Five Best Tuesday Columns

Madeleine Albright on Vaclav Havel, Jeffrey Goldberg on Wal-Mart, Frank Bruni on the candidates' spouses, Dana Milbank on John Boehner, and Melanie Kirkpatrick on Kim Jong Il.

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Madeleine Albright in The Washington Post on Vaclav Havel Vaclav Havel, the dissident who became president after the fall of Czechoslovakia's communist regime, died Sunday at 75. "He was the leader who gave his country a second birth of freedom. But his preoccupation was not the acquisition of liberty; it was the use of liberty for the right purposes," writes Albright. She describes her friendship and diplomatic dealings with Havel, and notes his resolve to make both the west and the east think about their moral standings. He had a practical commitment to ethics through his rule and later through his advocacy for democracy in places like Cuba, she argues. She calls him a rare leader who could write and speak forcefully and with originality. "Summing up, he declared himself neither an optimist ... nor a pessimist ... but, instead, 'a realist who carries hope, and hope is the belief that freedom and justice have meaning ... and that liberty is always worth the trouble.'"

Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg View on the Walton family In an earlier column, Goldberg noted the stark financial contrast between the Waltons, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune and recent benefactors of an art museum in Arkansas, and the workers who the company employs. "This imbalance wouldn't seem so stark if Wal-Mart ... hadn't made itself into the world's largest retailer in part by paying its workers so poorly." Goldberg addresses the point some critics of his earlier column made, chiefly the criticism that Alice Walton's funding of an art museum wasn't part of a zero-sum game in which that money would otherwise go to Wal-Mart employees. Goldberg argues that she could still fund a museum while advocating for Wal-Mart's underpaid female employees to the company's leaders or while building day-care centers for the workers. He finishes by pointing out that the art museum is unlikely to benefit Wal-Mart workers much both because the museum doesn't cater to them and because the workers don't know much about it.

Frank Bruni in The New York Times on candidates' spouses Once again, presidential campaigns are pointing to spouses as "mirrors" of the candidates' personalities. "It's foolish to read too much into a candidate's spouse or marriage and important to see certain tired political fictions and campaign rituals for what they are," Bruni writes. He points to the foolish conventional wisdom of the 2008 campaign that said that because handsome John Edwards appeared faithful to his more overweight wife Elizabeth, he was a decent man. He notes all the times a campaign or media report has called a politician's spouse his or her "secret weapon" showing that it has become a meaningless cliché. He uses this to point out that we can't really tell much about Mitt Romney from the anecdotes his wife Ann has begun telling on the trail. "A candidate's record is definite. A candidate's romantic life yields to less reliable interpretation, and is put forward with even more sugarcoating."

Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on Boehner's payroll tax reversal House Speaker John Boehner recently pointed to his father's career as a bar owner as evidence that he's tapped into the American middle class. "Whatever advice Earl Boehner has been giving his son from the grave, it doesn't appear to be working. On Monday, the bar owner's son aligned himself with House conservatives in opposition to a broadly bipartisan plan to extend a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans," Milbank writes. The decision is especially poor because, as Milbank details, Boehner reversed himself after giving assurances to the Senate while they put together the bill before passing it and leaving it to the House. By reneging, Boehner reveals that he's serving the interests of radical members of his party, not the middle class of his father, Milbanks says. In a news conference this week, "the speaker denied the obvious truth that he had encouraged the compromise before opposing it," Milbanks writes.

Melanie Kirkpatrick in The Wall Street Journal on Kim Jong Il's death In the wake of Kim Jong Il's death, dissidents celebrated the end of his tyrannical rule. "In the decade since 2002, there has been a flood of escapees. From these men, women and children we have a glimpse of Kim's human legacy," writes Kirkpatrick, at work on a book about those who escaped North Korea. She describes the government's prioritization of military funding over providing food to its people, and their system of prison camps and haphazard imprisonment of anyone linked to those disloyal to the regime. She describes a slow political shift among citizens who have begun to assign blame to the Kim family regime, but doesn't ascribe too much hope to it. She lists Kim's personal eccentricities and the rightful, though mocked, criticisms of Kim from President Bush. "In recent months Kim Jong-un is believed to have ordered a vicious crackdown on North Koreans who try to leave the country and on family members they leave behind," she writes. "None of this bodes well."

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