5 Best Tuesday Columns

On taxing the well-off, shovel-ready public works, and negotiating with the Taliban

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  • Michael Kinsley on Taxing Those Making $250,000+  The Politico columnist outlines the arguments of two professors--one from the University of Chicago and the other Greg Mankiw of Harvard--who wrote much-debated pieces objecting to raising taxes on high-income earners. Reduced to simplest form, they argue that Obama's plans are "unfair," "inefficient," and will "discourage work." Says Kinsley: "[Professor 1's] big mistake was not writing this but posting it on the Web," while Mankiw--"an intellectually honest conservative"--made some debatable assumptions in his calculations. He's not unsympathetic to the two men's arguments, but his ultimate conclusion is this: "If people making more than $250,000 a year can't be asked to dig a little deeper, who can?"
  • Jonah Goldberg on Shovel-Ready 'White Elephants'  When it comes to public works projects, "this country can't build stuff the way it used to," argues The Los Angeles Times columnist. We are now in the second decade of trying to build a new World Trade Center, an underwater railway between New York and New Jersey is being shelved, and other infrastructure projects are going over budget before they are even built. What's changed since the days of the Hoover Dam? In part, Americans became less willing to countenance great damage to the environment. More importantly, many "white elephant" projects are simply too expensive, or thinly disguised favors to unions. Thus, while liberals blame opposition to infrastructure investment on "the right's anti-government ideological dogmatism," really it's just that most people realize that costs--both monetary and environmental--are high."There are projects perfectly ready for the shovels," Goldberg concludes. "It's the bureaucrats, activists and politicians who aren't ready to hand them out."
  • David Brooks on Campaign Cash's Limited Impact  It's a piece of wisdom political observers have been taught to take for granted: he who raises the most outside money has the best chance of winning. Writing in The New York Times, Brooks argues that  "huge fundraising prowess" has a minimal impact on a candidate's chances of getting elected. Recent primary wins by Joe Miller ("outspent 10 to 1" by Sen. Lisa Murkowski) and Christine O'Donnell (who raised $230,000 to Rep. Mike Castle's $1.5 million) make this seem like a new trend, but according to Brooks, it is not. The fact is, fundraising alone has never punched a candidate's ticket. "Money wasn't that important when Phil Gramm and John Connally ran for president," notes Brooks. "Money wasn’t that important in 2006 when Republican incumbents outraised Democrats by $100 million and still lost." Brooks also discounts the impact of spending from independent interest groups. In states like Colorado, where outside money is playing a significant role in this year's Senate race, ads are not so much a tool to change people's minds as much as a tool to "make the rubble bounce"
  • Joanna Weiss on Tough Talk for Female Candidates  In the wake of the politicization of a conversation between Jerry Brown and a campaign aide in which Meg Whitman was called a "whore," The Boston Globe columnist believes it is time for female candidates to stop exploiting gender-related slights. "You have to have been trapped in the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse not to know that, in the backrooms of politics and business, people use bad words," writes Weiss. In addition, "the gripe was that Whitman had compromised a policy stance to win a union endorsement. Even the head of California’s chapter of NOW called her a 'political whore' for that." Contrast Whitman's feigned outrage with Linda McMahon's attempt to manage gender regarding her WWE past, suggests Weiss: While "Connecticut women aren't thrilled about an enterprise that features barely-clad women tossed on the ground by burly men and told to bark like dogs," McMahon's refusal to downplay her wrestling roots "might make its own case for McMahon's political future; if she can boss around a bunch of burly wrestlers, she might stand a chance of keeping certain lobbyists at bay."
  • Richard Barrett on Talking With the Taliban  The time is now for the Afghan government to begin talking to the Taliban, writes the coordinator of the UN's Al Qaeda-Taliban monitoring team in a New York Times op-ed. Taliban leaders, Barrett argues, have no game plan for what to do once foreign troops leave the country. In negotiations, we can expect the Taliban to show "flexibility" on their primary demand of an immediate withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. "What they really want now is simply an end to aggressive operations," he writes. "The big issue is Al Qaeda: the Taliban will have to agree, and show that they can enforce their agreement, that Al Qaeda will not be able to pursue its terrorist agenda from any part of Afghanistan under their control." Barrett believes that this is at least "theoretically" possible. "Many of the Taliban's new leaders," though, "are being courted by Al Qaeda and other extremists who do not support making a deal with President Karzai," Barrett writes. The message? The time is now.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.