Five Best Thursday Columns

Andy Kessler on social media in campaigns, Fareed Zakaria on the Afghanistan drawdown, Ezra Klein on the welfare state, Joshua Green on a Romney-Paul 'bromance', and Kirsten Powers on Obama's apologies.

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Andy Kessler in The Wall Street Journal on social media in campaigns A Pew Research survey recently found that cable TV is far ahead of social media as a source for political campaign news. "Too bad that misses the point. New technologies have always altered campaigns and usually in mysterious ways," writes Kessler. He points to the disruptive but unpredictable history of new media from Lincoln-Douglas debates to television. And he argues that because buying ads on sites like Facebook has a much less intrusive effect on voters, we have yet to see how campaigns will effectively use viral marketing and recruiting of social media opinion-makers to their advantage as corporations already have. "Those with social-media 'influence' are most likely to help campaigns convert interest into votes. Finding them in the haystack of the real world is tedious and expensive. But ... it'll definitely sway who becomes our next president."

Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post on shifting our Afghan policy With the Koran desecration controversy, President Obama encountered an obstacle in his strategy of drawing down American troops in Afghanistan and transferring power to the Afghan government, police, and military. That tactic "is a fantasy. We must recognize that and pursue a more realistic alternative." Zakaria writes that Americans typically believe that modernizing a country will also stabilized it, but we forget that it's both very hard to modernize a country quickly and impossible to pave over the existing sectarian, ethnic, and religious tensions that existed there. He describes those tensions in Afghanistan that prevent the national government from holding the support of enough constituencies. "We have to create an effective national government in Kabul that is loved and respected by all Afghans, whatever their ethnicity, and expand the Afghan economy so that a large national army and police force are sustainable for the long term."

Ezra Klein in Bloomberg View on the hidden welfare state In a new book Cornell political scientist Suzanne Mettler found that most Americans who benefit from government social programs don't realize it. "The implication seemed to be that Americans are hypocrites, or at least woefully uninformed. But in forthcoming research, Mettler and co-author Julianna Koch dig deeper, and find the reality is more complicated." Whether people realize they benefit from a program generally depends on its design. Klein says, for instance, if we pitched most of the tax credits on the books as tax increases on those who don't use a program, they'd be much less popular. "It is in part because these policies aren't visible that they're so difficult to change. That's the thing about submerging a large part of your welfare state. Sink it deep enough, and it becomes almost impossible to dredge up."

Joshua Green in The Boston Globe on the Romney-Paul 'bromance' Many have looked on with curiosity as an apparent "bromance" between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul has developed on the campaign trail; they and their wives are reportedly friendly. "But politics is politics, and raw self-interest lies at the heart of every decision. Trying to discern what each gains from the alliance has become a Washington parlor game." Green outlines the leading theories: that Paul wants his son to be vice president, that he wants a convention speech, etc. and mostly argues that each of them is implausible. Green's best guess is that Romney has promised something like reviving a commission on the gold standard, a favorite issue of Paul's. "Whatever the deal, if there is one, Romney had better be sure that he lives up to his end. Paul is helping Romney secure the nomination, but he could just as easily deny him the presidency should he feel betrayed."

Kirsten Powers in The Daily Beast on Obama's apologies After President Obama sent Afghanistan's President Karzai a letter apologizing for troops' inadvertent desecration of the Koran, his apology became a talking point on the Republican campaign trail. "Yes, multiple presidential candidates are arguing that you don't need to apologize for doing bad things if there are people doing worse things to you," writes Powers. She says that just because Karzai owes America apologies on several fronts, we shouldn't set our standard to his level. Nor, she says, do most pastors she interviewed agree that refusing to apologize when your mistake is inadvertent is a Christian philosophy. Republicans like to describe Obama as too often apologizing for America, but "if you look at the list of so-called Obama apologies compiled by the right, what stands out is how little you see him actually saying he is sorry."

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