Five Best Thursday Columns

Ezra Klein on presidents and jobs, Nicholas Kristof on teacher quality, Conor Friedersdorf on the hunt for conservative alternatives, Elliott Abrams on the Middle East, and Joan Vennochi on Scott Brown.

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Ezra Klein in Bloomberg View on presidents and job creation Mitt Romney wants to peg every job lost in the first years of Obama's term to the President, and he wants to credit every job added by Bain Capital and during his Massachusetts governorship to himself, says Klein. Obama similarly wants credit only for jobs he has added. "The question -- and it's a tough one -- is how to separate the very real influence a president has on the economy from the myriad other factors that weigh on whether consumers spend and businesses hire," writes Klein. He asks several former chairmen of the past prresidents' Council of Economic advisers how significant a president's influence is and how best we can measure his success. All of them note that presidents don't hold that much sway, certainly not in the first year or so of their term, and that any evaluation is very complex. "Whatever the answer is, it needs to take into account that the president's control of the economy is at best incomplete," Klein writes.

Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times on investing in teachers New research from Harvard and Columbia suggests that a fourth grade teacher can permanently affect a child's chances of graduating and earning more money over her lifetime. "Our faltering education system may be the most important long-term threat to America's economy and national well-being, so it's frustrating that the presidential campaign is mostly ignoring the issue," writes Kristof. Candidates like Mitt Romney should give more emphasis to education, and they should take this study's policy prescriptions that we need to pay for more good teachers. He cites other studies that show that there is significant variation among teachers, and argues it can be reasonably assessed with test scores. "Some Republicans worry that a federal role in education smacks of socialism. On the contrary, schools represent a tough-minded business investment in our economic future," he says.

Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic on conservative alternatives With the exceptions of 1964 and 1980, Republican voters have tended to select a moderate candidate like George H.W. Bush over conservative rivals. "[I]f Republican primary voters aren't really as interested in nominating a conservative as is generally thought, what explains the conventional wisdom to the contrary?" asks Friedersdorf. He points out the theory that Republicans do want a conservative but they've split their support among the many Romney alternatives. He argues, though, that there are differences between social, fiscal, and neo-conservatives and for many of them, Romney might be the second choice. He also says that in presidential races, even conservatives are concerned about electability of candidates. "Perhaps the GOP always has been and always will be inclined to nominate relative moderates, and conservatives only break through if they manage an exceptional mix of principle and charisma, and come along at exactly the right moment."

Elliott Abrams in The Wall Street Journal on elections and the Middle East peace process Israelis and Palestinians began talks last week to discuss whether to hold future negotiations for the first time since September 2010. "Whatever the hopes in Washington or European capitals, Israelis and Palestinians don't expect a breakthrough. Instead, they're focused on three elections: America's, the definite one; the Palestinian Authority's, scheduled for May 4; and Israel's." Abrams describes how all of the parties hope for a specific outcome in each of the elections that will alter their bargaining position, and until those outcomes are decided, little progress on peace will be made. Netanyahu, for instance, wants to see whether Obama will be voted out of office since his poor relationship with the U.S. president hurts his own political chances. He describes several other factors like that one to conclude, "That's why when Americans pass through the Middle East, they're never asked 'Will there be a peace deal this year?' Instead the questions are 'Who will win?'"

Joan Vennochi in The Boston Globe on Scott Brown's pivots Republican Senator Scott Brow of Massachusetts said he disliked the process of recess appointments but suggested Obama was right to put Richard Cordray into the CFPB position. "Talk about an identity crisis ... Brown is edging left. Or, is he straddling center?" writes Vennochi. She goes through Brown's confused political positions since he took office as the final vote Republicans needed to block Obama's health care law, and argues that in the absence of in depth voter knowledge about Brown's politics, he's left free to depict himself as a Massachusetts moderate. Whether voters believe his positions are genuine or just political posturing remains undecided. "Brown wrote a book that revealed much about his personal life, and less about his political value system. Right now, his message is mixed, which is just what he thinks he wants."

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