On the Opinion Pages of the New York Times
How do I begin my day? Well like so many other members of my tribe of (idle) idea mongers, I begin it with coffee and the Internet Times, still posted there on the Web, free for the taking.
After a brief glance at the principal news stories, and when there’s nothing on the first page with comparable weight to the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, or the still hot passage of HR3200, I turn to the Times Global version of the opinion pages.
Most often for me what’s happening in the world, at least as communicated by the Times, is what the columnists are writing about. And I most often will begin my day with them. We are of the same tribe and therefore have much to say to one another, although the saying is all one way, their saying to me, never my saying to them.
I wonder what it would be like to live in another world, one where all communication was two way, me speaking to those I read as well as they to me? Could there be, say a many to one function, our speaking to them, as well as the one to many function, their speaking to us, as it is now? In the case of all publications communication seems to be only in the one direction. And the numbers prevent it from being any different.
The Times columnist will have an idea, publish it, and be heard or read by millions. But very few if any of those millions out there will ever be heard or read by the columnist.
But how about among themselves? Do the op-ed writers of the N Y Times ever talk to one another? share ideas? get together over a beer or glass of wine? I think they probably don’t. Because their livelihood is having ideas and only first sharing them in print. Otherwise they would be afraid of losing their ideas to someone else before fixing them by copyright in a publication.
I wonder what it would be like to be friends with these writers. To be able to chat with them directly about what they have written? But of course that’s not to be. They will be forever locked in their world and I in mine, and there’ll be no chance at all of our ever coming together.
But at least through their writing I do get a peek into their worlds. On past occasions I’ve emailed some of these writers (they all have email addresses and probably expect to have reader correspondence that they know they’ll never have time to read) with a comment about something they’ve written, but have never had a reply, with only one exception, —when Roger Cohen did send me a “Thank you for your kind thoughts.” I had told him how much I liked what he had written.
I probably won’t do this again. That is, write a response to what they’ve written, just as I’ll never buy a lottery ticket regardless of the size of the pot, this being another millions to one relation with almost no chance of winning.
There are just some highly desirable things that are never to be. This is one of them of course, my becoming friends with the op ed writers of the Times. This is not as far removed from the realm of possibility as immortality, but almost. They’ll be forever in their world, and I in mine. There’ll be no coming together.
Sure, I know there’s always room for reader comments. Stanley Fish’s occasional musings come with hundreds of these, attached almost from hour one following their posting. And Fish will often write in a new column his own responses to some of the comments.
So what I say about communication never being two way is not quite exact. Some of Fish’s readers do hear from him, his comment on their comments.
Making comments on someone’s Blog is not without interest. Why don’t I do it myself? Because somehow having your comment in a comment column of hundreds of others is not what I mean by “talking” with these guys.
Also, the comment column itself keeps you at a too safe, too correct distance from the writer, and I’ve decided that’s not for me.
The Times does impress by the truly stellar group of opinion mongers writing on its pages and representing the very best of liberal and conservative thinking, as well as much in between. The Times opinion writers may very well be the best single group ever to write for a single publication, at least in my lifetime.
Among them those I almost never fail to read are Brooks, Friedman, Cohen, Douthat, Krugman and more recently in the Times “Opinionator,” Robert Wright and Timothy Egan, and also Olivia Judson, Stanley Fish, and Linda Greenhouse. When I have a little more time on my hands I’ll read Rich, Dowd, and Collins, who are more fun (well that’s not true for Frank Rich, who is anything but fun).
More rarely will I read Herbert, Kristof and Blow, all three of whom are especially good people, but whom I fault, especially the first two, for being too predictable, too often repetitious in their choice of subject matter.
However, in their defense, when one is writing some 2000 words a week for publication in a national newspaper that reaches over a million readers, when one is under that kind of pressure, it’s probably inevitable that one will repeat oneself, take up pretty much the same subject matter time and time again.
The two columnists I read most regularly, probably because I so often think as they do, are David Brooks and Thomas Friedman. Very often the two of them will have put into words things that I have either thought of myself, or were real close to doing so.
Brooks shares my love of the history of ideas, and especially the ideas that have made this country what it is today, and are still alive and relevant. And Friedman’s global and optimistic view of the world, its events and peoples, is pretty much one that I share.
Two columns, written just this week, show these two writers at their best. Let me conclude my piece on the columnists of the Times with a passage taken from each. In both cases they have put into words things that I would have like to have said myself.
First David Brooks, who is writing in the aftermath of the President’s victory with the passage of HR 3200:
Parties come to embody causes. For the past 90 years or so, the Republican Party has, at its best, come to embody the cause of personal freedom and economic dynamism. For a similar period, the Democratic Party has, at its best, come to embody the cause of fairness and family security. Over the past century, they have built a welfare system, brick by brick, to guard against the injuries of fate….
Yet I confess, watching all this, I feel again why I’m no longer spiritually attached to the Democratic Party. The essence of America is energy — the vibrancy of the market, the mobility of the people and the disruptive creativity of the entrepreneurs. This vibrancy grew up accidentally, out of a cocktail of religious fervor and material abundance, but it was nurtured by choice. It was nurtured by our founders, who created national capital markets to disrupt the ossifying grip of the agricultural landholders. It was nurtured by 19th-century Republicans who built the railroads and the land-grant colleges to weave free markets across great distances. It was nurtured by Progressives who broke the stultifying grip of the trusts.
And Friedman, who is writing about the importance of the political center, and our need to nurture this current among us.
My definition of broken is simple. It is a system in which Republicans will be voted out for doing the right thing (raising taxes when needed) and Democrats will be voted out for doing the right thing (cutting services when needed). When your political system punishes lawmakers for the doing the right things, it is broken. That is why we need political innovation that takes America’s disempowered radical center and enables it to act in proportion to its true size, unconstrained by the two parties, interest groups and orthodoxies that have tied our politics in knots.
The radical center is “radical” in its desire for a radical departure from politics as usual. It advocates: raising taxes to close our budgetary shortfalls, but doing so with a spirit of equity and social justice; guaranteeing that every American is covered by health insurance, but with market reforms to really bring down costs; legally expanding immigration to attract more job-creators to America’s shores; increasing corporate tax credits for research and lowering corporate taxes if companies will move more manufacturing jobs back onshore; investing more in our public schools, while insisting on rising national education standards and greater accountability for teachers, principals and parents; massively investing in clean energy, including nuclear, while allowing more offshore drilling in the transition. You get the idea.Explore posts in the same categories: Current Affairs