Five Best Wednesday Columns

Maureen Dowd on Dick Cheney, Chuck Thompson on Southern racism, Craig Shirley on the history of CPAC, Andrew Burnstein and Nancy Isenberg on neuro-politics, and Jon Lee Anderson on the life and death of Hugo Chavez.

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Maureen Dowd in The New York Times on the legacy of Dick Cheney On the occasion of R.J. Cutler's documentary The World According to Dick Cheney, Maureen Dowd offers a counter-story to former Vice President Dick Cheney's tenure in George W. Bush's White House. "America's most powerful and destructive vice president woos history by growling yet again that he was right and everyone else was wrong," Dowd writes, summoning passages from Bush's memoir, Decision Points, as well as Cheney's testimony before the 9/11 Commission. "To make his crazy and appallingly costly detour from Osama to Saddam, and cherry-pick his fake case for invading Iraq," Dowd argues, Cheney "played on W.'s fear of being lampooned as a wimp, as his father had been."

Chuck Thompson in The New Republic on racism in the South Is racism geographic? And how should it bear on federal policy? Chuck Thompson focuses on Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts's recent question during oral arguments pertaining to the constitutional basis of the Voting Rights Act: "Is it the government’s submission that the citizens of the South are more racist than the citizens of the North?" Thompson: "There's a preoccupation with skin color in the South that exists nowhere else." But: "The truth about bigotry in Dixie is that, with one or two exceptions ... you cannot prove that racism is worse in the South than it is anywhere else in the country."

Craig Shirley at Townhall on the fractured reign of CPAC How should conservatives forge a common identity? Craig Shirley begins by assessing the state of the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, which has been under fire for rejecting GOProud, a gay conservative group, but proudly welcoming real estate magnate Donald Trump: "What is now the largest gathering of conservative activists in the nation has wandered far from its original intent, which was a rejection of the status quo." Which, Shirley argues, serves as a reminder of the confused intellectual bearings of today's conservative movements: "Some of the conservative movement and all of the Republican Party have lost its intellectual moorings. Some think Bushism is conservatism. Some think worshipping the Pentagon is conservatism. Some think invading Nova Scotia is conservatism."

Andrew Burnstein and Nancy Isenberg at Salon on the history of neuro-politics The idea that politics can be explained by brain chemistry — as opposed to intellectual conviction — isn't so new, co-authors Andrew Burnstein and Nancy Isenberg argue. Indeed, such a notion goes back to Thomas Jefferson: "Jefferson sought to intellectualize the immutable differences he perceived between those of his political party – keepers of the indomitable, forward-looking spirit of 1776 – and the conservative forces to whom George Washington had recently surrendered himself." Such ideology, Burnstein and Isenberg write, serves no way out for those seeking to reform American politics. "It would appear that we cannot become a free society," they observe, "if we are chained to a cognitive science that declares partisanship to be largely unconscious."

Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker on the reign of Hugo Chavez Few journalists are better prepared to assess both the recent tumult and complicated history of Venezuela's former president, Hugo Chavez, who died on Tuesday afternoon, than Jon Lee Anderson, who recently documented Chavez's year-long battle with cancer for The New Yorker. "Chávez was devoted to trying to change the lives of the poor, who were his greatest and most fervent constituents," Anderson acknowledges before addressing the state of the country he leaves behind: "What is left ... after Chávez? A gaping hole for the millions of Venezuelans and other Latin Americans, mostly poor, who viewed him as a hero and a patron, someone who 'cared' for them in a way that no political leader in Latin America in recent memory ever had."

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