In an excellent profile in New York Magazine, Christopher Beam explores the relevance of David Brooks. In a time of grating partisanship and bombastic punditry, it's clear that Beam admires Brooks's softer, milquetoast demeanor. The profile spans The New York Times columnist's formative years as he vacillates from liberal college youth to moderate conservative.

As readers of The Atlantic Wire's Media Diet series know, Brooks prides himself in reading a daily digest of conservative and liberal commentary. Something that Beam says helps him stay "above the ideological fray":

All current trends in public life point away from people like him. In the media world, his brand of good-natured, low-heart-rate, quasi-academic analysis, disseminated twice a week on the New York Times’ op-ed page and in weekly appearances on PBS and NPR, has been supplanted by spluttering hyperbole IV-ed directly into America’s arteries 24 hours a day. In the Republican Party, visceral tea-party populism has overwhelmed Brooksian intellectual centrism; on the Democratic side, Brooks sees overreach. The result is political gridlock of historic dimensions. Meanwhile, a never-ending series of crises from Afghanistan to the financial collapse to the oil spill make the world seem impervious to rational solutions. If you can’t beat it, the thinking goes, yell at it.

“It’s not the best time for people like me,” says Brooks.

And yet it is. Brooks’s charming, levelheaded optimism may be out of style. But he gets to play the voice of reason against a chorus of doomsayers. His moderate conservatism—a synthesis of conservative giant Edmund Burke and Ur-centralizer Alexander Hamilton that has earned him the label of “liberals’ favorite conservative”—may be anomalous, but it allows him a kind of freedom that other, more partisan pundits lack. He’s a party of one, without followers. This is Brooks’s central paradox: He’s both the essential columnist of the moment, better than anyone at crystallizing the questions we face—ones for which there are often no good answers—and also, somehow, totally out of step.

Read the whole 5,000-word profile here.