• Bob Herbert on Obama 'Neglecting' the Base  As DC mayor Adrian Fenty suffered a "humiliating" defeat in his reelection bid last week, the president was actively trying to shore up his base of African-American voters. The New York Times columnist takes some time to explore this striking "coincidence" and remark on a pattern among such "allegedly postracial" politicians: They are "so worried about losing the support of whites that they distance themselves from their own African-American base. This is a no-win situation--for the politicians and for the blacks who put their hopes and faith in them." Because politicians have failed to address black concerns directly, not only does it seem "likely" that there will be lower turnout among African-Americans this fall. Worse, this constant tiptoeing around "anything that has to do with blacks" can "leave the insidious impression that there is, in fact, something wrong with being black." This is a "real danger," Herbert concludes.

  • David Brooks on Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom'  You can add the New York Times columnist to the critics who were underwhelmed by Franzen's new Big Important Book. Rather than capturing the social zeitgeist in the year 2010, Brooks believes the 500-page novel "tells us more about America's literary culture than about America itself." Franzen is an incredible talent, but he's hamstrung by the conventions of the modern novel. What emerges is a simplistic portrait of American life that "ignores anything that might complicate the Quiet Desperation dogma." It's an accomplished but vaguely inert journey into a "low-ceilinged world" where "everyone gets to feel superior to the characters they are reading about (always pleasant in a society famously anxious about status)."

  • Anne Applebaum on Pope Benedict XVI's Visit to England  Despite numerous protests, the pope's recent visit to England was a success, writes The Washington Post columnist. Still, the outrage that greeted the pope's visit intrigues Applebaum. "Had the pope been treated politely from the start," she observes, "I suspect he would have come and gone without a trace.The vast majority of Britons are not Catholic and would have tuned out deferential accounts of his sermons. The press would have relegated the whole thing to the religion section." The overheated attacks on Benedict's presence turned the visit into a national issue, which promptly "[turned] into an advertisement for religious freedom--the freedom to abhor religion and the freedom to practice it."

  • Bret Stephens on the GOP and 'Don't Ask Don't Tell'  The Wall Street Journal columnist believes the time is now for GOP senators to band together and strike down the law banning openly gay soldiers from serving in the military. Such a move serves the "interests of the military itself, starting with its values," contends Stephens. Moreover, can the country really afford to turn away eager, able-bodied men and women when "recruitment standards for age, education, physical fitness and moral standards have been steadily declining"? For GOP senators, striking down DADT might be a tough vote to explain to the constituents back home, but it's "a vote they'll someday be proud of."

  • Jonah Goldberg on the Non-Existent GOP Civil War   "The Limbaugh Law" may be the key to understanding the Republican primaries, contends The Los Angeles Times columnist. Namely, "The Limbaugh Law says that when the country is in open revolt against liberalism and Republicans are riding an election wave, you should vote conservative every time." Which helps explain why, despite protests in certain parts of the media, there really is no "civil war" going on between the GOP establishment and the Tea Parties. Goldberg believes that, "there are no worthy Republican opponents to the tea parties" and that if pressed, "you will not find a single full-throated critic of the tea parties" among GOP leadership. Rather than try to block these outsider candidates, Republicans have embraced them, but the left doesn't see it: "They have convinced themselves that the rest of America dislikes the tea parties as much as they do."