Five Best Wednesday Columns
Robert Reilly on Mitt Romney the businessman, Andrew Cohen on the Prop. 8 ruling, Thomas Friedman on Syria, Jeff Jacoby on Justice Ginsburg, and Katrina vanden Heuvel on the employment news
Robert Reilly in The Wall Street Journal on the failures of businessman politicians Mitt Romney points to his business experience as a main qualification for the presidency, diagnosing Washington's problems as management-related. "This is a profoundly mistaken Republican notion that goes back at least to Herbert Hoover," writes Reilly. He names Republican presidents that touted non-political experience and notes that Democrats have consistently defeated them with more visionary platforms like the Great Society, the New Deal, or "hope and change." The exception, he writes, is "the great communicator" Ronald Reagan, who "spoke mostly in moral terms" to great success. Reilly says that figures who try to address Washington's problems with "management techniques" often come up short against those who present politics as a philosophical and moral. Romney, he says, doesn't have much hope of presenting himself as a philosophical warrior based on his record. "President Obama is expert at deploying moral rhetoric. If his Republican opponent is not equally adept at this, he won't be able to defeat him."
Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic on the 9th Circuit's Prop. 8 ruling The liberal-leaning 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Prop. 8 Tuesday, as most expected they would. "The only serious question, in the 552 days between the trial court's ruling and today, was how far the 9th Circuit would travel, doctrinally," writes Cohen. The ruling, Cohen explains, set aside judging whether marriage is a right fundamental to gay couples, and instead focused on whether Prop. 8 could revoke a right that California had already granted. That's much narrower, and it seems aimed at the Supreme Court's swing vote, Justice Kennedy, who has ruled in against gay discrimination in a couple other cases. "Between today and Prop 8's D-Day at the Supreme Court a lot of lawyers will be paid a ton of money to try to steer Justice Kennedy ... but I'm not sure it will make a difference. Right now, I believe, there are at least five votes at the Supreme Court that will recognize the validity of same-sex marriage in some form."
Thomas Friedman in The New York Times on Syria and Russia In Moscow on Saturday, about 120,000 people gathered in -4 degrees Fahrenheit to protest Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. "To observe the democratic awakenings happening in places like Egypt, Syria and Russia is to travel with a glow in your heart and a pit in your stomach," Friedman writes. The crowd demonstrated that movements like the one in Russia or Syria aren't manufactured but naturally occurring forces. But Friedman cautions that motivations other than a desire for dignity can compete. He describes the sectarian divisions that color Syria's uprising, where a Sunni majority has caused fear among civilians in the Alawite Shiite minority whose sect has controlled the country under the Assads. Friedman says the opposition has to unite if they want to force Assad out. "Iraq shows how hard it is to do that — the Sunni-Shiite divide still cuts very deep — but Iraq also shows that it is not impossible ... If that region has any hope of a stable future, we need to bet on them."
Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe on criticizing Ginsburg Visiting Cairo last week, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recommended Egyptians look to South Africa's constitution, not America's as a model, and she's since come under fire from conservatives. "Yet if Ginsburg drew fire for telling Egyptians they were more likely to find inspiration in South Africa's 'great' constitution than in the one she took an oath to defend, shouldn't there have been an even greater backlash when another Supreme Court justice sang the praises of the Soviet constitution?" Jacoby recounts Justice Antonin Scalia's recent comments praising Russia's Bill of Rights as better than our own, but notes that in context, Scalia was pointing out that the words meant nothing without institutions and checks to guarantee them. Ginsburg's comments, when given similar context, are praiseworthy of America's system, and pundits shouldn't have been so quick to criticize her. "In their eagerness to score political points, they dishonored themselves — and debased the nation's discourse just a little more."
Katrina vanden Heuvel in The Washington Post on Obama's jobs reaction Economists and pundits greeted the news that the U.S. added 243,000 jobs in January with relief and predictions of President Obama's political gain. "The best news of the day was not just the upside surprise of the jobs numbers, but the reaction of President Obama. He joined commentators in hailing the good news ... But he wasn't proclaiming 'recovery winter,'" writes vanden Heuvel. He used the occasion to continue pushing his version of a job-creating agenda, including another extension of the payroll tax cut and a jobs bill for veterans. Vanden Heuvel lists reasons that caution is good policy, noting that the high debt and struggling housing markets that have slowed the economy still exist. And by delaying the cheering of good news, Obama has a strengthened political platform to continue promoting his agenda and contrasting it with Congressional Republicans'. "[T]he president gets it. He isn't breaking out the champagne; he’s rolling up his sleeves."