04/29/2013 03:34 pm ET Updated May 18, 2013

Real Rancor Shows Between New York Times Columnists

The subterranean rancor most often referenced at the New York Times is between New York Jewish boys, one conservative and one highly liberal, who never bring their conflict out into the open. But the enmity is so clearly there, Atlantic Wire's John Hudson says that "David Brooks and Paul Krugman Need to Take It Outside."

They don't do so, possibly, because of some unwritten Times rule. Alternately, the courtly Brooks is notable for never becoming angry or getting in frays with the liberal commentators who regularly join him on media panels, and so he refuses to let loose on Krugman. But the reverse is also true -- why, I cannot say. Hudson rues this mutual restraint:

The annoying thing about all of this, of course, is that there's something artificial about engaging with your opponent in writing and never directly addressing him or her. The readers are left watching two opponents fire shotgun shells into the air instead of directly at each other. When asked about the Brooks-Krugman Cold War last month, Brooks told the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone "I really can't comment on a colleague's column. Tough enough to keep up with my own."

So it was with some surprise that I encountered hostility -- nay, nearly hatred! -- expressed between Brooks and another liberal Times columnist, one also noted for her restraint and politeness, Gail Collins. Brooks conducts a regular jocular debate (called "The Conversation") in the Times with Collins. Unlike Brooks (and Krugman) Collins is not from New York or Jewish. Oh -- and Collins is a woman. Perhaps this combination of traits causes Collins to approach her leftish agenda with her characteristically "light" humorous touch.

This sets the stage for the contretemps in the Times between these two even-keeled, collegial, bantering jousters around Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg's bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. The phrase "lean in" has become an instant meme: it says to women "don't wimp out -- I know you've got a lot on your plate, but you deserve to lead the world," or some such.

A lot of women have objected to Sandberg's confident -- not to say cocky -- suggestion that women can do it all. After all, Sandberg can marshal a lot of help in support of her lifestyle and job from her corporate tower. Brooks stepped into this fray with glee, seeming to find in it an opportunity to diss the women's movement. But the one area in which Collins is likely to react without coquettishness is in regard to women's career options -- the topic of her not-quite-bestseller When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.

Note in this discussion Brooks' consistent claims that he has no dog in this fight, after which he proceeds to make sharp, barbed comments -- often seemingly aimed directly at Collins. He then totally ignores Collins' obvious ire, and continues in the same tone:

David: Somehow I feel I'm traipsing onto somebody else's turf if I wade into the Sandberg debate and start telling women they can't have it all. I say this even though I am rigorously consistent on this matter. The very definition of conservatism is: You can't have it all. No matter who you are, you can't have it all. The universe is specifically structured to prevent this. Still, this feels like an intra-female debate.

[Translation: Cat fight! But, anyhow, conservatives know that human beings have a miserable lot in life. Well, except for a few successful media stars like myself -- but I don't flaunt it!]

Gail: If "having it all" means fame, fortune, happiness and perfect body tone, then obviously you're right. But when it comes to women, "having it all" has historically referred to being able to have both career and family. And if you define career as going for the top of your profession -- CEO or law firm partner or presidential candidate or whatever -- it's still generally much harder for women to combine that with raising children. In college, the guys aren't worrying about whether they'll be able to pursue their career dreams and still have kids...

Just saying "you can't have it all" is like saying "there's no problem here." I can't buy that as long as the United States Senate is only 20 percent female and the group of Fortune 500 C.E.O.'s is made up of only about 4 percent women CEOs.

[Translation: You're either nuts or some simpleton conservative if you don't see that women continue to be denied the same access to power and success as men, which is what we're discussing, jerk!]

David: I would only add from a neutral Swiss perspective that the whole Sandberg debate reminds me that while feminists have been rooting for female success for decades, many writers in that camp never seem to like specific females who are actually successful.

[Translation: Far be it from me to enter into a dispute among the fair sex! I will say that feminists claim they want women to be successful, then they resent like hell when another woman is successful -- those cats!]

Gail: David, I have been to 10 million gatherings of feminists celebrating successful women. Ten billion. This idea that women who make it are objects of scorn is totally crazy. There was a cover on Time this week with a picture of Sheryl Sandberg and the headline "Don't Hate Her Because She's Successful." That's ridiculous. You can criticize somebody's ideas without criticizing their achievements. [emphases added]

[Translation: You're crazy, you pig.]

David: The other thing I'd note is that there is no self-righteousness so virulent as the self-righteousness an upper-middle-class writer adopts to criticize the out-of-touchness of an upper class writer. The inability to afford a second home seems to be regarded by some people as a mark of their own God-like purity. Not that I'm interfering in this fracas. Not me. Strictly neutral.

[Translation: Intellectual women writers -- you know, like you Gail -- are jealous of Sandberg's wealth, success, and bestsellerdom.]

Gail: Someday perhaps there will be a fairer and more perfect world in which the media devotes more time to eviscerating the work of unsuccessful writers and the controversial ideas explored in their unpublished books.

[Translation: Drop dead, David -- we criticize books that are getting attention because that's where the action is.]

Relax, dear reader: This seasoned couple will soon -- has already -- regained its balance as they jab artfully and good-naturedly at one another about easy topics like wars, the economy, education, and electoral politics.