When Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in 1830, he was struck by how many Americans were participating in voluntary associations. It was quite a contrast with his native France, where power was centralized in Paris and people did not trust each other enough to join in voluntary groups.
"This is my last election," President Obama said in words caught on an open mic. "After my election, I have more flexibility."
He was speaking in Seoul, South Korea, in March 2012, almost exactly two years ago, to Dmitry Medvedev, then in his last year as Vladimir Putin's stand-in president of Russia.
Will Hillary Clinton be elected America's next president? The polls suggest she will.
Recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics show her winning 67 percent of the vote in Democratic primaries, with no other candidate above 11 percent. General election polling shows Clinton with an average lead over various possible Republican nominees of 51 percent to 39 percent.
It is reminiscent of the quandary faced by Gen. Maurice Gamelin on the evening of May 15, 1940. Suddenly he realized that German panzer troops had broken through the supposedly impassable Ardennes.
French troops to the north were cut off and rendered useless, troops to the south were falling back in disarray on all sides and no reserves were available between the front and Paris. "Yes," he told the prime minister, "it means the destruction of the French Army."
What motivates people to demonstrate in central squares, day after day and week after week, against repressive regimes at the risk of life and limb? It's a question raised most recently by events in Ukraine and Venezuela.
The roots of American liberalism are not compassion, but snobbery. That's the thesis of Fred Siegel's revealing new book, "The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class."
Is Barack Obama trying to shift alliances in the Middle East away from traditional allies and toward Iran? Robert Kaplan, author and geopolitical analyst for the Stratford consulting firm, thinks so.
Not as bad as expected. That's my verdict on President Obama's fifth State of the Union address.
With his approval running well under 50 percent, Obama was not quite so confrontational as he has been in the past.
What do young Americans want? Something different from what they've been getting from the president they voted for by such large margins.
Evidence comes in from various polls. Voters under 30, the millennial generation, produced numbers for Barack Obama 13 percentage points above the national average in 2008 and 9 points above in 2012.
The Census Bureau's holiday treat is its release of annual state population estimates, to be digested slowly in the new year.