Five Best Tuesday Columns

Eugene Robinson on the government's gridlock victims, Frank Bruni on Hillary Clinton's lack of privacy, Adam Minter on China's sex trade crackdown, Jonah Goldberg compares Obama to Caesar, William Saletan on snake vs. gun handling.

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Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post on the government’s gridlock victims. “In an election year, there are always winners and losers. Rarely, however, are there so many victims. Legislative gridlock, which was already bad enough, has devolved into a cynical, poisoned status. With a few obvious votes, Congress could improve the lives of millions of people — the unemployed, the undocumented, the uninsured. But instead of being helped, those in need are punished for nakedly political reasons,” Robinson writes, arguing that the 1.7 million jobless workers without long-term unemployment benefits are the Americans most obviously suffering, as well as the working poor, undocumented migrants, and uninsured, all at the hands of Republicans who do not want to anger the party’s conservative base. “It’s one thing to seek an advantage at the polls. It’s another thing to make innocent people suffer for your ambition. Guilty members of Congress — and I’m specifically including you, Sen. Cruz — should hang their heads in disgrace.”

Frank Bruni at The New York Times on Hillary Clinton’s lack of privacy. “Her perseverance often awes me. Her arrogance sometimes galls me. And her particular braid of high-mindedness and high-handedness almost always leaves me puzzled and exhausted. But what I’ve been feeling for and about Hillary Clinton over the last week is sadness. Does she have even a smidgen of privacy left? Can she utter a syllable or think a thought with any assurance that it won’t be exposed, analyzed, ridiculed?” Bruni writes, in the weeks following the release of “The Hillary Papers.” “I’m not suggesting that The Washington Free Beacon, the news site that presented 'The Hillary Papers,' did anything unusual or wrong. By recognizing that an archive of documents at the University of Arkansas hadn’t received much scrutiny and going through it, The Free Beacon provided candid, intimate glimpses of the Clintons that hadn’t existed before. But to absorb it in the context of the endless drip-drip-drip about Hillary over the years was to worry that we’ve lost sight of any boundaries and limits — that maybe even Hillary herself has stopped hoping for anything kinder.”

Adam Minter at Bloomberg on the futility of China’s sex trade crackdown. “It’s become commonplace to refer to Dongguan’s sex trade as an 'open secret,'" Minter writes. "In truth the only thing unknown about the sector was who, precisely, was to blame for helping prostitution to become such an important component of the economy. Authorities quickly fingered Yan Xiaokang, the vice mayor and also police chief of Dongguan, who was fired over the weekend for 'dereliction of duty.' He probably was derelict, but – based on the sheer scale of the industry – could hardly have been acting alone." On Feb. 9, on thousands of police swarmed Dongguan and attempted to curb the illegal sex trade, which includes the 500,000 to 800,000 prostitutes Chinese media estimate work in the city. “Despite what may be the best of intentions, though, Xi Jinping is almost certainly not going to succeed in ending prostitution in Dongguan, much less China. The practice is too deeply engrained in the economy, as well as the culture of doing business, to disappear. Most likely, the crackdown will only serve to drive the sex trade a bit further underground until more pressing issues supersede the government’s attention.” Fortune’s Scott Cendrowski tweets, “Couldn’t agree more,” and The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Chin tweets, “Good point by @AdamMinter.”

Jonah Goldberg at The Los Angeles Times compares Obama to Caesar.  “Of all the time-honored failings for which we criticize sitting presidents — by 'we' I mean pundits, academics and other members of the chattering phylum — two charges stand out: imperialism and shrinkage. Usually it's one or the other," Goldberg writes. "Politically, what is remarkable is that Obama seems to be doing both at the same time. His 'Year of Action' — intended to dispel that lame-duck scent — is simultaneously Caesar-like and pathetic. ... 'The 'Year of Action' should actually be seen as a replay of President Clinton's small-ball comeback after the 1994 midterms. Clinton picked micro-initiatives — school uniforms, the V-chip, etc. — that poll-tested well but amounted to very little in terms of policy. The clever twist Obama is putting on his micro-agenda is doing it in a way that successfully baits many conservatives into making the case that he's more powerful and relevant than he really is."

William Saletan at Slate on the one thing crazier than snake handling. “After scores of deaths from messing with snakes, you’d think people would give it up. But they haven’t. Three months ago, a 15-year-old boy died in Ohio. A local TV station said it happened when he brought a snake and 'passed it to a 16-year-old friend.' A similar tragedy occurred the same day in California, when a homeowner 'was showing his friend a snake.' 'It’s a shock that something like this could happen,' said a neighbor. 'I had no idea there was ever a snake in the home,'” Saletan writes. “The bad news is that all of the stories did happen, and all the victims died. But they didn’t die from handling snakes. They died from handling guns. All I did was change a few words in the news reports: gun to snake, gunshot to snakebite, discharged to bit. We are killing one another, our children, and ourselves. We are a nation of gun handlers, as reckless as anyone who handles serpents.”

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