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January 23, 2006

Pundits, Then and Now

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Walter Lippmann wasn't the first newspaper columnist, but he arguably was the man who created the mold of newspaper pundit -- a wise man who analyses and comments on current political and socio-cultural events. (The term pundit comes from India, and can be spelled "pandit" as in Pandit Nehru.) Lippmann became a columnist at the New York World in 1920 and later at the Herald Tribune.

How does one become a pundit?

Lippmann was a Harvard graduate who had written some books, was a key player in the founding of The New Republic and had experience in government before becoming a columnist. Working from memory, this seems to cover most of the career paths to punditry -- and Lippmann, intellectual ubermensch that he was, pulled off the hat-trick.

George Will is a current pundit with a combination of elite education, legislative staff experience and journalistic practice.

James "Scotty" (he was born in Scotland) Reston on the other hand, came up through the reporting ranks, eventually combining his duties as The New York Times' Washington bureau chief with punditry. This path seems to be the most heavily trodden: John Tierney one of the NTY's newest columnists spent 15 years as a reporter at the paper (though he also was a Yale man and free-lance journalist before coming to the Times).

No doubt personal or social factors come into play when one enters pundithood. I can't demonstrate this, but I think it's likely that being a pal or protégé of the publisher, editor or editorial page editor gives the skids a nice greasing.

But landing a columnist's job is not enough. One needs to deliver the goods, especially if one becomes a syndicated columnist. Cronyship might retain a job at a single newspaper, but a syndicated pundit needs to pull in enough eyeballs to justify the syndication fee a paper must pay.

Okay, what I just said is an ideal-world case. In practice, it's hard to measure with any precision how much any given columnist increases, maintains or decreases a paper's circulation. In ancient times, letters to the editor or publisher was about the only mechanism. In recent decades, survey research can be used to evaluate pundit pull.

Times are changing, because of the Internet.

Success on the Web is now a path to syndication, a good example being Jonah Goldberg. Although Goldberg's father happened to have been an executive with a syndication firm, Jonah had to win his spurs by writing posts on National Review's Web page that proved to be very popular, attracting attention to his skills and leading to television appearances and column syndication.

Thanks to blogging, it's possible to become a self-anointed pundit. Self-anointment does not lead to real pundit status, however: that requires an audience. And a number of bloggers have indeed attained pundit status, in my judgment. Here are a few examples from the part of the Blogosphere I'm most familiar with:

  • Steve Den Beste, who no longer blogs on military and policy matters due to serious health problems. During the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq his posts were widely read.

  • "Wretchard" (Richard Fernandez) at The Belmont Club, a Den Beste "discovery," is now one of the leading military/policy pundits on the Web.

  • The trio at Powerline Blog. Dartmouth alums and lawyers all, they have extended their reach by writing for the Weekly Standard in addition to their blog punditry.

And print pundits have taken to blogging on the side. Perhaps the best known is politics expert Michael Barone who not long ago launched a blog hosted by his employer, U.S. News & World Report.

As for me, I find myself reading fewer newspaper-based pundits (whose columns are posted on the Web by their papers) and more pundits who are largely Web-based or who have Web-origins (such as Goldberg).

I find this interesting because it strongly demonstrates that the Internet in general and blogging in particular have unleashed some highly talented people who never had the opportunity to become pundits under the circumstances prevailing in the Old Media age. In other words, cream rises to the top.



posted by Donald at January 23, 2006


Actually the first pundit by this definition in the English language would have to be Joseph Addison. He and Richard Steele published The Spectator in 1711 and 1712, writing (with sharp wit and magnificent humor) about the daily life of the burgeoning British middle class.

The text can be found here:

Posted by: Shayan on January 23, 2006 8:29 PM

Didn't Jonah Goldberg ride into his position (albeit he does have talent for nastiness) on the coattails of his mother and Monica Lewinsky?

