Five Best Friday Columns

Ariel Levy on Gingrich's debate, Nicholas Burns on Iran, Jonathan Alter on the State of the Union, David Brooks on the Romneys, and Carlo Rotella on talking heads. 

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Ariel Levy in The New Yorker on Gingrich's marriages When John King asked Newt Gingrich about his ex-wife Marianne's assertion that he'd asked her for an open marriage at Thursday night's debate, Gingrich made what's sure to be an iconic attack on King and the media for opening with that topic. "I am frankly astounded that Gingrich hasn't been asked more about his various affairs and divorces—they are legitimate subjects for inquiry," writes Levy, who points to Gingrich's attacks in the 90s on Clinton's infidelity and his rhetoric on the infringement of secular values on American life. Levy argues the greatest concern over Gingrich's history comes from religious conservatives, not from an "elite media" out to protect Obama. He points to trepidation from Mike Huckabee and others. Meanwhile Gingrich's sister, a lesbian, is also concerned, saying "it's frustrating as hell that there are people—my brother included—that are able to enjoy marriage equality more than once."

Nicholas Burns in The Boston Globe on diplomacy in Iran On the question of how to deal with an increasingly threatening Iran, Republican candidates have wide-ranging opinions from leaving Iran alone to joining Israel in a bombing campaign. "A more sophisticated plan would be to stick with the strategy that two unlikely partners - Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush - have tried since 2005: punish and isolate Iran with ever tougher sanctions while leaving the door open to negotiations and an eventual diplomatic solution," writes Burns, who worked on Iran in the Bush state department. He argues that the world agrees that Iran has nuclear ambitions, but says the case for a military strike hasn't been proven effective and could have a dangerous outcome. The newly strengthened sanctions already look promising, he says, arguing diplomacy may be the ultimate solution. "[I]t would be a serious strategic mistake to strike Iran now and give up on the most promising sanctions campaign in years."

Jonathan Alter in Bloomberg View on Obama's State of the Union President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday, and he'll likely expand on themes introduced in his Osawatomie, Kansas speech last month. "The State of the Union is where the president must actually explain how he would reduce income inequality, revive the middle class and restore faith in our battered democratic institutions. Trashing Mitt Romney (or Newt Gingrich) all year won't be enough to get Obama over the finish line in November," argues Alter. People are disillusioned with the past year and unhopeful that anything will be accomplished before the election, so Obama should lay out a specific strategy for the next four years, says Alter, and he gives some suggestions. He says Obama should specifically address the skills gap that leaves job positions open despite high unemployment and highlight the difference between parties on education issues.

David Brooks in The New York Times on the Romney family history Talk of Mitt Romney's personal fortune raise questions about the impact his privileged upbringing has had on his character. "Romney's salient quality is not wealth. It is, for better and worse, his tenacious drive ... It's plausible to think that it came from his family history," writes Brooks. Romney likely won't draw on this history because it raises the uncomfortable issue of Mormonism, but Brooks tells the story dating back to his great-great-grandfather, and it's a fascinating history in which generations of Romneys are continually forced to move and live through hardship and persecution (often for their polygamy.) Romney's father built a fortune having immigrated from Mexico with nearly nothing. Romney "may have character flaws, but he does not have the character flaws normally associated with great wealth. His signature is focus and persistence."

Carlo Rotella in The Boston Globe on academic talking heads As election season ramps up, we'll increasingly see academics invited to radio and TV. "The scholar typically wants to add nuance, perspective, and depth to an overly simplified public discussion ... But the producers of the show just need somebody to say X," writes Rotella. He describes his own experience trying to give complex answers when television hosts want pithy headlines. And he recounts listening to a radio show in which an academic tried to avoid giving a short blurb about his work on sexuality and ended up muddling his point while a journalist on the show declared "We're a 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' society living in a world of 'Leave It to Beaver'-era social infrastucture," a great line after which she didn't have much to add. "There's a sweet spot between the eminent scholar who had so much to say but couldn't find a way to say it and the media pro who didn't have much to say but managed to get it said memorably in a few seconds of airtime..."

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