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Douthat on Steele

March 13, 2009 Leave a comment
Ross Douthat (with co-author Reihan Salam)

Ross Douthat (with co-author Reihan Salam)

Two days ago the New York Times announced that Atlantic writer, editor, and blogger Ross Douthat would become their newest columnist, ending weeks of speculation about who would replace Bill Kristol, joining David Brooks in the conservative-columnist slot. I have read some of Douthat’s work in the Atlantic. I look at his blog from time to time — mostly when references are made to his posts by fellow Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan — but I haven’t subscribed to it. In particular, I haven’t read enough to form a clear sense of his thinking or to decide how eager I am to read his columns. But everything I’ve read about his selection by writers I like is positive.

Douthat will be blogging at the Atlantic for another month. I looked over some of his recent posts and enjoyed his comments on Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele (and Sarah Palin). These comments are in a post yesterday afternoon, Douthat’s first since the announcement of his move. An excerpt follows:

I think Steele’s stumbles, while different in form from Sarah Palin’s unsuccessful broadcast-network interviews (he’s said too much; she didn’t say enough … and was tongue-tied doing it), reflect a similar underlying difficulty – the attempt to brazen through an intellectual vacuum with charisma alone. Both Steele and Palin are extremely charismatic, as American politicians go, which is a big reason why Republicans of different stripes – moderates for the Marylander, conservatives for the Alaskan – have been so excited about them. But they’ve both attempted (or been asked) to chart a new direction for the Right on style alone, and they’ve floundered as soon as they’ve been pressed for substance. Steele has responded by telling his interlocutors whatever they want to hear, Palin responded by telling her interlocutors next to nothing at all – and the results, in both cases, are and were unfortunate.

The point here, to return to an earlier theme, isn’t that a brilliant rat-a-tat-tat of bright policy ideas from either Steele or Palin’s lips would suddenly convert an audience of fence-sitting voters to rock-ribbed conservatism. It’s that given conservatism’s current straits, having something intelligent and fresh-sounding to say about how your political persuasion bears on the great issues of the day ought to be a baseline for rising right-of-center politicians. Insufficient, yes, but necessary all the same – not least because if you haven’t figured out something smart-sounding to say in advance, all the charisma in the world won’t save you from saying something foolish.

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Categories: Newspapers, Politics

Emanuel on Alinea

March 13, 2009 Leave a comment
Watermelon -- Alinea

Watermelon -- Alinea

I wrote a post on Olive Garden in January, inspired by an article by Wall Street Journal restaurant writer Raymond Sokolov comparing Olive Garden to the great Chicago Italian restaurant Spiaggia. In passing, I noted that we had thought of eating at Spiaggia when we went to Chicago last November, or at Alinea, but the possibility vanished when we decided instead to see the Lang Lang concert at the Symphony Center on our one free night. However, I didn’t elaborate on Alinea. I return to Alinea now because I read the most fascinating review of it today.

The review is by Zeke Emanuel, brother of President Obama’s chief of staff Rahm and health policy advisor to Peter Orszag, Obama’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget. The Atlantic has just launched a new food site that features an article by Emanuel on dining in DC with the comedian Larry David. This prompted Ezra Klein, at his blog, to write about the Emanuel article and to include Emanuel’s review of Alinea. Klein gives no reference, so I don’t know where the review might first have appeared. I can only refer you back to Klein’s own post.

Or quote the review in its entirety. Let’s do that. Here are two sentences from it to whet your appetite. “Four themes emerge from the dishes. The first is that no matter how experienced a diner you are, no matter how many of the nation’s premier restaurants you have eaten at, you will taste things you never knew existed.” The review follows, below the fold.
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Categories: Restaurants