David Brooks in The New York Times on tax loopholes as welfare The American perception that we have a smaller welfare state than European countries is a myth, writes Brooks. "We're just better at hiding it. The Europeans provide welfare provisions through direct government payments. We do it through the back door via tax breaks." Child tax credits and health care exemptions for employers have the same purpose and effect as state-run childcare and health care. When politicians give a $10 billion tax break to a manufacturer for an airplane, the effect is the same as if they'd paid $10 billion for the plane, but this way they claim they've reduced taxes and the size of government, Brooks writes. He sees hope in the rhetoric of both parties, who are moving closer to compromise on closing loopholes. "This should be the top priority: A tax reform effort that simplifies government frees the economy and focuses social support on those who actually need it."

Fouad Ajami in The Wall Street Journal on Obama's passive Syria response The so-called "Friends of Syria" are meeting in Tunis Friday to discuss how to support the opposition to Bashar al-Asad, but they've already ruled out armed intervention. "Syria is not Libya, the mantra goes, especially in Washington... The silence of President Obama on the matter of Syria reveals the general retreat of American power in the Middle East," argues Ajami. He notes that Syria's geography would probably make intervention a "regional affair," involving Turkey, Lebanon and others. But he says Obama's reelection campaign, partly founded on ending America's wars, hits the disadvantaged Syrian opposition at a very inconvenient time. America shouldn't be indifferent because of Syria's relationship with Iran and the danger that it becomes open to terrorists. So we can do more by recognizing the Syrian National Council or providing training and weapons. "In a battered Syria, a desperate people await America's help and puzzle over its leader's passivity."

Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post on Santorum's Title X flip-flop Marcus was initially impressed with Rick Santorum's claim that he's "personally morally opposed" to Title X, a federally funded contraception for low-income women, but he voted for it so as not to impose his views. But then in Wednesday's debate, he said he opposed it on all levels but voted for it as part of a larger bill. "When it comes to flip-flops, this is a land speed record," writes Marcus. "The notion that this is a black mark on Santorum’s record — the fact that the Arizona audience booed Santorum when he began to explain away his vote in favor of Title X — illustrates just how extreme the Republican debate has become." She argues Title X's contraception would reduce unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions, and Republicans should recall George H.W. Bush speaking in 1969. "We need to take sensationalism out of this topic," he said. "If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter."

Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Wall Street Journal on Santorum as the Democrats' best hope Rick Santorum clearly enjoys popularity in Republican polls right now, and Democrats should be hoping for that to continue, writes Rabinowitz, because of the wealth of largely un-analyzed comments he's made on social issues that a general electorate will find unpalatable. "By the time Democratic researchers apply themselves to this compendium of Mr. Santorum's views—in the unlikely event that he becomes the Republican nominee—its size will have doubled, at the least." She lists many of them, including his comment that Kennedy's 1960 speech on separation of church and state made him "want to vomit," that liberalism in Massachusetts fueled the Catholic sex abuse scandal, and that he has "a problem with homosexual acts." "To be sure, there's another side to him ... But that side doesn't stand much of a chance against the claims of the moral warrior in him."

Jonathan Alter in Bloomberg View on Mitt Romney's inconvenient statement of truth Michael Kinsley defines a gaffe as when a politician accidentally tells the truth, and when Mitt Romney said "if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting spending, why, as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy," he committed a big one, writes Alter. "Romney is trapped in a 'theology' ... that he knows is completely inadequate for addressing our economic problems." He came under fire from conservatives for the comment and a spokesperson quickly backed away from them and reiterated his support for a "tax and grow" plan. Most economists would agree with his Keynesian sentiment, Alter says, but Romney is often forced to "selectively" choose conservative issues, as with his opposition to the auto-bailout for which he's now taking criticism. "Romney’s core problem is that he doesn't have the courage of his pragmatic impulses. If he did, he’d stick with his view that cutting spending sharply in the short term is a bad idea."