As somebody who gets paid to put his opinions in print every day, I've always thought columnists have one, overriding duty to their readers and the profession:
Intellectual and emotional honesty.
Our goal is to channel our convictions, values and perspectives into compelling arguments, respecting facts and contrary views. Even when that means something you normally champion lands in your cross hairs.
Which is why I have found the story of conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks' latest controversy so disappointing. Because, even though Brooks dislikes GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin enough that he told an audience in New York City she was a "fatal cancer" for the Republican party who is "not even close" to being ready for the job she's seeking, he hasn't yet outlined those observations in the biggest venue available to him: his newspaper column.
And Brooks isn't the only conservative pundit choking down disdain for Palin.
Back in September, when Palin was first selected, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan let her true feelings show when she thought the cameras were off after an appearance with GOP strategist Mike Murphy on MSNBC.
"I think they went for this -- excuse me -- political b---s--- about narratives," she tells Murphy, noting later "It's over."
But what did she say after Palin's debate performance Oct. 2 -- an appearance marked by the candidate's early promise that she wouldn't necessarily answer questions she didn't like while showing a marked aversion to responses that weren't finely crafted talking points?
"She killed," Noonan said on NBC after the debate concluded. "It was her evening. She was the star. She had it at 'Hey nice to meet you. Can I call you Joe?'"
Is this the same Noonan who wrote so presciently about the primaries and recently pleaded on Meet the Press for candidates not to descend into a mud-slinging hell?
Surprisingly, the American people have shown clearer judgment, with poll numbers indicating that, although people liked her style, opponent Joe Biden gave better answers.
My question: Why are average voters better at piercing Palin's hypocrisy than pundits who get paid to do so everyday?
Noonan and Brooks aren't the sort of Sean Hannity-style, fire-breathing conservatives who line up at McCain rallies, angry and flabbergasted that a Democrat with a foreign-sounding name is slowly overcoming the GOP machine.
But they're practicing a form of intellectual dishonesty common among this crowd -- which values winning above all, even when championing a candidate like McCain, who can't necessarily be trusted to govern the way many conservatives would support, anyway.
That's why I was heartened to read a recent column by Wick Allison, former publisher of the National Review and editor of D Magazine in Dallas; a conservative who says he now supports Obama because so many politicians claiming to be conservative have failed him.
It's an argument I've made to many conservative friends: Liberals shouldn't be the most upset with the way Bush/Rove-style Republicans have run this country into a ditch. That's a job for true conservatives.
We have the largest expansion of government in history. The largest budget deficits in history. The most costly war in history. And a GOP presidential candidate who still wants to hand out tax cuts in the middle of all this red ink.
As Allison wrote: "This kind of conservatism, which is not conservative at all, has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse."
Now that's intellectual honesty. And I think I'd say that, even if Allison wasn't supporting a candidate I also see best equipped to handle the growing chaos.
Wonder why Brooks and Noonan couldn't manage something like that?