In a week or so, the Atlantic magazine wunderkind, the 29-year-old conservative blogger Ross Douthat will start his career as a regular columnist for the New York Times. The announcement of his appointment caused a flurry in the blogosphere. Conservatives generally praised the selection; some liberal writers did, too. Other liberals were pretty critical, both of Douthat and of their liberal colleagues for lauding what they called a very bad choice.
For or against, it is clear that Douthat's opinions in the newspaper of record are going to matter in interesting ways. Douthat is not the usual apparatchik, like Bill Kristol, simply phoning in the latest Republican talking points. He has a distinctive point of view -- that the Republican Party should reconstruct itself as the party of the white working class through restoring traditional sexual mores -- and a set of rhetorical techniques designed to make his message sound palatable even to the Times' generally liberal readership.
Although no newspaper is in a position to guarantee a year's tenure, let alone life tenure, since he's not yet thirty, Douthat may be pulling the discourse rightward from his high perch for a very long time. The Chief Justice John Roberts of punditry.
Accordingly, starting today, the Huffington Post will carry "Ross Douthat Watch," a feature dedicated to analyzing Douthat's columns and alerting the Post's readership to the meaning and effect of his opinions and proposals for the future of the society.
Douthat Watch 1
Who Is Ross Douthat And What Is He Doing In The Most Expensive Meme Estate In America?
Douthat came from New Haven, Connecticut, son of a very successful plaintiff's trial lawyer and a mostly stay-at-home mom. At seventeen, his entire family converted to Roman Catholicism. He describes his other conversion -- to conservatism -- initially as a youthful rebellion. After attending private high school, he went to Harvard, where he ran the conservative paper and wrote a conservative column for the Crimson, which activities catapulted him into an internship at the Atlantic.
His first book, Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class (2005), decried the elitism, wealth and resume obsession of the other students at his elite college. In an interview in the New York Observer, he reported that he had been concerned about becoming a writer decrying obsession with wealth and status at Harvard, because he is obsessed with wealth and status, as Harvard defines it:
"You know that your peers who go off and do consulting or Web design-or back then it was Silicon Valley-are going to be making, for the foreseeable future, twice as much money as you are, and living lifestyles twice as affluent as you are. . . But there are professions that are very respectable if you're a kid at Harvard, and writing is clearly one of them-because even though it doesn't have the financial rewards of some of the others, it does have the recognition and fame aspect."
After several years of blogging and writing at the Atlantic, Douthat co-wrote (with Reihan Salam) Grand New Party (2008), an extended argument for realigning the Republican Party: "How the Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream." As fellow Times columnist David Brooks put it, "Douthat and Salam argue that the Republicans rode to the majority because of support from the Reagan Democrats, and if the party has a future, it will be because it understands the dreams and tribulations of working-class Americans."
Although GNP eschews any specific racial references, Reagan Democrats were, overwhelmingly, both white and male. GNP does not recommend the usual working class bromides of progressive income taxation, union organization or universal health care. The primary organizing theory of GNP is that the working class fell because of the decline of the stable, heterosexual nuclear family. The policy proposals in GNP are mostly directed to promoting [heterosexual] marriage and encouraging the heterosexual married to have children and then for a parent (in social context, mothers) to stay home with them.
During his years blogging around, Douthat published a range of opinions, including opposition to the candidacy of Barack Obama, women"s abortion rights, stem-cell research, and artificial birth control, as well as support for the candidacy of Sarah Palin, the 42nd President of the United States being "mobbed up," and the dominance of one religious viewpoint for social peace.