Five Best Wednesday Columns

The supercommittee, the problem with liberal arts these days, and more

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Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus on the Problem With the Liberal Arts  American college students increasingly ignore liberal arts majors in favor of those that prepare them for a specific profession. This is not only to ensure they will get a job after graduating, but also to avoid liberal arts classes that are increasingly irrelevant, argue Higher Education? "Consider Yale's description of a course it offered that dealt with how disabilities are depicted in fiction," they write in the Los Angeles Times. "'We will examine how characters serve as figures of otherness, transcendence, physicality or abjection. Later may come examination questions on regulative discourse, performativity and frameworks of intelligibility.'" Professors increasingly teach whatever they're researching, treating students more like doctoral candidates than undergraduates. Students come to college broadly curious about the economy and their society. "Amherst once had a college-wide course called 'Evolution of the Earth and Man,' team-taught by faculty from geology through genetics. It was exactly the sort of thing that drew people into the sciences," they write. The course is no longer offered. Professors get no credit in their battle for tenure in designing these courses. "There are still colleges where the contents of the bottles match the labels. But they tend to be more modest schools, ones that don't expect their faculties to make national reputations in research." The authors encourage future students and parents to look closely at a school's course offerings before making a decision.

John Kerry, Max Baucus, and Patty Murray on the Deficit  Democratic Senators John Kerry, Max Baucus, and Patty Murray will attempt to find $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade as members of the 12 person Congressional deficit reduction committee. "This is not going to be an easy task," they write in The Wall Street Journal. "Washington is mired in gridlock, and pundits and special interests from both sides of the aisle are already heaving boulders at our committee." The committee's work comes at a time when many still look for jobs, and when corporate dollars are not being invested until companies regain confidence in the economy and the government. The S&P downgrade and subsequent market turmoil serve as a reminder that Congress must act better. "We know it may seem like the problems we face are intractable. But we were around in the 1990s when Democrats and Republicans came together to balance the budget and put us on the path to eliminating our national debt," they write. Those solutions called for tough choices, including higher taxes, and some congressmen even lost their seats because of their votes. "This moment demands leadership, but it also demands consensus," they write, and they say they will be prepared to compromise with their Republican colleagues.

Maureen Dowd on Obama and Perry on Tour  Maureen Dowd delivers a sobering account of Obama's midwest tour in The New York Times. "Obama spent Tuesday here in Peosta squirreled away in rural economic forums; he said afterward that they talked about such things as cows grazing next to solar panels and 'helping farms manage manure in creative ways.'" she writes. She contrasts Obama's sobering Midwest tour with Rick Perry's. "As Obama did dressage, Perry galloped through Iowa like an unbroken stallion in danger of cracking a leg," she writes, bringing up Perry's comments yesterday that implied Obama might not love America, that Bernanke might be treasonous, and that America needs a commander-in-chief who served in uniform. "By the end of the day, it was a barroom brawl, with Karl Rove telling Fox News that it was not 'presidential' to call the Fed chief, appointed by the second President Bush, a traitor. (When Team W. calls you a yahoo, you’re in trouble.)" Obama declined to criticize Perry, and instead drew a parallel between negotiating with Republicans and with his wife. "Everybody cannot get 100 percent of what they want. Now, for those of you who are married, there is an analogy here. I basically let Michelle have 90 percent of what she wants. But, at a certain point, I have to draw the line and say, 'Give me my little 10 percent.'" To this Dowd replies: "Maybe Michelle should be the one negotiating with the Republicans.

Rebecca Traister Says No to the 'What Would Hillary Have Done?' Game  Though Rebecca Traister supported HIllary Clinton's candidacy in 2008, she also privately worried Clinton might win leaving her supporters to defend themselves at her every misstep for having robbed the world of "an imagined Barack Obama presidency," she writes in The New York Times Magazine. Three years later, people are reversing the game, wondering if Clinton might have done better. And yet, Traister writes, "I find myself wanting the revisionist Hillary fantasists--Clintonites and reformed Obamamaniacs alike--to just shut up already." Clinton might have focused on jobs and the economy and dealt with the right wing more deftly than Obama, but then she might also have invaded Iran by now, writes Traister. "The maddening part, then and now, is that they were utterly comparable candidates," she writes. The fact is, Clinton had a record of moving to the political center, on Iraq and Israel for instance, and her presidency probably would have resembled Obama's. The negative portrayals of Clinton as overly ambitious, a panderer to the working class, and a harpy would have only grown worse. And Obama would have remained unblemished. "Alternate-universe President Hillary Clinton would have been competing with a dream. But in a funny way, Obama is, too." Obama entered the presidency with his own set of sometimes insurmountable obstacles. "There simply was never going to be a liberal messiah whose powers could transcend the limits set by a democracy this packed with regressive obstructionists. That doesn't mean we can't hope for, seek and demand better from politicians and presidents. But we can't spend our time focused on alternate realities in which our country, its systems and its climate are not what they are," she writes.

Jim Lacey on Sticking Up for Western Civlization  "By all means, bring your culture--your art, your songs, your literature, your food. America will take it all and integrate it into a greater and ever more distinctively American culture," writes Jim Lacey in National Review. "But leave your civilization behind." The British riots, Lacey argues, ran their course because society and government are so hamstrung by moral relativism and multiculturalist rhetoric that they will sacrifice basic tenets of Western civilization, chief among them the right to liberty and protected property. Governments usually have a monopoly on violence, and anywhere that violence threatens the social order, it should be met with overwhelming violence to combat it, he argues. "As I see it, the reason the British elites and the country’s ruling class failed to act was that too many of them are convinced that their civilization is no longer worth defending. They have made a serious mistake in accepting that an equality between cultures holds true for civilizations too." We should all bring aspects of our own cultures to the table, he says, but anyone who lives in Britain or America must accept Western civilization's defense of human rights and "unfettered democracy." This means, for instance, we canot allow the burqa to be worn except at cultural events. It is a relic of a culture, but one that actively combats Western society's ideals of freedom for women.

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