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Remembering Dean Barnett

A rare talent and a great man.

2:30 PM, Oct 28, 2008 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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I met Dean Barnett in 2006. By that time we'd been friends for almost five years.

I first encountered Dean a few weeks after we'd launched in the fall of 2001. I was editing the website back then and all emails to the editor were routed through me. Dean sent an email about some piece we had run. It was funny and thoughtful. I can't be certain, but it may have involved a reference to Randy "Macho Man" Savage, the great professional wrestler from the 1980s. In any event, I sent him a note back. One thing led to another and we became regular correspondents.

Every few days Dean and I would exchange emails, usually about articles on the website. His emails--breezy, fluid, and enormously entertaining--were as good as the essays we were running on The Daily Standard. I didn't know exactly what Dean did for a living, but I got the sense that he was drawn to the writing life. In the course of one of our exchanges I told him that he was spinning real gold and ought to consider starting a blog.

We kept in regular touch, our email friendship expanding from trying to entertain one another with cleverness to talking about sports and our personal lives. I learned that Dean was married and semi-retired; that he had CF; and that he was a tortured Red Sox fan. (In 2004, after the Yankees won Game 3 of the ALCS, Dean promised me that the Red Sox were about to make history and win four straight elimination games. Boston, he said, was a "buzz-saw." I thought at the time that his fanhood had driven him starkers.)

But we didn't talk again about the idea of getting him blogging until after I started reading SoxBlog. SoxBlog was a little blog about sports, politics, and various Bostonania written by James Frederick Dwight. I forget how I had stumbled across it, but Dwight's voice and SoxBlog's format struck me as exactly what Dean should be doing. Which is what I told him the next time we talked.

The great joke, of course, is that "James Frederick Dwight" was Dean. He had gone ahead and started SoxBlog, but never bothered to tell me. And I had been reading and admiring his work without either of us knowing it.

Shortly after the true identity of SoxBlog was revealed to me, I began scheming to get Dean to write for The Daily Standard. It turned out that he wasn't a hard sell: All I had to do was promise that if he wrote enough pieces, he might get his own caricature (drawn by the great Thomas Fluharty) for use on the website. His first published piece, about Markos Moulitsas and Daily Kos, ran on February 2, 2005. The rest is history: Dean became a regular at The Daily Standard; he left SoxBlog to blog for Hugh Hewitt and; and then, finally, he joined THE WEEKLY STANDARD full time in 2007.

Dean had many virtues, both as a writer and a man, but the one I admired most was his sense of charity. Dean was inclined to think the best of people, even people with whom he disagreed or, in the extremely rare case, didn't much like. This fundamental decency under girded both his intellectual worldview and his writing.

Charity is rare. Particularly in writing, where it is so terribly easy to assume the worst or to be unkind. His charitableness is what first attracted me to Dean. It's what marked him as a rare talent and, more importantly, as a great man.

Jonathan V. Last is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.