A few days ago I laid into Bill Kristol pretty bad. I accused him of being a partisan untalented hack, which tends to be the general opinion of blogosphere pontificators not employed by The Weakly Standard. On the other hand, I wear my admiration for the Red Head of the Grey Lady on my sleeve. But in between these two extremes, there are a lot of pundits out there grinding out a lot of good work week after week even when there is nothing to say and nothing to say about it.
Let’s look at some of the syndicated newspaper and magazine columnists I love to read. This past week was a target rich environment for the talking class, so I’ve included sample quotes about Hillary Clinton to compare the styles and perspectives.
|Kinsley is the only columnist I would cross hot coals to read. And I have had to. His career has zig-zagged everywhere. Like many writers I admire, he did a long stint at The New Republic before he got sucked into being Bill Gate's lackey at Slate. His tenure at the LA Times was rocked with conflict and he briefly parked at The Washington Post before landing at Time for the time being. He always brings a fresh perspective to the table and tells something new. And rather than delve into the trees, he is always finding the forest.|
But being the president's spouse has to be very helpful for a future president. It's like an eight-year "Take Your Daughter to Work Day."
"Stirred, Not Shaken", January 6, 2008
|George is a little past his prime, but at one point he was the face of conservativism that dared to be intellectual, a style that like his bowties is long out of fashion. Over the years he has had some controversies like commenting on debates he coached, relying too heavily on assistants for research, and mis-explicating rock lyrics. He is now the elder spokesman of the sane Republicans. He also remains defiantly independent and steers clear of the groupthink that has plagued the latest generation of right-wing wordsmiths.|
Sixteen years ago, the Clintons advertised themselves as generational archetypes. How right they were.
"Start of a Marathon", January 10, 2008
|After Jules Witcover was cruelly put out to pasture, Ellen Goodman was the only columnist carried by the Baltimore Sun I missed. She looks more Erma Bombeck than Maureen Dowd, but she has a clever wit and a down to earth perspective. Her annual Equal Rites Awards column is one of the best of the year.|
How many women had a change of, well, heart? How many women-of-a-certain-age who've lived through vast social change remembered being told they could lead or be liked? How many had their wrinkles and cleavage and cackles and feelings dissected at every move? For that matter, do any of them still work with men like the one in Salem who yelled at Hillary: "Iron my shirt!"
"Hillary's Fine Line, January 11, 2008
|Another New Republic alumnus, Chuckie K used to be fresh and contrarian. Lately he is just the loudest and most off-key of the neo-con chorus. Only slightly less strident in his defense of war in Iraq than bandleader Bill Kristol, the Krautmeister still occasionally says something smart and fresh, but he has long dry spells. His column often comes out the day after Will's and frequently bears suspicious similarities. Check out his boomer "solipsism" with Will's "narcissism" above. Eyes on your own paper, Chuck.|
Was it the tears in the New Hampshire coffee shop? Whenever there is a political upset, everyone looks for the unscripted incident, the I-paid-for-this-microphone moment that can account for it. Hillary Clinton's improbable victory in New Hampshire is being widely attributed to her rare display of emotion when asked how she was holding up.
"A Sneer, a Tear, a Comeback", January 11, 2008
|Another guilty pleasure, The Prince of Darkness is frequently infuriating but never boring. Not content to report news, he often makes it. His role in Plamegate is particularly fiendish. He starts the fire and then gets to report on the flames. He is an old school investigative columnist that has connections everywhere. You may not agree with him but he what he says reveal more about who he knows and what message they are trying to spin than anyone else in Washington.|
With that background, Sen. Clinton's lachrymose complaint in New Hampshire on Monday that "this is very personal for me" was widely compared to Muskie's crying jag in Manchester 36 years ago, which began his downfall. But whereas Muskie's tears were involuntary, only the naive can believe Clinton was not artfully playing for sympathy from her sisters. It worked.
"The Clintons' One-Two Punch", January 10, 2008
|The Washington Post has a whole stable of suitably liberal standard bearers, but they all tend to be far less interesting than the conservatives. David Broder is considered the pinnacle of punditry and his Clinton hatred is second to none, but I prefer the milder E. J. Dionne who seems to be a fun guy with a reassuring tone. If only he would loosen up and show more personality.|
Perhaps Hillary played the same trick on her critics that her husband, Bill, did in his epic State of the Union addresses that went on and on about one specific policy after another. Those speeches often got bad reviews but good poll ratings. At one campaign stop last week, as Hillary Clinton droned on learnedly about health care, family and medical leave, and global warming, a colleague in the press section leaned over to dismiss her for offering nothing but "a laundry list of wonkery."
"A Shocker, in Hindsight", January 9, 2008
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Who is your favorite print pundit?