Five Best Wednesday Columns

Doyle McManus on the State of the Union, Dana Milbank on Newt Gingrich, Jeff Jacoby on the Massachusetts Senate race, Michael Wahid Hanna on Egypt, and Edward Alden and Liam Schwartz on visas. 

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Doyle McManus in The Los Angeles Times on Obama's State of the Union It was no surprise that President Obama, speaking to Congress in an election year, would make his State of the Union a reelection speech of sorts. "It was a blue-collar speech, aimed largely at the swing voters Obama most needs to woo — middle- and low-income workers still struggling in the recession's wake," write McManus. He writes that Obama borrowed lines from his opponents, including Santorum's call to bring manufacturing back from overseas and Romney's attacks on China's trade practices. Focusing on Detroit's auto-industry recovery, he sounded a blue-collar note and contrasted himself with Romney, who opposed a bailout. His rhetoric on taxes was also an appeal to middle class voters. Some have wondered whether Obama would even try to win low and middle income white votes this year.  "If there was any doubt whether Obama intends to seek the votes of white blue-collar workers, his State of the Union speech put it to rest."

Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on Obama's boost from Gingrich Milbank describes Obama's speech as falling a bit flat. "But as he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination in Florida, former House speaker Newt Gingrich was doing more to boost President Obama’s reelection prospects than anything Obama himself could do. While Obama was using the speech to portray the Republicans as plutocrats, Gingrich was doing all he could to prove the caricature true." Milbank recounts Obama's points on the economy and describes the scene in the House chamber as an unenthusiastic one. Meanwhile, Gingrich's attacks forced Romney into releasing his tax returns and Romney's counter-attacks focus on Gingrich's income from Freddie Mac. Polls show that neither Romney nor Gingrich have very high favorability ratings, especially compared to Obama, whose numbers are on the rise. "[I]t wasn't necessary for Obama to foment economic resentment. Gingrich is taking care of that."

Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe on Warren and Brown's spending agreement Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren signed a pledge to keep third-party advertising out of their campaign for Massachusetts Senate by fining the candidates for every ad buy from outside the campaign. "Brown and Warren have a simple message for anyone with something to say about the Massachusetts Senate race: Shut up." He notes that the effort is clearly aimed at curtailing the influence of big-spending Super-PACS, but the rules also exclude the participation of charities and policy advocates. He notes the stigma that would meet candidates who try to exclude the participation of media outlets, but wonders why they should treat non-media's participation differently. "Even for a pair of Massachusetts politicians, it takes remarkable chutzpah to demand that citizens stifle themselves about a political choice that may affect their families and fortunes for years to come."

Michael Wahid Hanna in The New York Times on embracing an Egyptian dissident Activist Maikel Nabil Sanad, released from Egyptian prison last week, hasn't become quite the cause that other Egyptian protesters have. "That is because Mr. Nabil, unlike other jailed protesters, is a Coptic Christian by background, an atheist by belief and a pacifist whose rejection of violence has led him even to declare zealously that Israel has a right to live in peace in the region." On the anniversary of the uprising against Hosni Mubarek, Hanna writes that Egyptians' treatment of him will be a test in their quest for an open society. Hanna describes Sanad's criticism of the military, his imprisonment, and his hunger strike. He notes the difference in attention paid to Sanad compared to other activists with more mainstream views. "But Egypt won't be a full democracy until its people value the lonely defiance of a man like Maikel Nabil, even when they differ with most of his beliefs."

Edward Alden and Liam Schwartz in The Wall Street Journal on U.S. visa procedures America is close to reattaining the levels of travelers with visas it welcomed before 9/11, and President Obama has said we need to reform our visa-approval procedures to help spur the tourism economy while maintaining national security. "Achieving those twin goals will require using the tremendous technological advances in homeland security for enhancing how the government manages risk in the visa system," write Alden and Schwartz. Current procedures require face-to-face interviews with both low-risk and high-risk applicants. We could use technology, instead, to identify patterns that predict someone's risk of over-staying a visa. This would allow us to process low-risk travelers quickly and free our resources to better vet the high-risk ones. "The Obama administration, and Congress, should move quickly to implement a visa system that responds to the genuine economic and security challenges of 21st century travel." 

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