Five Best Wednesday Columns

David Sirota on the Boston bomber, Charles C.W. Cooke on the children of Newtown, Judith Grossman on the unintended effects of Title IX, Carl M. Cannon on covering the Gosnell trial, and Jonathan Chait on the inaccuracies of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.

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David Sirota at Salon on the unknown Boston bomber How policymakers respond to the Boston Marathon bombings will hinge on the racial identity of the perpetrator, argues David Sirota. "If the bomber ends up being a white anti-government extremist ... the attack [will likely be] portrayed as just an isolated incident — one that has no bearing on any larger policy debates. ... It will probably be much different if the bomber ends up being a Muslim and/or a foreigner from the developing world. As we know from our own history, when those kind of individuals break laws in such a high-profile way, America often cites them as both proof that entire demographic groups must be targeted." He continues: "Coming at the very moment the U.S. government is planning to withdraw from Afghanistan ... and debating landmark immigration legislation, the [Boston bombing] could easily become the fulcrum of all of those contentious policy debates — that is, depending on the demographic profile of the assailant." Writer Tim Wise agrees, writing, "If this bomber turns out to be white, the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas." And Amy Davidson at The New Yorker says that the chaos on Monday is no excuse for appeals to racial discrimination. "It is at these moments that we need to be most careful, not least."

Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review on the children of Newtown "Instead of engaging his critics on substance, the president has done his level best to circumvent the debate by transmuting a dispute over the wisdom of new laws into an up or down vote on whether or not one is sad about gun violence," declares Charles C.W. Cooke, who weighs the rhetoric of pro-gun-control policy makers against the actual tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. "It makes no rational sense whatsoever to privilege the testimony of Newtown’s parents in our deliberations. The children of Sandy Hook were randomly chosen victims of abhorrent and reckless violence. ... Cruel as it might seem to observe, you are not afforded greater insight into the legal and economic questions surrounding gun control because a bullet fired by a madman has hit you or somebody you love." Cooke thinks this strategy, which "betrays a certain desperation," ultimately paid off for opponents of more restrictive gun policies, referring to The Washington Post's recent admission that "nothing proposed in the gun-control debates would have prevented the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and everybody knows it." Jonathan Chait of New York agreed with Cooke's conclusion but not his lesson. "Gun control was suddenly thrust onto the political agenda by a shocking event, but with little groundwork laid," he notes, adding, "Newtown did not change the world. Any real effort to address the plague of mass gun violence will require not a catalyzing event, or even a string of them, but years of organizing and effort."

Judith Grossman in The Wall Street Journal on the unintended effects of Title IX "Until a month ago, I would have expressed unqualified support for Title IX," says Judith Grossman, a lawyer and self-described feminist, before recounting her son's experience before a college tribunal after being charged with "nonconsensual sex" by a former girlfriend. "Title IX, that so-called guarantor of equality between the sexes on college campuses ... has obliterated the presumption of innocence that is so foundational to our traditions of justice. On today's college campuses, neither 'beyond a reasonable doubt,' nor even the lesser 'by clear and convincing evidence' standard of proof is required to establish guilt of sexual misconduct. These safeguards of due process have, by order of the federal government, been replaced by what is known as 'a preponderance of the evidence.' ... All my son's accuser needed to establish before a campus tribunal is that the allegations were "more likely than not" to have occurred by a margin of proof that can be as slim as 50.1% to 49.9%." ("Grossman’s piece reads like a Kafka-esque nightmare," observes The Daily Beast.) In the end, Grossman ends on a note of fairness: "There are very real and horrifying .... offenses [that] should be investigated and prosecuted ... What does remain a question is how we can make the process fair for everyone."

Carl M. Cannon at RealClearPolitics on the premise of covering the Gosnell trial Combining an ethnography of newspapers in the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's with the ongoing debate about media coverage of the Kermit Gosnell murder trial, Carl M. Cannon considers whether abortion is a "sacred cow" of journalism, a subject to be addressed hesitantly or not at all. "It is possible to read that entire grand jury report — and to cover this man’s murder trial — and still believe strongly in the need for women in our society to maintain control over their reproductive rights. But the elite media seem to have been unwilling to take that chance," Cannon argues, after seizing on Barack Obama's comment to pastor Rick Warren, in 2008, that determining when a fetus obtained certain rights was "above his pay-grade." "The exchange between Warren and Obama succinctly illustrates how the sides in this debate talk past one another. Those opposed to abortion frame the question as being about the rights of the unborn. Those who defend it talk about abortion as being integral to a woman’s right to control her own body, a necessity that trumps theological teaching or scientific advancement." An recent exchange on Twitter, between Slate's Matt Yglesias and The Daily Beast's Justin Green, revealed this dynamic. "I think [Gosnell's behavior is] shocking because he was performing illegal procedures with unlicensed personnel in unsafe facilities," explained Yglesias. "It's shocking because he cut the spinal cords of babies," Green responded.

Jonathan Chait at New York on the inaccuracies of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff Is a central assumption of the fiscal debate an out-and-out lie? Appraising a widely-discussed paper that discovered an Excel coding error in the work of Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, Jonathan Chait argues that Reinhart and Rogoff's most famous declaration, that "the national debt causes the economy to slow once it reaches 90 percent of the size of GDP," has achieved widespread currency in policy discussions despite its already-apparent confusion of correlation and causation. "The political debate has been dominated by an imaginary fear," Chait says. "As a result, we’ve endured mass unemployment, a phenomenon with enormous and very long-term consequences." Slate's Matt Yglesias was even clearer in his critique of Reinhart and Rogoff: "[Theirs] is literally the most influential article cited in public and policy debates about the importance of debt stabilization, so naturally this is going to change everything. Or, rather, it will change nothing. As I've said many times, citations of the Reinhart/Rogoff result in a policy context obviously appealing to a fallacious form of causal inference." But it's unlikely that will diminish the paper's currency in Washington. "The fact that Reinhart/Rogoff was widely cited despite its huge obvious theoretical problems leads me to confidently predict that the existence of equally huge, albeit more subtle, empirical problems won't change anything either."

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