Allow me to echo the sentiments of my TNR colleagues Christopher Orr and Isaac Chotiner in praising the New York Times's choice for its new conservative op-ed columnist, Ross Douthat, who will take over the (weekly) slot previously held (weakly) by Bill Kristol. Ross and I have clashed plenty of times, sometimes harshly. But I, at least, have always learned something from the exchange of passionately held opinions and ideas. When I look back on some of our arguments, in fact, I realize that I deliberately provoked them by going after something he'd said, just so I could benefit from reading his spirited, thoughtful, and erudite response. I'm delighted that I'll be able to read him regularly in the pages of the Times -- and that Times readers unfamiliar with his work will be forced to contend with his arguments.
And that's what really counts. Ross's appointment represents a broadening of debate in the mainstream media. Unless I'm mistaken, he will be the first pro-lifer ever to write a column for what is still (by a wide margin) the premier daily newspaper in the United States. That he's also a committed orthodox Catholic who enjoys (and excels at) defending his beliefs against critics both serious and silly is a real bonus. Too many pro-life and devoutly religious Americans fall into one of two camps: Either they lack the intellectual ability to engage in conversation and argument with the wider culture, or else they use their intellect to rally their own side for political battle, content to mock and dismiss those outside their ranks. Ross deftly avoids both vices in his writing -- and American public life will be elevated because of it.
As for Ross's hopes for reforming the Republican Party, I can't say that at the moment I see much prospect for success. But that's because there are too few people in the party like Ross Douthat. Yet all who hope for the revitalization and renewal of our civic culture should wish Ross, along with David Frum and David Brooks, the best of luck in their efforts -- efforts that received a not-insignificant boost with this afternoon's news.