Five Best Thursday Columns

Vinik on Paul Ryan's budget, Cepeda on Chicago's growing humanitarian crisis, The Wall Street Journal on Jack Lew, Frank on Obama's legacy, and Burns on Iran. 

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Danny Vinik in The New Republic on why Paul Ryan really wants to help the poor but doesn't know how. Paul Ryan gave a speech outlining his economic plan on Tuesday, which included praise for the social safety net all the while proposing slashing programs that help the poorest Americans most. "But this presents an incomplete picture of the safety net. Social Security and Medicare have been two of the most successful programs in American history at reducing poverty, but those benefits accrue primarily to the elderly. It’s great that America offers most seniors a secure retirement, but that’s only half the purpose of the safety net. The other half helps low-income Americans through programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and housing assistance. I’m sure Ryan would include these programs as part of the safety net if he was asked to provide an all-inclusive list. But his focus on Social Security and Medicare reveals his true belief that the safety net should provide a secure retirement for everyone, not lift up the poorest Americans." Vinik pushes back against Ryan, making the point that empowering lower class Americans to climb the ladder isn't about cutting government programs but giving them more leverage against employers and the system. "Government interference, under this view, is a major impediment to earned success. That may be true for the marginal worker, but for the vast majority of them, it’s false. The lack of wage growth for the bottom quintile of Americans is largely not a result of poorly aligned incentives. It’s the result of loose labor markets that prevent workers from having any leverage over their employers to demand better compensation or working conditions."

Esther Cepeda in The Chicago Tribune on why Chicago's humanitarian crisis deserves as much attention as the one at the border. Chicago continues to experience record rates of violence, lack of quality education, and poverty, so why isn't the federal government intervening? "Bloodshed, gang intimidation, drug wars, robbery, rape, murder of children in the streets and widespread dropping out of school because of belief in certain death at a young age are the circumstances the children running to the U.S.-Mexico border are fleeing — and are the same ones children and families on Chicago's South Side face daily." Cepeda makes the case that federal money and attention are as necessary and pressing in Chicago as they are on the border. "Putting aside the question of whether we should or shouldn't take in needy children at the border, we might ask ourselves: If President Obama manages to get almost $4 billion to give Central America's kids succor, might he endeavor to come up with roughly the same amount to help the Hispanic and black children in crisis in his own backyard?"

The Wall Street Journal (subscription) on why Jack Lew is punishing American corporations for fleeing the hostile American business environment. Under the Obama presidency, many American companies are taking their business oversees, something Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew recently called a lack of "economic patriotism" in a letter to Congress. The Wall Street Journal argues Lew has caused the problem by failing help pass tax reform. "The pace of inversions has been picking up as more CEOs conclude that President Obama isn't serious about tax reform. These executives have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders, and they can't cede a permanent tax advantage to their global competitors. So they decide to move."  They argue it is President Obama and Lew's policies that have caused the problem. "Former Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus worked hard on reform, but Mr. Obama showed no interest and the Montana Democrat finally gave up and agreed to be U.S. Ambassador to China. In February Mr. Camp introduced the most thorough-going reform in a generation of both corporate and personal taxes, but the White House ignored it. The basic problem is that Mr. Obama and his political factotum Mr. Lew care less about reform to make America competitive than they do about raising more tax revenue to spend."

Jeffrey Frank in The New Yorker on why President Obama's greatest legacy may be still be unwritten. Frank takes on the new Quinnipiac University poll that ranks President Obama last among post-war presidents. "...apart from moments of national unity—usually in the wake of war or some other terrible event—Presidents rarely get high approval ratings; there are too many agendas occupying the nation’s psychic and social space." He argues that Obama's restraint and deliberation, the very qualities he is most criticized for may end up being his greatest accomplishment, comparing criticism of Obama's policies to criticism of the now lauded policy of Containment deployed at the start of the Cold War. "[The Obama administration] has mostly managed to implicitly ask the right questions before it employs force: If we do that, then what? Will it help or make bad things worse? How does it end? And, in Lippmann’s language, will it 'squander our substance and our prestige'—a squandering that the George W. Bush crew managed to accomplish in just a short time."

Nicholas Burns in The Boston Globe on how Obama and Kerry are taking lessons from the Cold War in dealing with Iran. Burns discusses the relationship between American presidents Reagan and Bush and Soviet leaders Gorbachev and Shevardnadze, writing that Obama and Kerry may be trying to form a similar relationship with Iran's new, potentially more reform-minded leaders. "The outreach from Shultz and Baker to Shevardnadze was a model of diplomatic persistence, creativity, and courage. It also illuminates how we might proceed on another Cold War — our 35-year struggle with Iran, now at a critical juncture." He writes that whether or not diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran succeeds, it is smart to try. "Kerry is the inheritor of a long diplomatic tradition at the State Department. His predecessors — from George Marshall and Dean Acheson to Shultz and Baker — understood that backing diplomacy with the threat of force was smart. But they also knew it was almost always better to exhaust negotiations first before turning to war."

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