Politics & Policy

Camille & Co.

In a column on Monday, I had a question for readers: Do you have a go-to lefty? Someone or someones who will give you the best arguments of the “liberal” side? (I hate the corruption of the sterling word “liberal,” but there’s nothing that can be done about it.) Do you have writers whom you turn to for the sake of “balance”? Liberals who are interesting, honorable, and worthwhile?

For years, I have searched for a “go-to” writer, or, even better, a go-to publication. I take up this subject in the next issue of National Review. (I have a similar, shorter piece in the next Standpoint.) I am loath to confine myself to the conservative ghetto. I could read my favorite right-wing columnists all day long. But I should really eat some lima beans, too.

In the past, I have settled on a few “lima beans.” But I usually get unsettled — I fall away. I stop reading them. Why? Is it that I can’t stand to be disagreed with? Can’t abide an opposing view?

No, no: I can’t abide the false accusations of racism. Show me a liberal who doesn’t tar his opponents with racism, and I’ll show you a rare bird indeed. The belief that conservatives are racists seems to be the Supreme Belief of the American Left. It is what they cling to (as we righties are supposed to cling to guns and religion).

(Does any religious person not cling to his religion?)

Anyway, I asked readers to e-mail me with their media preferences. I invited both righties and lefties. I got a big response from the first group, a small response from the second. Let me tell you about the conservative responses.

The writer most named by conservative readers was Camille Paglia. She was the winner far and away. She was named by probably 15 percent of the respondents — maybe 20 percent. One of them said, “She is convincing on many things, and ludicrous on other things, but I always find her writing irresistible.”

Another of our readers wrote, “I am conservative, male, Christian, and heterosexual, but I enjoy her writing. Her recent Glittering Images helped me understand art better. I also think she and I may be attracted to the same type of women.”

The second-most-named writer was Mickey Kaus. Judging from my mail, he is highly respected by conservatives (which makes me a little suspicious about how left-leaning he is!). Many readers did not even make a comment about him: They just sent an e-mail with two words, “Mickey Kaus.”

A lot of readers named the late Christopher Hitchens, and other readers named Paul Berman and Nat Hentoff. I consider this cheating, to a degree — because those men have articulated a worldview that overlaps quite a bit with a conservative worldview. But still . . .

Several readers named William Galston — which may be cheating too. Someone wrote, “He may not be left enough to qualify.” But (to repeat myself) still . . . The tenor of my mail said, “Galston is a liberal who thinks the issues through and respects the other side. He is an honorable opponent” (if opponent he is).

One reader wrote, “Doyle McManus (L.A. Times), Dan Balz (Washington Post), Chris Cillizza (ditto), and John Harwood (CNBC and the New York Times) are people whose intelligence I respect, despite their political leanings.” This reader adds, “As a conservative university professor, I spent 30 years mostly keeping my politics to myself, until I retired a few years ago.”

Isn’t that sad? What’s more, isn’t that outrageous? Lefties never seem to think they have to keep their politics to themselves — because it’s true, they don’t. No penalty is incurred when they express their views.

Anyway, continuing: A couple of readers named Michael Kinsley. He is one of the people I mention in my NR essay. I tried to keep up with him, but found myself dropping out. What he said about Bush and the Iraq War — it wasn’t opposition, it was nuts.

A few readers named Thomas L. Friedman. One said, “I seldom agree with him, but he writes with some intelligence and little toxicity.” I’m glad to hear it. When I read him, years ago, there was too much toxicity for me.

Several readers named Susan Estrich — I agree. Worth reading, worth listening to, about politics (and policy, I suppose).

Still others said Lanny Davis, and Juan Williams, and Kirsten Powers. Of the third of these, one or two readers said, “She’ll be conservative in a few years. She’s a conservative-in-waiting, a conservative-in-progress.”

So that may be “cheating” too, for our present purposes.

Says a reader, “I look at CNN and listen to NPR to see what the liberal who believes he is getting political variety is being fed. I read The Nation to see what the current liberal red meat is, and also because Katrina vanden Heuvel is gorgeous.”

Hear, hear. Ten or fifteen years ago, I encountered her in a green room. I said, “Ah, the world’s most beautiful leftist.”

A reader cites Leonard Pitts, of the Miami Herald. Another reader cites Eric Zorn, of the Chicago Tribune: “Rarely if ever does he play the race card . . . He also seems to be genuinely interested in dialogue with the opposite side, and appears to understand the conservative arguments he rejects (or sometimes accepts with caveats).”

A nice commendation.

Another reader says, “Max Brantley at the Arkansas Times. Followed him throughout the ’90s when I lived there. He is left of center but pretty honest.” (Liberals will love that “but”!)

A reader describes Ruth Gavison as “a serious but leftist jurist.” (“Leftist but serious”?) Another reader says, “Rick Salutin is a thoughtful lefty.” He adds, “As a former lefty myself, I agree with you that most writers on the left are whiny feminists, hysterical environmentalists, or race-baiting charlatans.”

Did I say that? I guess it sounds like me. Anyway, continuing:

“I know of only one left-winger, in any kind of media, who behaves honorably,” says a reader. Who, pray tell? “Dr. Paul Shackley, who calls himself a ‘Zen Marxist.’”

A friend of mine writes, “I live in terror of inhabiting a political cocoon — as my parents, teachers, and classmates’ parents did (on the left).” When it comes to racial matters, “Orlando Patterson is a decent sort and always worth reading, despite his left politics.”

Several readers said they looked at RealClearPolitics, for a range of writers and views.

Quite a few readers cited National Public Radio. “But,” says one of them, “I can’t call NPR honorable because it tries to conceal its liberal bias behind a pretense of objectivity.” Another reader has a different view: “Every morning I listen to NPR. In general they seem to represent the intellectual wing of liberalism. Generally not shrill, clearly slanted, but not intentionally so, more like reflexively so.”

I loved that: “not intentionally but reflexively.”

Says a reader,

My favorite liberal writers work for The New Republic, and I usually read them only on certain topics . . . Jonathan Cohn on health care, Alec MacGillis on politics or the horse race, and Julia Ioffe on Russia. Noam Scheiber is an exception to the one-subject rule — I’ll read anything he writes, as he is a good reporter and usually fair minded.

Outside TNR, John Cassidy of The New Yorker gives a good liberal take on all things financial.

Good to know. And I smiled broadly at these sentences, from a different reader: “I skim the New York Times for self-parodying liberalism. The Washington Post is liberalism that gets the joke.”

Not just clever, I think, but true.

That’s about it. Thank you for playing, everybody. Talk to you soon. (I’m headed just now back to the ghetto.) (Haven’t left it, really.)


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