5 Best Wednesday Columns

On what's next for Democrats, war crimes in just wars, and the need to recognize stress as a real medical problem

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  • Jonathan Zimmerman on War Crimes in Just Wars  The recent allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan shouldn't determine whether or not a war is justified, argues the New York University professor in The Los Angeles Times. Yet critics of the war effort in Afghanistan have used the allegations that U.S. soldiers cut off the fingers of corpses and posed in photographs with them as an excuse to call into question the entire enterprise. He notes that the "reaction from antiwar activists was quick and predictable: The war was a mistake all along, and our military crimes prove it." Zimmerman reminds readers that even in the most "just" war, World War II, American soldiers routinely scalped skulls and dismembered Japanese corpses. He concludes: "atrocities happen in almost every war, just and unjust alike. So it's far too simple--and a bit dishonest--to claim that the crimes of this war make the war itself criminal."
  • Holman Jenkins on 'How the GOP Can Outsmart ObamaCare'  The Wall Street Journal columnist remarks that election day was a "crude" political wake up call to wave off government activism. But gridlock won't be enough to clean up the "train wreck" of ObamaCare or even health care without ObamaCare. Republicans shouldn't repeal the bill but add to it, argues Jenkins, putting in an "optional federal charter for health insurers" which will "permit insurers to design their policies free of ObamaCare's mandated benefit levels and free of state regulation." These nationally-chartered insurers would allow consumers not be forced to buy "gold-plated coverage," would cover the 'healthy cohort" for a major injury or illness and would (when paired with a health savings account) "provide a much-needed kick of consumer discipline to the medical complex's pants." Obama may well go along with this, adds Jenkins.
  • Evan Bayh on What Lies Ahead For Democrats As the president's party licks their wounds from the midterm losses, the retirement-bound Democratic Senator from Indiana outlines a gameplan in The New York Times. "It is clear that Democrats over-interpreted our mandate. Talk of a 'political realignment' and a 'new progressive era' proved wishful thinking," Bayh observes. Instead, in order to set the stage for success in 2012, Democrats must start with tax reform to allow businesses to be globally competitive. To prove that the party isn't comprised of "wild-eyed spenders," earmarks should be banned until the budget is balanced. And, to show that government isn't immune to fluctuations in the economy, there should be a "freeze on federal hiring and pay increases." Tinkering with already passed major legislation (health care, financial reform) is also supported by Bayh. "I’m betting the president and his advisers understand much of this," he hedges. "If so, assuming the economy recovers, President Obama can win re-election; Democrats can set the stage for historic achievements in a second term."
  • Ari Fleischer on the Way Forward  The former Bush press secretary says that, for starters, "if Bill Clinton's presidency is any guide," the president is going to have to lead when it comes to negotiations with an opposing House. He also points out that Republicans are going to face some serious internal dissent when it comes to how to slow and cut spending. "My advice to the tea party freshmen," he write: "Slow the galloping horses down to a trot. Big government was built over decades; it can't be dismantled in a year, especially when Democrats control the White House." If they try, it might backfire and lead to pushback in 2012. He also adds that the "antiwar wing of the Democratic Party" is not to be "underestimated": if Obama drags his feet on Afghanistan, he "may very well find himself with a primary." He'll win it, but it will "make it harder for him to shift right and govern from anywhere near the center."
  • James Le Fanu on Stress  The general practitioner bemoans in The Telegraph the "devalu[ation]" of "the concept of 'stress.'" It has come to be associated with "self-important executives struggling to fit the competing demands of work and family into their hectic lives." The "taboo" truth, he says, is that "everyone needs a break from the daily grind. For those at the bottom of the pile, especially, life can be harder than most of us can imagine." As a doctor, he occasionally "sanction[s] a brief respite" by insisting that a patient has a "viral illness":
Am I just colluding in people playing truant? On the contrary. Even if the diagnosis is woolly, the problem is serious. In its proper usage, "stress" is a catch-all description of the many adverse effects that follow when a state of heightened alert ... is both prolonged and unresolved. These effects include not just exhaustion, but disturbances of the autonomic system that can cause irritability, agitation, insomnia, palpitations and much else besides. [He mentions stomach ulcers] ... "Stress" is much more than a pretext for a few days off work--and the fact that workers and GPs still feel the need to make excuses shows how far we are from being able to address the problem.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.