Five Best Wednesday Columns

Amy Davidson on Newt Gingrich, Lenore Skenazy on false trends, Ron Klain on the payroll tax, Dana Milbank on punditry, and Ayad Allawi, Osama al-Nujaifi, Rafe al-Essawi on Iraq. 

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Amy Davidson in The New Yorker on Gingrich's Pearl Harbor Newt Gingrich failed to file paperwork to appear on the ballot for the Virginia primary, and his campaign this week compared the setback to that which America faced after Pearl Harbor. "As has been the case so many times in this season, the absurdity of the rhetoric distracts one from the seriousness of the issues at hand," Davidson writes. She says the ballot failure makes him look incompetent, disorganized, and overly self-regarding. Further, his support for restricting voting laws while complaining about Virginia's makes him look hypocritical. But the incident also says more about our "carnival" like politics in general than it does about the candidate. "Politics is not, ultimately, a fantasy. Politics has a solid reality to it, one that the candidates are about to confront when people, with real lives, walk into the polls."

Ayad Allawi, Osama al-Nujaifi, Rafe al-Essawi in The New York Times on Iraq's turmoil Since U.S. troops pulled out from Iraq, moves by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against his political opponents threaten to move the country to civil war. "We needed the United States to protect the political process, to prevent violations of the Constitution and to help develop democratic institutions," write three leaders of Iraqiya, a non-sectarian political party opposed by Maliki. They describe the prime minister's military and political moves to exclude them from the government and argue that he's made unilateral attempts to hold several cabinet positions to influence the military and the judiciary. The U.S. must forcefully advocate for their inclusion in a power-sharing central government, they write. "[A]s Iraq once again teeters on the brink, we respectfully ask America's leaders to understand that unconditional support for Mr. Maliki is pushing Iraq down the path to civil war."

Lenore Skenazy in The Wall Street Journal on fearing false trends In April, a waiter at Applebee's accidentally served a one-year-old some alcoholic juice, causing the restaurant to retrain the entire wait staff and the parents to sue. "Not the biggest news this year, but the fact that it was a national story at all shows that we can't seem to tell the difference between one stupid accident and a terrifying trend that we must do something about immediately," writes Skenazy. She says moves to recall products that have yet to injure anyone, or banning playground games like tag because someone was once hurt playing them, mark our tendency to overreact to non-trends. To be happier this year, she says, "just ignore the temptation to overreact to minuscule threats ... and have a shot of whatever that toddler was drinking."

Ron Klain in Bloomberg View on Geithner and the payroll tax victory Democrats gained a political boost in the standoff over extending the payroll tax cut into 2012. "Many liberals will be surprised to learn that a good deal of the credit belongs to one of their least-favorite members of the president's economic team: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner." Klain says Geithner devised a strategy in 2010 when Obama faced the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. He describes how the one-year payroll tax cut helped keep middle class cuts around while Obama fought to end the higher-income tax cuts, and also injected more money into the economy faster. It also allowed the president to appear to stand for the middle class at the end of 2011, a politically useful time to stage the standoff that indeed panned out. "The result: more help for more working families (and our economy) -- and a political fiasco for House Republicans when they tried to get in the way."

Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on political punditry In 2011, while speaking on television, Dana Milbank predicted Rick Perry would perform well in debates, Newt Gingrich's campaign was finished, and Michele Bachmann was a "formidable" candidate. "The luxury of being a prognosticator is never having to say you were wrong ... This year, though, I decided to hold myself to account by going through every transcript of my TV appearances, and several recordings, to score my forecasts. It is not an exercise I'd recommend for pundits with fragile ­self-esteem." Milbank says the exercise taught him that it's easier to make accurate predictions about broader trends than to react to a single news event. (He also adds that he predicted many things correctly, and tended to be more accurate in his newspaper column than on television.) He still believes, for instance, that Mitt Romney will win the Republican nomination because the party has so often settled on the conventional front-runner after sorting through all its other options. "Probably the most useful bit of TV commentary I did in 2011 was to remind viewers how little I know."

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