Sometimes called "the conscience of the New York Times," Bob Herbert, op-ed columnist for the Times for almost 18 years, wrote his last column today. How shattering! Losing him is at least as sad as losing Frank Rich, the Sunday columnist, who also recently stepped down. No one has written more consistently or more eloquently about the tribulations of the poor, the jobless, and the underemployed. He is irreplaceable! Oh, and by the way, he has never won the Pulitzer Prize. Please, Pulitzer Committee, next time around recognize Bob Herbert for excellence in news commentary. No one has done more to keep the focus on those who need help most and the responsibility of government to ensure a social safety net and to reverse the increasingly scandalous disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor. As he reports today in his last column, "In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation's wealth," while "the bottom 80 percent collectively held just 12.8 percent." Such an insane disparity is a symptom of a sick, maladaptive society (See Peter Corning's "The Fair Society) and must be halted through aggressive government intervention to prevent social and political catastrophe. Mr. Herbert has brought such facts to our attention repeatedly and has expressed his well founded concern that if we do not do something to alter this situation, the result could be disastrous.
Mr. Herbert offers hope and good news, though, even as he relinquishes his Times' bully pulpit. As he says, he will be writing a book and expanding his efforts "on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society." He should be applauded for these efforts and watched closely, as few pundits are better guides for what it will take in the coming months and years to restore a sense of community, mutuality, and fairness to American society.