LA Mag parses Mickey Kaus

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The Mickey Kaus cachet, writes R.J. Smith in the August issue of Los Angeles magazine:

...comes from being a liberal willing to attack liberals...He's an elite journalist speaking to the media elite, while appropriating the populist tone of the Web's wide-open spaces. He's hardly the most famous journalist in town, but he might be the best at getting under people's skin. And he's definitely the snarkiest."

Smith writes that "Kaus's reputation rests on skewering received wisdom and those who receive it." He recounts Kaus' roots -- Beverly Hills upbringing, Harvard and Harvard Law, son of state supreme court justice Otto Kaus, writer for the contrarian Washington Monthly -- to explain the Kausfiles penchant for almost exclusively chiding Democrats and liberals: he's tweaking his friends, neighbors and family. Kaus says it's not that he likes the conservatives who run things now, it's just they are outside his universe.

"I admit it. I like attacking Democracts more than I like attacking Republicans...Nobody needs yet another person saying 'President Bush's tax cut is irresponsible.' It is irresponsible, and yet [Mickey ponders what to say] ... It's so indefensible not even I defend it!

"If I thought the Republicans could be reformed into being a vehicle for a decent national health care system, I would concentrate my fire on the Republicans. But they are sort of hopeless, so you try to perfect the party you think has a chance of accomplishing what you want."

Weighing in from the left, Robert Scheer sees a less benign effect and suggests in the piece that Kaus should fess up and join the other side. Smith implies that Kaus, as a blogger for Slate with a daily audience in the tens of thousands and a deal that provides his posts not be edited, largely escapes criticism:

You'd have to be thick-skinned or foolhardy to take Kaus on.

But Slate editor Jacob Weisberg and a friend give Kaus props:

"He has a ruthless intellectual honesty." (Weisberg)
"He's annoyingly smart, and he's not obnoxious." (friend)

Smith points out, finally, that Kaus' 1992 book The End of Equality influenced national welfare reform, and as a writer for Washington Monthly and The New Republic his credentials are more mainstream than outsider.

Kaus hanging with the bloggers is a little like Eddie Vedder moving to Williamsburg and joining an underground punk band. But he hasn't changed who he is so much as he's changed how he packages his discontent.

Smith, a senior editor of the magazine, writes the Media column and had previously written a piece on California columnist Jill Stewart, a buddy of Kaus's who he put forth on Kausfiles as a candidate for governor in the Gray Davis recall. The story on Kaus is available on newstands but not yet online at Los Angeles magazine.

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