Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Why Frank Rich's liberalism is all the rage

Bryan Curtis has an interesting piece on Frank Rich -- "The Butcher of the Beltway" -- at Slate. Curtis makes a valid case against Rich, however much he may like his politics, and I would tend to agree that Rich operates very much within "a kind of airtight ideological bunker" that offers "reaffirmation" and "the issuance of a crisp verdict" to New York's disgruntled liberal elite. In short, "it's possible to cheer on Rich's crusades and feel that his column leaves you short. Rarely does he offer much more than illuminating rage. It's the kind of close-minded liberalism that, at its heart, is the antithesis of liberalism."

Rich has indeed become a "defiant liberal champion" with a high-profile column in the highest of high-profile newspapers that acts as "a sort of liberal call to arms". And he does indeed "draw connections between the various GOP outrages" in a way that most other liberals don't (or can't). I agree with Curtis that his columns are often "unsatisfying," and I often find myself wanting more (at least back when I read him regularly, back in the days before TimesSelect).

But Rich, whom I previously wrote about here, is not all rage, intellectual simplicity, and narrow ideology. His columns are often fascinating, challenging, and illuminating, and he himself is a serious, thoughtful, non-partisan liberal who cares about the state of American culture and, more politically, who worries about the degradations of Bush and the Republican Party.

I may be more of a Manhattan liberal that I would care to let on, or that I would even imagine myself to be, but, weaknesses aside, Rich remains to me an indispensable writer of astute political commentary and analysis, one from whom liberals can continue to learn a great deal.

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Funniest part of the Curtis piece:

A few weeks ago, I went to see Rich among the faithful, giving a talk at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Each year, the 92nd Street Y brings in a roster of eminences, from Alan Alda to Barbara Boxer, designed to draw out the old lions of Manhattan liberalism. A sign of Rich's star power is that tickets for his "evening with" had sold out well in advance, as they do every time he visits the Y. The lobby had the giddy buzz of a rock concert, and I spotted an elderly woman, suffering from age or just desperation to see her hero, attempt twice to sneak into the auditorium without a ticket. Inside, the audience hung on Rich's every word, nodding vigorously when he skewered George W. Bush ("I think he has lost the trust of the country") and resignedly when he skewered the Democrats ("I think the Democrats are pathetic"). Within a half-hour the synchronous head-bobbing had reached a level achieved only by a few rock acts; I imagine the aging ladies in the front row were ready to pelt Rich with their underwear, if only they had been able to stand.

Yes, he was on his home turf, and, yes, he was speaking to his own kind, and, no, he may not have as much national appeal as, say, Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, or Paul Krugman, but Frank Rich is the most compelling of them all.

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