Five Best Tuesday Columns

Charles Lane on gas prices, Jeffrey Goldberg on the TSA, David Brooks on private equity, Harry J. Enten on the Hillary-Biden switch, and Frank Bruni on political spouses.

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Charles Lane in The Washington Post on America's driving habits Gas prices are cheaper now than they were one year ago and signs point to their continued decline. "Romney himself observed last month that Obama 'gets full credit or blame for what's happened to this economy and what's happened to gasoline prices under his watch.' So now it's time to give him credit, right?" Lane writes. "As he undoubtedly knows, Romney was speaking economic nonsense." He describes real reasons for the fluctuations. Demand, he notes, declined perhaps in part because people stayed home, shopping online rather than at the store, for instance. The trend away from driving applies more broadly too, as fewer teens rush to get licenses. "America's love affair with the car may never end. But it does seem to be cooling down."

Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg View on detecting underwear bombs Goldberg revisits one of our favorite TSA anecdotes, in which an agent asked his mother-in-law about an "anomaly" he spotted in "the crotch area" during airport security. The anecdote, he says, got less funny when news broke that U.S. intelligence had foiled another attempted underwear bombing. Would the TSA's security, he wonders, be able to detect the kind of underwear bomb that a double agent handed over to the U.S.? "The chance that the government would actually ratchet back security is close to nil. But when even the head of the TSA admits that its technology might not be able to stop innovative new bombs, it might be time to look at our counterterrorism spending priorities -- and focus more resources on stopping embryonic plots and less on harassing my mother-in-law."

David Brooks in The New York Times on private equity The Obama campaign has increased its attacks on Mitt Romney's record with Bain Capital, pointing to a steel company the private equity firm acquired that subsequently went bankrupt. "This is the story of a failed rescue, not vampire capitalism," writes Brooks, in his defense of the private equity industry in general. "Private equity firms are not lovable, but they forced a renaissance that revived American capitalism. The large questions today are: Will the U.S. continue this process of rigorous creative destruction? More immediately, will the nation take the transformation of the private sector and extend it to the public sector?"

Harry J. Enten in The Guardian on the Hillary-Biden switch Pundits continue to muse that the Obama campaign will replace Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton in the vice presidential spot. Enten rejects both the larger philosophy -- that Obama's reelection requires drastic changes -- and the more specific reasons put forward for Clinton. She probably wouldn't re-excite the part of Obama's base that's unenthused, nor would she add more states to Obama's column, he argues. "No one in the Obama camp is even hinting that Clinton might be a pick for the vice-presidency. The only people suggesting a Clinton-for-Biden switcheroo are those who have column space to fill and apparently a paucity ideas on how to fill it."

Frank Bruni in The New York Times on political spouses Where political dynasties are concerned, Americans are generally more skeptical of a political wife taking on her own career than they are of political children or siblings. "I recently visited Iowa, where an especially compelling Congressional race is unfolding in Iowa's redrawn fourth district. It pits Representative Steve King, a five-term Republican, against Christie Vilsack, a Democrat whose last name just might ring a bell. Her husband, Tom, is the United States agriculture secretary, and previously served eight years as Iowa's governor," writes Bruni. The excitement of her campaign in a state that's never elected a female governor or Congressman convinces Bruni that we should consider wives just as qualified as children or siblings to take over for their spouses.

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