04/28/2009 10:31 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Douthat Watch : Boring New Party

I hope the New York Times is not counting on Ross Douthat's weekly columns to raise its new media levee against the rising tide. Douthat's maiden effort, "Cheney for President," which appeared without explanation (apprenticeship? coyness?) web-only today, is so boring and dated that it might have come from . . . David Brooks. The core premise -- that the Republican longing for conservative purity would have been thoroughly debunked if only a real conservative had run for President in 2008 -- has been hashed out countless times already. Putting Dick Cheney's name on the suggestion adds nothing to the argument except a prurient frisson. Like speaking the name of Yahweh aloud. Ooh, he said Cheney for President.

The weirdly unrelated discourse on torture adds nothing. Coming out firmly in favor of discussing the problem, Douthat blahs and blahs and blahs without, you know, saying torture is wrong. Like, for instance, premarital sex, which he described with a real distaste nowhere in evidence in the long passage on torture. Maybe the seriousness of the assignment has him a little cowed, and he will turn to more interesting subjects as time passes and before the Times passes.

You have to go meta to see any possibility in this first effort. It's now old metal, but the Republican success rested on three legs:tax cutting, bellicosity and social conservatism. Defining true Republican conservatism as tax cutting and international aggression, and hoping for its defeat would leave what in the Republican Party? Surprise, social conservatism, of exactly the sort Douthat and his co-author were recommending in their book, Grand New Party. So although liberals, too often excessively grateful for a kind word from the right, might welcome the attack on Cheney conservatism, we must always remember the first rule of politics comes directly from the sexist old borscht belt comedian Henny Youngman:

An old friend met Henny on the street. "Henny, how are you? How's your wife?"

Youngman: "Compared to what?"