Five Best Monday Columns

Bob Woodward on why Obama chose Hagel, Paul Krugman on so-called takers, William Lloyd George on Eritrea's teetering dictatorship, Gordon Chang on Chinese air, and Albert Hunt on Republicans' electoral vote shuffle.

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Bob Woodward in The Washington Post on why Obama chose Hagel He might have more access to the White House's most guarded conversations than any other journalist, and in today's Washington Post opinion pages, Bob Woodward uses his insight to divine why, exactly, President Obama settled on Chuck Hagel as his next secretary of defense. "The two share similar views and philosophies as the Obama administration attempts to define the role of the United States in the transition to a post-superpower world," Woodward writes, citing conversations Hagel and Obama held early in the president's first term. "This worldview is part hawk and part dove. It amounts, in part, to a challenge to the wars of President George W. Bush. It holds that the Afghanistan war has been mismanaged and the Iraq war unnecessary. War is an option, but very much a last resort ... Applying such a doctrine in today’s dangerous and unpredictable world will be daunting—but on these issues Obama seems to have found a soul mate."

Paul Krugman in The New York Times on so-called takers The way Paul Krugman sees it, the term "class warfare" has undergone a shift in recent years. It used to be a defense mechanism for an upper class that felt besieged by populists. But now it's been turned around on elites, and liberals are becoming more class conscious than ever. Republicans, in response, have been trying to appeal to middle-class Americans by distancing themselves from previous statements. "Paul Ryan, for example, has lately made a transparently dishonest attempt to claim that when he spoke about 'takers' living off the efforts of the 'makers' ... he wasn’t talking about people receiving Social Security and Medicare," writes Krugman, who isn't buying it. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal also recently tried to describe the GOP as "a populist party," to which Krugman replies, "No, you aren’t. You’re a party that holds a large proportion of Americans in contempt. And the public may have figured that out."

William Lloyd George in Time on Eritrea's teetering dictatorship Eritrea's notoriously undemocratic regime may be tearing at the seams. Last week, a television news presenter read a demand for constitutional rights and the freeing of political prisoners before The Ministry of Information managed to shut down the broadcast for the first time in 20 years. Eritrea remains an incredibly closed society, so William Lloyd George can only speculate about what's going on there, but he sees evidence that political change may be fomenting. "Since Monday, dissidents, journalists and experts have spent hours trying to assemble a picture of what transpired," George writes. Kjetil Tronvoll of the Oslo-based International Law and Policy Institute tells him, "whatever you believed happened, this has been a significant development." To which George responds, "At least, that’s what the exiles, dissidents and victims of the regime are hoping."

Gordon Chang in Forbes on Chinese air Pollution in Beijing has recently reached 39 times the limit outlined by the World Health Organization, and Chinese authorities say they're starting to get serious about fixing that. They've skirted commitment to international climate treaties in recent years, but as Gordon Chang reads the current situation, "The most important reason Beijing may accept emission caps is that a global pact will be all about money—money for China ... And this means a climate change treaty is about who pays. President Obama may be able to coax China into accepting a global accord, but to do that he will need to get the American taxpayer to subsidize Chinese industry. The climate in Congress, however, will undoubtedly prevent any bargain of that sort."

Albert Hunt in Bloomberg View on Republicans' electoral vote shuffle GOP efforts to redistribute electoral votes more heavily in rural districts throughout states like Virginia, Florida, and Ohio has been widely denounced among the punditocracy. But will ordinary voters take note? Albert Hunt thinks they will. "What might stop these attempts at rigging is if smart Republicans realize how manipulative it looks, and that it could come back to bite them," Hunt writes. "Such a system would dilute the clout of the states that adopt it, which is why Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia is opposing any change. If this sort of political coup had been pulled off earlier, instead of celebrations on the streets of Washington during last week’s presidential Inauguration, there would have been violent protests."

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