5 Best Monday Columns
On Egypt's future, female authors, and America's Republican bubble
Fareed Zakaria on Why Egypt Isn't Iran--But Could Be At The Washington Post, Zakaria takes a look at the popular fear promoted by several conservative figures that the result of Egypt's current revolution will be the same as that of Iran in 1979, when, after the reigning American ally was ousted, a theocratic Islamic Republic took over. Zakaria insists that "Egypt is not Iran," and that this unrealistic fear is "drawing American eyes away from the actual problem in Egypt: military dictatorship." The military has been in charge of the country since 1952, and Zakaria suggests that sacrificing Mubarak was just a strategy in the military's efforts to "manage the process of change, to ensure that it remains all-powerful." If the U.S. is going to try to help the transition to democracy, "the transition should be not just from Mubarak but from the whole system he headed." This, Zakaria warns, is because the military remaining in power may be the one thing that would lead Egypt to emulate Iran. "Over time, it will make opposition to the regime and to the United States more hard-line, more religious and more violent," he predicts. "That might be the real parallel to the forces that led to the Iranian revolution."
- David Remnick on Why the Outcome in Egypt is All But Certain The New Yorker editor enumerates the complexities of the socio-political climate in Egypt while examining the varying results of recent popular uprisings in world history. What, if anything, can help us anticipate the eventual outcome in Egypt? "No one can predict with confidence what might develop after Mubarak--if, in fact, his regime falls," Remnick says. Barack Obama's measured response has been a reflection of a new American ideology as well, Remnick remarks: "The unsayable thing in contemporary domestic politics is that American influence in the world is neither limitless nor pure. But Obama grasps this, and sometimes the result of his politics of modesty has been disheartening." Israel must reckon with its own shortcomings, particularly with regard to the question of settlements, in order to ensure its success as a democracy. One way or another, the tensions wracking the both Egypt and the Middle East will eventually resolve. "Judgment," Remnick says, "can be postponed but not forestalled."
- Ruth Franklin on Allegations of a Literary Glass Ceiling The New Republic's senior editor explores the gender disparities between men and women in the literary world, where male-authored books are published in much higher numbers than those written by women, and reviewed with a similarly large discrepancy. "The numbers are startling," Franklin writes. "At Harper's, there were 27 male book reviewers and six female; about 69 percent of the books reviewed were by male authors. At the London Review of Books, men wrote 78 percent of the reviews and 74 percent of the books reviewed. Men made up 84 percent of the reviewers for The New York Review of Books and authored 83 percent of the books reviewed." She crunches some numbers that get to the root of the problem: women, even at more independent, cutting-edge presses, get published at much lower rates than men--anywhere from 11 percent at the leftist house Verso, to the 30 percent represented by houses like Norton, Little Brown, and Harper. Only Penguin boutique Riverhead came close to equality, with 45 percent of its books written by women. Franklin notes that her own reviews are not free from this disparity; only 33 percent of the books she reviewed in 2010 were female-authored. She writes that these "statistics made me wonder afresh about the ways we define 'best' and 'most important' in a field as subjective as literature, which, after all, is deeply influenced by the cultural norms in any given age."
Steve Chapman on Alleged Conservatism In a piece published at Reason, Chapman takes on the idea that the 2010 midterm elections were a mandate for Republican-style conservatism, arguing that Americans are far less conservative than crowing Republican leaders believe. Chapman cites Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute, who's written that many Americans who identify as "conservative" in surveys don't actually subscribe to a hard-line anti-government philosophy. Rather, says Olsen, they "constitute a hidden 'liberal' component of the electorate that traditional poll questions tend to overlook." The result: a voting block of white working-class citizens who don't adhere to "the philosophical tenets of the intellectual right," but still voted Republican out of frustration with current conditions and a Democratic Party that is a little too far to the left for their tastes. Chapman says if these voters were true conservatives, they'd be pushing to dismantle big government. Instead, they focus on being anti-tax and anti-deficit, "but they value public schools and Social Security. They resent welfare dependency but want a government safety net. So humility is in order among Republicans"--and a bit of caginess necessary among Democrats.
The New York Times on the Right Way to Curb Public Employee Unions The New York Times devotes an editorial today to several Republican politicians who, according to the editors, are trying to exploit states' "financial crises for ideological purposes." Specifically, these politicians are taking advantage of certain states' current economic hardships in order to reduce the role of state governments and public employee unions. "Some want to cut back severely on federal aid to the states, no matter how much new joblessness that may cause, while others want to ensure that Washington will never bail out a state close to defaulting on its bonds," the editors explain. But, they argue, though public employee unions have managed to keep their heads above water during the hardest parts of the recession, the issue remains "the generous contracts willingly given them by lawmakers because of their lobbying power and bloc-voting ability." As a result of states doling out generous benefits to unions, state services for the poor and middle class are reduced. Still, the Republican push to force these states to file for bankruptcy is not the way to solve this problem. The editors urge that "union contracts and benefits need to be changed at the bargaining table, and budget-cutting governors have all kinds of leverage."