy  "Apart from being morally bizarre, the Obama policy is strategically loopy," argues the conservative Washington Post columnist. "Does anyone believe that North Korea or Iran will be more persuaded to abjure nuclear weapons because they could then carry out a biological or chemical attack on the United States without fear of nuclear retaliation?" Worse, the lack of a U.S. deterrent may create problems for vulnerable countries . "Many small nations [have] relied on the extended U.S. nuclear umbrella to keep them from being attacked or overrun by far more powerful neighbors." With the U.S. nuclear threat weakened, Krauthammer predicts those states--in the Persian Gulf, for example--will feel the need to become nuclear powers themselves.
  • Max Boot on Why Suicide Bombing Doesn't Work  Yes, suicide bombers are terrifying, admits Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. But the secret is that they're just not that effective. He cites a number of examples: The case of Iraq proves that "there is not, as the terrorists like to claim, a limitless supply of martyrs"; jihadists instead prefer the roadside bomb. In fact, the backlash against those who use suicide attacks tends to outweigh the advantages. The one example of a successful suicide attack-based campaign was in Lebanon where "neither the U.S. nor France felt a keen strategic stake."
  • Ezra Klein on News, Analysis, and Opinion  Klein wonders why NPR and The Economist have done so well in the recession. His conclusion: the market for news is saturated, and with the rise of online news newspapers and magazines have had an identity crisis and turned to opinion. "The opinion marketplace," though, is even "more crowded." What do readers really want and need? "Media that explains what those fast-moving stories are actually about. This is a need that is going largely unmet. Both the Economist and NPR are imperfect products, but that's fundamentally what they're doing."
  • Matthew Taylor on Humans' 'Hunger for the Sacred'  In the Telegraph, Taylor points to signs of humanity's instinctive attraction to religious behavior. One, he thinks, is children's tendency to believe things exist to fulfill purposes; Taylor sees this as evidence that humans are "natural creationists." Humans also display other strong impulses that are not entirely rational: "In one experiment, married couples were offered a hundred dollars if--after having an exact replica made of their wedding ring--they would keep one, not knowing if it was the original. Most declined." Similarly, "we would rather wear a dirty item of clothing with no past than a laundered item we are told belonged to a mass murderer. Yet this requires us to believe not only that evil infects clothing, but that it is contagious."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.