As Joe mentioned yesterday, a lot of conservatives are down on the New York Times‘ choice of Ross Douthat as the latest edition to their opinion page. Liberal praise for Douthat’s “healthy skepticism for many of the trappings of modern capitalist society” probably won’t help matters. I certainly have my differences with Douthat, though I suppose if I were to run down my own idiosyncratic ideological checklist I’d rate him an improvement over Bill Kristol (better on foreign policy, better on immigration, at least as good on social conservatism, equally unreliable on economics and size-of-government issues).
The “at least as good on social conservatism” probably doesn’t do Douthat justice, however. Bill Kristol has been one of the most outspokenly pro-life voices in the neocon orbit, for which he deserves credit, but Douthat is easily the most passionate and articulate social conservative ever to get a regular slot on the New York Times op-ed page. As nice as it would be to have someone going hammer and tong after big government in the Age of Obama, that’s not a small thing.
Many soi-distant reformist conservatives are the right-wing equivalent of Robert Frost’s liberal who is too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel. Others are engaged in fruitless crusade to drive the vast majority of self-described conservatives out of the movement (though lately there has been some pushback against this odd strategy from even sympathetic commentators). If Douthat avoids those temptations and fights some un-Times-like battles, his conservative critics may well be pleasantly surprised. Either way, he is a bright and fair-minded observer of the political scene.
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