The Most Influential Liberals and Conservatives

The Daily Telegraph's rankings of the most influential figures in American politics are eccentric.

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Here is a link to the Daily Telegraph's lists of the 100 most influential liberals and the 100 most influential conservatives in American politics. As much as I'm an admirer of the Telegraph's Toby Harnden, I have to say that the rankings are most eccentric—and I'm not referring just to the one that Toby makes a point of defending (George W. Bush as only the 21st most influential conservative) or the one that hits home the most (me as the 87th most influential conservative, two places ahead of Sen. Larry Craig); there are legitimate arguments for both the Bush and Barone rankings.

But I have to note that the Telegraph leaves me behind fellow columnists Laura Ingraham (no worry: her latest book has risen to the top of the bestseller lists), Bob Tyrrell, Dick Morris, Robert Novak, Bill Kristol (don't invite Novak and Kristol to the same dinner party), William Buckley, Rich Lowry, George Will (only No. 56?), Victor Davis Hanson, Thomas Sowell, David Brooks, Tony Blankley, Charles Krauthammer, Pat Buchanan, Peggy Noonan, and Ann Coulter. Not a problem.

Did they have to run that 1970s (or early 1980s) picture of me? But I'm ahead of Henry Kissinger (No. 95). Gosh, that just seems wrong.

Anyhow, comparisons are odious. I only note that Chris Demuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, where I am now a resident scholar, ranks high on the conservative list, while Mortimer Zuckerman, the proprietor of U.S. News, where I am a senior writer, and Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News Channel, where I am a contributor, are nowhere to be found. Perhaps, reasonably, because Mort cannot be pigeonholed as a liberal (or conservative) and Rupert cannot be pigeonholed as a conservative (or liberal). But then, I shouldn't be using first names for either of these gentlemen, any more than I should for Rudy or Hillary, without referring to everybody else by first name first. You will find, on the conservative list, quite rightly though arguably not at the right ranking, Roger Ailes and Irwin Stelzer, one of whom works for and the other of whom works closely with Mr. Murdoch; but you will look in vain for Fred Drasner, who once upon a time was a partner with Mr. Zuckerman in the running of U.S. News (which the latter was very interested in) and the Washington Redskins (which the latter seems to have been totally uninterested in).

Lists are fun. But power isn't fungible. One of the lessons I have learned as a journalist is that occasionally, often when you least expect it, you can be extremely powerful by making a solid argument about an issue or a figure that is at the center of attention; but usually most of what you write makes very little difference at all—including (or especially) those pieces where you think you have had an original and extremely important insight. Life is, if not unfair, at least not predictable. I'll settle for No. 87, even if No. 89 Larry Craig's wide stance might be at risk of invading my territory. And I'll keep reading, among others, Will and Krauthammer and Brooks (now that he's no longer behind the New York Times online barrier) for their insights and original aperçus.

But please don't ask me to read the highest-ranked liberal columnist, Maureen Dowd. And I note that there are almost no other liberal columnists on the list. Where are today's equivalents of Walter Lippmann, Joseph Kraft, James Wechsler, and on and on? Give me, as I'm driving around some time between noon and 3 eastern time, Rush Limbaugh instead. Rush gives us some serious intellectual content and good dollops of humor, too.

Final note: In looking at these lists, I find that I know (in the sense of at least having something in the nature of a substantive conversation with) 86 of the 100 leading conservatives and 64 of the leading liberals. Which means that I need to (following the advice of Washington Post editorial page editor Meg Greenfield, for whom I worked from 1982 to 1989, a time when my acquaintanceship was higher among liberals than conservatives) lunch up more liberals. Anyhow, I'm still at 150 of the 200 leaders.