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Bill Kristol: Sounding vs. Being Controversial

Bill Kristol is affable. He’s a good guest on The Daily Show. But he’s been a disappointing addition to the NY Times roster of columnists.

For example, his second most recent contribution is vapid. It’s not just that it rambles so much that it achieves a Zen-like topical emptiness. When he alights for a moment on an actual issue, he’d rather be counter-intuitive than coherent. Here’s how it opens:

O.K., O.K. … you don’t have to. But consider this exchange with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday”:

WALLACE: Did you really tell Senator Leahy, bleep yourself?

CHENEY: I did.

WALLACE: Any qualms, or second thoughts, or embarrassment?

CHENEY: No, I thought he merited it at the time. (Laughter.) And we’ve since, I think, patched over that wound and we’re civil to one another now.

No spin. No doubletalk. A cogent defense of his action — and one that shows a well-considered sense of justice. (“I thought he merited it.”) Indeed, if justice is seeking to give each his due, one might say that Dick Cheney aspires to being a just man. And a thoughtful one, because he knows that justice is sometimes too harsh, and should be tempered by civility.

Does that last sentence make sense given that Cheney is refusing to apologize for his lack of civility? Does Kristol really want to stand by a vice president telling a senator to go fuck himself? If I were the NY Times, I’d worry about a columnist that left readers wondering if he’s mistakenly left out a “not.”

His latest column is a series of things he likes about the planned inauguration. It’s nice to hear this sort of bipartisanship, but the column is really a series of cheap shots at liberals and Obama. And that’d be ok if the cheap shots were amusing or particularly insightful. Instead, it comes off as passive-aggressive and lazy.

It’s not enough for a columnist to define himself as out of place on the NY Times op-ed page. We need some content, some argument, something worth disagreeing with. Surely the Times can find a conservative columnist who gives a damn. [Tags: ]

[Later] Call me fair and balanced, but here’s Glenn Greenwald‘s appropriately scathing criticism of David Gregory’s softball questioning of the Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on “Meet the Press” this Sunday. Glenn doesn’t bother pointing out that Gregory went on to question David Axelrod mainly about Gov. Blago and Pastor Wright, and then remembered there was this little problem with the economy that was maybe worth mentioning.

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