5 Best Friday Columns

On Obama's nuclear illusions, achievement and illegitimacy, and the GOP owning health care reform

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  • Roger Cohen on Obama's 'Dangerous Nuclear Illusions'  A new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that would slash U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to their lowest levels in a half-century is awaiting Senate ratification, writes The New York Times columnist. "It’s compatible with America’s defense needs and should be ratified," Cohen contends. But the president should not commit himself to his nuclear-free "Global Zero" ambitions. He must realize that the "idea is an unhelpful distraction because it inclines Republicans to believe Obama is not serious about maintaining and modernizing America’s nuclear arsenal." Japan, Cohen argues, clearly illustrates why "'Global Zero' is a stillborn idea." The nation, which has always pushed disarmament, now "clings" to the U.S. nuclear umbrella in order to fend off "ever-stronger" North Korean and Chinese threats. While Obama can not outright renounce "Global Zero" he should look past it and relinquish "airy-fairy ideals for the politics of the possible."
  • Ronald Brownstein on 'Owning' the Health Care Problem  With their sweeping victories in the midterm elections last week, Republicans acquired much greater ownership of health care reform because they now represent many of the states with the highest rates of un-insurance, The National Journal editor observes. The "replace" part of the "repeal and replace" slogan of the GOP's health care plan may not do "anything meaningful" to reverse the ongoing erosion of coverage. "Analyzing the GOP plan last November, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that by 2019 it would reduce the number of uninsured by only about 3 million, leaving well over 50 million Americans uncovered," reports Brownstein. In contrast, "the health reform law is projected to cover about 33 million of the uninsured by then." The GOP appears comfortable leaving record numbers uninsured, but the medical interests "that they represent may prove less sanguine about coping with such a rising tide."
  • David Brooks on a Return to 'National Greatness'  To address the spiraling national debt, ordinary Americans must channel the ingenuity that helped the country turn into a superpower, contends The New York Times columnist. As it stands now, the answers won't come from political leaders. Republicans talk about addressing the issue, "but a party that campaigns to restore the $400 million in Medicare cuts included in the health care law is not serious about averting a fiscal meltdown. Some Democrats, meanwhile, don’t even bother to pretend." Yet Brooks believes America is a country that could and will address this crisis. "I’m optimistic," he writes, "because while our political system is a mess, the economic and social values of the country remain sound." While the Tea Party movement is not perfect, it is encouraging, a sign that "the country is restive and looking for alternatives." Brooks says now is the time for "revived patriotism" that involves asking tough questions and making painful choices. "Do you really love your tax deduction more than America’s future greatness? Are you really unwilling to sacrifice your Social Security cost-of-living adjustment at a time when soldiers and Marines are sacrificing their lives for their country in Afghanistan?" America has done it before and can do it again.
  • Ron Smith on Illegitimacy and the Achievement Gap  According to a New York Times report this week on big city schools, only 12 percent of black male students are proficient in reading, compared to 38 percent of their white counterparts. When it comes to math, the numbers are even more striking--only 12 percent of black male students in the eight grade are proficient, compared to 44 percent of their white peers. At the same time, new data shows 72 percent of black babies in the United States are born to unwed mothers. "Tie that story to the one above," writes The Baltimore Sun columnist, "and you begin to get a clue as to causation." For all the money spent trying to narrow the racial achievement gap, these sociological factors play an outsized role in academic success. "Children born out of wedlock to mothers of any race are more likely to do poorly in school, to use drugs, be poor in adulthood and to wind up in prison," writes Smith. The fact the number of out-of-wedlock babies has increased across-the-board should give all Americans pause. If these numbers hold steady, "it won't be long before one gap is closed. That will be some achievement, though not a positive one."
  • Robert D. Kaplan on Obama In Asia  President Obama's trip to Asia reveals the myriad opportunities and potential pitfalls facing America in the region, says The Atlantic correspondent in a New York Times op-ed. "The president's visits in all four [Asian] countries are about one challenge: the rise of China on land and sea." India offers encouragement to Americans worried about our relations in the area--"Merely by rising without any formal alliance with Washington, democratic India balances statist China," notes Kaplan. Predominantly Muslim Indonesia is a much more difficult and worrisome proposition. While the country's Muslim democracy "boasts vigor and moderation ... global communications, along with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the dispatch of Wahhabi clerics from the Persian Gulf to the Far East, has radicalized many Indonesians." Further complicating matters, " while China's materialistic culture may soften the influence of political Islam in Southeast Asia, China also plays on the tension between the West and global Islam in order to limit American influence there." It is vitally important, therefore, he argues for the Obama White House and the State department to "use the energy generated by the president’s visit  in order to adopt Indonesia as its new favorite country, just as India was adopted by the George W. Bush administration to substantial effect."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.