Posted by: Raw Data Complex on January 23, 2006 9:37 PM

Someone I knew in college became a columnist, firt for Business Week and then for the Chicago Tribune. He's really quite a good writer. He won awards in Chicago for "best columnist" and the like. But the Trib pulled him off the front page of his section because readers said they just wanted news straight on the front page of each section, not a columnist, and those who enjoyed his column would look for it on Page 2. Predictably, he declined---Page 1 or nothin'. There is ego to punditry. Here's an example of his writing---you might enjoy it, but it didn't keep his job.
I first noticed something strange shortly after landing at LaGuardia Airport.

It was 10 p.m. on a Sunday--normally a time when New Yorkers will fight pitched hand-to-briefcase battles to be first in line to go wherever New Yorkers go.

Winning one of these cab-stand tussles saves all of about 30 seconds. But remember, we're talking New York. Winning counts, no matter how small the stakes.

I approached the cab stand, and so did he. From equal distances, but opposite directions. Neither of us changed speed or course. (This was rare in itself. A footrace should have ensued.)

We reached the line together. Instead of squaring off and staring each other down, we nearly wrenched our backs bowing and shuffling to yield to each other.

You first. No, you first. Experience told me to expect a Roger Clemens versus Mike Piazza puffed-chest fest. Instead, we acted like David Niven versus Rex Harrison in a Politenessman competition.

That's when it hit me: New York would be really different this time.

Something unexpected

I had flown to New York to cover the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that killed more than 6,000 people. I had expected shock and grief, outrage and uncertainty. I witnessed all of that in one of the most troubling and personally affecting stories I have ever covered.

I had not expected something else I found: polite New Yorkers.

In normal times, New Yorkers wear their rudeness like Chicagoans wear their winter coats--as a matter of pride. And also of necessity.

It's a city of about 8 million people. Millions of them cram onto a tiny island that a strong swimmer can circle in half a day--though, the quality of Hudson River water being what it is, this is not recommended.

They've got to be tough to survive. And the ones attracted to Manhattan are the toughest of the lot. You name it, they compete for it: space, wealth, power, celebrity. Sometimes the results are not pretty. Remember, this is a place that produced Donald Trump and Leona Helmsley in a single decade.

Chicago's been working at it nearly as long, and the best urban villain we've produced is, what, Jerry Reinsdorf? And he was raised in Brooklyn.

But none of that celebrated New York causticity was on display as I traveled throughout Manhattan the week after the attack. Instead, I saw New Yorkers engage again and again in spontaneous acts of civility and sometimes even humility.

It was unexpected, a touch unsettling and almost disappointing. Kind of like getting a polite waiter at Ed Debevic's, the Chicago restaurant where outrageous insults are part of the show.

Rudy and Dan

Rudolph Giuliani is only the most obvious example of the new, nice New York. He responded so masterfully to the disaster, I'll bet his wife and his girlfriend are both proud.

Dan Rather cried, twice, on David Letterman's show. Thank goodness Rather was in full, bug-eyed war cry the rest of the time, or the weeping might have permanently softened his image.

It wasn't just the celebrities who took the edge off. Typical New Yorkers acted uncharacteristically too.

When Giuliani urged people to return to Broadway and give the theater district a boost, hundreds heeded the call. In fact, several hundred New Yorkers had the same bright idea: Time to see "The Producers"--the hottest show since the invention of the cat costume.

As curtain time neared, a theater usher appeared on the sidewalk and announced that a) Tony Award winner Nathan Lane was on vacation and b) Maybe six of what seemed like 600 in line were likely to get in.

I figured I might need an umbrella to stay dry in the face of the hissing that would ensue. Instead, the crowd quietly absorbed the news, then politely dispersed. They dutifully went to patronize other shows with much less glamorous titles. Like, say, "Chicago."

Odd behavior

In Times Square, the break-dancers actually thanked people who put money in their buckets. As pickpockets grabbed for wallets, I half expected them to say, "Pardon me."

