It’s completely off-topic, but I saw Greg’s comment about Maureen Dowd, and thought that it might be fun to start a discussion of our favorite, and / or least favorite, columnists.
Like Greg, I’m not a particularly big fan of many of the NYT crew. The top of the list is probably Friedman and Kristof, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read either of them. Krugman is very good when talking about economics, and an awful, one-note song when talking about politics — and he talks about politics far more than he talks about economics. Safire’s Magazine column is good, but his op-eds don’t usually appeal to me. And as for Maureen Dowd, I think Josh Chafetz’s discussion of the “Immutable Laws of Dowd” sums up many of the problems.
Outside of the NYT, I’ve liked what I’ve read by Anne Applebaum (but I must admit I don’t read all that much of her stuff); I find both Zuckerman and John Leo (U.S. News) to be awful, and Rick Reilly (Sports Illustrated) to be underrated. Of the Corner crowd, Jonah is the best, and Derbyshire is clearly the worst (yuck!). (Derbyshire and the despicable Alexander Cockburn are the two I detest most.)
The really fun question is what line-up I would assemble if I could pick the NYT columnists. I think I would choose:
1. Gregg Easterbrook. Hands down, the best columnist around today. Writes a hilarious football column with political asides; writes regularly for the New Republic and The Atlantic (the #2 and #1 magazines in politics, repectively, in my opinion; the Weekly Standard comes in at #3); and he now has a blog which is generally very good too.
2. Eve Tushnet. She’s been published a few times — Weekly Standard, a Jewish World Review column. She also has a well-known blog. It’s clear that she’s a fantastic writer.
(Yes, my #1 choice is related to a federal judge and my #2 is related to a law professor). I would substitute those two for Dowd and Brooks in a heartbeat.
It’s a little less clear-cut after those two. I think I would want to add in Eugene Volokh — he’s an excellent writer with broad range and he is not afraid to defend controversial ideas. Perhaps he could sub out Krugman. I think Krugman would be an ideal guest columnist. His economic stuff remains great, but economics doesn’t provide enough grist for a twice-weekly column, and when he’s low on econo-grist, he talks (screeches) politics instead.
Others who should be considered (I’m not exactly sure in what order): Michael Kinsley, Christopher Hitchens, Larry Lessig, Nate Oman, Heidi Bond, Dahlia Lithwick, Josh Marshall. (Maybe Slate should just take over the NYT op-ed page). I used to like both Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus a lot more, but in my opinion they both got less interesting when they became hawks — Andrew Sullivan is at his best writing about culture, not war.