Five Best Sunday Columns

On the resurrection of rhetoric, leaving DOMA to the states, and why the Middle East is ready for democracy

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Joanna Weiss on Why Unions Are Losing the PR Battle  It's not just Tea Party types that are becoming more dismissive of the value of unions, writes the Boston Globe columnist. "Even the mainstream media that were historically sympathetic to union causes...have grown more critical, largely spurred by stories about urban schools that have cast teachers’ unions as impediments to progress," she writes. So why is it, as Weiss puts it, that these "middle-class folks are drawing so much hate?" And how can they present themselves in the best possible light? As to the first question, "why," Weiss points out the sentiment that "it’s hard to fathom the finances of a billionaire, but easy to understand that the guy down the street pays a $100 less each week for health insurance." As far as how unions can look more "sympathetic," she figures "they need to seek out new industries." Expanding their reach to new sectors will enlarge their ranks, "remind the public that labor still has an important role" and build, not battle, the middle class.

Nicholas Kristof on Political 'Maturity' in the Arab World 
"Are Arabs too politically immature to handle democracy?" asks the New York Times columnist. "I don’t think so," he affirms, before making the argument that "this line of thinking seems to me insulting to the unfree world." While Americans "spout bromides about freedom," campaigners in the Middle East are braving tear gas, violence and "unimaginable" torture for the democracy movement. "In Bahrain, I watched a column of men and women march unarmed toward security forces when, a day earlier, the troops had opened fire with live ammunition. Anyone dare say that such people are too immature to handle democracy?" he asks rhetorically. There will be "bumps" in the road, Kristof concedes, but after a revolution countries that value democracy eventually "pull through" with the help of education, wealth and international connections. Let's put aside the notion that Arabs "can't do democracy," he argues.

Peggy Noonan on Rhetoric's Resurrection on the Internet
   Not too long ago, The Wall Street Journal columnist recounts, politicians had largely conceded the notion that the persuasive speech had been killed off by TV and radio soundbites. Thanks, in part, to a flurry of activity of forwarded transcripts and videos to your inbox, the political speech as "sustained" and powerful force is back in vogue. The internet, in short, is to thank for reviving long form political discussion. But don't give all the credit to Facebook and Twitter, Noonan chides. "People in politics think it's all Facebook and Twitter now, but it's not. Not everything is fractured and in pieces, some things are becoming more whole. People hunger for serious, fleshed-out ideas about what is happening in our country," she writes. Noonan ends optimistically: the more "pertinent, truthful, sophisticated and sober-minded" these speeches are, the more likely that Americans will begin to listen to them.

Kenneth M. Pollack on the U.S. 'Defining' Middle East Future
  The key question is not "why have we failed to understand the problems of the Middle East for so long, but rather what are we going to do about them now?" argues the Brookings Institute Director in the Los Angeles Times. And, to be clear, Pollack believes the U.S. has made plenty of mistakes in the region, beginning with treating terrorism as a "principal target" rather than a "symptom" of the region's "dysfunction and disrepair."  Middle Easterners want prosperity, pluralism, and better lives in developing, modern democracies, Pollack argues.  And the U.S. shouldn't shy from a leadership role: "it is going to mean embracing and leading a comprehensive effort to enable economic, social and political reform across the Muslim Middle East." Practically, this means "large-scale economic" assistance to help develop a "progressive" vision in poorer states, and it will mean convincing China and Russia that it is in their best interest to pursue a democratically stable region.

Steve Chapman on Leaving Marriage to States 
It's ironic, notes the Chicago Tribune columnist, that a president who's been so often criticized for federal "overreach" is now being "denounced by Republicans for…not asserting federal power at the expense of state sovereignty." Last week, the Obama administration decided that it would tell the Justice Department to stop prosecuting cases related to the Defense of Marriage Act. Chapman argues that DOMA was a big mistake for the federal government for two reasons: "It thrusts the national government into a matter where it has no business, and it enforces an irksome uniformity on states with diverse mores and cultures." Again, ironically, it was also a "double standard writ large. The feds respect the choices made by the people of Mississippi and Michigan, but not those embraced by citizens in Vermont or Connecticut." Getting rid of DOMA would mean that the government would finally acknowledge that "America has room for more than one policy on same-sex marriage," he writes.

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