Five Best Wednesday Columns

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Margaret Carlson on why Cain's moment could last "In the nontraditional-campaign-cum-performance-art that is Herman Cain's quest for the presidency, what doesn't kill him may make him stronger," writes Margaret Carlson in Bloomberg View. Cain's campaign is "in crisis mode" after a Politico story revealed the National Restaurant Association paid settlements to two women who accused Cain of sexual harassment. But in campaign events, Cain has maintained his "sunny salesmanship act." So maybe, Carlson admits, the "infatuation" with Cain won't end as it has with other candidates, especially in light of many conservatives' continued resistance to a Romney candidacy. So far, Cain is simply the newest "anti-Romney" candidate, and his many gaffes at least remind us "that Cain isn't a member of the detested political elite." Polls also show him to be in the lead. So a sexual harassment allegation might just fuel supporters who think the world is out to get him. Some pundits have rallied to him, accusing the media of "lynching" him, but others have serious doubts about nominating someone so unvetted to take on the vulnerable President Obama. Perry has enough money to stay in the race awhile longer, but he'll have a tough time making voters forget he can't "form simple declarative sentences," especially after a New Hampshire campaign speech that had many wondering if he'd been drinking. "So Cain's moment may persist -- if for no other reason than that the base is plum out of alternatives," Carlson writes. Except, of course, for Jon Huntsman, who if he weren't already losing the race, would probably have a lot of Republicans "begging him to get in."

Steven Rattner on propping up the euro Nothing in last week's European rescue plan "addresses the endemic economic weaknesses that nearly propelled the euro zone into a meltdown," writes Steven Rattner in The New York Times. The plan might have calmed financial markets (only to have them roiled by a potential Greek referendum), but it didn't take on the challenge of restructuring the Eurozone to prevent a recurring crisis. "The initial misstep by European leaders, of course, was lashing their nations to a common currency without integrating other critical policies." That allowed for different growth rates to persist such that Germany's productivity and output grew in the past decade while Italy's stagnated. Other countries, too, face similar problems. "By having a single fiscal policy and regulatory framework, the United States has experienced far fewer internal stresses and strains," Rattner notes. The federal government reimburses states for half their extended unemployment payouts, a system of "transfer payments" that rich European nations dislike. We also have a much more mobile labor market that allows people to move toward the jobs, whereas cultural and linguistic barriers make Europe's labor markets more rigid. "To date, European leaders have focused on treating the symptoms of what ails the common currency, rather than the disease itself." The alternative now is to abandon the Euro, an exit that would "entail unimaginable complexity and bring its own form of chaos." Better though, would be to move Europe toward "true integration," including transfer payments, a single fiscal policy, "and a harmonized approach to competitiveness." If they continue to resist, they threaten their "vision of an integrated continent spawned in the post-World War II ashes." 

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Bill Gates on foreign aid "Fifty years ago, almost 20 million children under the age of 5 died every year. In 2010, the figure was down to 7.6 million," writes Bill Gates in The Washington Post. That's a sign of the world's progress, Gates says, but he warns that the economic crisis threatens to slow the trend. Gates will report to the leaders of the G-20 summit Thursday with "creative ways for the world to continue investing in development despite fiscal constraints." Gates wants to emphasize that U.S. aid played a key role in much of the progress we've already seen. Aid is able to fill the gap in funding innovation when the private sector lacks incentive and poor governments lack funds. It was U.S. aid that made the green revolution possible, and that provided millions of children with vaccines. Gates also wants leaders to realize that aid is in our own best interest. The developed world has helped increase the number of healthy, highly educated nations, and without them, our own economies would be worse off. "If countries that are currently poor can feed, educate and employ their people, then over time they will contribute to the world economy," he says. And finally, he reminds us that the U.S. is not the only country providing aid. Other wealthy nations contribute, too, but "the amount poor countries spend on their own development is much greater than the amount donors invest." Countries like China and India are using recent experience combined with technological gains to make progress. "For instance, China is sequencing 10,000 varieties of rice to help small farmers cope with climate change." The private sector hasn't always given as much as it should because it doesn't see the incentives, but Gates wants to make those incentives clearer. "Sometimes Americans get the impression that we're shouldering the whole burden of development and that, ultimately, our aid doesn't make a big difference," Gates says, but he argues that we're linking our investments to a network of other investments, and we've already made the world better by doing so.

Scot Lehigh on ideological purity in the GOP The 2012 primary campaign has revealed "how little tolerance there is for free-thinking in today's GOP," writes Scot Lehigh in The Boston Globe. Candidates have seen huge backlash for speaking out against party orthodoxy. Certainly Mitt Romney can be accused of displaying "a periodic penchant for, um, prevailing-breeze-based repositioning," Lehigh says, but this weekend, columnist George Will accused him of being a Republican Michael Dukakis, "a technocratic Massachusetts governor who takes his bearings from 'data'." "Zounds!" Lehigh writes. "Imagine that, letting facts inform your course, when you could simply steer by ideological presupposition." Romney has also faced criticism for acknowledging that humans contribute to global warming. "'Bye-bye, nomination,' ideological enforcer Rush Limbaugh declared shortly after Romney did so in June." Republicans didn't always consider that admission a heresy, but the right has moved further toward maintaining that the question of man-made climate change is in dispute despite overwhelming scientific consensus, Lehigh says. Though Rick Perry has taken the party line on climate change, he's roiled conservatives on other issues, like, for instance, "[s]uggesting that those who oppose in-state college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants had no heart." Herman Cain was criticized for suggesting that a woman who is the victim of rape or incest should be permitted an abortion. "Time was, the rape or incest exception was a consensus qualifier to a Republican pro-life position." And then there was the backlash when Newt Gingrich said Paul Ryan's "Medicare-slashing budget" was "right-wing social engineering." With that, Gingrich "forfeit[ed] any serious claim to be the GOP nominee," wrote The Wall Street Journal. Requiring ideological purity is strange given the Republicans' history as a "big tent," Lehigh says, and especially given the poor performance in the polls of the race's most adherent conservatives, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.

Dana Milbank on Republicans' trust in God Legislators have been "preaching for weeks about the urgency of Washington taking action to create jobs," writes Dana Milbank in The Washington Post, and so on Tuesday they took up "H.Con.Res 13 -- Reaffirming 'In God We Trust' as the official motto of the United States." At first, it might be difficult to see the purpose in combating a non-movement to revoke a motto that's been on the books for 55 years. Indeed, "the infidel opposition took a rather different view of the GOP jobs bill. 'We are focused on jobs measures,' said Brian Fallon, spokesman for Senate Democrats. 'The House Republicans will hopefully get the message to do the same, God willing.'" On the floor, Republicans "howled" about the importance of our motto, while Democrats wondered why "we are returning to irrelevant issues that do nothing to promote economic growth to put Americans back to work." Still, "the godless Democrats were crushed, 396 to 9, by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of the God-fearing," Milbank writes. In fact, this bill might have violated the House Republicans' earlier promise not to "bring up ceremonial resolutions or to take up bills on the floor without hearings." Why, then, did they take up this bill? Perhaps because "it is still too early to complain about efforts by the ACLU to snuff out Christmas." Yet it also communicates to independents that when the country faces economic issues, Republicans remain concerned with a "focus on God, gays and guns." Or maybe Republicans just mixed up the three letter words "job" and "God." Still, "to continue to pursue social policies even while the nation cries out for economic relief requires the patience of Job -- not to be confused with jobs," Milbank says.

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