Five Best Wednesday Columns

Jay Cost on Iowa, Richard Epstein on rent control, Jeff Jacoby on Congressional pay, Peter Robinson on presidential public speaking, and John Tirman on casualties of war.

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Jay Cost in The Weekly Standard on the lessons from Iowa Mitt Romney led the Iowa caucuses last night, receiving just eight more votes than Rick Santorum. "The media is spinning this as if it matters who actually receives more votes. It really doesn't ...  it's fair to conclude that both Romney and Santorum won; Bachmann, Gingrich, and Perry lost; and Paul remains a libertarian insurgent who cannot win the GOP nomination," writes Cost. He compares demographics and voting patterns from the 2008 caucus to draw several conclusions. Romney took away roughly the same share of votes as in 2008, winning similar demographic groups. The difference is that no one candidate to his right was able to draw united conservative support, and no John McCain equivalent has yet positioned himself to Romney's left. "Thus, Iowa is a metaphor for the whole 2012 Republican nomination campaign. It is not as though Mitt Romney has increased the breadth or depth of his support relative to 2012. At least not yet. Instead, his advantage is due primarily to the weakness of his opposition."

Richard Epstein in The Wall Street Journal on rent control James and Jeanne Harmon of New York are determined to strike down rent stabilization laws that allow tenants to remain in their town house paying below market rates, and the Supreme Court has asked their opponents to respond to a "petition for certiorari," a step toward hearing the case. "Perhaps there is still some life in the challenge to rent controls. There darn well ought to be," writes Epstein. He describes how rent control works and outlines previous court cases that have upheld it. But he argues that rent controls violate a landlord's Constitutional right to property, and if governments want to regulate rental markets, they should buy property from landlords and market rates and then rent it out. We should look favorably on the Harmons' case for social reasons too, he argues, saying the propping up of entrenched tenants who pay below market rates hurts the community.

Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe on Congressional pay Though many bills have attempted to lower Congressional salaries, Congress hasn't actually taken a pay cut since the Great Depression. "With Congress's approval rating barely above single digits, and with so many Americans feeling the sting of a weak economy, you might think support for a modest one-time pay cut would be a no-brainer," Jacoby writes. He uses polling data to show that the move would be popular with voters, and he details the futile attempts of Sen. Russ Feingold to do so over the years. Even more useful, Jacoby writes, would be a reform of Congress's incredibly generous pension plan, a movement headed by Rep. Mike Coffman. Jacoby describes the pension plan and calls it "a perk more lavish than anything most private-sector workers will ever see." "Congress must set an example ... and ending its rich pensions is the way to set it."

Peter Robinson in The Wall Street Journal on presidents as public speakers Despite the beliefs of many Republicans, running the government as president is different in many ways from running a business, where a CEO can hire and fire anyone under him. "Presidents must instead govern by getting the rest of us to see things they way they see them. They need to interest, move and compel us. In a word, they need to be good speakers," writes Robinson, a former Reagan speechwriter. Thus he grades Republican candidates on several speaking qualities he believes they need. On whether people want to listen to them speak, as one enjoyed hearing FDR or Reagan, he gives most of the candidates low grades. Candidates shouldn't lecture at listeners but should identify as one of them, he says, something at which only some candidates succeed. On the issue of "gravitas," he says only Romney and Gingrich hold sway. He concludes, though, that speaking can be a learned skill, and young candidates like Santorum have already shown capacity for improvement.

John Tirman in The New York Times on casualties in the war zone As the Iraq war drew to a conclusion, we mostly reflected on American casualties, dollars spent, and faulty causes for war. "We rarely question that wars cause extensive damage, but our view of America's wars has been blind to one specific aspect of destruction: the human toll of those who live in war zones," writes Tirman. He writes about the challenges and unwillingness to assemble body counts in places like Afghanistan, but notes that this lack of information is harmful to our war effort and our politics. In Iraq, he says, not taking account of civilian casualties led to an incomplete picture of the reasons for insurgency. Moreover, ignoring the casualties is "a moral failing" he says, in addition to a strategic one. "If we do not demand a full accounting of the wages of war, future failures are all the more likely — and warranted."

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