Five Best Thursday Columns

John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham on Afghanistan, Margaret Carlson on Etch-A-Sketch, Nicholas Thompson on Apple, Nicholas Kristof on psychology and personal politics, and Bill Maher on giving offense.

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John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham in The Washington Post on Afghanistan The string of stories culminating in one U.S. soldier's alleged murder of Afghan civilians has led to calls for a quickened withdrawal from Afghanistan. "As heart-wrenching as these events have been, they do not change the vital U.S. national security interests at stake in Afghanistan, nor do they mean that the war is lost. It is not," write the senators. They argue that we've made military progress in recent years, and that premature withdrawal will once again create an environment that threatens our national security at home. Instead, the President should keep forging a Strategic Partnership Agreement that allows our counter-terrorism forces to work in Afghanistan. "[A]fter all our nation has sacrificed in Afghanistan, we stand ready to do everything in our power to secure the same bipartisan support for this war in its twilight hours as when it began more than a decade ago."

Margaret Carlson in Bloomberg View on Romney's Etch-A-Sketch image Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney campaign adviser, told CNN that the primary campaign hadn't moved his candidate too far to the right because a general election campaign is "almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all of over again." The remark fed into criticism that Romney doesn't steadfastly believe in conservative issues. "Fehrnstrom committed a Kinsley gaffe: He inadvertently spoke the truth. What's worse, he made it memorable. Many candidates have to move to the center for the general election, perhaps none more than Romney. But that movement is not given a name, especially not the name of a popular child's toy," writes Carlson. The electorate didn't learn anything they don't know about Romney's probable campaign strategy. Fehrnstrom just made it more memorable for them.

Nicholas Thompson in The New Yorker on Apple's extra cash Apple is giving some of the $100 billion it has on hand back to shareholders this year, but it'll keep the rest in the bank for now. "What should the company do with all this?" asks Thompson. They have options including giving more to shareholders or paying the Chinese workers who assemble their products higher wages. But Thompson focuses on Apple's relatively small budget for research and development compared to competitors. The company tends to invest conservatively and only in research for the few products it makes well. "Apple would get a lot out of [more] research, and perhaps find new markets to conquer. But there’s also a branding benefit ... Apple could do a lot for the world, and a lot for itself, if it took some of that cash that’s sitting abroad and started telling chemists, physicists, and engineers to come to Cupertino and just dream."

Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times on forming our political philosophies Kristof cites an academic study that showed that conservatives can often perceive how liberals would answer questions, but liberals are less skilled at understanding conservatives. "Now a fascinating new book comes along that, to a liberal like myself, helps demystify the right — and illuminates the kind of messaging that might connect with voters of all stripes," Kristof writes.  The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt explores some of the deeper psychological factors that influence our political philosophy. He notes psychological studies that show how respondents answer questions more conservatively when their environment is cleaner to argue that our beliefs are often formed on a deeper, non-intellectual level. "In short, moral and political judgments are complex and contradictory, shaped by a panoply of values, personalities — maybe even smells."

Bill Maher in The New York Times on disingenuous outrage Robert De Niro recently had to apologize after "offending" Newt Gingrich when he joked that America isn't ready for a white first lady. "So, as these things go, even if the terrible damage can never be undone, at least the healing can begin," writes Maher sarcastically. "And we can move on to the next time we choose sides and pretend to be outraged about nothing. When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like?" The comedian -- no stranger to giving offense -- lists a series of stories that have elicited fake outrage from left or right in the past year, arguing that in each of them, the outrage was disingenuous. "We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program."

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