Has Bob Bartley Gone Soft?

In the life cycle of an editor, the stage where you write a column called “Thinking Things Over” or “On My Mind” or “Just S’posin” is generally agreed to be the last. After 38 years at the Wall Street Journal–the last 28 of them as editorial-page editor–Bob Bartley has apparently reached this stage. Bartley, still in his early 60s, has no plans actually to retire, as Abe Rosenthal did before launching “On My Mind,” the New York Times column that wags instantly dubbed “Out of My Mind.” But on June 5, Bartley launched a new column called “Thinking Things Over” (or, to be precise, revived the former Journal column of this name, previously written by his less-reactionary predecessor, Vermont Royster) with some gassy reminiscences about the Iowa boy with big dreams (“Cliff Ganschow and I even won an intercollegiate award for editorial writing”) who started out life as a Harold Stassen Republican (“much to the amusement of ‘Roy’ ") and ended up just a bit to the right of Generalissimo Francisco Franco (or, as he puts it, a neoconservative for whom “the prefix did not fit”).

It’s pretty dreadful stuff, but not at all in the way that Bartley is usually dreadful–that is to say, nasty, clever, and ideologically over-the-top. No, it’s dreadful in a whole new way–flaccid, sentimental, and self-aggrandizing in a manner one would not expect from Bartley, who in person is surprisingly modest, even shy. It’s unfair to judge a column by its first entry, of course. But if Bartley’s inaugural effort proves typical, liberals ought to rejoice. Not because, as in the case of Rosenthal’s column, it’s delightful to watch an egomaniac expose himself as a fool, but because it distracts Bartley from writing on subjects like the capital gains tax, about which, for some reason, he has real influence.