5 Best Tuesday Columns

On the politicians we deserve, the ordinary elite, and closing the case of the U.S.S. Cole

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  • Anne Applebaum on the End of the Meritocracy  Writing in The Washington Post, Applebaum wonders about the long-term impact of the charges of "elitism" that have become so common in our politics. As she points out, people like Barack and Michelle Obama are hardly elitists--they are "meritocrats" from modest beginnings whose talent and achievement earned them scholarships at Ivy League schools and facilitated their rise. Increasingly, elitist "often means nothing more than 'a person whose politics I don't like' or even 'a person who is snobby.'" A good resume has turned into a red flag. Applebaum fears the truly qualified "might not bother" with politics in the future if their competence only attracts scorn.
  • Christopher Hitchens on the Politicians We Deserve  The Slate columnist poses this question: "What normal person would consider risking their career and their family life in order to undergo the incessant barrage of intrusive questioning about every aspect of their lives since well before college?" Not many, which may be the reason why there is a dearth of "convincing or even plausible" political candidates, Hitchens contends. Even once the campaign is done, those who have survived must while away their days fundraising to retain their jobs. "No wonder," he writes writes, quoting William Butler Yeats, "that the best lack all conviction." While there are many enthusiastic people who are well-versed in the issues, many of them wouldn't even consider stepping into the political arena. This unfortunately leaves the "inane indignities" of the electoral process to our all-too-trivial politicians.
  • Ali H. Soufan on the Lessons From the U.S.S. Cole  Ten years ago, terrorists blew a hole in the side of a U.S. naval ship refueling in Yemen, killing 17 sailors. Yet the mastermind behind the attacks still hasn't been prosecuted and "many of the men tried and imprisoned for the bombing are again free," observes the former FBI agent in a New York Times op-ed. After the attack, Soufan flew in to investigate but it soon became apparent that the Clinton and Bush administrations didn't care about the "stale" case. Eventually, most of the terrorists were rounded up and imprisoned in Yemen, only to be released by presidential pardons and "questionable 'rehabilitation' programs." Even Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the plot's mastermind, has yet to be properly tried. Soufan concludes: "We long ago realized that if the American government had not let the Cole attack go unanswered, and if our investigation had not been so constrained, we could have undermined Al Qaeda and perhaps even averted the 9/11 attack."

  • Stanley Fish on the Incredible Shrinking Humanities Department  SUNY Albany is cutting its French, Italian, Russian, classics and theater departments, a development that has the New York Times blogger skeptical about the future of the classic liberal arts education. The only thing that might stop similar cuts from taking hold at other large state schools will be "political efforts of senior academic administrators to explain and defend the core enterprise to those constituencies--legislatures, boards of trustees, alumni, parents and others--that have either let bad educational things happen or have actively connived in them." Fish acknowledges this is a difficult task in the current economic climate, but it is part of the job description for university president. They must "proclaim the value of liberal arts education loudly and often and at least try to make the powers that be understand what is being lost when traditions of culture and art that have been vital for hundreds and even thousands of years disappear from the academic scene."
  • David Brooks on the Paralysis of the State  The stalled Hudson River Tunnel project has an impact that extends far beyond the greater New York area, contends The New York Times columnist. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's decision to halt construction on the tunnel--$5 billion over budget--is "a local issue [that] perfectly illuminates a larger national problem." That problem, according to Brooks, is the rise of "scelerotic government." States and cities with declining populations (like Buffalo) still keep large numbers of workers on the payroll, all at increased salaries. When they retire, they receive hefty pensions. This unsustainable arrangement, Brooks believes, is why we can't spend money on the things we really need. The only way out of this circle--in which "the antigovernment-types perpetually cry less, less, less" and "the loudest liberals cry more, more, more"--is "a political movement that is willing to make choices, that is willing to say 'this but not that.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.