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You have an opinion, but do you have what it takes to be heard?

Nancy Goldstein
Brooklyn, NY

Nancy Goldstein

I’m a communications professional and journalist known for addressing complex, sometimes unpopular issues in lucid, compelling prose.

Rule of lawlessness

Editor's note: For this final challenge, we asked the contestants to craft an op-ed column that showcases their writing style, smarts and unique point of view.

Democracy is so inconvenient when you are trying to get something done -- say, win an election or bag a trophy for your administration. In their pursuit of these respective short-term goals, the Tea Party and the Obama administration have both undermined basic democratic tenets. Meaning that we, as a country, have lost something regardless of who wins Tuesday.

Last Monday, one of Senate candidate Rand Paul's goons stomped the hell out of a woman who dared to show up at a Paul rally with a satiric sign. Next Monday, President Obama, in his quest to prove his administration's war on terrorism is succeeding where the last administration failed, will go to court to defend his right to continue targeted killings outside of war zones without deference to due process or judicial review. The administration wants to keep Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American citizen residing in Yemen, on a "kill list" without having to explain to any judicial body the criteria and procedures for putting him on the list or defend why it has the right to assassinate him without due process.

"Why" may seem self-evident to anyone tuned to the news since last Friday, when airline security found two suspicious packages originating from Yemen, bound for the United States. But it is not. The administration has brought no charges against Aulaqi, nor has it provided evidence that links him to these packages other than his residency in their country of origin.

Still, the fundamental question here concerns judicial oversight. Can a president ever claim that he is a law unto himself, accountable to no one, and make life-and-death decisions behind closed doors, with no due process? The answer in a democracy must be no, especially when fear urges us to err: executive power unchecked by any form of judicial oversight is a recipe for despotism.

Sandwiched between these events - one a paragon of mob rule, the other a bid for unchecked executive power - is an Election Day that will bring no one change we can believe in.

Tough times and election cycles intensify the desire for heroes and villains, good and evil - for simple story lines, quick resolutions and vengeance. And actors all along the political spectrum have eagerly fed that desire, at a price that once looked reasonable but is turning out to be too high. Nothing good can come to a democracy whose alleged defenders are seeing democracy's founding concepts as nuisances - mere obstacles to be overcome or sidestepped. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell ferociously defends her electorate from "government interference," which she has famously located in the First Amendment. She thinks it stinks that church-state separation forbids public school boards from giving the green light to teaching creationism: Why can't majority rule be the law of the land? For Paul's minions, free speech is the right of the mob to silence dissent by force.

Clearly what the Tea Party really wants to "Take America Back" from is silly concepts such as equal protection, or the minority's right to be free from the will of the majority.

It is no less frightening or dangerous that President Obama is undermining the balance between democracy and presidential power in the name of national security. As a constitutional law professor, he ran against his predecessor's record of preventive detention, military commissions and extraordinary rendition. As president, he has held tight to every scrap of executive power the Cheney gang claimed for President George W. Bush.

People do strange things when they are scared, want to win elections or are desperate for results. Shove past the minority. Revert to force. Set the Constitution aside - just this one time - in the name of the greater good. But when political figures, whether by exhortation or example, encourage a frightened, frustrated public to think of fundamental constitutional or governmental principles as impediments rather than the foundation of our democracy, their victories are built on earth that they have dug out from beneath our feet.

Americans vote regularly these days via reality TV shows, where viewers determine the winners and losers. Devotees enjoy watching good and evil play out - and feel as though their vote counts. But politics is too important to be run like "American Idol" or "Survivor." In the short term, politicians can motivate their base by creating scapegoats and straw men. But we, as a country, cannot in the long term live by democratic principles, or solve our problems, by voting inconvenient people and principles off the island.

Read more by Nancy Goldstein. And then cast your vote to determine who should win the title of America's Next Great Pundit.

By Nancy Goldstein  |  November 1, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Old-school op-eds
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FHAY26, you are entitled to your opinion.

So are the rest of us.

That we disagree with you or the author does not make us self-righteous or unable to comprehend. I'm willing to concede anger in certain cases.

Posted by: MsJS | November 2, 2010 9:35 AM
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Nancy's handling of the mis-use of democracy was well done, intelligent and to the point. Most of the commenters seemed to be wanting to demonstrate their critiquing ability, but instead showed their anger, self-righteousness, and inability to comprehend.

Posted by: fhay26 | November 2, 2010 8:39 AM
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This post is all over the place. It is poorly constructed, which is shocking considering your supposed expertise in communications. I'm not entirely sure what your point is at all. I am certainly no friend to the tea party, but I can't imagine anyone from the right reading this and being convinced about any of the points you raise. Nancy, you're not effective at communicating to those who don't share your far-left views. This is a serious problem. You don't have to write to the middle, but you do have to write to all potential readers. You do a poor job of that. Your attempt to link the tea party to Cheney and Obama is clumsy at best. It feels incredibly forced. And finally, again, you don't really give us much new here...fear is bad, people do bad things because of it. Really. Wow. How about examining the role of the media in enabling fear? How about the role of Congress in not checking Obama or Bush on policies that undermine the Constitution? Any of those would have been FAR SUPERIOR topics, but of course, would require some original thinking on your part, something you've shown us you're not willing or able to do. Too bad...I'm getting nothing from your work, and I suspect nobody else (besides your twitter followers and facebook friends) will.

