Five Best Friday Columns
Robert Samuelson on Obama's reelection odds, Timothy Geithner on forgetting the crisis, Scot Lehigh on candidate gaffes, Aram Nerguizian on Assad's support, and David Brooks on self-control.
Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post on Obama's reelection odds Conventional wisdom, Samuelson says, holds that with positive economic news improving, President Obama's standing and a lackluster field of in-fighting Republican challengers, the 2012 election is already over. "All in all, the conventional wisdom seems compelling ... And yet there's one conspicuous gap in the-election-is-already-over story: the polls." He outlines the points that support the idea that Obama faces an easy reelection, but he points out polls that only have him a few points ahead of Mitt Romney, despite this narrative. "Logic and most evidence suggest the election is over. But the polls seem to dissent. Could it be that the real story is that Obama's not a shoo-in even when he should be?"
Timothy Geithner in The Wall Street Journal on remembering the causes of the crisis When Bear Stearns went bankrupt, Geithner was head of the New York Federal Reserve, where he says he didn't have enough authority to address the problem, just as he and others had lacked the oversight and regulations that could have prevented one. "Remember the crisis when you hear complaints about financial reform ... Remember the crisis when you read about the hundreds of millions of dollars now being spent on lobbyists trying to weaken or repeal financial reform. Remember the crisis when you recall the dozens of editorials and columns against reform published on the opinion pages of this newspaper over the past three years." Geithner makes his case that a lack of regulations caused the crisis and that the Dodd-Frank law, while imperfect, makes in-roads to preventing another one. "Amnesia is what causes financial crises. These reforms are worth fighting to preserve."
Scot Lehigh in The Boston Globe on the candidates' gaffes Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have received scrutiny for their various gaffes in the past few weeks. "If Romney's gaffes have been more puzzling than revealing, Santorum's have been more revealing than puzzling." Romney's wealth-related gaffes are puzzling because he's been in the public eye so long, yet hasn't learned to watch his mouth. They're not revealing, though, because they tell us what we already know: he's wealthy. Santorum's comments on church and state and on the snobbery of aspiring for college, though, were revealing of a much deeper issue in his politics. "In Santorum's case, voters did more than just wince. They recoiled - and with good reason."
Aram Nerguizian in the Los Angeles Times on Assad's supporters With thousands of civilians murdered in the uprising against Syria's Bashar al-Assad, many believe that the Syrian people no longer see him as legitimate. "But the reality is far more complex, with key factions continuing to see their fates as intrinsically linked to the Assad regime's survival," explains Nerguizian. The minority Alawite sect to which Assad and much of the military belong, sees his response as misguided, but knows they will lose out in a new order. Christians, too, fear they'll face the same persecution as those in post-Saddam Iraq. Even Sunnis in the business community have remained outside the resistance. "Underestimating the reservations of key groups that still support the Assad regime all but guarantees a protracted civil war that could divide Syria along sectarian lines," he cautions.
David Brooks in The New York Times on bad habits and self-control The 19th century model of how to be a good person, Brooks says, focused on will power -- identifying your sins and passions and keeping them under control. "These days that model is out of fashion. You usually can't change your behavior by simply resolving to do something." He sites the many failed New Years Resolutions, diets, and bad behavior that prove this. And he highlights a book on our habits that shows how they work and how deeply they run through us. Research suggests we can change our behavior by reconditioning our habits with new triggers -- learning to take a walk when we feel an urge for a snack. But Brooks says that's only part of the solution. "As the Victorians understood (and the folks at Alcoholics Anonymous understand), if you want to change your life, don't just look for a clever trigger. Commit to some larger global belief."