Five Best Saturday Columns

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch on the Archaic Two-Party System. "Nothing in American life today seems as archaic, ubiquitous and immovable as the Republican and Democratic parties," write Gillespie and Welch, citing the fact that our "two 19th-century political groupings divide up the spoils of a combined $6.4 trillion." While "rhetorically and theoretically," the two parties are at odds with each other," they have "managed to create a mostly unbroken set of policies and governance structures that benefit well-connected groups at the expense of the individual." Gillespie and Welch go further to say that Americans have a growing sense of "alarm and alienation" while witnessing the decisions made by the dual party system, noting the fact that "the only real growth market in politics is voters who decline affiliation, with independents increasing from 20% of respondents to 28%." While they concede that it "is generally taken for granted that the Democrats and Republicans will always be around," they in part attribute this to what cognitive scientists call "existence bias," or "the pervasive idea that the status quo is stable and ongoing." In truth, they argue, "there is nothing inherently stable about two organizations dominating a particular market." For example, the authors look at the demise of the market duopolies, such as Kodak and Fujifilm. In government now, there are citizen groups creating "angry and effective coalitions to confront the status quo," such as the Tea Party. "Such new configurations do not mean that the Democrats and Republicans will disappear anytime soon... But the demonstrated ability of disgruntled voters to create whole new ways of doing things has made our political duopolists less secure and complacent."

Glenn Greenwald on Obama's "Illegal" War in Libya. The New York Times reported that top administration lawyers, Attorney General Eric Holder, OLC Chief Caroline Krass, and DOD General Counsel Jeh Johnson, all told Obama that his waging war on Libya without congressional approval was invalid. Glenn Greenwald explains why this is such a singular event. "In 2007, former Bush Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified...[that] he reviewed the NSA eavesdropping program Bush had ordered back in 2001 and concluded it was illegal...Bush decided to reject the legal conclusions of his top lawyers and ordered the NSA eavesdropping program to continue anyway, even though he had been told it was illegal." This was "of course, a major controversy, at least in many progressive circles." According to Greenwald, "now we have Barack Obama not merely eavesdropping in a way that his own top lawyers are telling him is illegal, but waging war in that manner." Moreover, "what is undeniable is that Obama could have easily obtained Congressional approval for this war -- just as Bush could have for his warrantless eavesdropping program -- but consciously chose not to... Other than the same hubris -- and a desire to establish his power to act without constraints -- it's very hard to see what motivated this behavior."

Recommended Reading

Michael Medved on For-Profit Candidates. "In 2012, as in previous years, it ought to be obvious that some of these purported White House aspirants are actually running for profit, not for president," writes Michael Medved. He observes how "a presidential campaign that made no sense politically might earn dollars and cents in career enhancements." For example, "Ron Paul’s three campaigns—as a libertarian in 1988, and as a Republican in 2008 and 2012—have... drawn few votes... but the once-obscure Texas congressman has become a bestselling author and prominent media commentator." Other examples include "perennial candidates—Dennis Kucinich, Pat Buchanan, Jesse Jackson" who "became famous for their energetic and colorful campaigns, building their media profiles and, in Kucinich’s case, winning a beautiful young wife." According to Medved, "In the 2012 race, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum have already succeeded in this strategy." As for Cain, "after the election, he’ll almost certainly get a far more prominent media gig, perhaps joining Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee on Fox News, write a bestselling book, and win five-figure speaking engagements." Santorum in turn has "wandered the political wilderness since a crushing reelection defeat in Pennsylvania in 2006." But his 2012 bid "has already rejuvenated his career, making him a far more plausible possibility for future high office (either appointive or elected), major think tank positions, or as an enhanced voice in conservative media." Medved writes that "there’s something about standing on stage at candidate forums, in front of high-tech TV sets and eagerly cheering crowds, side by side with front-running, big-time contenders who could actually win the White House, that inescapably enhances personal prestige, regardless of thin electoral support or nonexistent prospects of victory."

The New York Times Editors on the Debt Limit Standoff. The Times argues that while the White House has said not to expect any back-nine breakthroughs on the debt limit during President Obama and John Boehner's golf game this Saturday, in actuality "the White House isn’t even pushing for the real breakthrough the economy and this debate need," while Republicans "are playing partisan brinkmanship with no apparent thought to the cost of a protracted standoff." In order for a real breakthrough, there would need to be "an agreement to delink the need to raise the debt limit by Aug. 2 from the hard, longer-term work needed to tame the budget deficit. The limit must be raised so the government can borrow what it needs to meet its obligations." Instead of this, however, "the White House is negotiating what is essentially a big spending-cut package." This is not a "breakthrough," but merely "damage control... a deal that does not worsen the economy and that does not lock in such deep spending cuts that Republicans feel no pressure to accept tax increases in a future budget deal." A deal that the White House must insist on "will probably include caps on discretionary spending," with "spending cuts must be phased in gradually." Additionally, the White House should demand concessions from Republicans, including "extending federal unemployment benefits beyond their expiration at year-end." The deal "must have an enforcement mechanism that keeps both sides honest." Furthermore, "because Americans need their lawmakers to focus on bigger problems, like job creation, a deal should extend the debt limit for at least two more years... Maybe by then, a serious budget summit — without posturing and brinkmanship — will take the place of a golf summit."

Arlen Specter on Government Intervention to Save the Football Season. If there is no fall NFL season, Senator Arlen Specter argues, it won't just be the fans who are disappointed. There would be serious economic consequences. According to consulting firm Edgeworth Economics, who put together the data at the request of the player's association, the cost of a canceled 2011 season would be "about $5 billion from lost jobs, decreased spending at local businesses and reduced tax revenue. In addition, billions of dollars in TV revenue and millions of dollars in ticket sales would vanish." Specter goes in so far as to say that with so much at stake, "the country should not sit back and wait for the players and owners to reach an agreement on their own. Congress can — and should — intervene to force a resolution of the dispute." Some believe this to be an extreme reaction. Specter himself introduced legislation for congressional intervention in sports in the past, when the Philadelphia Eagles threatened to move to Phoenix in the early 1980s. That legislation, "which was strongly opposed by N.F.L. lobbyists," did not pass. He introduced similar legislation in the ’90s, "when several professional football and baseball teams threatened to move in order to pressure cities to pay for stadium construction costs." Again: it did not pass. But Specter thinks this time is different: "the political climate today is much more conducive to congressional action than past efforts to deal with local issues like franchise moves and stadium construction costs... Gridlock on other issues has left the House and the Senate with time to spare. And even the mere threat of such legislation might induce a settlement."

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