• Ezra Klein on John Boehner's Fast Start  The Washington Post blogger admits he had low expectations for John Boehner's first speech as Speaker of the House of Representatives Wednesday. Previous speakers have used the occasion to "overpromise" politically and detail their "broad, ambitious, ideologically-charged agendas." Boehner did none of that yesterday. Rather than promising to play the "foil to President Obama" or "anointing himself leader of a new conservative moment in American politics," Boehner kept his focus on "two common themes: Humility, and comity." The result, says Klein, was "as smart a speech as I've seen a politician give -- in part because it was savvy about what it didn't say, which is a rare virtue in Washington."
  • E. J. Dionne on Getting Past Campaign Rhetoric  The Washington Post columnist appeals to Republicans, Democrats, Obama, and journalists in his latest column, urging all of them to make sure the broad rhetoric on which the new Republican members of Congress campaigned is set aside for practical problem solving. The new Republican class, he argues, can be counted on to propose grand, unspecific ideas such as "smaller government," a repeal of Obamacare without a real plan for its replacement, and "a nice round $100 billion in spending cuts." But, as Dionne points out, "it is far easier to float a big number than to describe reductions for student loans, bridges, national parks or medical research." Dionne suggests that while Obama may be able to call out the Republicans' abstractions, the media also has a duty to look past Republicans' "windy speeches" and actually take the time to research and draw attention to the consequences of their policies.
  • Steve Chapman on the Return of the 'Bland' Minivan  "It's boxy, bland and relentlessly practical, but in an age of diminished wealth and high unemployment, maybe that combination doesn't sound so bad," writes the Chicago Tribune editor about the minivan. Even though automakers still try to market the "mom-mobile" as cool (Toyota is now selling a "Swagger Wagon"), their appeal is strictly limited to those parents who don't try to cultivate hipness while schlepping to PTA meetings. "Portraying minivans as radical is like trying to sell Kansas to snowboarders," figures Chapman. "It's also largely pointless." Chapman sees Generations X and Y "getting past the drab associations that once hung over minivans." Sales of vans are now up nine percent from 2009, and more SUVs and "crossover" vehicles are merely minivans "disguised as trucks." Perhaps, writes Chapman, "minivans will take a bigger share of the market as some consumers decide they might as well have the real thing."
  • Naomi Wolf on the Perils of Shielding Rape Accusers  The sexual assault charges against Julian Assange prompt The Guardian's Naomi Wolf to draw attention to a long-held law in the U.K., the U.S., and much of Europe that shields the identities of rape or sexual assault accusers. The law, carried over from the Victorian era, is both condescending and counterproductive, argues Wolf, since "charges made anonymously are not taken as seriously as charges brought in public." She points to Anita Hill's case against Justice Clarence Thomas. Hill, says Wolf, knew as a lawyer that making her identity public would greatly help her chances of successfully prosecuting Thomas. Wolf holds the Assange case to a similar standard and asks, "Can judicial decision-making be impartial when the accused is exposed to the glare of media scrutiny and attack by the US government, while his accusers remain hidden?"
  • Daniel Henninger on the 'Broken Windows' Theory of Congress  "The spending reforms that Speaker John Boehner and his counterinsurgency lieutenants have proposed ... are terrific," observes the Wall Street Journal columnist. But Congress can't sustain this discipline without a President who is not only on board with getting spending under control, but armed with the tool necessary to enact these reforms: impoundment power. Impoundment power is about executive ability to "zero out some of the spending pile that a legislature dumps on the front lawn" (also defined as rescission or the line-item veto). "It is executive pushback against wretched legislative excess," writes Henninger, who compares Congressional earmarks, pork, and "corporate carve-outs" to the "broken windows" theory of urban chaos. The theory explains "that in a neighborhood wracked with murder and mayhem, it is important to repair broken windows. The idea is that leaving small matters like broken windows unrepaired tells criminals that no one cares if they break the neighborhood further, and it tells the people there is no hope of fixing the big things." The president, therefore, has the ability to winnow out these "small" earmarks that add up and set the tone for the behavior of Congress.