Running Scared: Observations of a Former Republican
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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Monday, January 24, 2005

Bon voyage, Will Safire

posted by Jazz at 1/24/2005 05:16:00 AM


After what many might consider far too long a run for a one man show, Will Safire leaves the New York Times columnist slot today. My first inclination was to begin this post with something akin to "... and don't let the the door hit you in the..." but that simply wouldn't be fair. For a number of years I did enjoy reading Safire's columns, and there is no denying that he had a lot of contacts, both at home and abroad, who tipped him to good stories. I've always felt that it's beneficial to get both points of view, which is why I enjoy reading Thomas Sowell as much as I do Molly Ivins. But in the last couple of years I definitely began to feel that Safire was long past his "best served by" date, and needed to be identified as a carton of milk turning sour during the next journalistic cleaning of the fridge by the Times.

Safire used to be essentially fearless in attacking anyone on either side of the aisle. He was almost always on the conservative side of issues, and could often be counted upon to drive me into apoplectic fits, but he still projected an independent quality - a sense that, while he might be arguing the same point as some of the most conservative politicians, he was still arguing his point, all critics be damned. Over the last few years, I've gotten that feeling less and less, sensing instead that he really was shilling for the Bush - Cheney machine, which he viewed as an answer to all of his prayers.

Today he takes his final bow, leaving us with a grandstanding four columns in one day. (And yes, I'll admit, he's earned the right to hog up that much ink for his long service at the Paper of Record.) Two of them are fairly predictable. The first is an admonishment to never fully retire and to always seek new goals - a worthwhile sentiment to be sure. The third is a somewhat self-aggrandizing summary of what he sees as "wins and losses" for issues he has taken up. A third is a piece on the First Ladies.

The last one, however, I found myself enjoying more than anything he's written in a long while. I think it was sort of a going away present to his readers, and reminds me of his younger days. He provides us with a list of twelve rules for reading a pundit's column. It's full of snark to be sure, but it's definitely clever and makes you exercise your brain a bit. Some examples:

In the very first rule he warns us against cross-aisle quoting: 1. Beware the pundit's device of using a quotation from a liberal opposition figure to make a conservative case, and vice versa. Righties love to quote John F. Kennedy on life's unfairness; lefties love to quote Ronald Reagan. Don't fall for gilding by association.

So, of course, his very last rule quotes Kennedy. But punditry is as vibrant as political life itself, and as J.F.K. said, "life is unfair."

He decries the use of punditry buzzwords like "lede", claiming that any real columnist worth their salt puts a nugget of goodness at the center of their piece. What do we find at the exact middle of this column?

6. Be wary of admissions of minor error. One vituperator wrote recently that the Constitution's requirement for a president to be "natural born" would have barred Alexander Hamilton. Nitpickers pointed out that the Founders exempted themselves. And there were 16, not 20, second inaugural speeches. In piously making these corrections before departing, the pundit gets credit for accuracy while getting away with misjudgments too whopping to admit.

(Note: you are now halfway down the column. Start here.)

Sticking in a correction for recent mistakes in his last column, but doing it in a funny, self-deprecating way. That one was a classic. There's a collection of other really good chunks of humor and art in there, but I'll leave it to you to read them.

Ok. I didn't see it coming when I started this essay, but will now stand up and testify. I guess I'm going to miss Safire, warts and all. Even after the milk has turned sour, it can still be made into a nice loaf of sourdough bread.