Five Best Monday Columns

Rodric Braithwaite on Ukraine, Lawrence Summers on term limits, Gary Younge on liberal cities, Susan Schulten on political polarization, and Jeff Smith on Andrew Cuomo. 

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Rodric Braithwaite in Financial Times on how the solution to the crisis in Ukraine will be through diplomacy not aggression. The former British ambassador to Russia says that world leaders should accept the realities on the ground and work to contain the current crisis in Ukraine. "We might start by thinking where we want to end up: with a Ukraine that is reasonably at peace with itself and its neighbours. For the foreseeable future, membership of Nato is off the agenda. Crimea will remain Russian. But first there is a ceasefire to be brokered." He contends that the path towards the stabilization of Ukraine will be long. "Some excitable commentators have suggested that the Ukraine crisis has echoes of 1914, and that we are stumbling towards a European war. That is unlikely. And there are more hopeful parallels to be drawn. In 1870, Germany tore Alsace-Lorraine from France. After two world wars, France regained Alsace and took the German Saarland as well. Now Alsace is a secure part of the French Republic. Saarland voted to return to Germany in 1955 – a precedent, perhaps, for Crimea, but unlikely for many years to come until passions have cooled. Old enemies can come together, and territorial disputes can be settled without war. But it takes time, and a lot of hard diplomacy."

Lawrence Summers in The Washington Post on why America should consider restricting the American Presidency to one term. Summers, a former White House advisor himself, writes that modern presidential second terms have been historically ineffective. "A large part of what presidents do during their first terms, particularly in the latter half, is directed at securing reelection rather than any longer-term objective. Would the U.S. government function better if presidents were limited to one term, perhaps of six years? ... The historical record helps makes the case for change." Summers suggests that re-election campaigns negatively affect the president's ability to govern. "This is why many scholars regard the current constitutional limit of two presidential terms as problematic. However, reviewing the fairly dismal experience of second terms, my guess is that problems caused by lame-duck effects are much smaller than those caused by a toxic combination of hubris and exhaustion after the extraordinary effort that a president and his team must exert to achieve reelection...  On the night of their reelection, all reelected presidents expect to beat the second-term curse. At least since the Civil War, none has."

Gary Younge in The Guardian on why American cities are veering left politically. Younge points to Teacher's Union President Karen Lewis, who is in a virtual tie with Rahm Emanuel in the Chicago mayor's race, as well as the recent election of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, as examples of this leftward trend. "The organisational and electoral bases of these campaigns are virtually the same as those that propelled Obama to victory – trade unions, minorities, young people (particularly young women) and liberals. And they are promising what Obama has been unwilling or unable to deliver. They are trying to raise the minimum wage, introduce green technology, create affordable housing, levy money from the wealthy to fund universal childcare and rein in their police departments from racist excess. These are bold plans and, for the most part, they are acting on them." Younge contends that this shift reflects an America that is becoming even more sharply divided between city and country. "People think in terms of red and blue states, but the real distinction is between town and country. With just a handful of exceptions, every city of more than 500,000 inhabitants votes Democrat; in all of the 10 largest cities in America white people are a minority."

Susan Schulten in The New Republic on the history of American geographic polarization. That same geographic polarization is nothing new, though it looks much different than it did in centuries past, as Schulten found by looking at an old electoral map of the 1880 presidential election. "Focus on the outcome by statesthe only measure that matters in the Electoral Collegeand the map shows a nation that seems hopelessly divided along a north-south axis, still fighting the Civil War by other means. Democrats control the former slave states, while Republicans hold an edge in the northeast and Midwest, as the inset captures." This was a forebear of our modern day political map, which divides the U.S. into red and blue states and counties. "The map may not look advanced today, but in 1883 it broke new ground by enabling Americans to visualize the spatial dynamics of political power. Readers responded enthusiastically. ... The map revealed spatial patterns and relationships that might otherwise remain hidden, or only known anecdotally. Perhaps it's no coincidence that at the same time the two parties began to launch more coordinated, disciplined, nationwide campaigns, creating a system of two-party rule that we have lived with ever since."

Jeff Smith in Politico on why New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's recent legal troubles are threatening his political life. Cuomo is under investigation by the U.S. Attorney for possibly meddling with an anti-corruption committee that the governor appointed. Smith, a disgraced former state senator from Missouri, says the case now has the potential to snowball into something much more serious. "As someone who did time after a five-year, off-and-on inquiry that began with an examination into a 3x5 campaign postcard and ended in obstruction-of-justice charges due to discoveries from an unrelated investigation into a car bombing (!), I’m well-acquainted with the unforeseen places to which these inquiries can lead." Cuomo may soon learn a lesson many politicians before him have failed to heed. "On the fortieth anniversary of President Nixon’s resignation, it is beyond cliché to say that it’s never the crime; it’s the cover-up. But it’s trite because it’s so true: Most of the original 'crimes' are merely politically embarrassing, while the cover-ups are often criminal."

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