Un-New York behavior abounded all around. On Fifth Avenue, I witnessed a businessman flag down a cab, then gallantly yield it to a shopper who needed a ride. A waitress at an upscale restaurant overrode years of rigorous training and avoided rolling her eyes when I asked for help with the wine list.

A worker in the subway actually gave clear directions and, lo and behold, over a microphone that rendered her words audible. When technology behaves so strangely, you just know something is odd.

On a visit to the financial district, I got caught in a crowd creeping along a sidewalk, everyone hoping to glimpse ground zero of the trade center catastrophe.

The shoulder-to-shoulder herd ground to a standstill. One would-be gawker got impatient and bellowed for people to move. A crowd-control cop stood nearby, his authority undermined by the bossy bystander.

But the cop didn't get mad. He didn't shout. Instead, he doffed his cap. "Here," he said kindly to the un-gentle man. "You want the hat?"

On a normal New York day, you might expect the copper to cuss the guy or cuff him, depending on his mood. Instead, the cop responded with humor and grace. It was a clear case of the NYPD blues.

Glimmer of hope

For years I had appreciated the artful rudeness of New Yorkers. Now, after a banal week of boring by-your-leaves, I feared a horrible fate for New York: a decline into Gloria Vanderbilt civility. Perhaps a permanent one.

Back at LaGuardia on the way out, the airport security agent was depressingly deferential as he examined the toiletries in my carry-on bag. I took it as a sign that this bout of urban politeness had set in for good.

Then the woman at the metal detector grabbed my ID.

She looked at the photo. She looked at me. She looked back at the photo. "That was taken about 20 pounds ago," she said. Then she cackled.

At long last, there it was: a gratuitous insult. Unnecessary. In my face. Rudeness for its own sake.

OK, so it was, at best, a demi-dissing. By typical New York standards, it was practically a compliment. But I found even this slight affront so inspiring, I nearly gave her a Bronx cheer

Posted by: annette on January 24, 2006 9:49 AM

It seems to me that many, if not most, newspaper pundits are essentially just journalists (i.e., college graduates with a B.A. in English) with actually very little genuine expertise (e.g., a degree, especially a graduate degree, in political science, economics, public affairs, demography, sociology, etc.) relevant to their area of punditry. As a result, much newspaper punditry seems to me to be rather ignorant or superficial -- just a more articulate and entertaining version of what a man-on-the-street knows and thinks about the issues.

This idea really came home to me when I worked once as temporary clerical worker at a big city newspaper in the opinion page department. (This was where the letters to the editor were selected and edited, where the newspaper's editorials were written and where op-ed columns were chosen.) While most of the columnists/opinion writers seemed to be intelligent, well-educated (in a general sense), and good journalists (and, indeed, the opinion page department won a Pulitzer Prize during this time), they also seemed to be essentially just English majors whose only claim to expertise was some previous experience as a reporter covering, for instance City Hall, or the Board of Education, or the MTA, etc. So these columnists/pundits seemed to me to be very ignorant of the history of the topics they were discussing or of the larger issues that they were a part of.

On the other hand, most academics seem to have their own blind spots -- e.g., a lack of knowledge of the real world outside of academia -- and write too poorly to boot.

My favorite pundits seem be good writers who have a graduate degree in a relevant subject area (or two) and have some real world experience also (or at least a healthy dose of common sense). One who comes to mind is Virginia Postrel, who (I'm assuming) has a degree (or even graduate degree) in economics or business administration.

Of course, one of my all time favorite writers, Jane Jacobs, started out "just" as a journalist and doesn't have a relevant college degree, or a college degree of any kind. So it's really not so much a matter of credentials but of having done the requiste research, reading, etc. so that one has a deep and broad knowledge of a given subject area.

Will the internet open up punditry to those who aren't first and foremost working journalists? Probably. But there's also the problem, already mentioned, of finding a way to match a pundit to an appropriate audience. The more pundits there are out there on the internet -- the larger the field -- the harder it would seem to me to make a match-up.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on January 24, 2006 2:06 PM

Donald – thanks for the references to bloggers whom you recommend. I’ll definitely check them out.

