Bad influence

Posted: Mar 25, 2005 12:00 AM

Maybe it?s time for me to stop writing a column. After all, I can?t write with the best of them.

 Who represents that unreachable ideal? Maureen Dowd.

 That?s right. Dowd ?is the most influential columnist of our time,? as Michael Kinsley claimed in the March 20 Washington Post. Luckily, Dowd also had a column that day, her usual Sunday New York Times offering. Here?s a sample of what Ms. Influential had to say:

Size matters, so some experts have suggested that in 10 million years or even much sooner -- 100,000 years -- men could disappear, taking Maxim magazine, March Madness and cold pizza in the morning with them.

 Dowd was writing about the genetic differences between men and women. Scientists have apparently proven that the Y chromosome -- the thing that makes a man a man -- is slowly disintegrating. Dowd seems overjoyed that, some day, the human male may evolve out of existence.

She?s visited this topic before. In July 2003 Dowd wrote, ?What if nature played a cruel trick and demoted men, so they had to be judged merely by their appearance, pliability and talent for gazing raptly at the opposite sex, no matter how bored?? Influential opinion, indeed.

Some might wonder what would happen if the editors of the New York Times played a cruel trick and actually judged a columnist on the quality of her ideas. For example, on Jan. 9 Dowd wrote:

The Iraqi election that was meant to be the solution to the problem -- like the installation of a new Iraqi government and the transfer of sovereignty and all the other steps that were supposed to make things better -- may actually be making things worse. The election is going to expand the control of the Shiite theocrats, even beyond what their numbers would entitle them to have, because of the way the Bush team has set it up and the danger that if you're a Sunni, the vote you cast may be your last.

Maybe Dowd?s not as influential in the Middle East as she is on the op-ed pages.

Since the Jan. 30 election, the Sunnis who boycotted the Iraqi election have begged to be allowed to have a hand in forming a new government, and the majority Shiites have agreed. Freely elected Iraqis are governing Iraq for the first time, well, ever.

Good news seems to be breaking out all over, perversely ignoring Dowd?s wisdom.
An elected Palestinian government is sitting down with an elected Israeli government to discuss their differences. Egypt?s president says he?ll willingly face a challenger in the next election. Still, Dowd still seems surprised that the ?Bushies like the results of their war,? as she wrote on March 17. Go figure.

Of course, while we?re discussing influential figures, Kinsley is no slouch himself. He?s editorial editor at the Los Angeles Times, and a regular columnist. On March 18, he lit into my employer, The Heritage Foundation, over Social Security.

In a recent paper, Heritage cited a new study proving ?stock market returns are actually higher on average in slower growing economies than they are in rapidly growing ones.? An interesting and provocative fact.

Kinsley took issue with that, sniffing that ?Heritage did not actually conduct this study.? We seem ?to have read about it in the Financial Times,? he wrote, as if that mattered. He then wondered off into academic-sounding weeds, citing figures for GDP, stock values, trillions of dollars, etc.

All of which misses the point.

Even if the economy grows quickly for years to come, which would generate more tax revenue, Social Security benefits are tied to wages. So higher salaries simply mean higher promised benefits in years to come. In other words, we can?t grow our way out of the Social Security shortfall.

Unless, that is, we allow workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in accounts they would control. This money, invested over decades, would grow in personal accounts. Instead of increasing future liabilities, PRAs would make those liabilities smaller, by creating wealth workers wouldn?t otherwise be able to earn. PRAs would work. Even for those with the lowest salaries.

A columnist?s influence ought to be measured by the quality of his ideas and by the way he expresses them. Maybe we ought to take a month and erase all the names and photos from the op-ed columns in the paper. Let readers judge which columnists are influential and which aren?t. A write-off, of sorts.

Come to think of it, that would be better than quitting the column business. Michael, Maureen -- are you game?