On Douthat

by Brien Jackson

I know I’m late to the game on commenting on Ross Douthat’s new gig writing for The New York Times Op-Ed page, but to be honest I just haven’t known what to say about it. I’m not particularly a fan of Douthat’s writing, or his intellect for that matter, but it seems that I’m in the minority so far as left of center males go. Douthat’s main claim to fame thus far is his book Grand New Party, which is frankly quite over rated. The most heralded argument of the book is that the GOP needs to reorient its focus towards the working class, but Douthat’s means to do that is somewhere between out of touch right-wing is downright offensive. In short, Douthat’s contention is that what the working class needs isn’t more unionization or workplace protections or a more progressive tax system or even better social services, but a more traditional, patriarchal, family structure reinforced by government policy. It is, in other words, pretty boilerplate conservatism dressed up as contrarian re-examination.

And that is, I think, more or less the essence of Douthat’s writing. Ross is very good at giving the impression in his writing that he’s seriously grappling with questions, fulminating over them and pondering his own inconsistencies and mistakes when he’s really not. You can really see this when he has to address the truly dubious aspects of his right-wing Catholicism, notably his opposition to stem cell research or his opposition to contraception. When forced to deal with these more indefensible positions, Douthat manages to fall back on his pre-existing belief system, but the need to present the front of a reasoned opinion leads his to say really bizarre things.

With all of that said, I think I agree with Katha Pollit here; if the Times is going to reserve a certain amount of column space for the right-of-center viewpoint (and contra Pollit, I think that’s a fair position, in so much as the Times clearly doesn’t have designs on being a “liberal” publication), then they ought to give those spots, or at least one of them, to someone who truly represents common right-of-center thought in today’s political environment. And, for whatever his flaws, Kristol was certainly emblematic of modern conservatism, and someone in a similar vein (although with a little more gumption for his writing) would serve Times readers the best. There’s no reason they ought to be led to believe David Brooks represents the mainstream of Republican politics.

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