Politico considers what it would take to haul CNN out of the ratings gutter — bring back “Crossfire”? Turn the network into Fox News? Bring in “big personalities”?

The first idea is a nonstarter in its traditional form: Kinsley and Bill Press would love to do it, but there’s no substitute on the Right for Pat Buchanan, now at MSNBC, or the late Robert Novak. Who would want to watch Michael Kinsley vs. Tucker Carlson? (And say that as someone who enjoyed Carlson’s short-lived MSNBC show — he just makes a better host than combatant.) But you could just about do “Crossfire” with someone like Lew Rockwell as the counterpoint to an establishment liberal like Kinsley or Press.

A “Crossfire” like that would be a means to tap into an ideological niche unfilled by Republican Fox and Democratic MSNBC — a tough-minded anti-establishment independent line. Fox and Glenn Beck in particular have a large segment of the Tea Party audience, but not all of them, nor do they have the Ron Paul voters or the old Silent Majority folks. Conservatism that isn’t neo, thoughtful libertarianism, and non-Democratic progressivism do not have a home anywhere on TV. Put Mark Ames and Ralph Nader on the air — try a “Crossfire” with anti-establishment lefties vs. establishment righties and another with establishment lefties vs. anti-establishment righties. That would be more substantive and more dangers than the nasty but vapid shoutfests that Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann conduct with their carefully scripted party-flack guests.

Inject a bit of the old Ramparts sensibility and paleolibertarian spirit into CNN and you’d have something that would turn heads. But it’s impossible: cable news executives are precisely the kind of people who don’t realize there’s an alternative to the Left-Right spectrum. Just look at the poor use to which MSNBC puts Buchanan, or Fox’s neglect of “Judge Napolitano’s FreedomWatch“.