Cheers For Bartley and Gigot

The second historic transition of 2001 is coming soon. First, adult supervision was returned to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Now after many distinguished years of service to the nation and to the cause of freedom, Robert Bartley is handing over his duties as editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page to the able Paul Gigot.

Conservatives often pay tribute to their most powerful influences in their own rather gloomy way: imagining the horror of a political landscape without them. What if we never had Ronald Reagan? What if we never had Rush Limbaugh? What if we never had Robert Bartley's Wall Street Journal pages?

Still, it's worth considering. Without Bartley and his staff, would we have achieved the Reagan tax cuts? Can you imagine the Reagan presidency, beginning with the tough Carter-inflation hangovers, without any hope of tax relief or economic recovery? Would supply-side economics have emerged as anything more than the let-them-eat-cake rationalization of rich people for letting rich people keep more of their money? Without the Wall Street Journal, such a powerful champion for capitalism and national defense and the moral standing of America in the world, would the Cold War have ended so soon?

If the Journal editorial page was important during the Reagan era, it was indispensable during the Clinton years. During this awful time it was a crucial outlet for exploring the breadths and depths of the multitudinous Clinton scandals, beginning with the Clintons' greed-is-good 1980s business dealings with the multiple-felony Whitewater family of Jim and Susan McDougal. Without Bartley's Journal, whose output filled five soft-cover volumes of Clinton-scandal material, perhaps the rest of the media would have succeeded in their attempts to blame every scandal on hateful people resenting Bill Clinton's sex appeal.

Bartley's retirement leaves some big shoes to fill, and the Journal found those big feet in their Washington bureau. For 13 years, Paul Gigot has filed his Friday "Potomac Watch" column, filled with inside reporting and insight on the nation's leading politicians. When David Gergen proved to be miscast as the right-leaning half of the political panel on Jim Lehrer's PBS NewsHour by joining the Clinton White House, Gigot was brought in and immediately brought with him some courtly conservative clout to the program.

After Gigot's appointment, his PBS partner, Mark Shields, paid him the highest compliment a hardened liberal can muster these days. "He's not a hater," Shields said, as if that would make Gigot a shocking departure from most conservatives who apparently spend their days screaming at the walls while poking pins in voodoo dolls. Such are the ways of the now-hating political left.

But Gigot's promotion has led to far worse than Shields's faint praise. On the liberal website, David Greenberg charged that Gigot was highly schizophrenic: "By day he wrote acid editorials for Bartley and columns that dismissed liberal viewpoints out of hand. By night he polished his civilized banter with Shields and Lehrer, treating his interlocutors as if they had legitimate opinions. Still today, what you think of Gigot depends on whether you watch him or read him."

Few people who read Gigot's column were buying that line. Even Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz dismissed it in a Post internet chat: "I find most of his columns to be written in the same reasonable-sounding tone that we see in his appearances on Jim Lehrer's show." Point in fact: Gigot's latest column made a sympathetic case for Al Gore to run in 2004, while Democrats pine away for a third Clinton term. He concluded that Gore "deserves better now than the scorn of allies who hung him with the Clinton ball-and-chain."

But Greenberg makes a worse fool of himself when he complains that Gigot "sprinkles his prose with mean-spirited epithets and inflammatory charges that he doesn't bother to explain." For example? "He writes off-handedly of 'Clinton-Gore lying,' 'socialist Barbara Boxer,' 'the obscure Lincoln Chafee.'" My, my. Do any of these allegedly mean-spirited phrases require any explanation? Are any of these the slightest bit inflammatory? Facts don't matter to the likes of Greenberg; if it sounds negative, it must be a "mean-spirited epithet."

Which, of course, using the word "hater" to describe a conservative is not.

With his trademark graciousness, Gigot is promising more of the same as he takes over what he calls "the best job in American journalism." He pledges to continue the Journal editorial page's long tradition of supporting "free people and free markets." If he applies the ideological insights and good political sense of his column to the wider editorial page, Robert Bartley can rest easy. And liberals like David Greenberg will continue to faint.