Posted by: fp26 | November 2, 2010 12:29 AM
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Posted by: MsJS:
I cast my vote for the commenters. Seriously. If any of you write regularly elsewhere, let me know so I can follow you from time to time.
I agree. A run-off between MsJS, martymar123, and CHUCKY-EL would have produced true Great Pundit fare.

While these three are good to mediocre depending on the day, none quite hit the GP level. On the other hand, they are FAR better than last year's clown.

Also would note 3 far better GPs were eliminated in the round of ten, mostly because their Facebook Friend circle was too small.

Posted by: chucky-el | November 1, 2010 11:10 PM
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The ivory tower seems to be very, very high.
The packages were not suspicious, they were lethal. Why do so many of the far left fringe like this writer deny that we are under attack?

Posted by: DesertSailor | November 1, 2010 9:32 PM
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Linking the incident at the Rand Paul campaign event to the action taken by President Obama in regard to Anwar al-Aulaqi is ludicrous at the outset. Utilizing "split the difference" reasoning to arrive at a conclusion of equal blame is truly feeble. Reading through to the end was simply boring.

Posted by: tfe1231 | November 1, 2010 9:13 PM
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Riding the fence! This isn't the only piece with a punch, it is a piece with punches being pulled. You probably wouldn't have gotten my vote anyway because you rub me the wrong way. I rarely agree with you and unlike others, I feel like I ran a marathon in salt encrusted boxers after reading your work. You might have been able to save yourself with this last one but it looks like you are trying to make enough people happy to get votes. This isn't the same bitchslapping you've been doing for the past few weeks. You didn't pack a punch, you pulled your punches.

In the long run it won't matter. The post has already extended the voting in an attempt to get the results they want. OH well

Posted by: DDOG | November 1, 2010 6:19 PM
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"Sandwiched between these events - one a paragon of mob rule, the other a bid for unchecked executive power - is an Election Day that will bring no one change we can believe in."

Unfathomable that this author would even try to equate the handling of someone who was trying to assault a senate candidate, with a president who this author states has unconstitutionally ordered the execution of a US citizen. Bizarre thought process.

Posted by: termiteavenger | November 1, 2010 4:03 PM
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Wow, what a disappointment. One moderate wonk, two urban liberals, none from outside the Boston/DC Megaplex.
Not even worth a vote. Phooey.

Posted by: daskinner | November 1, 2010 2:57 PM
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It's pretty well evident that Goldstein is a classic New York style liberal and brings a worldview that is all too well represented in the media already.

Please don't give us another Dana Milbank.

Posted by: diehardlib | November 1, 2010 2:34 PM
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This is the first one I have read, so can't compare it to the other two. But I found it neither lucid nor compelling, which she claimed were her strengths.

To compare a President to a movement is not meaningful, it would have been better to analyze one or the other. her analysis of Obama's attempt to avoid having to pay attention to our Constitutional protections could have been very good and perhaps compelling if she had just written about that, but her viewpoint and equivalency with the Tea Party criticisms makes her seem like a liberal who didn't want to appear anti-Obama.

And her criticisms of the Tea Party based on a few isolated (and misstated incidents) is amateurish and incorrect. Most Tea Party participants and avid believes in our Constitution, and terribly upset it has been ignored, particularly in many aspects of Obamacare.

I agree many posters are more thoughtful than this column..

Posted by: TuckerAndersen1 | November 1, 2010 1:21 PM
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Because an employee of one Senate candidate assaulted a heckler, this writer concludes that the tea partiers are for mob rule? Hire another hard-left pundit if you must, WP, but surely you can find one more intelligent than this!

Posted by: wumhenry | November 1, 2010 1:13 PM
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Drawing parallels between the Tea Party and Obama is a big task for this piece. I found myself frequently lost and confused, but maybe that's because I am not familiar enough with the references. I didn't agree with the comparisons.

Also, are hyper-links appropriate in an op-ed?

Posted by: jhones | November 1, 2010 12:16 PM
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She is basically Katrina Vanden Heuvel in waiting. The leftwing view is that inculcation not education is important. The Post already has this ecological niche well filled with EJ Dionne and Eugene Robinson. The WP needs to broaden its intellectual net and this one won't do it.

Posted by: DoubleDonn | November 1, 2010 12:04 PM
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Standard leftist talking points mixed with mushyheaded evenhandedness. Somewhere, Nancy went from being interesting to being infected with High Broderism.

This would have been more fun if you'd have just called everyone else fascists. But then Lauren would have had to chide you for being partisan and mean.

Anyway, you've clearly earned an audience, but more The Nation than the Post.

