The Decline of the Times Op-Ed Page

Matt Yglesias I'm not. Brad Plumer neither. My posts are not, unfortunately, cascading lists of think tank documents I've absorbed, and I rarely feel able to talk about marginal tax rates. But even little substance-free me was able, on Friday (randomly chosen), to write about Bush's atrocious nominee for UN Secretary, Labor politics in Los Angeles, Social Security privatization, the way presidents from different political parties benefit during foreign policy crises, and the DLC's rapidly-shrinking ability to distance themselves from the credit card bill. You're not gonna catch me defending the quality of all those posts, but at least the intent was sound.

So imagine my surprise, as an aspiring journalist consistently certain there's too much fluff and too little meat in my writing, to find the Times op-ed page trumpeting opinion pieces lighter than Splenda. David Brooks, for his part, chimed in with a column about decaf coffee. Worse, it wasn't about waves of decaf drinkers affecting bean growers in Latin America or something of similar significance, it was about how he, David Brooks, had interrupted a sumptuous meal to inquire about the caffeine content of his drink. This, of course, means that all Americans have become health freaks, and forgotten how to live life. Never mind that only 8% of coffee drinkers drink decaf; when reality conflicts with a Brooksian generalization, the real world loses every time.

But hey, that's just one column, right? At least it would have been, if Maureen Dowd hadn't decided to waste her weekend real-estate in a long-winded justification for why her columns are mean. In case you were wondering, it's not because she's actually nasty, it's because guys are afraid of castration. I know, you think I'm kidding, but the link's right here, you can read it yourself. She actually compares herself to Tom Friedman, who, on some alternate universe op-ed page that only she reads (maybe you can view it on one of Bush's "internets"?), writes "plenty of tough columns". Tough on what, tyranny and skinned knees? And Dowd is wondering why people characterize her columns as full of "barbs" and "Clinton-skewering" and "Bush-whacking"? Maybe because she eschews ideas entirely, preferring to pack her word count with, well, barbs and insults and nasty metaphors. It's not her ovaries, it's her content.

On the bright side, I do feel better about my merely-moderate consumption of think-tank reports. I just wish I got to compete with Brooks and Dowd, rather than Matt and Brad.