When Columnists Notice Each Other | Bleader

When Columnists Notice Each Other

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Eric Zorn and Dennis Byrne go at it on Wednesday's Tribune op-ed page on the subject of the pay freeze for federal workers that President Obama just ordered. Byrne is all for it and Zorn has issues. There's no meeting of minds; Zorn goes so far as to tell Byrne at the end, "I will not agree to disagree on this." But then Zorn says to Byrne, let's do it again next year.

Why? There are few rewards in the columnist game but here are two: the response from the doting reader who shrieks that someone finally said what had to be said, which is nice to hear even when this reader doesn't seem to have understood what you actually said and there are hints of pathology; and the knowledge that someone somewhere is clipping your column and posting it on the refrigerator next to the pictures of last year's vacation.

But no one posts a newspaper feature of two people arguing with each other, or even reads it aloud at the breakfast table.

I have my favorite columnists. Many write for the New York Times. For instance, the conservative David Brooks I often really like. The liberal Paul Krugman I often really like. Each understands that what is so wonderful about their craft is that the writer not only gets to choose his thesis but calibrate it precisely so that all his evidence lines up and any contrary argument is outside the scope of the discussion.

When I read my favorite columnists I always agree with them. Occasionally I wonder why I do, when it's so obvious that they couldn't possibly agree with each other. But their columns aren't simply ships passing in the night; they're sailing through alternate realities.

That's why it's puzzling that Zorn and Byrne would acknowledge each other's existence the way they occasionally do. Solipsism might be treatable, but how often do solipsists want to treat it?

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