On the other hand, I find that I have lost much patience with punditry, whether in mainstream newspapers or the Internet. The turning point for me was a William Safire column not too long ago in which he defended his “right” for his opinion columns to be wrong on the facts.

Too often, the cream that has risen to the top with respect to blog punditry turns out to be curdled. Many pundits write well and amusingly, but have otherwise degenerated into propagandists for one ideology or another, and ardently attract and are defended by other true-believers who merely want to stew in their own political or social juices.

Other pundits are clearly part of some talking-point cabal, and are simply regurgitating a party line or testing the waters for some government official’s policy position. Many of the participants of the various Sunday political panel shows are clearly mouthpieces for the government, the opposition or some other political player. While there are obviously independent-minded bloggers, the Internet is becoming similarly afflicted with ideological puppets who willingly allow themselves to be manipulated by others either out of a sense of loyalty or “the greater good” or just for the ego stroke of being courted by someone in power.

It is really unfortunate that there is no “full disclosure” rule that would impel pundits, talk radio hosts and newspaper columnists from disclosing when their commentary is based on received talking points as opposed to original thinking or research. I also think that there should be some mechanism to punish or to temporarily remove a pundit from the field when he or she is egregiously wrong on the facts, especially when the pundit makes predictions whose outcomes can easily be checked against the pundit’s opinion.

At their best, pundits make for stimulating reading. At their worst, and this includes the worst of the Internet bloggers, you get about as much value from their musings as you would from reading a newspaper’s astrology column.

Posted by: Alec on January 24, 2006 2:51 PM

P.S.: John Tierney of the "New York Times" is probably my favorite colmnist/pundit of all -- but not enough of a favorite, however, for me to buy the "Times" or to pay for "Times Select" (at least not yet). So I haven't been reading him recently.

I don't think of him, however, as a "new" columnist -- although his current column is, indeed, new -- as his original (and wonderful) column, "The Big City," was published from 1994 to 2002.

I knew Tierney had studied at Yale, but I'm not sure if I knew until I read the linked bio that he had a degree in American Studies from there. Tom Wolfe -- probably my co-favorite all-time writer/thinker along with Jane Jacobs -- has a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. What a great department!

In the linked bio, I believe I noticed that he worked for a while as a science reporter, which also reminds me a bit of the career of Jane Jacobs, who early in her career was a reporter, I think, for some scientific trade journal (a metalurgy magazine?).

Aside from Tierney's original, or contrarian, "take" on a number of the issues he writes about, I've always liked the way he links his articles to current academic or scientific thinking (even if he disagrees with it). And he seems to have read and admired the work of Jane Jacobs -- a big plus in my view.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on January 24, 2006 3:08 PM

Pundits, almost all of them, are cheerleaders rather than analysts. You have, I suppose, noted the recent study showing that this particular kind of 'expert' is worse than a coin flip?
But not real cheerleaders: they are seldom attractive.

I think we'd all be a little better off if they were bagged and sold as fertilizer: not least those you have just mentioned.

Posted by: gcochran on January 24, 2006 9:46 PM

Yeah. I think that most pundits are second-stringers at best. They write well and entertainingly but people who have real analytical skill can make a lot more money doing other things. When was the last time you saw a news organization evaluate its pundits' past predictions in light of what actually happened? It's almost unheard of to do so -- it would generally embarrass the pundits -- yet the pundits continue to make predictions and readers continue to take them seriously (or say they do). I don't think the Internet is much different than MSM in this regard: most Internet blogging/punditry is crap. Yet the Internet has allowed a few pundits who are genuinely good, and who might otherwise have remained obscure, to come to public attention.

Caveat lector, as always.

Posted by: Jonathan on January 25, 2006 12:01 AM

Shayan -- Gee, even pre-dates Dr. Johnson. Now I'm wondering who the first syndicated political columnist was.

