04/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Nation 's Pollitt: Bill Kristol Better Than Ross Douthat

The Nation's Katha Pollitt apparently saw the need to pen a column objecting to all the people of liberal bent who praised the decision made by the New York Times to hire conservative Atlantic columnist Ross Douthat to replace Bill Kristol. She presents a long litany of examples of Douthat successfully failing to uphold basic doctrinaire liberal views. I have to imagine that Pollitt believes that this is going to come as some sort of a surprise, or something.

While not named in her piece, I too hailed the decision to hire Douthat for a number of reasons. I think he's a better writer thank Kristol, for one. I think he'll show a respect for the audience that Kristol did not by not phoning in his work. I think he's proven admirably resistant to the eliminationist strain of conservatism embodied by the Hannitys and Coulters of the world. He will face criticism from both his left and his right, which will be more exciting for an observer. I also thought it was good for the generation of smart writers who have plied their trade online to see one of their members rewarded with this "old media" perch, for whatever that perch is worth.

None of that, I believe, constituted me kidding myself about Douthat's politics. The choice just seemed to me, for many reasons, to be a more appealing arrangement.

What would Pollitt have done? Here's what she says:

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.

It seems to me that Kristol's terrible op-eds were a high price to pay just to assert that David Brooks was not the same as Bill Kristol! But more to the point, I have to wonder if the reason she preferred Kristol was simply that it was much easier to respond to the arguments of a "dull, complacent apparatchik" like him. Because trust me, it was! But it was rarely something of an accomplishment. If countering Douthat will require more skill and deftness -- and compared to Kristol, it will -- one of the net benefits is that it will raise the level of his opponents' game as well. The exchange will be more vital, and more substantive.

In short, I think that Douthat will simply be more challenging than Kristol, but in life, you are supposed to seek out challenges and do your best to surmount them. I think that's how you save yourself from becoming a "dull, complacent apparatchik."

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