Katha Politt On Ross Douthat

She raps a bunch of lefty doodz for congratulating Ross on his move, and strings together some his more disagreeable quotes. And then she gives us this:

So who would I like to see in the Kristol slot? Actually, Kristol. I was livid when they gave him the job, but he was perfect: a dull, complacent apparatchik who set forth the Bush line in all its fact-free glory. His columns were like press releases--you could hardly remember them two minutes after reading them. But his presence on the page reminded readers that David Brooks is not really what Republicanism is all about. Frankly, though, I don't see why there must be two conservatives on the page. Does the Wall Street Journal, the Times's national competition, have two liberals? That the Times, the closest thing we have to a liberal paper, cedes so much turf to the opposition, as progressive bloggers applaud, shows the truth of Robert Frost's quip that a liberal is someone so open-minded he won't take his own side in an argument.

As a liberal, I can see the point. Kristol was, indeed, a useful idiot. But we need to tease out a couple things. Kristol wasn't merely a conservative who was bad on the issues, he was a columnist who was bad at his job. He was not so much a conservative columnist, as he was  a GOP shill, a political operator who ran an advance office for the Palin 2012 campaign, out of the Times' edit pages. Paul Krugman may be a liberal, and a lefty, but he most certainly isn't shilling for the Democratic Party.

More than that, Kristol failed at the non-ideological essentials. Getting your facts right is a basic standard of the profession. There's no left/right to it--either Obama was in pews to hear Jeremiah Wright, or he wasn't. Either Michelle Malkin said it, or she didn't. These are basic rules that you can teach a 14-year old. And Kristol got them wrong. Often. He was, in sum, an incompetent foe, the sort of boxer who think road-work is for sissies. In the midst of writing a review of one of Ann Coulter's silly tomes, Christopher Hitchens once told a reporter,  "If I can't fuck up Ann Coulter before lunch then I shouldn't be in this business." Indeed. And to even the most simple-minded liberal I'd say, If you can't fuck up Bill Kristol before breakfast, you shouldn't be blogging.

The dude was good for that first Monday morning entry, no doubt. But here is the thing--in the war of ideas you don't gain much by measuring yourself against the worst that your opponents have to offer. The thing about competing against jokers, is that it eventually makes a joker of you. Your ideas lose their complexity, their volume and heft, mostly because you don't need them to take down Kristol. You just need to read the corrections on the Times website. I don't see how that helps me become a better writer.

Frederick Douglass once said that "A man is worked on, by what he works on." We have direct evidence of what comes to those who spend their days sparring with Kristol. Is that really where we're trying to go?

As a side-note, people who think Ross shouldn't have gotten the gig and want to enumerate why are free to comment. People who simply think he's a douchebag should probably just have a drink. I'll be deleting those comments anyway. Which will simply make you more frustrated, thus making you drink more. I know, I know. Life is so unfair.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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