5 Best Wednesday Columns

On engaging North Korea, winning a family debate, and weighing Obama's reluctance to pardon

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  • George Lardner on Obama's Reluctance to Pardon  If by tomorrow Obama pardons no one but turkeys, the president "will have the most sluggish record in this area of any American president except George W. Bush," writes George Lardner Jr. in The New York Times. It's difficult to understand Obama's reluctance to grant any clemency. Perhaps it is the "flawed" federal pardon process, which is handled by a tiny staff inundated with requests but only able to recommend a few to the White House. "The current backlog of petitions for both commutations and pardons is tremendous, close to 4,000," he notes. The "foot dragging" is explained away by officials saying the president has asked for updated standards. But while improvements could be made, "President Obama needs only to do his job."
  • John Dickerson on How to Win Your Thanksgiving Political Debate  The Slate editor prays that you don't get involved in a political spat with your family members during the holidays. But, just in case you do, he's provided a mini-guide on the year's best political arguments--and how to talk your way through them. The topics range from TSA pat-downs (overreach vs. manufactured outcry) and extending tax cuts (economy stimulator vs. gimmick) to cutting the deficit (Rep. Paul Ryan's plan vs. Rep. Jan Schakowsky's plan) and pondering whether Palin will run for president ("Can she win? That's a separate question."). Above all, there's one failsafe measure that you can rely on in holiday debating. Just ask "what proof do you have?" and then, quite possibly, you might find that these "towering opinions are based on nothing more than a gut feeling."
  • Joe Biden on Ratifying the New START Treaty  The vice president, following other other high-profile Obama administration figures, makes his case for ratifying the stalled Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in The Wall Street Journal. He begins by reviewing the recent Lisbon NATO summit, where Obama made notable "progress on priorities like missile defense, arms control and the Russia reset." He explains how the decision to adopt "territorial missile defense" in Europe reflects a consensus that the threat, particularly from Iran, is growing. Going "hand-in-hand" with missile defense is the new START treaty, which will restore "important verification mechanisms that ceased when the first Start Treaty expired last December" and significantly reduce nuclear stockpiles. Senate approval of the of the treaty will be the cornerstone of our efforts to "reset" Russian relations and advance the security of our European allies. Biden concludes: "Our uniformed military supports it. Our European allies support it. Our national security interests are at stake. It is time for the Senate to approve New Start."
  • Jimmy Carter on Engaging North Korea  Writing in The Washington Post, the 39th president said yesterday's shelling of a South Korean island by Pyongyang was an attempt on North Korea's part to "remind the world that they deserve respect in negotiations that will shape their future." Carter's experiences with the country as a diplomatic envoy have convinced him that talking directly with North Korea is the best recourse for the United States. While "efforts to display its military capability through the shelling of Yeongpyeong and weapons tests provoke anger and a desire for retaliation" Carter believes yesterday's attack--like President Kim Il Sung's 1994 threat to destroy Seoul--was not so much an act of war as it was an attempt to force America back to the bargaining table to help North Korea achieve its purported goal of "a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and a permanent cease-fire."
  • David D. Hall on Puritanism  Puritan-bashing is in this Thanksgiving, which is possibly understandable, says the Harvard divinity professor in The New York Times, if one's concept of Purirans was formed mainly from The Scarlet Letter. In truth, writes Hall, America's Puritans were downright progressive in their attempts to "recreate the ethics of love and mutual obligation of the New Testament" in their new homeland. "Among the liberties they carefully guarded was the right to petition any government and to plead any grievance, a liberty that women as well as men acted on." Puritans also reformed civil law and the workings of justice. It is important for modern-day Americans not to distort this legacy by propping up a Puritan bogeyman. "Our civil society depends, as theirs did, on linking an ethics of the common good with the uses of power. In our society, liberty has become deeply problematic: more a matter of entitlement than of obligation to the whole. Everywhere, we see power abused, the common good scanted." Hall says that while the Puritans saw the same things, they at least had the fortitude to do something about it.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.