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17.2.03

Matthew Yglesias thinks that William Raspberry's latest column is arguing that Charles Pickering isn't a racist. But I don't quite think that's what Raspberry is saying. He claims up front that the column is inconclusive, and says he is "intrigued ... though perhaps not in the way the congressman might have hoped." The congressman in question is Pickering's son, who called Raspberry to argue his dad isn't a racist. Most of the column is reporting -- with neither comment nor clear endorsement -- Pickering Jr.'s claims.

I think this column is an example of what makes Raspberry an interesting writer. He is more than willing to think out loud, in print. Unlike most columnists (including myself) who come to you with seemingly finalized conclusions, he can brainstorm on paper. It's pseudo-bloggerish, in a way, especially since he often comes back to talk about previous columns in the context of mail he's gotten about them. So this column is just describing something he's been pondering lately, without forcing it to a premature conclusion. In a sense it's more honest than claiming false certainty on an issue. The process of writing commentary on a deadline can teach you to convince yourself of a position on an issue much faster than you would have otherwise. Slowing down keeps you from being boxed in to a hasty conclusion -- for example, I've found it more difficult to moderate my views on GM food after committing myself to an extremely pro-GM stance in a commentary a few years ago. But at the same time it's frustrating, because we look to columnists to tell us what we ought to think and thereby engage us in a strong debate.

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