The Corner

Re: Politics and Prose

Derb – I agree that conservatives have an advantage in that they are operating closer to the ground than liberals. But realism is a particular advantage in times when realism is highly valued. Liberals moan terribly about the advantage conservative columnists have today as if there’s a conspiracy among liberal newspaper editors to hire conservative writers. Well, until the early 1970s there were almost no conservative columnists in major American newspapers (People forget the debt we owe to Spiro Agnew for putting pressure on the media to hire conservatives). James Kilpatrick was a pioneer, starting in 1964 with his “A Conservative View” column. Safire came a little later. I’ve always thought that one of the advantages liberal columnists had is that in times of ignorance or, to be more charitable, innocence liberals can appeal to utopian aspirations without seeming unserious. Galbraith’s “The Affluent Society” seemed like a reasonable book at the time, for example. If you wrote that book today, you’d be laughed at. Anyway, I think the realism of conservative writing has grown to be more valued in part because realism itself is more valued. If readers didn’t want conservative columnists I’m sure liberal editors would be delighted not to carry them.

You could also say, as many do, that it’s not realism so much as ideas that makes for good writing. Since liberalism doesn’t have good ideas anymore their writing often seems to be cranky defenses of the status quo or continuation of old discredited policies. My only problem with this formulation is that it concedes that liberals had the good ideas in the first place.


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