By Fareed Zakaria
“Democracies everywhere – from the oldest and most mature, to the youngest and least institutionalized – are showing a surprising common feature: It is increasingly rare that a presidential candidate trounces his opponent,” writes Moises Naim in The Atlantic. “Elections won by a landslide are endangered species. They still happen occasionally, but the prevalent trend is that wherever free and fair elections take place, the margins of victory are shrinking. Increasingly, elections are won by a hair.”
“Today, polarized and fragmented electorates are the norm, and their votes offer no clear mandate or dominant position to any party or candidate. This is why so many countries are governed by complex, cumbersome, and unstable coalitions formed by political groups whose members often have little in common and in some extreme cases are even bitter rivals.”
“Four months after the bombing of the U.S. Marines compound in Beirut, the entire American plan for ‘stability in Lebanon’ collapsed and the Reagan administration withdrew its forces,” argues Christopher Dickey in The Daily Beast.
“The United States survived. And when it decided to go to war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1990, it forged an alliance with Saddam’s old enemy, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. As part of that deal, it effectively ceded control to Damascus over as much of Lebanon as it wanted. Today, the Obama administration is looking for ways to force that dictator’s son, Bashar Assad, to relinquish power. Despite insistent pressure from some of his close advisors, like U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, Obama hesitates to get too deeply involved. But the military option has not been taken off the table, and the possibility remains that, one way or another, the United States will get sucked into the Middle Eastern maelstrom once again.”
“Changing demographics also require us to redefine what we mean by increased living standards,” writes Allison Schrager for Reuters. “We normally associate it with what more wealth buys, but that fails to capture leisure. Retirement used to consist of getting increasingly sick, feeble and dying. Retirement has gotten longer and more active: in 1970 the average retirement lasted 13 years, in 2010 it was over 18 years. People live longer and (up until the Great Recession) retired younger. This trend is not sustainable because it undermines growth by shrinking the labor force. But to some extent, longer and fulfilling retirements are not completely unreasonable. Increased prosperity means consuming more goods and leisure. The concept of modern retirement is one of the fruits of increased wealth.”