Five Best Friday Columns

Jeff Shesol on Obama's year ahead, Jonathan Chait on mainstream Republicans, Greg Sargent on Edward Snowden, Matthew O'Brien on long-term unemployment, and Michele Simon on the restaurant lobby and minimum wage. 

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Jeff Shesol at The New Yorker on Obama's new year. "At his pre-holiday press conference, White House correspondents provided a grim recap of the past year: Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks, the fumbling of, falling approval ratings, a legislative agenda that could be described in the same terms that John Cleese, of Monty Python, once applied to a parrot," Shesol writes. "Whether or not 2013 was actually, as a reporter suggested in a question, Obama’s 'worst year' in office, you know it was pretty bad if its highlight — the golden moment when everything seemed to fall into place for the White House — was the government shutdown." The President needs a reset. But "can one actually reboot a Presidency?" Shesol asks. "For Obama, it’s possible that 2014 will bring, as Politico predicts, a newly 'forceful, unapologetic and occasionally provocative application of White House power.' As well it should," he writes. MSNBC producer Jamil Smith tweets this line: "If there is a reset button out there, President Obama might like to get his hands on it."

Jonathan Chait at Daily Intelligencer on mainstream Republicans. "If John Boehner’s support for immigration reform is a kind of Prague Spring for the mainstream of the elected Republican Party, the equivalent among conservative intelligentsia can be found in the latest issue of National Affairs, which launches a double-barreled assault on conservative dogma," Chait argues. Two essays on the Republican domestic agenda and unemployment represent "an important moment in the conservative reform movement, displaying a heretofore rare confidence of the party’s movement to frontally attack their own party’s shibboleths." In other words, establishment Republicans may be ready to stand up to the Tea Party. "The common thread of both pieces is a call for a Republican Party that designs its platform as a response to observed real-world conditions, rather than waging an eternal war against the size of government regardless of any real-world effect," Chait writes. The Atlantic's Molly Ball recommends the post.

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post on Edward Snowden. After The New York Times published an editorial yesterday calling for some kind of clemency for NSA leaker Edward Snowden, the debate over his actions has "intensified." Sargent writes, "Of course Snowden is the reason why the debate unfolded as it has." He continues, "It’s hard to see how such a detailed and well argued case against the program would have been conceivable without the sort of knowledge of NSA activities that Snowden’s revelations brought us. Yes, Obama called for a review of surveillance and greater accountability and transparency into national security programs back in May, and if he embraces real reform, he’ll deserve credit for that. But it wasn’t until after the Snowden revelations that the administration released the legal rationale specifically for NSA bulk collection." The Nation's George Zornick tweets, "Strong post from ."

Matthew O'Brien at The Atlantic on long-term unemployment. "On December 28, 1.3 million people lost their long-term unemployment benefits. Over the next year, 4.9 million people will get fewer benefits than they otherwise would have. And there are still nearly 3 unemployed people for every job opening," O'Brien writes. "Republicans are refusing to extend these extended benefits any longer. They think we have to get benefits 'back to normal' even if the economy isn't — that taking benefits away will give the jobless a needed swift kick in the you-know-what to go get a job." That's why North Carolina's Republican legislature already cut benefits last year. California, Georgia, and New York are now being hit the hardest by nationwide cuts. Jaime Fuller, an associate editor at The American Prospect, tweets this line: "Now Republicans are turning the rest of the country into North Carolina."

Michele Simon at Al Jazeera America on the restaurant lobby and minimum wage. "If you ask most Americans about the NRA, they will think of the National Rifle Association. But another powerful industry trade group bearing those initials, the National Restaurant Association, conducts its own campaign of duplicitous lobbying and outright deception at the expense of the public interest," Simon explains. "Restaurants employ more than 13 million workers, so it is no surprise that industry lobbyists are paid a lot of money to ensure this workforce remains disempowered," she argues. The minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 since 2007, before that it was at $5.15 for a decade. And the tipped minimum wage, which Simon notes applies disproportionately to women, has remained at $2.13 since 1991. "The NRA touts restaurants as an 'economic engine.' But guess who helps pick up the slack for low wages? Taxpayers, in the form of government programs like food stamps, which workers rely on to make ends meet," Simon writes.

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