Five Best Friday Columns
Jonathan Alter on campaign finance, David Brooks on Mitt Romney, Jimmy Wales and Kat Walsh on copyright, William Finnegan on immigration, and Donald Wuerl, Charles Colson, and Meir Soloveichik on the contraception rule.
Jonathan Alter in Bloomberg View on campaign finance reform The 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by the Supreme Court, which declared money a form of speech in elections, has quickly become "explosive." "Instead of sitting around hoping that one of the conservative justices in the 5-4 Citizens United majority will leave the high court during a Democratic administration, Americans concerned about the degradation of politics should get cracking on a constitutional amendment ..." Alter argues 2012 will be the most corrupt campaign in history, pointing to the power of a small number of super wealthy individuals to bankroll entire presidential campaigns as a threat to republican government. Though Obama has hypocritically caved and will accept Super-PAC donations, Alter says he should still help build momentum for an amendment, noting that it will take leadership in a political climate not currently favorable to campaign finance reform. "[T]he risk of the United States moving from a democracy to a plutocracy is growing stronger every day."
David Brooks in The New York Times on Romney's crowd-pleasing personality In 1950 David Riesman coined the term "other-directed" for a personality type emerging from the service economy that prizes selling oneself and adapting to what others want of you. Mitt Romney "is giving the impression of being a classic other-directed type," writes Brooks. His industry, private equity, allowed him to specialize not in any industry but in managing managers. His politics have changed as his audience has changed. But in a Republican party that portrays itself as embattled against a different culture, other-directedness won't play well. Romney needs to prove there is something beneath that by taking several different tacks in his campaign, Brooks says. "Since many people fear that he is a suck-up, it would actually help him at this point if he violated party orthodoxy in some bold and independent way."
Jimmy Wales and Kat Walsh in The Washington Post on the SOPA blackout Wales and Walsh of Wikipedia attribute the defeat of anti-piracy bills in Congress not to a lobby but to the genuine support of millions of people who opposed them. "Protecting our rights as creators means ... protecting the legal infrastructure that allowed our sharing of knowledge and creativity to flourish, and protecting our ability to do so on technical infrastructure that allows for security and privacy for all Internet users." Wikipedia and its users were better positioned to make that case than "tech giants" because they rely less on advertising or profit from content. They write that they do not oppose protecting the content industry, but that the modern age has made current conceptions of copyright outdated. "The laws we need now must recognize the more broadly distributed and broadly valuable power of free and open knowledge. They must come from an understanding of that power and a recognition that the voices flooding the phone lines and in-boxes of Congress on Jan. 18 represented the source of that power."
Donald Wuerl, Charles Colson, and Meir Soloveichik in The Wall Street Journal on the contraception rule The Obama administration made its decision to require some Catholic institutions to cover contraception based on the fact that the institutions often serve people outside the faith. "HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's decision would force Catholic institutions either to violate the moral teachings of the Catholic Church or abandon the health-care, education and social services they provide the needy. This is intolerable," write the authors, each representing a different faith. They recount George Washington's famous letter to Jews in Rhode Island which applauded the participation of all faiths in public matters. They point to it as a reason Jews and those of many religions should be upset by the administration's decision, regardless of their opinion on contraception. "At this critical moment, Americans of every faith, as guardians of their own freedom, must, in the words of the First Amendment, 'petition the government for the redress of grievances.'"
William Finnegan in The New Yorker on Republicans and immigration In the Republican primary contest, even John Huntsman joined the pile-on to criticize Rick Perry's more lenient policies for children of immigrants. The immigration issue "seems to unhinge some politicians... Actually, a lot of the Republican Presidential contenders' proposals on the issue would be funny if they weren't so bizarre or disturbing or both," writes Finnegan. Herman Cain proposed an electric fence, Mitt Romney suggested 'self-deportation' which is notable as a term because it was conceived as a parody by two Chicano comedians in California. Finnegan quotes one prominent Latino Republican who stopped supporting Romney because of it, and he notes that in an election where Hispanics will play an important role in swing states, the Republicans aren't even taking a strategically sound strategy. "Barack Obama has not delivered on his campaign promise to push hard for comprehensive immigration reform... But at least everyone knows he was kidding when he talked about putting moats full of alligators on our southern border."