Five Best Wednesday Columns

Flash mobs, lost decades, and Rick Perry

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Floyd Abrams on flash mobs and First Amendment rights  Flash mobs--large groups that assemble by means of text message--sometimes act dangerously or lawlessly. "In doing so, they have raised difficult policy and legal issues, including questions relating to the role of the First Amendment," writes lawyer and author Floyd Abrams in The Wall Street Journal. Recently, mobs have beaten passersby and robbed stores. Official responses to the trend vary. In Cleveland, the city council passed a law banning "improper use of social media to violate ordinances on disorderly conduct, public intoxication and unlawful congregation by promoting illegal flash mob activity." During the British riots, David Cameron considered censoring social network sites. "But by focusing on the newer technological means of communication and not on the illegal conduct and its causes, they miss the point that it is not criminal to meet, let alone to plan to do so--but to engage in criminal conduct." The Cleveland mayor realized this and vetoed the proposed law. But the legality can become ambiguous. In San Francisco, the BART public transit system heard of a planned disruption to their service by groups organizing themselves by cell phone, so they disabled the underground fiber optic network. The plan worked, but the ACLU and others criticized the group for violating the liberties of all BART passengers. "As the proposed Cleveland statute illustrates, barring all people from engaging in constitutionally protected speech, even for a limited time in a limited space, raises troubling First Amendment issues," writes Abrams. "There will be more."

Lynne Steuerle Schofield on a new kind of 9/11 memorial  "Ten years ago Sunday, I lost my mother, Norma Lang Steuerle, when American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon," writes Lynne Steuerle Schofield in The Washington Post. Every year leading up to the anniversary, Schofield says, she is invited to "events aimed at reflection and remembrance of that horrible day." She is grateful to those who organize them and sees them as a way for victims and those still suffering from injuries to heal. "Here's the other side, though, for me anyway: Sometimes I feel I am asked to attend my mother's funeral again and again, year after year." Schofield wonders if this is what her mother, a clinical psychologist, would recommend she do. Instead of the endless remembrances, "would she recommend that, next year on Sept. 11, we try to erect a different kind of memorial to those we lost, by participating in an event aimed at making the world more compassionate, safer and more equitable?" Schofield suggests we spend next year's anniversary emulating what we admired about those lost or raising money for a charity. Schofield says her mother believed it takes hard work to effect change. "If we want the world to be more compassionate, safer and more equitable, we have to work to make that happen." So next year, she says, rather than look back, we should move to the final stage of grief, "acceptance and renewal" and begin to "reflect on what you want the world to be in 10 years and then look forward and act on those reflections."

Thomas Friedman on a 'lost decade'  Kishore Mahbubani, a retired Singaporean diplomat, published an essay Monday which argued that both dictatorships and democracies are failing because their leaders "tell lies." There are, of course, major differences between how citizens in Libya and America deal with leaders who lie. "Still, Mahbubani's comparison warrants some reflection this week, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the president’s jobs speech," writes Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. "It is a great week for truth-telling." Friedman asks us to recall the last time our leader truthfully said there were no easy solutions to our problems, that we must "spend the next five years rolling up our sleeves, possibly accepting a lower living standard and making up for our excesses?" Friedman sees the jobs crisis and 9/11 as "intertwined," the signs of a "lost decade." He compares "how Dwight Eisenhower and his successors used the cold war and how George W. Bush used 9/11." Eisenhower and his successors used competition with Russia to undertake home improvements, constructing highways, developing our science and research programs, and sending a man to the moon. "George W. Bush did the opposite. He used 9/11 as an excuse to lower taxes, to start two wars that--for the first time in our history--were not paid for by tax increases, and to create a costly new entitlement in Medicare prescription drugs." Friedman wishes Bush had proposed a patriotic gas tax on Sept. 12, but instead he continued to cut taxes, asking most Americans to contribute nothing to the wars. "It will be remembered as one of the greatest lost opportunities of any presidency--ever." Friedman hopes Obama takes the politically risky step to tell us the truth about what is required of us to "restore American greatness" and stop American decline.

Josh Kraushaar on Rick Perry's chances against Obama  Rick Perry would be a "formidable nominee against President Obama, and he poses a stronger threat than most Democrats realize and many Republican strategists acknowledge," argues Josh Kraushaar in National Journal. On the left, people see Perry's global warming skepticism and declaration that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme as signs of his extremism and weakness. But Perry has good political senses and understood the anti-Washington mood before most in Washington. "His broad themes of bureaucratic incompetence and government overreach offer a striking contrast to Obama’s agenda and get at many of the anxieties facing Americans today," and what's more, he can point to a record of job creation, unlike President Obama. "Whether he's responsible for that record is a debatable point, but politically, it is a clear winner." Perry's views on entitlement aren't as big a liability as some predict, Kraushaar says, pointing to two special elections in Nevada and New York where Democrats criticized Republican opponents for their views on entitlements. The attacks haven't worked. The 2010 midterm election showed an electorate tired of an acitivist government, and Obama's concession to give up anti-smog standards shows he is conceding to this mood. Finally, Perry's more moderate approach to immigration issues will serve him well among Hispanic voters. Candidates challenging incumbents have had more liabilities than can be found in Perry's book. "Bill Clinton avoided military service, admitted to smoking pot (without inhaling), and had to deal with rumors of extramarital affairs during the 1992 campaign." Still, he defeated a president "facing rough economic times. ... To quote Democratic strategist James Carville: 'It's the economy, stupid.' If the economy doesn't show signs of improving pronto, Democrats could be staring down the face of President Perry in 2013."

Dana Milbank on Romney's new campaign  Rick Perry's new status as the Republican front-runner "has brought an unexpected gift to his rival: It has, by unburdening Romney of his head-of-the-pack status, released him from the tedious and timid campaign he was running," writes Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. "Relieved of the high expectations, Romney is free to take sides unapologetically in a battle over whether the Republican Party will reclaim its mainstream traditions or remain a protest movement." His job plan released yesterday is "old school," Milbank says. "Cut corporate taxes, encourage energy development and free-trade agreements, and admit more skilled foreign workers." And he only proposes $20 billion in up-front budget cuts, "a pittance by Tea Party standards." Romney was "in his element" as he introduced the plan, using only a page of notes, and leaving aside Tea Party-esque, antigovernment rhetoric. This doesn't make Romney a moderate, but rather, "the corporate establishment's answer to Perry's angry populism." Twice he spoke at Tea Party-friendly events this weekend, but didn't pander. "He defended the need for new financial regulations after the economic collapse. He resisted the idea of a federal right-to-work law. He told the Tea Partyers that he would not defy the Supreme Court on abortion, and he vigorously defended 'Romneycare,'" Milbank says. "Until now, Romney's message was that he really, really wanted to be president. Now, his message is more compelling: Will Republicans choose the cool corporatism of Romney or a guy who talks about secession and treason?" Perry offers none of the technical specifics that Romney does in his prescriptions for the economy, and perhaps this provides Romney a chance to set himself apart in the race, Milbank argues.

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