1. Opinion

Selected readings from the left and from the right

Here's some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
Published Jan. 25, 2019

We live in a partisan age, and our news habits can reinforce our own perspectives. Consider this an effort to broaden our collective outlook with essays beyond the range of our typical selections.


From "Black Children Don't Have Nick Sandmann's Rights," by Elie Mystal in the Nation.

The context, from the author: On Wednesday morning, I watched Savannah Guthrie help Nick Sandmann gaslight America into disbelieving its own eyes. ... I watched the Today show helpfully allow Sandmann to present himself without his racist uniform on his head. And, along with nearly every nonwhite American I happen to know, I retched at the whole process.

The excerpt: Where is the Savannah Guthrie interview of Trayvon Martin? ... Black children don't get a PR firm and a softball interview when they are in need of redemption. They get an open casket and a good sermon when it's time to appeal for grace. Black children have their side of the story too, but they don't get to go on Today and explain their actions, because they are dead.

From "Want to Pass Medicare for All? Fix American Democracy First," by Matt Ford in the New Republic.

The context, from the author: The shutdown highlights a fundamental asymmetry in American governance today. It's a familiar trope for political observers to blame both sides in Washington for gridlock. In reality, congressional dysfunction and government shutdowns typically hinder progressives' policy goals, which generally require passing new legislation, while furthering conservative ones. So the increasing paralysis of Washington has redounded to the benefit of the Republicans.

The excerpt: Progressives today have given short shrift to potential structural changes to the American political system. At the same time, Republicans haven't been shy about using their political power over the past decade to mold the nation's political structures in their favor, whether through aggressive partisan gerrymandering, a wave of restrictive voting laws, or refusing to let Obama change the Supreme Court's ideological balance. These successes have made it even more difficult for Democrats to capture and hold the House, the Senate and the presidency simultaneously. But when they do, in 2020 or later, they have to be ready to use the opportunity to untilt the balance of power. Because they may not get another one.

From "When King Was Dangerous," by Alex Gourevitch in Jacobin Magazine.

The context, from the author: Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered as a person of conscience who only carefully broke unjust laws. But his militant challenges to state authority place him in a much different tradition: radical labor activism.

The excerpt: Martin Luther King Jr was not a popular man. In 1963, just 41 percent of Americans expressed a positive view of him. Only Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was more unpopular. It went downhill from there. By 1966, two-thirds of Americans held a negative view of King. In his remaining years, King polled worse than nearly all other well-known Americans. Worse than Ted Kennedy would after Chappaquiddick. ... Now that's all changed. Why? Some will say it's because King solved America's "race problem" through something we call "civil disobedience." ... (But) he also was no mere civil disobedient, at least not as that term is commonly understood.... He was not just a man of conscience, ready to break the law but affirm its authority. King was prepared to, and repeatedly did, challenge the authority of the state itself. He did so as an act of resistance against the use of the "rule of law" on behalf of powerful interests. He was less part of an imagined tradition running back through Gandhi and Thoreau than part of a real tradition that runs like a red thread through the labor movement's radical wing and left-wing politics more generally.


From "The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story," by Caitlin Flanagan in the Atlantic.

The context, from the author: How could the elite media — the New York Times, let's say — have protected themselves from this event, which has served to reinforce millions of Americans' belief that traditional journalistic outlets are purveyors of "fake news"? They might have hewed to a concept that once went by the quaint term "journalistic ethics."

The excerpt: I am prompted to issue my own ethics reminders for the New York Times. Here they are: You were partly responsible for the election of Trump because you are the most influential newspaper in the country, and you are not fair or impartial. Millions of Americans believe you hate them and that you will casually harm them. Two years ago, they fought back against you, and they won. If Trump wins again, you will once again have played a small but important role in that victory.

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From "In Defense of the MAGA Hat," by Rich Lowry in the National Review.

The context, from the author: The fundamental offense of the Covington Catholic High School kids wasn't so much allegedly mobbing, mocking or getting in the face of an American Indian drummer at the Lincoln Memorial. It was wearing red Make America Great Again hats.

The excerpt: For much of progressive America, if you are wearing the hat, you are suiting up for Team Racist. You are marking yourself out as a bigot and a goon. Your individuality doesn't matter anymore, only the cap. The entire Covington incident might have played out differently if the kids had been wearing red Washington Nationals caps. The imbroglio might not have gotten any attention at all. Even if it did, progressives taking a critical view of the students might have been more inclined to view them as immature teenagers rather than totems of hate.

FRom "Today's NATO Mission is to Preserve Itself," by Doug Bandow in the American Conservative.

The context, from the author: NATO is scrambling for purpose in a changed world. President Donald Trump is right to consider leaving.

The excerpt: World War II ended 74 years ago. Joseph Stalin died 66 years ago. The Berlin Wall fell three decades ago. The Soviet Union dissolved shortly thereafter. Over that period of time, the Europeans recovered economically — they now possess 10 times Russia's GDP — created the European Union, and incorporated the former Warsaw Pact members and Soviet republics. Yet even during the Cold War, the European members of NATO consistently resisted Washington's pressure to hike military outlays. Today, only two countries, France and Great Britain, have serious militaries. Over the last couple years, a few governments have increased defense outlays, but mostly marginally and unenthusiastically. Germany is the continent's wealthiest country but refuses to take responsibility for its or Europe's security.