Politics & Media
Mar 23, 2009, 08:22AM

The Pollitt Storm

In a recent column at The Nation, Katha Pollitt ignited a storm of holier-than-thou-ism from the blogosphere.

There has been a good deal of hemming and hawing over Katha Pollitt's column in The Nation re: the appointment of Ross Douthat as the incoming op-ed columnist for The New York Times (replacing unrepentent shill Bill Kristol), specifically her column's last paragraph:

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 I wrote on the comment thread of Ta-Nehisi's post on the subject, everyone calm down for a moment, here. The graf in question is, like most are braying, an intellectually bereft argument. It's snarky, and a drop in the bucket.

Can we take a look at massive passage that precedes the one in question? (Forgive the long block quote)

There's much more at The Atlantic--on gay sheep, the "vice" of masturbation, why "a little 'shaming' here and there isn't the worst response to sexual promiscuity" (well, no, the worst response would be a lot of shaming, as in stoning or "honor" murder or being sent to the Magdalene laundries). I haven't read his collected cyberworks, but even for a blogo-pundit, Douthat seems unusually averse to engaging with women intellectually, even on perennial topics like abortion and birth control, where you'd think we'd bring something missing to the table--like an interest in our health, well-being, happiness, longevity, pleasure and ability to have some control over our lives. Instead, he engages Slate's Will Saletan on whether contraception would prevent enough abortions to make it worth expanding government funding. Douthat thinks not; but if abortion is murder, wouldn't preventing 12,000 of them (his misleadingly low figure) be quite an accomplishment? That's equivalent to nearly two-thirds of the 17,000 murders of born people in the United States every year. In his ongoing stem cell debate with Michael Kinsley, sometimes embryos are people, and sometimes they're counters in arguments that are really about sex, women and modern life. Contraception destroyed the working class! Curbing suburban sprawl is anti-family! Given his age and the long tenure of Times columnists, I could be facing a twice-weekly dose of this claptrap for the rest of my life. Depressing.

That is the point of her column—the graf tacked on the end was a poor indication of writerliness as well as a sense of intellectual debate—but she dues have some valid points of debate. I'd love to see one of Pollit's detractors, perhaps even some of his soon to be former colleagues at The Atlantic, take on the substance of her argument, the actual point of her column, and not the unfortunately distracting passage at the end.

I don't make this argument out of any animosity toward the appointment of Douthat—on the crontrary, I think he'll make a fine columnist that, while at odds with some of my own core beliefs, will be intelligent on a regular basis.

  • I agree with Klein. Kristol, while in my opinion, not a shill, clearly phoned in his Times column, for what reason I can't fathom. I'm betting that Pollitt would cause a ruckus over any conservative columnist the Times appointed.

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