DOUTHAT REPLACES KRISTOL…. I don’t agree with Ross Douthat on much of anything. But if the New York Times believes it’s necessary to have another conservative columnist on its roster, Douthat strikes me as a solid choice. Here’s Marc Ambinder singing Douthat’s praises:

It’s one step back for the Atlantic, but an order of magnitude forward for the country: my colleagues and I learned today that senior editor Ross Douthat will, in short order, become an opinion columnist for the New York Times.

Ross is late-twenties-year-old public intellectual with the sensibility of a 60-year eminence grise, the range of a Hitchens, the pitch of a conservative AJP Taylor, the conscience of a Neibuhr and the intellectual honesty of his frequent sparring partner, Andrew Sullivan.

The Times‘ decision to hire Bill Kristol was a terrible mistake. I remember, at the time, editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal got very defensive about the move, saying, “The idea that The New York Times is giving voice to a guy who is a serious, respected conservative intellectual — and somehow that’s a bad thing. How intolerant is that?”

The point, of course, is that Kristol has never been a serious, respected conservative intellectual. Douthat, however, is.

If the paper is going to go with a creative, conservative thinker — someone who’ll do more than just spout RNC-crafted, neo-con approved talking points — Douthat is probably the single strongest choice the paper could have made.

He’s not my cup of tea — I haven’t quite gotten over the time he insisted that liberals support “eugenics” — but I respect Douthat as a conservative who cares about intellectual honesty.

Congrats, Ross.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.