Five Best Thursday Columns

On summer school, Lincoln, and vengenace

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Ta-Nehisi Coates on Obama, Lincoln, and Compromise  President Obama has always been dismissive of critics to his left, argues The Atlantic senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates in The New York Times. Recently, he complained how The Huffington Post would have covered the "compromise" that was Lincoln emancipating only the slaves in rebel territory during the Civil War. "It would have been blistering," he quotes Obama saying. "Think about it, 'Lincoln sells out slaves.'" Obama's thinking holds that opposition must always hold the party line, but looking at the example of the Emancipation Proclamation, Coates finds that "many of Lincoln's most vociferous critics welcomed the Proclamation." Though he personally did not get along with the radicals and abolitionists, Lincoln knew their contribution to the cause. Obama, too, should remember, writes Coates, that he performed well in Democratic primaries because the anti-war left tapped him to make a speech opposing the Iraq war back in 2002. Obama, as a political leader rather than activist, knows he must lead a broad coalition and find compromise. "That mission necessitates appreciating the art of compromise, but not fetishizing it," Coates warns. "Obama would do well to understand that while democracy depends on intelligent compromise, it also depends on the ill-tempered gripers and groaners out in the street. The Party of Lincoln, whatever its present designs, has not forgotten this."

Thane Rosenbaum on Justice and Vengeance  Norway must now decide how to deal with mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik in a justice system that normally only allows killers to be imprisoned for 21 years. America has been seeking an outlet for the rage it feels toward Casey Anthony, whom many believed got away with murdering her daughter. "In both cases the attraction of a nonlegal alternative is a powerful one," writes Thane Rosenbaum in The New York Times. "Are these vengeful feelings morally appropriate? The answer is yes--because the actual difference between vengeance and justice is not as great as people think." Legal systems, Rosenbaum says, can be dispassionate, but still must appear morally appropriate and satisfy mankind's natural need to feel avenged. Procedural errors, conflict over "reasonable doubt," and plea bargains made consulting the victims all leave people without justice or revenge. Still, even were Norway to find an "just outcome" for Breivik, the depth of his crimes would no doubt make any result seem unsatisfying.

Mohamed El-Erian on the Post-Debt Ceiling World  Some say the turmoil in the economy over the debt crisis will be outweighed by the gain of taking on responsible deficit reduction. But the real long-term impact on the economy could be the hit to growth and employment this political showdown inspires, argues Mohamed El-Erian in The Washington Post. "In this political mess, already-weak business and consumer confidence is being dealt a further blow," he writes. "Foreigners have been stunned by the political dysfunctionality of the country in which they have placed factories, whose financial instruments they buy with their savings and whose money serves as the global reserve currency." The country could gain, however, from America's frustration with its leaders' irresponsible governance. After resolving the debt ceiling crisis, politicians should seize on this movement to look at the structural impediments in our political system that impede growth an employment. "The next step is equally important: to use the current political shambles as a catalyst for a renewed sense of common purpose and a better economic future," he writes.

Chip Mellor and Dick Carpenter on Deregulating Industry  "By imposing onerous and usually pointless requirements on those wishing to enter a trade or line of work, state legislatures erect needless barriers around occupations perfectly suited for those entering the work force, midcareer switchers, and pink-slip recipients," write Chip Mellor and Dick Carpenter in The Wall Street Journal. These requirements, which include training requirements and liscencing fees, are part of the reason unemployment remains a problem, they argue. "The breadth of jobs is remarkable. Travel and tourist guides, funeral attendants, home-entertainment installers, florists, makeup artists, even interpreters for the deaf are all regulated by various states." Proponents of regulation say it is in the interest of public safety, but the authors point out that some professions, like floral arrangers, are regulated in only one or two states, yet the unregulated floral arrangement industry is not harming the public in the unregulated states. Florida's new governor, Rick Scott, attempted to deregulate 20 industries and many in the legislature supported him "but then succumbed to the usual suspects of licensure advocacy--industry trade associations, or cartels, eager to protect their state-granted shelter from competition." States should look to the success in Mississippi of deregulating hair braiders, which brought 300 new people to the profession, as an example of a way to fuel job growth.

Jeff Smink on Summer School  Americans cherish their ideal of a lazy summer, but students, especially low-income students, see huge losses in reading and math skills when they leave schoolwork behind for several months, writes Jeff Smink in The New York Times. A RAND Corporation report reveals that low-income students "lose two months of reading skills, while their higher-income peers--whose parents can send them to enriching camps, take them on educational vacations and surround them with books during the summer--make slight gains." Many school districts do not embrace summer school as anything but a punitive or remedial measure, which creates a stigma for the underachieving students sent there. Others, like Pittsburgh, realize that summer school can be mixed with outdoor activities and that schools can team up with existing programs at public libraries to save funds. "All students in high-need schools should have at least six weeks of full-day summer school that is comprehensive and engaging," Smink writes. "Americans cherish the notion of summer as a time of relaxation and fun, but it comes at a heavy cost to poor students and the schools that serve them."

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