Five Best Wednesday Columns

Obama's strategy, the infrastructure bank, and Nadal

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Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann on independent candidates Several columnists have called for an independent candidate, "a radical centrist" to break apart the two-party system, pointing to "Americans Elect," which is organizing a Web convention to nominate such a person. "The call for a third way, in this case, is misguided," write Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution in The Washington Post. It is highly unlikely that a third-party candidate would collect a majority of electoral votes or the support of the tie-breaking House of Representatives. Beyond that, it would be difficult for a non-affiliated candidate to work with Congress. Already, presidents have difficulty governing when half the members of Congress belong to their party. But even if a third-party candidate lost, the person could still influence the election. "In 2012, the nightmare scenario for us would be angry or demoralized independents and discouraged centrist Republicans gravitating toward the third candidate, enabling a far-right Republican nominee to prevail with a narrow electoral majority or with a plurality followed by a win in a deeply divided House." Ornstein concludes, "The only positive scenario is that the third candidate speaks tough truths to Americans and, like Perot in 1992, changes the dialogue and the dynamic in positive ways."

Holman Jenkins Jr. on antitrust law suits "A signature Nixon scandal was born when Nixon said to an underling: 'There is not going to be any more antitrust actions as long as I am in this chair,'" recalls Holman Jenkins Jr. in The Wall Street Journal. Regarding the Justice Department's lawsuit opposing the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, Obama should take a lesson from Nixon, Jenkins writes. "Wireless does not tend toward monopoly or excessive profits. The industry's real shortage right now is a shortage of customers." Bandwidth demands are expanding but consumer willingness to pay is not. Instead of implementing bandwidth caps or higher prices, the industry is just competing "more fiercely for customers," Jenkins says. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse argues against the merger, fearing a duopoly with worsened customer service and higher prices. Such a result would only benefit companies like Sprint, Jenkins argues, which could capitalize on the negative trends among its big competitors and fill a new niche in the market. The Justice Department does not understand the industry, Jenkins says. "It imagines a world in which, if T-Mobile isn't pushing discount wireless plans, nobody would push discount wireless plans. This may fly in the inner cluster-assemblage where antitrust theorists perpetuate their meal ticket, but it's insane," he writes. "In the real world, the opportunities in mobile are so huge, it's implausible to imagine the market not being roiled by constant innovation in business and pricing models." Antitrust has become overly bureaucratic and only strong and rebellious presidential leadership (the kind Nixon sometimes used too much) can rein it in, Jenkins says.

Sam Youngman on Obama's new offensive "[T]he dirty secret inside the White House is that while the jobs plan is what Obama really wants, he can live happily with the alternative — a fall battle that ends with Republicans voting against tax cuts for the middle class," writes The Hill's Sam Youngman. Obama has learned his lesson after the debt ceiling fight and set a "classic trap" for Congressional Republicans. Obama is playing offense, surrounding himself with teachers and first responders in the Rose Garden to demand passage of the bill, and make those who oppose it appear the allies of "corporate jet owners." But because Obama wants to pay for new spending with tax increases on businesses and the rich, Republicans will certainly oppose his bill. Obama does genuinely want to give more Americans jobs, Youngman says, but more than that, he wants voters to see him as a strong leader. Though no one came out of the debt ceiling debate looking good, Obama's aides think he tried to bargain and Americans will ultimately support that position. The softened tone of Republicans in Congress shows they might think so too, but they are caught in an awkward position. "If Republicans do nothing, Obama wins. If they do something, Obama wins. And if they do a little, Obama gets to keep the debate alive, putting miles on Air Force One and devoting his fall and winter to painting Republicans as beholden to special interests over jobs... So while it's not exactly the inspiring politics of hope, it's pretty good politics all the same," Youngman writes. Whether America actually gets some jobs out of it as well "would be a bonus."

Scot Lehigh on the infrastructure bank There is a bipartisan proposal out there to cheaply put Americans back to work and improve America's infrastructure. It is supported by a Massachusetts Democrat and a Texas Republican, by the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce. "You might say: Impossible," notes Scott Lehigh in The Boston Globe. "But all that is true of the plan Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas have put forward for an American Infrastructure Financing Authority, or, colloquially, a national infrastructure bank." He explains, "The federal government would fund the bank with $10 billion in seed capital and grant it the right to issue $160 billion in federal loans over a decade. The institution would then use loans and loan guarantees to help leverage private investments for projects that passed its strict vetting process." By ensuring some of the costs of approved water, energy, and highway projects, the bank would entice private investors to put in money. "If it is done right, it could expand exponentially the amount of infrastructure spending that we have," says Senator Hutchison. Lehigh adds, "If you consider that every 1 billion in infrastructure spending puts between 18,000 and 30,000 people to work, over time, such a bank could give employment a shot in the arm."  Infrastructure projects can't depend solely on private investing, Lehigh says, because "the size and duration of the loan required, for example, or the structure of the investment - don’t fit well with traditional financing." It's not a new idea. Such banks exist in Europe, Asia, and Brazil. The bank won't solve short-term recessionary problems, but Obama has included it in his jobs plan, and Lehigh hopes it will overcome Republican skepticism about an expanded government role.

The New York Times on Nadal's gracious loss in the U.S. Open  "Gracious losers, and winners, are, sadly, rare in professional sports. Rafael Nadal's performance Monday night, after losing this year's United States Open, was the very essence of graciousness and a reminder of what good sportsmanship really means," writes The New York Times editorial board. Nadal's intense game of tennis stands in contrast to his quiet off-court demeanor, they write. He was probably tired and angry after losing to Novak Djokovic in four sets, but he didn't show it during the post-match press conference. "When reporters opened by asking about a medical timeout Mr. Djokovic had taken, Mr. Nadal said, 'We are starting the press conference in a bad way, I think. It's not the right moment to find excuses.'" He showed similar humility when asked whether Djokovic's back pain had given him hope or whether he worried about future match-ups with his opponent. "It was moving to watch a man who had played with so much heart also speak with so much heart," they write. "His praise for Mr. Djokovic, who is having one of the greatest seasons ever, was generous and accurate. But the thing of beauty — and the very ethic behind his game — was the self-recognition in Mr. Nadal's words, the sense of his personal responsibility for what happens to him on the court." He showed "terse eloquence," summarizing his philosophy with one phrase: "Accept the challenge, and work."

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