Five Best Friday Columns

John Pomfret on China's view of the U.S., Peggy Noonan on Dick Lugar's primary, Ruth Marcus on Ric Grenell, David Brooks on online education, and Joan Wickersham on reality TV.

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John Pomfret in The Washington Post on how China views the U.S. The case of Chen Guangcheng has revealed the "outsized" expectations the U.S. and China have for one another. "The Chinese vest the United States with a moral authority that Americans are flattered by but are often loath to accept. For its part, the United States, in need of a hand around the globe, wants China to start acting like a superpower. But the Chinese — for tactical reasons or otherwise — reject the responsibilities inherent in big-power status..." Pomfret points to the fact that both Wang Lijun and Chen turned to the American Embassy for support, revealing that the Chinese see America as a moral leader far more than they are allowed to admit. Meanwhile the annual economic trade talks in Beijing reveal America's recurring expectations for China's leaders, he writes.

Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal on Sen. Dick Lugar's primary fight Indiana Senator Dick Lugar may lose his primary fight to a challenger on his right in part because voters worry that he's been in Washington too long. Noonan makes the case for keeping him around. "There is value in experience, in accomplishment and expertise. There is value in the ability to take the long view, and do your best with modesty and with an eye toward all the big jumbly categories of America, which are not limited to 'rightist' and 'leftist.'" Noonan admits there are reasons to distrust conservatives who have overseen the slow growth of the federal government over the past few decades, but for her, those concerns are outweighed by Lugar's experience. "The primary is an open one, and the race may come down to the independent vote.They should save the old guy. He has value."

Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post on Romney's missed opportunity  When some conservatives complained that Romney had hired an openly gay spokesman who supports gay marriage, the candidate had a chance to replicate Bill Clinton's "Sister Souljah" moment, in which Clinton declared independence from a core group of constituents. "Both men were acting in what they perceived to be their political self-interest," writes Marcus. "Romney's calculus has been consistently the opposite [of Clinton's]: that the risk of alienating powerful party figures or constituencies exceeds the benefit of repositioning himself, if not in the reasonable center, then closer to it." The campaign asked Grenell to stay out of the spotlight while he remained a controversial story, and when Grenell decided to resign, Romney reportedly did nothing to rebuke his critics on the right or to reach out to the spokesman himself, Marcus writes. "Romney is doubly hobbled, by the extremeness of his party and the timidity of his own character."

David Brooks in The New York Times on online education Online education has been around for years, but the recent announcement that Harvard and MIT would commit millions to free online education confirms for Brooks that the trend is becoming a "tsunami." "Many of us view the coming change with trepidation. Will online learning diminish the face-to-face community that is the heart of the college experience? ... The doubts are justified, but there are more reasons to feel optimistic," he writes. Online learning will give millions access to the best educational resources. And paradoxically, the concerns that it will diminish interaction and other important elements to learning may force universities who have been ignoring those things even in the real classroom to rethink how to provide them. "My guess is it will be easier to be a terrible university on the wide-open Web, but it will also be possible for the most committed schools and students to be better than ever," he writes.

Joan Wickersham in The Boston Globe on the spark of reality in reality TV Wickersham begins by confessing with a fair bit of shame that she enjoys tuning into E!'s reality show Giuliana and Bill, which has documented the couple's attempt to get pregnant. But when the show was also forced to take on Giuliana's breast cancer diagnosis, it provided a moment that cut through the manufactured non-reality of reality TV. The couple discussed whether she should get a double mastectomy and she worried about disfigurement, and Bill declared, "I don't care what you look like. I just want you around for the next 50 years."  The moment was perhaps staged, but the sentiment was real, and surprising coming from a couple that made its fortune on their public image. Giuliana and Bill, Wickersham writes, "is dizzying in its multiple layers of real and fake, public and private... When Bill said those private words to his wife (and to several million people sitting on their couches folding laundry), I had the fantasy that he was saying something important and lovely that really is — or really should be — true."

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