The New York Times has announced that William Safire will step down as a regular
creep columnist for their Op Ed page. Now, I'm every bit as supportive of polite appreciation for a long career as the next guy, but what I can't stand is when that career is consistently misrepresented out of some misplaced professional courtesy.
It seems that every appreciation of Safire today calls him a "libertarian conservative." At least some do justice to that label by adding "self-described" to the front. Let me say first that, for a conservative, a libertarian is OK by me. Much more so than their paleo and neo cousins. But William Safire is about as strong a libertarian as Pat Boone is a metalhead. Here's what the Washington Post says about the foundations of his libertarianism:
Safire said the late columnist Stewart Alsop offered advice on the art of writing, including "Never sell out, except for a really good anecdote." Safire's passion on privacy and civil liberties issues stems from his discovery that Nixon had him wiretapped during his White House tenure.
I see. Questions about civil liberties, especially during the years he worked for a White House infiltrating opponents to the Vietnam War and seeking to block newspapers from printing information critical of the administration, didn't really arise until he found his own phone bugged. That's deep.
To get a better sense of how strongly he adheres to libertarian ideals, consider his spirited defense of gay marriage. Oops, perhaps not. That sounded something less than spirited. Well, certainly he is fairminded on questions of gay rights generally, right? Try again. Ok, maybe that's a bad choice. How about the rights of the accused? Thank you, come again. Now, it is true that he opposed the Patriot Act, but that only means he learned something from his Nixon days. Bottom line: If Safire's columns are what counts as a defense of liberty, then we are in serious trouble.
The Times did say that he was convinced to keep his Sunday "On Language" column, but that thing's been on autopilot for years. A Lexis-Nexis search for the Word of the Week and a few emails from tweedy, pipe-smoking former English majors, and it practically writes itself.