Five Best Tuesday Columns

Michael Kinsley on the Limbaugh fallout, William McGurn on Reagan and Romney, Gideon Rachmann on democracy, Peter Popham on Myanmar sanctions, and Charles Lane on electric cars.

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Michael Kinsley in Bloomberg View on insincerity in the Limbaugh fallout People accused Rush Limbaugh of insincerity when he apologized for his attacks on a Georgetown law student, but Kinsley notes that anyone whose critics have publicly demanded he apologize will of course give a forced, insincere apology. "These umbrage episodes have become the principal narrative line of our politics, and they are always orgies of insincerity," Kinsley says, musing on several examples, including the "self-righteous parade out the door" of Limbaugh's advertisers. These businesses had ample opportunity to hear him say similarly misogynist things about Michelle Obama through the years, Kinsley says. But he defines this as a "secondary boycott," pressuring businesses that do nothing wrong but deal with someone who does. He thinks the better method, one in keeping with the spirit of the 1st Amendment, is simply to argue against Limbaugh in the public sphere, rather than work to silence him.  "If you're on the side of truth, you have a natural advantage. And if you're taking on Limbaugh, you're probably on the side of truth."

Wililam McGurn in The Wall Street Journal on defying conventional wisdom McGurn begins by quoting a New York Times editorial from 1980, wondering why Republicans don't know how to use their compelling case against the sitting president, that sounds like it could be written today. "It appears the conventional wisdom hasn't changed much. Today's narrative holds that however weak President Obama's hand, Republicans find themselves in no position to capitalize on it. A glance back to where we were at this exact point in the 1980 primaries suggests otherwise." McGurn outlines many parallels, from the search for a late-entry candidate to the fear of a third party run. "Yes, the parallels to 1980 take you only so far, and Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan. Still, at this same point in his campaign for the GOP nomination, neither was Reagan."

Gideon Rachmann in the Financial Times on democracy's appeal This past week, Russia held a rigged presidential election, Iran staged parliamentary contests, and in China the National People's Congress had an assembly. "[E]vents in Russia, Iran and China should also give a perverse form of encouragement to democrats. For even as they decry the flaws and hypocrisies of western democracies, the world’s autocrats feel compelled to ape their practices." It matters that autocracies mimic democracies at a time when Europe's fiscal crisis gives democracy's critics ammunition. Rachmann recounts arguing the case for democracy, despite flaws that sometimes lead to overspending and imprudence, to a Chinese democracy advocate."No matter how debt-ridden and dysfunctional they look, the world’s democracies are still winning the global beauty contest."

Peter Popham in The New York Times on sanctions in Myanmar Economic sanctions have often failed to achieve their stated goals, but in Myanmar a move toward openness and democracy shows that two decades of them may have helped. "Now, with the country beginning to change rapidly, demands for lifting the sanctions are rising ... But before doing so, the West would do well to look closely at what sanctions have and have not achieved, and at how they have worked." Popham argues the sanctions worked better than we thought, for though Myanmar just turned to India and China for trade, they became overwhelmed by Beijing, and part of their move toward freedom is a desire to look West again. Still, the reforms have not removed the threat that a different leader could return to military rule. "If the day of the carrot has arrived, it is not yet time to throw away the stick."

Charles Lane in The Washington Post on electric car subsidies Even as President Obama promised to buy and drive an electric car when he leaves office, the Chevy Volt stopped production for a few months as GM misses its sales targets. "These events confirm the wasteful folly of allocating capital according to the dictates of politicians," writes Lane. While Democrats often rightly point to Republicans' willful ignorance of scientific fact, in this case, those that want to boost the battery-operated car ignore the inconvenient facts on gas. Lane makes the case that there are better ways to reduce fuel dependence in cars, but the federal government continues to subsidize electric cars, despite its cost and fuel inefficiencies. "Certainly the many hundreds of millions of dollars that the U.S. government, GM and GM’s competitors have poured into the effort might have been better spent on more plausible energy-efficiency efforts, such as advanced internal combustion engines."

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