Five Best Monday Columns
E.J. Dionne on the Catholic compromise, Noah Feldman on the Constitution, Ho Pin on Xi Jinping, Alan Blinder on the safety net, and Andrew Gumbel on online voting.
E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post on the Catholic compromise Last week, President Obama reached a compromise with critics of his plan to require some Catholic institutions to include contraception in their health care coverage. "He should have done this at the outset, but far better late than never," writes Dionne. He says liberal Catholics' initial alliance with conservatives over the original plan surprised some, but was rooted in their respect for the Church's charitable works, which seemed to be under attack. "Gospel-inspired work was defined as non-religious," he writes. The continued resistance of some conservative Catholics is misguided and reflects their prioritizing of culture wars above their social Gospel mission. "Liberal Catholics were proud to stand with conservatives ... Now, we'd ask conservatives to consider that what makes the Gospel so compelling ... is the central role it assigns to our responsibilities to act on behalf of the needy, the left-out and the abandoned."
Noah Feldman in Bloomberg View on our Constitution's soft power When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Egyptians to look to the more modern South African Constitution as a model this year instead of the American one, she came under political fire. "The implicit fear, made manifest by a posse of commentators, is that our constitutional 'soft power' is in decline -- much as our hard power is perceived to be faltering," writes Feldman. But he says we should look to whether countries copy our entire Constitutional system, not just the text of our Constitutional document. In that game, we're still the leaders, as most countries continue to borrow, among other things, the idea of judicial review, not written in the Constitution, but asserted in an early court ruling. Feldman says the real worry here taps into a debate about originalism vs. a living document. "This is why Ginsburg was telling the Egyptians to borrow from modern constitutions -- because they spell out the answers to contemporary problems."
Ho Pin in The New York Times on China's next president China's Vice President Xi Jinping will visit Washington Tuesday as he continues to be groomed to take on the country's presidency in 2013. "[T]he public expects that Mr. Xi will follow the example of his father, who later became instrumental in initiating China's economic reforms, backed many of his progressive contemporaries and reportedly disagreed with the violent suppression of student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989." Xi's father worked in a labor camp and Xi suffered through years of reeducation in the countryside. He takes over after disillusionment with the corruption and economic warning signs of his predecessor's regime. But he won't have the strong mandate of a democratically elected leader and will have to play politics to achieve his agenda. "One can only hope that the American government will see past the money and unequivocally support the voices of reform and push for political change from within."
Alan Blinder in The Wall Street Journal on the safety net After a two-month stop-gap was passed at the beginning of the year, the parties are once again arguing over extending the payroll tax cut, which Blinder describes as a no-brainer in the current economy, differing on how best to pay for it. "Here's a suggested compromise: Don't pay for it at all, at least not now. Raising other taxes or cutting other benefits would negate much of the stimulative impact of the payroll tax cut and the unemployment benefits." He argues for the economic reasons we need stimulus now with a plan to repay it later. He also points to Republican proposals that we require a GED and drug testing for unemployment recipients, a plan with nice intentions but the impractical outcome of kicking many out of the safety net. "By the way, didn't Mitt Romney recently say that he would fix the safety net if it needs repair? ... Here's my question: Is requiring unemployed 50-year-olds to get a GED and submit to drug tests an example of 'fixing' the safety net?"
Andrew Gumbel in the Los Angeles Times on voting online for the Oscars People say that the Academy Awards reflect elements of broader public life in America, with analogous arguments about the unfair role of big money and fair play. "Now, though, the academy may be committing a blunder of its own making. It recently announced that it would be ditching its current all-mail secret ballot system, and that its more than 5,000 members would be voting through their own computers, starting next year." Gumbel quotes computer scientists who argue that no electronic voting system is sufficiently safe from hacking or vote tampering. He cites an experiment where University of Michigan researchers hacked a Washington e-election. The Oscars could easily be hacked without anyone knowing better. "An endorsement of Internet voting by Hollywood's ruling body will inevitably be taken as an opportunity to push the technology more aggressively in the political arena."