With the announcement of William Safire’s retirement, the New York Times faces an important choice: Will Safire be replaced with a center-right scribbler, or will the Times be content to let David Brooks carry the entire burden of representing non-liberal America?
Given the paper’s wildly left-of-center op-ed cast, it seems likely that the Times will find a replacement for Safire. There are five writers with the talent to hold down such an august spot. Let’s hope the Times is open to outside suggestions. In alphabetical order, they are:
- Jonah Goldberg. Jonah’s the voice of traditional conservatism mixed with a very loud party. He’s connected and irreverent, funny and piercing. He’d be the most controversial of the choices available, but he’s the only New Yoker on the list.
- Stephen Hayes. Time and again, Hayes has out-reported other center-right pundits, and would help replace Safire’s occasional reporting forays. Like Safire, Hayes is also the sort of writer you can imagine receiving phone calls from senior politicos looking to float or smote an idea or an adversary, respectively.
Handicap for Hayes: He’s tied to the Weekly Standard, like David Brooks.
Plus for Hayes: He’s tied to the Weekly Standard, which means he’s tied to pretty much every Republican source.
- James Lileks. Admittedly, this would be a bold and unexpected choice. It would also be brilliant. Lileks is the best funny-serious writer out there, and though he will curse me for saying so, he could be the Maureen Dowd of the center-right, only funny. Downside: The annual Hummels column. Upside: His output is staggering when one adds up The Bleat, the Newhouse columns and three a week for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Times probably wouldn’t have to pay him for the work.
- Peter Robinson. This Hoover Institution fellow is a PBS host, a former presidential speechwriter (for Reagan – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”), incredibly well-read and a William F. Buckley protege. Elegant. Learned. Old school with talent to spare. Very New York Times. Everyone at the paper would marvel at how someone as smart as Peter could be a conservative. Wears bowties.
- Mark Steyn. He’s the best columnist working today, period. The four above would probably acknowledge this, and his limitless output is just staggering. If the Times wanted to be the best of the best, they’d do whatever it took to get Steyn’s byline twice a week. Much of their readership would be aghast and informed – exactly the role of a columnist.
It will be interesting to see what the Times comes up with. Chances are it won’t be another Safire unless they draft from this list.