Jonah, I think we’re basically saying the same thing, with a couple of caveats:
The first is, I’m not as enamored as you apparently are of Brooks and Douthat, both of whom seem to have been neutered by the Times or, worse, have neutered themselves. Whatever the case, neither has been making a particularly compelling case for conservative principles — tonally, they seem almost disinterested bystanders, interjecting the occasional polite demurral just to keep the cocktail-party orthodoxy from becoming too stultifying even for the hosts.
I also have you at the disadvantage of a couple of decades, and can remember vividly the reaction Safire got when he broke up the ennui occasioned by a steady diet of Flora Lewis, “Red Tony” Lewis, and the others who populated the Times’s bien-pensant editorial pages. Back in those days, Nixon was considered the very foaming embodiment of right-wing malevolence, the Man Who Took Down the Pink Lady, instead of the domestic left-liberal we conservatives know him to be. (Truly, the evil Tricky Dick did lives on after him in the form of OSHA, the EPA, et al.) Longacre Square, or whatever it’s called now, shook with the force of an earthquake when Safire’s hiring was announced. I happen to think he was a pretty good columnist, although his classic “Timesman” ethical and stylistic resemblance to my beloved Times mentor, the great Harold C. Schonberg, possibly prejudices me in his favor.
The second is tactical. For decades, the Left — always a minority — has loomed larger than it really is via its control of institutions like the Times. Even as it’s welcomed writers like Brooks and Douthat onto the op-ed pages, it’s bet the farm on a peace, land and bread hard line in its news coverage, story selection, and “news analyses,” with the business results we can all see. Hola, Carlos Slim!
The news pages still influence the larger, Time/Newsweek/CBS/NBC/ABC coverage. But, as you correctly note, the Times’s influence and that of the other Big Six (throw in the WaPo) as agenda-setters is waning as fast as “Col.” Qaddafi’s grip on power in the imaginary “country” of “Libya.”
Which is why, more than ever, the editorial pages matter. Crack that Fabergé egg, and you’ve cracked the citadel of the Left. It’ll look like Constantinople in 1453.
Which is why our pipe dream will never happen. Still, since you’ve got your major newspaper column, and I’ve got mine, what say we start a Draft Steyn movement and see what happens?