Reporting is good for the soul

Thursday, I had a splendid time on Capitol Hill, working to hook up with sources for the PJM article about the Grassley IG-Gate investigation. Nothing like expending a bit of shoe leather in quest of a story to restore the spirits.

So as I was having beers with interviewing my old buddies key GOP strategists Thursday evening, I got a call from Dan Riehl, who informed me that the Conor Friedersdorf front had once again erupted. Sigh.

Dan did this and also did this. Then Jimmie Bise did this and Donald Douglas did this. And Cranky Con did this and Jonathan Schwenkler did this.

All of this happened while I was trying to get someone to pick up my bar tab the big scoop at the Capitol Hill Club on IG-Gate.

Pandemic Douthatism
What’s going on here? I blame Ross Douthat. This was what was so evil about the New York Times giving an op-ed column to a 29-year-old. Suddenly, every other 29-year-old journalist on the planet is made to feel insignificant.

(By the time you’re 49, being insignificant is slightly less humiliating, but if you’re a young, single intellectual wannabe in Washington, a think-tank sinecure or a book contract is what a souped-up Mustang is to the non-intellectual young male. Without it, you just don’t rate.)

Saving the world and/or defining a “bold new conservative agenda” just seems so freaking glamorous that it sometimes seems like every former College Republican who can compose a paragraph is trying to become the next William F. Buckley. And the temptation to grandiose punditry and intellectualism seems to be irresistible to some people whenever the GOP loses an election or two.

This was why I wrote my Nov. 5 column, “You Did Not Lose,” and my Nov. 12 column, “Don’t Overthink It.” Seeking a complex, abstract, ideological explanation for a lost election is always a bad idea, especially when what you’re basically trying to explain is why a loser lost. You nominate a short, bald, grumpy septuagenarian for president and the other guys nominate the King of Cool, and complex abstractions are irrelevant.

Concept, Theory, Reality
Intellectuals, however, feel the need to give their cerebral lobes a workout. Next thing you know, the intellectuals are quoting Plato at you, as if John McCain’s shortcomings as a presidential candidate could have been overcome if only he’d spent more time contemplating The Republic.

This is why regular old-fashioned reporting is such a tonic for the soul, and why these young pundits are so morose. It is beneath the dignity of an aspiring intellectual to go out and do mere reporting. Absent any real action like that, the political intelligentsia slide off into the ethereal world of ideology, where everything is either a concept or a theory or — God help us — a trend.

There are no clear-cut victories or defeats in the War Of Ideas. And there are damned few flesh-and-blood human beings there.

Reporting news is far more a social enterprise than the solitary cogitations of the intellectuals. So, rather than get into the “substantive issues” childishness, I’m just going to relax in the afterglow of getting a good news story. Not a great story, perhaps — the Pulitzer Committee has been stubbornly ignoring me for years — but certainly a good one.

Conor Friedersdorf will have to save the world without me.

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