Five Best Monday Columns

Republican intransigence, Democratic disarray, and powerful Syrian minorities

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Clive Crook on Why 'Intransigence' Wins  With the debt ceiling deal in the works, Clive Crooks writes in the Financial Times that Obama will be declared, maybe unfairly, the loser because he acted sanely in the face of Republican "intransigence." "Mr Obama defied the Democratic base," he writes, "accommodated the GOP in the national interest, and stands ready to be denounced (not least by his own party) as a weakling. To the recklessly intransigent go the spoils--not something to fill one with optimism about America's future." Still, Obama found himself in this position in part because he allowed health care to pass against the wishes of most Americans, helping create a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Once again with fiscal policy, as with Libya and health care, Obama "lead from behind," timidly supporting a liberal spending plan to continue to raise spending before finally allowing Republicans to dictate the terms of debate. Instead, he should have suggested from the start that long-term borrowing must be curtailed with spending cuts and tax reform. "By leading from the front, Mr Obama might have carried public opinion." Crook says. "Instead, he ... stood aside and let things happen."

Jonathan Cohn Asks How Obama Could Have Done Better  Faced with a deal that is anathema to liberals, Jonathan Cohn asks in The New Republic "What would I have done instead?" He says the outline of the debt-ceiling deal now being forged has been clear for a long time because Obama long ago lost his leverage when it became clear that Republicans were willing to risk default and he was not. The deal, says Cohn, does not solve the job crisis. The first round of $900 billion in cuts may reduce some waste, but it will make it more difficult to find easy savings in the next more severe round which will cause America pain. "Pain means more people eating tainted food, more people breathing polluted air, more people pulling their kids out of college, and more people losing their homes--in other words, the hardships people suffer when government can't do an adequate job of looking out for their interests," he says. His ideas for how Obama could have improved his performance: "Why didn't he spend more time criticizing Republicans for their values and priorities rather than trying to find accommodations with them? Why didn't he play up the possibility of the 14th Amendment, if only to increase his leverage?" Obama spent his time acting like the adult in the room, but his decision to begin by negotiating with an opposition that refused to compromise brought few political rewards.

The Wall Street Journal on Why the Debt Deal Is Good  "The big picture," writes The Wall Street Journal editorial board, "is that the deal is a victory for the cause of smaller government, arguably the biggest since welfare reform in 1996," they write. The first part of the deal includes no tax hikes, and cuts that are smaller than expected but still positive, says the board. The second phase of the deal will be trickier and will require Republican representatives on the bipartisan committee to defend military spending and current tax laws. "This means GOP leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have to be especially careful in their choice of appointees. No one from the Senate Gang of Six, who proposed tax increases, need apply." Finally, the editorial board has stern words for those on the far right of the debate in recent weeks, encouraging them to support the plan as a victory. "The debt ceiling is a political hostage the GOP could never afford to shoot, and this deal is about the best Republicans could have hoped for given that the limit had to be raised," they write. "The Jim DeMint-Michele Bachmann-Sean Hannity alternative of refusing to raise the debt limit without a balanced-budget amendment and betting that Mr. Obama would get all the blame vanishes upon contact with any thought. Sooner or later the GOP had to give up the hostage."

Bassma Kodmani on the Importance of a Syrian Minority  "What is keeping Mr. Assad in power is the extensive security apparatus that was engineered by his father, Hafez al-Assad, and is dominated by their fellow Alawites, a minority Shiite sect," writes the Arab Reform Initiative's Bassma Kodmani in The New York Times. The opposition's key to achieving success in Syria is reassuring the power-holding Alawite minority that they will not be massacred in a post-Assad regime. Alawite leaders see the bloody oppression but continue to support Assad mostly out of fear, Kodmani says. "A signal from them could persuade powerful Alawite army commanders to defect and take other officers with them. ... Sunni leaders must act now to prevent the revolt from descending into civil war by assuring minorities that they will not face reprisals in a new Syria."

Jacob Hacker and Oona Hathaway Declare a Constitutional Crisis  Even if leaders avoided an immediate crisis by raising the debt ceiling, the debate revealed "how dysfunctional the relationship between Congress and the president has become," write Yale professors Jacob Hacker and Oona Hathaway in The New York Times. The writers see a pattern in which Congress reveals itself unable to get something done and so the president takes more power than he should to circumvent Congress. One recent example has been the action in Libya. In sacrificing its ability to help govern, Congress also avoids having to take responsibility when things go wrong. How do we fix this? Get rid of "unnecessary supermajority requirements"--for example those created by the filibuster, ditch "legislative obstacles like the debt ceiling," and "fast-track procedures that limit amendments and require an up-or-down vote."

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