Over the last few weeks conservatives have been taking it out on David Brooks, the quota conservative columnist at The New York Times.
But this is missing the point. David Brooks is a conservative writing for The new York Times. He's not going to talk to NYT readers the same way he would talk to conservatives.
When you have a gig like Brooks', as the sole conservative in a liberal paper, you have a choice. You can be like Al Hunt, who used to be the sole liberal writing op-eds at The Wall Street Journal. Al used to give Journal readers, week after week, the liberal line. It was useful, because it's helpful to get the liberal line laid out in a 800 word op-ed. But it didn't persuade.
Another approach is the line of Thomas Frank, the current sole liberal op-ed columnist at the Journal. Frank is the author of Whatever Happened to Kansas? in which he wonders why the working stiffs of Kansas are all voting for conservatives against their economic interest. Thomas has chosen to poke Journal readers in the eye. Almost all of his columns are insulting to conservatives, like this one.
But David Brooks has chosen a different approach to NYT readers, so much so that he infuriates conservatives who find that their liberal friends are sending them his columns in the spirit of: See? Here's what a reasonable conservative thinks! Why can't you all be like Brooks?
But I think Brooks is playing a deeper game. He wants to persuade the NYT readers that conservatives really aren't so bad after all. So he writes sympathetically. Do NYT readers sneer at the Tea Party movement? Brooks compares the movement to a movement that his readers know and love, the left-wing movements of the 1960s. Then there's his "educated class" article where he gently informed his educated class readers that they were sitting on top of a land-mine, that average Americans didn't like their rational, technocratic government, and didn't think it represented their interest.
Here's the point. Brooks may actually persuade some of his readers that they have a problem. Isn't that more effective that just parroting the party line or sticking people in the eye?