Five Best Wednesday Columns

Jeffrey Rosen on health care arguments, Clive Crook on the World Bank pick, Edwidge Danticat on detaining immigrants, Rachel Maddow on ending war, and Roger Kimball on Hilton Kramer. 

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Jeffrey Rosen in The New Republic on contorted health care arguments The legal arguments both for and against the Affordable Care Act have required lawyers to contort and reverse their positions over the course of two years. "[W]hoever is responsible, it’s clear that the two-year litigation marathon over health care has served to cloud and confuse what should have been a fairly straightforward constitutional debate," Rosen writes. He describes the legal strategies that have forced both sides to reverse positions several times on the question of whether the individual mandate penalty is a tax and whether it's a right reserved for states. Rosen thinks the court should end the debate with a clear ruling upholding the mandate and rejecting the idea that the penalty is a tax. "Still, even if the Court ends up at this point after all, it will be a shame that it took two years of unnecessarily contorted legal debate to get there."

Clive Crook in Bloomberg View on the World Bank pick President Obama this week nominated Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim to lead the World Bank, part of a tradition in which Europe and the U.S. require their nationals lead the IMF and the World Bank. "If the U.S. had nominated someone superbly qualified, that ought to weigh heavily in the balance -- even if it would preserve the spoils system, and even though it wrongly implies that no other country could furnish as strong a candidate," Crook says. But he argues Kim isn't a strong enough candidate to justify an essentially automatic appointment. Far better to appoint Nigeria's pick, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a woman with a stronger resume. "Look at it this way: If the two could swap passports, would anybody in the White House be making the case for Kim?" he asks.

Edwidge Danticat in The New York Times on humane detention for immigrants A House committee is holding a hearing on new rules intended to make life more humane for those being held in detention by immigration officials, rules that opponents derisively call a "holiday." "[M]embers of the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, which is holding the hearing, seem to think the United States is too nice to the immigrants it detains ... It is only fitting that ICE seek out more humane ways of treating this growing population." Danticat praises the new rules as a step forward but imperfect. She argues the need for more humane regulations by describing the plight of several immigrants held in detention who later died from improper care. "The 'Holiday on ICE' hearing ... suggests that the 30,000 vulnerable people in our jails and detention centers should have little right to proper medical care, that their very lives are luxuries, and that it is not our responsibility to protect them."

Rachel Maddow in The Washington Post on ending a war As we approach day 4,000 of the war in Afghanistan and public opinion turns increasingly against it, Maddow offers a thoughtful piece on the reasons a modern democracy might draw war to a close. "Our wars’ life expectancy has been bolstered over the past generation or so by a series of changes that eased the small-d democratic tensions that an American war abroad could cause here at home," she says. The founders, she says, gave the decision to declare war to the legislature, not because it was a more efficient mechanism, but because it was messy and required deliberation. That element of democratic input is even more important now, when wars end less finitely. "Our public and political willingness to accept the costs of the Afghanistan war in years one through 11 (so far), may not hold for years 12, 13 and beyond. If so, it should not be lamented as a failure of will on the part of the American people but, rather, as an expression of our will."

Roger Kimball in The Wall Street Journal on Hilton Kramer Hilton Kramer, a literary and art critic for the New York Times and founder of the New Criterion, died this week at age 84. "The hallmarks of Kramer's criticism were clarity of expression, aesthetic discrimination and forthright independence ... It did not please Hilton Kramer to make enemies. But he knew that the job of a cultural critic was to tell the truth and that the truth is often unpalatable," writes Kimball, the New Criterion's editor. Kimball describes Kramer's path to criticism and recounts anecdotes where he spoke truth to artists, even in person. "He was most ferocious not in his criticism but in his defense of democratic bourgeois culture and the precious legacy of individual liberty it generated and sustained."

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