Complex -- No doubt Goldberg's family and all the Clinton scandals played a part in getting the National Review Online gig. My point is that once he started writing for NRO (where he seems to have dramatically increased readership) he was able to rapidly rise through his own ability. I find him amusing, not nasty.

Annette -- Interesting piece, though he seems more a straight columnist than a pundit dealing with more political topics.

Benjamin -- I agree that a good many or even most Old Media political columnists these days start as journalists with whatever background journos start with. Nothing intrinsically wrong with this; at least they ought to have writing skills. But the danger is inbreeding and echo-chamber commentary. The Internet seems to be doing a better job of launching talent. As for Tierney, I'd forgotten that he had a local-angle column. I let my NTY subscription lapse before he started it.

Alec -- Sadly, the whole country has become too politicized for my taste, and your points seem generally valid. I've seen criticism of other NYT columnists (Dowd and Krugman, if I recall) who also seem fact-free at times and the paper has done little or nothing to post corrections or pull their leashes. The Internet is more of a self-correcting mechanism, so Net pundits will get called out somewhere, at least. Too much fact-twisting eventually should drive away all but hard-core readers.

gcochran -- I dunno. Pundits tend to take sides, it's true, but the best ones are good info and opinion aggregators. If one reads several daily, it makes it easier to keep up with important issues.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 25, 2006 12:15 AM

Wow, Jonah Goldberg and Steve Den Beste (of all people!) are talented and the brilliant Paul Krugman is "fact free"? I guess in the political realm people admire others for basically confirming their own opinions and prejudices.

Krugman successfully predicted almost everything that was going to happen during the Bush administration. He's probably the best, smartest, and most talented pundit of the last 80 or so years, since Mencken I'm thinking (although of course they are totally different). The propaganda barrage directed against him by the Repubs -- which Mr. Pittenger seems to have fallen for -- is a response to his clarity and his ability to call a spade a spade (something that is forbidden in many different areas in the U.S. today).

Posted by: MQ on January 25, 2006 6:20 AM

MQ -- For nearly 20 years I tried really hard to think politically like folks like you, but I eventually failed. I guess I just wasn't intelligent enough. Sorry I failed you.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 25, 2006 8:44 AM

Donald---his "pundrity" was as much business as politics. This particular piece isn't either---you're right, its just a column. But a good one---good writer.

Posted by: annette on January 25, 2006 9:30 AM

Donald – The Terry Schiavo case is a recent example where the supposed self-correcting mechanism of the Internet was overwhelmed by pundits and others, mainly but not exclusively on the right, actively, desperately and hysterically avoiding facts in order to maintain their ideological position (note that my criticism here is not a slam on the opinions people held about ending vs. maintaining life, etc). Even though various legal web sites made available complete transcripts of the various stages of the case, including a court-appointed guardian’s report, various commentators continued to lie about and distort the facts of the case, created conspiracy theories about the motives of those involved in the case, and then slammed the mainstream media, supposedly activist judges, and any source that did not agree with them as biased. Talk show hosts like Sean Hannity shilled a phony expert who falsely claimed to have been a Nobel Prize nominee, and only reluctantly and incompletely retracted his backing of this charlatan.

There was obviously a lot of intelligent blogging on this issue, but what still amazes me is the degree to which people on the Internet deliberately rejected facts and basic information about the case and used their bookmarked favorite Web sites to create an alternate universe which rigidly reinforced their own views and ideology. And sadly, too many pundits contributed to this mess, and continue to exhort ideological partisanship at all costs.

