of the New York Times’
Ross Douthat could get tiresome, but for now it’s irresistible. The entire genre of old fogey young guys who’ve become sputtering conservatives has not, I’d argue, been given its due. Perhaps, because the neocons have led us into war, we’ve been forced to take them seriously. What’s more, many of the neocons are old and wily, and capable of great political knife work, so had better be taken seriously.
But here’s this new generation. These are not just foolish young men, but caricatures—pants-pulled-up-too-high jokes, but for that they take themselves so seriously. (There are a surprising number of them—not Fox conservatives, but pretend-academic types. Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal
is another bilious, and farcical, example.)
Douthat, after a year at the Times
of writing like a church mouse, is finding his voice. It’s a ridiculous voice, tortured, ass-backwards, strangled, and often only semi-comprehensible (why do these people think they can be writers?), but so transparent in its rationalizations of conservative thought that it actually becomes quite vivid and compelling, in a train-wreck sort of way.
Last week, Douthat attempted to explain
the conservative aversion to gay marriage. In a line I must continue to repeat—“…lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable—a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations—that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support”—Douthat laid bare that the issue for conservatives in gay marriage is, most of all, an inability to talk about sex and human relationships.
Yesterday, it was a rationalization about Islam
and immigration, in which Douthat, in an extraordinary first for the New York Times
, proposes to set out a reasoned exposition of the principles of—no two ways about it—racism and other sorts of discrimination.
And damn if this isn’t, however polite, extraordinary explicit. There are, he posits, two kinds of Americans: one who subscribes to Democratic principles (I’m really not over-simplifying this) and another who elevates “culture” over political and constitutional norms. And he doesn’t mean opera.
These are, in the Douthat formulation, two hunky-dory sides of the American coin. On the one hand, there are the idealists—who make, in Douthat’s version of derision, “the finer-sounding speeches” (with specific reference to the president’s speeches)—and on the other, the “cruder, more xenophobic” Americans, who Douthat wants us to appreciate.
Say, what? “Cruder, more xenophobic?” Has anyone, ever, in the New York Times
, defended the crudeness and xenophobia of America?
This is, in 31-year-old Douthat’s vision of the nation, the sensibility that makes things work, that tames idealism into practicality, that forges the American consensus. For instance: “Nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies”—such nativists would be, prominently, the Ku Klux Klan —“inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy.” Is there another way to read this: bigotry, by frightening people into conformity, creates consensus?
Perhaps if Douthat weren’t such a namby-pamby writer of such tortured syntax, Times
readers might understand that the paper seems to have no idea what it’s printing anymore or what it stands for.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.