Five Best Thursday Columns
George Will on Republican candidates, Bill Gates on teacher evaluations, Joshua Green on Super PACs, Meghan Daum on Internet parenting, and Michael Wolff on Obama v. Santorum
George Will in The Washington Post on Rick Santorum Not patient enough for Super Tuesday contests in culturally conservative states, Rick Santorum is competing with Mitt Romney in Ohio and Michigan. "But instead of keeping his Rust Belt focus on his blue-collar roots and economic program for reviving manufacturing, he has opened multiple fronts in the culture wars... But in doing so Santorum has made his Catholicism more central and problematic in this nomination contest than Romney's Mormonism has been," Will argues. He says the problems of family disintegration that Santorum highlights are real, serious, and without obvious solutions, but Santorum's angry apostle-like strategy doesn't sit well with voters. Nor, though, does Mitt Romney's clinically "rational" approach to America's problems. "Romney is not attracting people who want rationality leavened by romance. Santorum is repelling people who want politics unmediated by theology."
Bill Gates in The New York Times on publicizing teacher evaluations A New York court ruled last week that assessments of teachers' performances could become public. "I am a strong proponent of measuring teachers' effectiveness ... But publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning. On the contrary, it will make it a lot harder to implement teacher evaluation systems that work," writes Gates. Gates documents the improvements to teacher evaluations made in recent years, including a measure of how much a teacher adds to a student's standardized test scores. But improving personnel by "public shaming" Gates says is a cheap and ineffective way to use the new information we can gather on teachers. "The surest way to weaken [teacher evaluation] is to twist it into a capricious exercise in public shaming. Let's focus on creating a personnel system that truly helps teachers improve."
Joshua Green in The Boston Globe on Romney's Super PAC Recent performances in Republican primaries and increasing dissatisfaction with his candidacy should have the Romney campaign worried, writes Green. "But there isn't much Republicans can do about it. And for that, Romney can thank the Supreme Court. Its 2010 decision, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, gave rise to so-called 'super PACs.'" Green argues that money given in large quantities to Romney has been just as important as the big donors keeping the Gingrich and Santorum campaigns afloat. Romney's successes, Green shows, usually come only when he outspends competitors by a huge margin. He says campaign finance laws often have unforeseen impacts, arguing that the McCain-Feingold law expected to sink Democrats actually buoyed Barack Obama. "Whether or not [Citizens United is] a blessing for his party is something that may not become clear until Election Day."
Meghan Daum in the Los Angeles Times on parenting on YouTube When North Carolina father Tommy Jordan read his daughter's Facebook posts complaining about him, he filmed a video in which he shot her laptop with a handgun, and set off a "Culture War" tinged debate on parenting. "But Tommy and Hannah aren't so much Exhibit A on the issue of how to raise children but on something even more interesting: the end of shame." Daum says Jordan took action not just out of anger, but out of embarrassment that his daughter had aired their private conflicts to the whole internet. While Hannah hasn't really responded to the video publicly, perhaps because she's not as affected by the public display of one's problems, her father has responded repeatedly to critics. Jordan's video "tried to embarrass someone who's so accustomed to people exposing themselves online that it doesn't occur to her to be embarrassed. He hurt himself worse than he hurt her."
Michael Wolff in The Guardian on a Santorum Obama matchup The history of Republican nominations gives "an air of implausibility" to the idea of Santorum winning the Republican nomination, despite increasing signs that he actually could, writes Wolff. And that resulting election would actually address the most divisive issues in our nation. "The true antagonism in the country is not about the administration of government, but about how we live, between new and evolving, and old and fixed standards of conduct. It's the most fundamental western debate: secular or not, reason or ritual." Santorum, Wolff argues, actually lives the "God-driven, anti-scientific, father-centered, my-way-or-the-highway, throwback life" in a way most politicians do not. But he stands against a lot of ideas that a majority of Americans now live, and Wolff wonders if the referendum would actually serve the Republican party by putting to rest the Santorum element within it. "An up-or-down vote on far-out rightwing lifestyle prescriptions – is the country for or against, and what by what proportion?—is as good for the Republicans as for liberals. It marginalizes the margin."