Posted by: Alec on January 25, 2006 10:42 AM

Alec -- On the other hand, newspapers and TV tend to ingore or bury news that is unfovorable to their agenda. This isn't punditry, of course, but it lets me raise the point that the Internet (in most of the world) doesn't censor the news or opinions. That is, it's possible to find other views if one is willing to dig or, more likely, if one visits sites that jibe with one's world-view. What shows up on the editorial & op-ed pages of the NYT, LA Times and WS Journal is under the control of an editor and not you, unlike the case of the Web. I don't like everything that's on the Web either, but I'm thankful that I now have the chance to be my own editor, if you will.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 25, 2006 11:03 AM

Back in the '80s, I wrote a regular column for a hobby magazine that was then biweekly, and I lasted about 50 columns or somewhere over two years. It was a constant drain on time and effort, since every two weeks I had to think of something to write about, then research it, then think of something intelligent to say about it. I particularly remember one column that took months to come together because a lot of research was involved (I was debunking a commonly cited legend in the field), and after all that, the column appeared and two weeks later I had to write another one. (Plus, the column had no particular effect and the legend continues to be cited to this day.) There are dodges that can be employed for quick columns, like writing book reviews or answering the mail, but I still ran through everything worthwhile I had to say in short order. And this was a hobby I had been involved with for years and presumably had some expertise in. So my hat is off to the pundits writing about non-trivial subjects like politics who manage to stay interesting, find things to write about, and keep well-informed. It isn't easy...

In the realm of blogs, I read a few. I remember Steve Den Beste, oddly enough, mainly for an astonishing essay he wrote about a Japanese cartoon series ("Angelic Layer") that probably took it far more seriously than the creators did and teased out all kinds of meanings and interpretations...and I don't think he meant it tongue in cheek. If he wrote on military and political matters, I never got to them.

As for currently active bloggers, I'm in awe of James Lileks, who not only blogs at length but writes columns for newspapers and magazines and posts all kinds of Interesting Stuf' on his website. How does he find the time - and how does he keep from burning out?


Posted by: Dwight Decker on January 25, 2006 3:33 PM

Dwight -- You didn't tell what hobby it was, but I'll assume that it, like most hobbies, was a slowly-changing thing. Punditry, talk radio and even blogging tend to be event-driven. This makes it easier to come up with material to write about.

I too worry about being able to churn out "content," wondering when the well will run dry. I maintain a list of potential topics and fret that I won't be able to add to it. And some days I don't. Nevertheless, every few days two or three halfway viable ideas pop into my head, and it's usually something I see or do that triggers it.

Den Beste still blogs, but his active site deals with Anime & stuff I'm not much interested in. The military site was up but dormant. I just tried it, but it didn't come up; maybe it's gone now.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 25, 2006 5:47 PM

-To the commenters above who slammed the "other side's" pundits for various sins: Saying that the other side's assertion that your side is a bunch of hacks and incompetents is false, but that everyone knows that the other side is a bunch of hacks and incompetents, is not a winning argument.

-Dwight Decker: I have often wondered how a columnist can churn out a political column once or twice a week for years. I think the answer is that it's very difficult, few people can do it and the vast majority of most pundits' columns aren't very good.

Posted by: Jonathan on January 25, 2006 6:26 PM


I believe Den Beste occasionally contributes to the group blog at, mercifully at much less length than was characteristic of his posts (looooong essays really) in the latter days of USS Clueless. He hasn't done anything at redstate since last year, as far as I can tell.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 25, 2006 6:41 PM

Lippmann was the head of the official
propoganda unit for the United States
Government in the First World War.
All information was filtered through
him and his cronies. They also generated
all "uplifting" messages from the
gov to the people during and even
after the War period.

Read "Over Here" by David Kennedy.

Posted by: Bob on January 26, 2006 2:02 AM

Donald – I think that the biggest problem with TV is that it is shallow, not that it has an agenda. The case of newspapers is more complicated, but even here sometimes I think that one issue is not so much that newspapers have an agenda, but that some readers currently reject newspapers that do not wholeheartedly support the readers’ preferred agendas.

I sympathize with the idea of your being able “to be my own editor, if you will,” but I think that at best editors serve readers even more than they do writers. In another post I noted how writers like James Clavell and Stephen King churned out bloated, turgid works that appealed only to their most die-hard fans when their clout allowed them to dismiss more capable editors for replacements who were merely proofreaders. The Web has seen a tremendous increase in the amount of blogging that is practically worthless because it is incorrect, uninformed, too narrow or merely propagandistic cheerleading. At worst, it is like listening to an episode of the Art Bell show on the radio, in which people who admit that they have never met any space aliens nonetheless spend hours discussing among themselves the precise motives and goals of alien visitors in exquisite detail.