Posted by: JackRyan82 | November 1, 2010 11:56 AM
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At last someone who points out some substantive problems with some of the Obama decisions. Far from rote ideological speech on one side or the other, this op-ed provides some understanding of the difficulties of the democratic process, while lauding its strengths. If you read Churchill's The Second World War, you understand his wistfulness that the U.S. President has a defined four-year term that gives him some breathing room to enact policies, while the British Prime Minister can be dismissed, for lack of confidence, any time. As someone once said, our system isn't perfect, it's just better than any alternative. When you start with that as your premise, you are free to examine the real issues that need examination and discussion, which Goldstein does.

Posted by: carolcovin | November 1, 2010 11:56 AM
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"Executive power unchecked by any form of judicial oversight is a recipe for despotism."

Attribution required?

For example: Ex Parte Milligan
71 U.S. 2 (4 Wall.)(1866)

Posted by: AegirC | November 1, 2010 11:53 AM
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Disjointed column, conclusionary partisan pontifications with insufficient (if any) factual justification, and outright mischaracterizations. A columnist should be trying to convince people of something, and that means using rational argument that might convince someone who doesn't already agree with you. What you're giving us here is merely a 2-minute-hate "get out the vote" message to rally true believers and the already-converted.

Posted by: Gradivus | November 1, 2010 11:29 AM
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I read this column last and was relieved to see some punch to it. Thank you.

Alas, there wasn’t much else.

Wow, presidents take action that seems to be above the law. Really?

Christine O’Donnell’s not the most prepared candidate on the planet. Didn’t you all already tell us that?

A Rand Paul staffer behaved badly. Well, at least that’s news of sorts.

I’m left with the following message: Politicians and their employees should obey the law and voters should not abandon the Constitution on Election Day.

Not much there for folks of any political stripe to chew on, is there?

I cast my vote for the commenters. Seriously. If any of you write regularly elsewhere, let me know so I can follow you from time to time.

Posted by: MsJS | November 1, 2010 11:17 AM
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This is a poorly constructed article. Like many of your other posts, you don't really offer much original thought, other than summarizing the news and making a general point (" bad/good"). Also, you are thoroughly unconvincing. A conservative reading this gets nothing out of it at all. This feels incredibly partisan, even more so given the obvious attempt you make to disguise it as non-partisan. This is not the Daily Kos, it is the Washington Post - if you are going to be partisan with a stage this big, you better be convincing. While I sympathize with your views, half the readers won't, and your column would be unread.

Posted by: karlhungus1 | November 1, 2010 10:37 AM
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Your attempt to be "fair and balanced", criticizing both the left and the right like a typical lame stream media article, is duly noted. As a result, I will not vote for you.

A Great Pundit speaks to the Great issues of the day. Your choice to write about a spur of the moment woman stomping by a couple thugs, a President's attempt to save lives by taking out a would be terrorist, and the witch/senator want-a-be are unworthy subjects. Worse is your equating Obama with Bush/Cheney.

One might ask, where have you been the last two years, and the eight years before that? Certainly not understanding what's happening in America.

Posted by: chucky-el | November 1, 2010 10:27 AM
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One of the first problems with an article like this is when the premise is incorrect, as in this opinion column. by stating the "Tea Party" as though it was the Democratic or Republican party is not an accurate description. This is not a party as much as a movement, so to villify this group as though it was a organized force is missing the point. The article gets muddy when talking about "inconvenient people" - who are they? and the main point - which I agree with by the way - is lost.

Posted by: jgdonahue | November 1, 2010 9:22 AM
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This is the only op ed of the three that has any "punch". It is not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with the point of view. This was a writing sample, not a viewpoint exercise. Reading the pieces of the other two contestants was like reading a college essay. Well written, well organized, boring.

Posted by: enid2 | November 1, 2010 9:11 AM
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Standard leftist fare. Not particulary interesting or informative

Posted by: jkk1943 | November 1, 2010 8:31 AM
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There are good ideas here, but at times I felt as if I were fighting my way through a dense thicket a prose and needed a machete.
It may be personal taste. The thought behind the last line is excellent---in fact, most of the thought here is--but I was worn out by the time I got to the end.

This is the second entry I've read for this round, and I would ask both Nancy and Lauren to consider: who are you writing for? Do you want to enlist only Democrats or liberals, or would you like to appeal to a wider audience? Overall, I think Lauren would come closer to being able to write for both sides of the aisle without straddling the fence herself. In this column, though, with one exception, I rather think Nancy did a better job of it.

The one exception, for me, was the reference to teaching creationism in schools. Every time someone on either side of the aisle brings this issue up, I think: so what? I was raised in a religious background, and went to schools where evolution was taught. Every time I say this, I get clobbered, but what's the big deal? Science and faith, apples and oranges. There is room in my brain for both views.

Now you may cite laws, but if you think you can teach evolution without mentioning creationism, I suggest you come to my home city which has so many religious schools, colleges and universities, I have lost track. Go into any classroom and open a discussion on evolution. See what happens. I guarantee you will end up discussing creationism, whether you like it or not, because it is what a large percentage of the children have been taught. They have also been taught that the theory of evolution is evil. Go ahead, tell them their parents are stupid and illiterate hillbillies. What's the point?

Posted by: martymar123 | November 1, 2010 8:00 AM
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