new york times douthat ross
Phoenix, Arizona. Catapulted by his inclusion on the exclusive FPR blogroll, Ross Douthat has been tabbed as a new opinion columnist for the New York Times. This is good news. For one thing, it means that for the first time in many, many years there will be regularly occurring, non-accidental, sane opinion writing in the Times. That will be a nice change of pace.

For another thing, the Times could have picked some retread hack to fill Bill Kristol’s shoes. Not only did they not choose a retread, they didn’t even pick a hack. I’ve never met Ross, but I’m happy for him. I’m always been impressed by his openness, his thoughtfulness, and, especially, his clear preference for engaging truly insightful cultural and political writers, no matter their public profiles or suspect philosophical leanings-e.g., Daniel and Rod-rather than wasting time with partisan ideologues, big names, and movement leaders as his interlocutors. That’s a mark of an honest man.

Ross is far more interested than I and most other FPR contributors are in working within, and having an influence on, practical politics and national policy. But I strongly suspect that he has suppressed some more radical instincts in order to get a hearing in the mainstream conservation-a suppression that, alas, I suppose will have to continue when he goes to the Times. Someone once told me that Ross believed himself to be promoting crypto-distributism. That may be true; if so, I hope that that project will become less crypto over time, and it’s worth noting that several months back Ross agreed to write an introduction to ISI Books’ forthcoming new edition of Robert Nisbet’s Quest for Community. My unsolicited advice to Ross: give Allan Carlson a call. Unlike most of the rest of us, he can provide you with real, family-oriented, distributist or quasi-distributist policy ideas, and filling up a regular Times column with decent material can’t be easy.

One more thing: this means that the only people worth reading in the Atlantic are the FPR-ish Benjamin Schwarz and the hilarious Sandra Tsing Loh. What the heck has happened there, anyway? The redesign of the magazine makes it look like a slightly fatter Newsweek or U.S. News & World Report. And no way that Schwarz is writing the unsigned “Cover to Cover” capsule reviews anymore, a section that now seems to aspire to some sort of record for most parentheticals per page. I smell a graduate student. But this is a rant for another time. Congratulations again to Ross.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I hope Mr. Douthat is a polite “conservative” like the nice Mr. Brooks because if somebody ever read anything that doubted the beneficent qualities of our Diet Security State or, perish the thought, mention the names Spooner, Rothbard or Nock, why the entire Editorial Staff’s head would explode and make a mess in that exterior grill they proudly refer to as a Bris Soliel.

  2. Douthat to the Times is excellent news. As far as token conservatives go, Douthat is pretty much the best one could hope for. He’s thoughtful, cares more about ideas than bare-knuckled politics and he’s actually, um, fairly conservative.

    (btw, i actually think the books staff is the strongest part of The Atlantic. Hitchens may be somewhat of a moral monster, but he can string words together with the best and he can be insightful when not talking about foreign policy or religion. And Caitlin Flanagan is readable — her take on women’s issues often diverges from the typical lefty feminist one.)

  3. I second your enthusiasm for Ross’ ascent to the Times. I will certainly have more to read there now than I ever have.

    I must, however, respectfully but passionately disagree with your dig at the current Atlantic staff, who are without question some of the most honest thinkers and level writers doing journalism right now. Their front of the book pieces are routinely creative; James Fallows is producing the best deep-think reporting (perhaps ever?) to come out of China; Hanna Rosin has an uncanny ability to hold powerful human stories up to factual realities; Hitchens is always colorful and often insightful in the books section. I’ve only named a few. With a couple of notable exceptions, their magazine is always heavily considered, and its (often painful) honesty amidst a sea of nonsense is always refreshing.

  4. I guess this means that when my Mother-in-Law reads her NY Times at our regular Sunday Brunch, I might actually have a reason now to thumb through its pages after she’s done. Could be a real bonding experience for us!

    As someone who is also more interested than most FPR readers in national politics and policy, I have really appreciated Ross’ effort to construct a real and viable policy agenda that would fuse conservative principles with the actual, real-time concerns of ordinary Americans (see his “Grand New Party”). In many ways, the GOP is now held captive by its own successes. Reagan in the 80’s was so successful at addressing the high cost of living for working families by reducing marginal tax rates and indexing them to inflation, that now, there are many Americans who pay very little in federal taxes. That’s a good thing for families, but since that is the case, the Republican mantra of “tax cuts, tax cuts” begins to resonate less and less with voters. Instead, a “Grand New Party” should be focusing on today’s factors that are making it difficult for working families to pay the bills and remain intact, i.e. the skyrocketing costs of health care and housing; and the lack of tax provisions that would reward family-centered child-rearing and educational options. There happen to be decentralized, market-oriented policy solutions to these issues (and if you do want to talk about tax reform, what about scrapping income taxes all together, and moving toward a national sales tax, with exceptions for necessities – what a pro-family, anti-consumerism measure that would be! Families might actually save again!), and Ross Douthat is one of the few public intellectuals who is talking about them. For that reason, he probably won’t last at NYT, but it will be a fun ride while it lasts!

    Good Luck, Ross!

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