Five Best Wednesday Columns

Ann Patchett on the fiction Pulitzer, Ryan Lizza on Romney's government cuts, Maureen Dowd on the "mommy wars," Robert Leider on Stand Your Ground laws, and Clive Crook on Instagram.

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Ann Patchett in The New York Times on the missing fiction Pulitzer The Pulitzer Prize board announced Monday that there would be no fiction prize this year, though there were three finalists. "[T]he board was unable to reach a consensus, or ... the board members decided that none of the finalists, and none of the other books that were not finalists, were worthy of a Pulitzer Prize," writes Patchett. "Most readers hearing the news will not assume it was a deadlock. They'll just figure it was a bum year for fiction." Patchett describes the offense she takes both as a fiction writer and as a reader, listing several works she read this year that could have taken the prize. Winning a Pulitzer gives a writer press, and gets Americans excited about literary fiction, something she argues the industry needs more than ever these days. "The Pulitzer Prize is our best chance as writers and readers and booksellers to celebrate fiction. This was the year we all lost."

Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker on Romney's government cuts Liberals reacted with an "aha!" writes Lizza, when reporters overheard Mitt Romney telling wealthy donors his plans to combine or eliminate several federal agencies, plans he had yet to share with voters. "But Romney's circumspection is actually a sign of victory for liberals: it remains politically unsafe to campaign on a detailed anti-government agenda," Lizza argues. He describes Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign, which put front and center the elimination of the same departments Romney is targeting. He didn't succeed, and since then, history has proven that the anti-government agenda doesn't take with voters. More libertarian impulses have had their moment again beginning with the 2010 election, but even so, they've "learned the obvious lessons of the previous two decades: Republicans succeed when they cut taxes, not government."

Maureen Dowd in The New York Times on the Romneys and the "mommy wars" After Republicans and Democrats together criticized Hillary Rosen for reviving "phony mommy wars," Maureen Dowd takes stock. "This latest kerfuffle is piffle, but it is another instance of Republicans dragging women back to the past to re-litigate issues they thought were long settled," she writes. The Romneys' case isn't entirely sympathetic, especially because Ann Romney privately called Rosen's comments an "early birthday present," revealing her inner-political strategist. Nor is Romney's outrage very genuine, because as governor, he once suggested that women on welfare ought to be employed, rather than stay home with young children, in order "to have the dignity of work." "So the dignity of work only applies to poor moms?" Dowd asks. "The real issue is whether Mitt, a tycoon who has been swathed in an old-fashioned cocoon, understands the plight of working mothers and the rights of 21st-century women."

Robert Leider in The Wall Street Journal on stand your ground laws In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, there's been a lot of misinformation about Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, including allegations that it allows anyone who believes he is in any kind of danger to use deadly force to counter it. "These perceptions of the law are wrong. As compared with other states, Florida's Stand Your Ground law is neither extreme nor an outlier," writes Leider. He explains the requirements of the law, noting that people must first attempt to retreat, and must legitimately fear lethal force or a felonious crime. Even with Leider's understanding of the law, George Zimmerman has a tough burden to prove he tried to retreat and had a legitimate fear for his life. "There is no need to exaggerate the leniency of Florida law. Regardless of whether he should have walked away, Mr. Zimmerman now must show that an average person in his circumstances would have viewed Martin as a mortal threat."

Clive Crook in Bloomberg View on Instagram and structural shift Recovery from recession often yields huge structural changes to economies, because different industries are impacted in different ways. "Facebook's acquisition of Instagram, a small software company with a popular photo-sharing application, is an extreme and illuminating case. Thanks to the Internet's astonishing reach, a nifty product that required next to no labor and comparatively little capital quickly went from nowhere to tens of millions of users." It reflects a growing income inequality that rewards so-called "superstar" performers while cutting out previously entrenched middle-income groups. As IT-innovation continues to impact the economy, we'll only see these trends grow. The political Right makes the mistake of thinking that the economic winners don't owe anything to the losers other than a lesson in "creative destruction." They do, he says, but "the equal and opposite mistake of the left, of course, is to see the whole idea of creative destruction as a scam."

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