Five Best Friday Columns

Stephen Carter on fanatical politics, Mark Vanhoenacker on restrictions to tourists, Tevi Troy on think tanks, Amy Davidson on anti-war voters, and Michael Kinsley on ugly campaigns

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Stephen Carter in Bloomberg View on fanatical politics Carter says that the world of hyper-fanatic sports fans, who forgive or condemn coaches, players, and referees depending on their team loyalty, feels familiar in the world of politics, and particularly in the secondary debate over whether liberals exacted a double standard in condemning the sexist remarks of Rush Limbaugh. "There is a partisanship that involves rooting for my side, and there is a partisanship that involves insisting that my side can do no wrong, that all the bad guys are on the other side. In politics nowadays, all across the spectrum, we see fewer and fewer partisans of the first type, more and more of the second." He describes the difference between "fanatic fans" who root only for their team, and "fancying fans" who just love the sport, and presents several reasons that the trend toward more "fanatics" in politics could hurt our discourse.

Mark Vanhoenacker in The New York Times on difficulties traveling to America Visitors to America, even from our strongest allies like Great Britain, must pay $14 to fill out a United States government form called ESTA, which asks probing questions about one's sexual health, proclivity for genocidal activities, and previous support for the Nazi regime. It's just one way America sets itself apart as one of the least welcoming borders in the world, argues Vanhoenacker, a pilot and writer. "No country’s border staff is perfect, as every traveler knows. But America — a land where strangers greet one another in elevators, waiters act as if they like you, stores deploy professional greeters and government serves the people — should aim to be the best." He describes other complaints, ESTA's terrible web site, overworked customs officers with no mind for customers service, and long customs forms, and puts forward several easy solutions.

Tevi Troy in The Washington Post on think tanks and partisanship The back and forth between the libertarian Cato Institute and the Koch brothers has underlined an important trend in policy think tank culture, writes Troy. "Think tanks have become enormously important to policy development over the past half-century ... In recent decades, however, think tanks — like much of our culture — have become increasingly political." Troy traces the change to the conservative Heritage Foundation, and follows it through the 1990s to argue that think tanks have become more increasingly tied to a party or ideology and not to independent expert analyses. "This potential for devaluation threatens think tanks’ ability to find solutions to some of our nation’s most serious problems."

Amy Davidson in The New Yorker on co-opting the anti-war wing "When those who are not Donald Trump’s natural constituents think that he may be making sense, something striking is going on," opens Davidson, recounting his recent comments urging the President to speed up his withdrawal from Afghanistan, and using them to point out that those who agree with him now make up about 50 percent of voters. It's a group too large to pigeon-hole, she writes. "Neither major political party has figured out what to do, in a systematic way, with its anti-war wing, or with the discontent that has swirled and gathered around the question of Afghanistan." Ron Paul has come closest, Davidson writes, but he's too "idiosyncratic" in other ways. Meanwhile other Republicans sound disingenuous when they're also preaching a stronger stance on Iran. The war has left us deeply uncertain, in ways we sometimes only glimpse," she writes. "... we should at least pause in our mission, and listen, and maybe change our course."

Michael Kinsley in Bloomberg View on bad campaign tactics Kinsley recalls Barbara Bush's recent comments that this was the worst campaign she'd ever seen. "I disagree," he writes. "My vote would be for 1988, when her husband, George H.W. Bush, built a repulsive campaign against Michael Dukakis based on state prison furlough policy, obscure judicial rulings about reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the need for laws against burning the American flag." Still, "In the past couple of weeks, we have been given a couple of foretastes of what may lie ahead for 2012." The $1 million Bill Maher gave Obama's Super PAC will likely remain an issue as he remains pegged to the controversy over Rush Limbaugh. He also sees omens in Big Government's attempt to link Obama to the "radical" Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell. There's still a long way to go to Election Day.

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