Also, I think that a related problem is that people seek out and park on sites that jibe with their own world view. As a result, too many people never re-examine their world view, but instead merely reinforce it and then shout about their iron grip on “the truth” in echoing blog posts.

I agree with you, though, that one of the benefits of the Internet is the relative lack of censorship and the variety of opinions. This makes it even more ironic that too many people impose a weird self-censorship by insulating themselves from exposure to any views that do not correspond to their own biases.

Posted by: Alec on January 26, 2006 3:14 PM

"MQ -- For nearly 20 years I tried really hard to think politically like folks like you, but I eventually failed. I guess I just wasn't intelligent enough. Sorry I failed you."

I forgive you Don. I know that back in the 60s and early 70s it was easy to build up a massive charge of resentment due to being bullied by then dominant leftists, some of whom were real idiots. I was in elementary school back then so I can only imagine what it was like. Many conservatives I meet today are entirely driven politically by the resentments they built up those many decades ago. Unfortunately it tends to render them more or less incapable of objectively understanding what is going on in contemporary policy. It might help to understand that the contemporary Democratic party occupied about the same political space as east coast Republicans did during the Eisenhower administration, while the dominant Republican wing are just a bunch of con artists running up huge debts in your name and relying on your resentment of the 1960s to get away with it. I'm assuming east coast Eisenhower Republicans never laid any noxious new left crap on you, so perhaps that will clear the decks for you emotionally.

Posted by: MQ on January 26, 2006 10:52 PM

MQ -- I guess I walzed around the issue in an effort to keep the comments page temperature down. The deal is that I tried to be a liberal. Voted for JFK, LBJ, HHH and even Jimmy Carter the fist time he ran. But I slowly came around to the idea that the Democrats were not serious about much of anything as their platforms and rhetoric drifted away from time-proven facts of human nature. (I even have an Ivy League PhD in Sociology, a field that largely denies the existence of human nature, saying it's only culture that counts. They are fools.) So I transitioned during the 70s. No pressure, no hassle. Just voted for fewer and fewer of them and more and more of the other guys election-by-election.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 27, 2006 7:45 AM

Yeah, I figured, we were both being rather ironic in trying to avoid the whole flamewar thing breaking out. The deal with me is that I completely agree about the denial of human nature, etc. among a certain strain of left wing intellectuals (Krugman not being one of them, he would have been considered quite right wing in a 1970s soc department). But I also feel quite strongly that Bush has been an incredibly lousy and irresponsible president, and that insofar as any objective facts can be established about public life this is one of them. If we were talking in person I might try to lay out my reasons for that belief, but blog comments sections rarely are a good forum for changing peoples views on these kinds of things. But I regularly encounter people who share my conservative views in a lot of intellecual areas, take it the next step, identify as conservative, and then buy into the contemporary Republican party as a result. This drives me crazy, as I see the Bush repubs as very far from conservative.

Also, sociology need not deny the existence of human nature. Our nature is to be cultural animals. In general I feel like the nature/culture distinction is overplayed and caricatured from both sides, with the cultural types denying natural constraints on human cultural variation and the nature side overlooking the way we are genetically primed to adapt our lives to the wider social group, through following status cues, etc.

Posted by: MQ on January 27, 2006 1:29 PM

It's often useful to make the distinction between actual prefs and convictions -- I'm liberal in some ways, radical in some, conservative in some -- and the damn political parties we're presented with and have to deal with, isn't it? What's conservative about today's neocons? What's liberals about today's lefties? I dunno how to handle it. I vote (when I do vote) without regard for party, and for the guy/gal who I hope will do the least damage. And try to make a lot of jokes about how rotten both parties are ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 27, 2006 1:37 PM

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