Although the moon, planets, and galaxies appear to have aligned in John Tierney’s favor to make him William Safire’s replacement on the New York Times op-ed page when Safire writes “-30-” in early 2005, about 100 “Press Box” readers responded to my invitation last week to nominate their own candidates for the slot.
My personal shortlist for heir to Safire included Tierney, queen of the right Heather Mac Donald, Judge Alex Kozinski, Steve Chapman, and Bush cousin John Ellis. I also placed a short plug for prolific Judge Richard A. Posner.
Many liberal readers criticized the short-sightedness of my shortlist because it considered only conservative or libertarian candidates. Why not seat a liberal in Safire’s chair, they bellowed. The goddamn conservatives already have David Brooks on the page—why give them another one? Barbara Erhrenreich, a midsummer replacement for Thomas Friedman during his book leave, got the nod most often from liberals who desired another liberal. A few called for editorial page-editor Gail Collins to resign and return to her column (fat chance of that). Rounding out the nominated libs were Christiane Amanpour, Matt Taibbiof the New York Press, Matthew Yglesias of the American Prospect, Eric Alterman, Joe Conason, and Josh Marshall. Other readers hoped that Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. might choose a non-American to make the page more worldly.
Most of my reader mail accepted the premise thattwo conservative columnists on an op-ed page that publishes seven writers isn’t too many. Here are the best and most frequent nominations:
I could shoot myself for not including Stuart Taylor Jr. in the first cut. Taylor earned his living as an attorney at Wilmer, Cutler, and Pickering (1978-1980), covered legal affairs and the Supreme Court while reporting for the New York Times (1980-1988), and worked at American Lawyer for a decade after that. Now at National Journal, Taylor also writes a column for Newsweek. A scrupulous reporter and fine analytical thinker, Taylor would bring the legal savvy to the page that it has missed since Anthony Lewis departed.
If I had another round to spare, I’d shoot myself again for not nominating Anne Applebaum, who writes editorials for the Washington Post and files a regular op-ed column. In recent columns, Applebaum shamed the government about the student loan swindle and kicked the left in the shins about its love of totalitarianism. Her book, Gulag: A History, won a Pulitzer Prize this year for nonfiction. Having lived in Europe for 16 years, she might even qualify in some readers’ eyes as the foreigner the Times allegedly needs. (Interest declared: I’ve edited some of her work in Slate.)
I don’t suspect ballot stuffing had anything to do with the large number of votes cast for the people’s favorite, Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online. Goldberg’s typecasting as a red-meat conservative was undone a couple of weeks ago by an appearance on C-SPAN with David Brooks, where he seemed so reasonable. Maybe the Brooks aura tamed him or something.
Jonathan Rauchwrites a biweekly column for National Journal and is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly. His book on gay marriage would endear him to the gay-friendly Times, but I don’t know how the paper would take to his other libertarian ideas about government. Is Mark Steyntoo opinionated to write an opinion columnist for the Times? A couple of years ago, I would have said yes. But Paul Krugman’s wicked column proves that the paper doesn’t mind employing human wrecking balls. If the Times doesn’t hire Steyn, which they won’t, why doesn’t the Washington Post steal him from the Washington Times? Opinion machine Andrew Sullivan would bring his fine conservative-libertarian credentials to the page, and just think how his appointment would infuriate Howell Raines! From his base in Baja Canada, Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist James Lileks commands a constituency that will not be denied. (See his blog for more.)
Whoever gets the Times job should memorize these guidelines for new columnists by Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard (Ferguson is too debonair for the position, so don’t even think about nominating him): Never quote de Tocqueville. Never cheat by inventing a fictitious cab driver with whom you argue. Never write about your kids. And never, ever write a column about a previous column. As this column just did.
Oh, and never write one of those “inside Saddam’s brain” sort of columns that Safire resorted to on slow news days. Send your suggested columnist’s guidelines to firstname.lastname@example.org. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)