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Must-Read Op-Eds for Thursday, March 1, 2012

A BIG DAY'S COMINGBY GAIL COLLINSNEW YORK TIMESThe basic answer to fixing the long-term Social Security imbalance is just to eliminate the payroll tax cap, whic

A BIG DAY'S COMINGBY GAIL COLLINSNEW YORK TIMESThe basic answer to fixing the long-term Social Security imbalance is just to eliminate the payroll tax cap, which currently exempts all income over $110,100 a year. Do that, and you have solved the problem. Politically speaking, you would probably have to agree to mix a limited tax increase with one of the fixes desired by fiscal conservatives, like reducing benefits for the wealthy, or changing the cost-of-living adjustment or, yeah, raising the retirement age a little. But the main answer is that cap, and anybody who refuses to even discuss the payroll tax cap is not serious about fixing Social Security. Romney has already ruled out the payroll tax cap. Also, he once drove to Canada with his dog tied to the roof of the car. End of story.

ROMNEY WINS, HE MIDDLE CLASS LOSESEDITORIALNEW YORK TIMESIf they listened to Mr. Obama’s fiery speech to the United Auto Workers on Tuesday, they heard a very different set of priorities. ... “Since when are hard-working men and women who are putting in a hard day’s work every day — since when are they special interests?” the president asked, addressing the contempt for labor demonstrated by the candidates and several Republican governors in the Midwest. The answer explains why Mr. Obama was up by 18 points over Mr. Romney in a recent Michigan poll, and why Republican leaders are worried about their presidential field.THE TWO CADILLACS FALLACYBY E.J. DIONNEWASHINGTON POSTWe’re witnessing what should be called the Two Cadillacs Fallacy: Romney’s rather authentic moments suggesting he doesn’t understand the lives of average people (such as his comment on his wife’s two Cadillacs) are dismissed as “gaffes,” while Santorum’s views on social issues are denounced as “extreme.” But Romney’s gaffes are more than gaffes: They reflect deeply held and radical views about how wealth and power ought to be distributed in the United States. These should worry us a lot more than Santorum’s dopey “snob” comment or his tasteless denunciation of JFK.THE REPUBLICAN CRACK-UPBY MATT MILLERWASHINGTON POSTThere are only two options ahead for the GOP. Either the wounded Romney limps across the finish line. Or party bigwigs pull a rabbit from the hat and find a more palatable alternative at the convention or before. ... If Romney had coasted to the nomination, it would have kept independents of stature on the sidelines. That’s because everyone knows Romney is basically a pragmatic centrist, so there would have been little open terrain for a run up the “extreme center.” But as Tuesday’s narrow escape in his home state proves, Romney’s dream of quick closure has faded. Even if he wins the nod, he’s been severely damaged. As a result, the next 90 days may be the most interesting we’ve seen in presidential politics in a generation.SUPER PACS CAN'T CROWN A KINGBY GEORGE WILLWASHINGTON POSTThe one certainty about campaign finance laws is that all of them are, and ever will be, written by incumbent legislators. Were Congress to write laws establishing government financing of campaigns, Congress would be uncharacteristically parsimonious, setting the government funding low enough to handicap challengers to well-known and entrenched incumbents. Happily, such laws will never be written because voters, those puzzling nuisances, do not want a new entitlement program — welfare for politicians. We know this because every year Americans have a chance to check a box on their tax returns to give $3 — without increasing their tax liability — to fund presidential campaigns. More than 90 percent refuse to do so. Perhaps they object to funding candidates they oppose. Who knew?FANTASY AND REALITY IN AFGHANISTANBY FAREED ZAKARIAWASHINGTON POSTThe United States could, of course, maintain its current approach, which is to bet on the success of not one but two large nation-building projects. We have to create an effective national government in Kabul that is loved and respected by all Afghans, whatever their ethnicity, and expand the Afghan economy so that a large national army and police force are sustainable for the long term. To succeed, we would also have to alter Pakistan’s character to create a civilian-dominated state that could shift the strategic orientation of the Islamabad government so that it shuts down the Taliban sanctuaries and starts fighting the very groups it has created and supported for at least three decades. Does anyone really think this will happen?OBAMA'S MYTHICAL AMERICABY DANIEL HENNINGERWALL STREET JOURNALA pattern is emerging. Like some World Wrestling troupe on tour, the Republican rasslers travel through their primary states slamming each other into the turnbuckles. By contrast—and "contrast" is the most important word in election politics—the incumbent president continues to deliver the same speech, which defines him as saving America from them. To be sure, the Obama re-election speech, as delivered to the auto union this week, isn't very presidential. It sounds like something one might have heard around South America in the 1950s. ... Make no mistake: Barack Obama is defining his opposition, clearly and relentlessly. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are ensuring that November's voters will end up with no idea who its nominee really is or what he stands for. That's not quite right. One thing is proven: Both have traduced "conservative principles."