Monday, January 26, 2009

Kristol's Last Column

Surprise!  It sucks.

William Kristol has been a terrible op-ed columnist for several reasons.  His prognostications have been comically bad, his commentary reliably partisan and lacking in genuine analysis.  And, honestly, he just seems a little dim.

Today's valedictory -- not only for himself but, according to him, for the entire conservative movement, is more of the same.  First, he talks about all the areas in which, since 1980, the conservatives supposedly "got it right":

... about Communism and jihadism, crime and welfare, education and the family. Conservative policies have on the whole worked — insofar as any set of policies can be said to “work” in the real world. Conservatives of the Reagan-Bush-Gingrich-Bush years have a fair amount to be proud of.

Really, Bill?  You really want to claim that conservatives were right about jihadism?  You really want to tell us that their friendship -- and in particular the friendship of the Bush family -- toward the Saudi rulers didn't tacitly permit the cynical use of Wahhabism as a tool of governance, thus virtually creating Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda?  You really want to tell me that the president who ignored a brief headed "Bin laden Determined to Strike Within US" was somehow right?  Or that his policies of denying prisoners any basic human dignity has somehow helped to reduce the threat from their embittered allies?

And so far as we can tell, the nation is moving, slowly but inexorably, toward a definition of "family" so broad that Reagan wouldn't have recognized it.  Score one more for the liberals.  

As for "crime and welfare," the biggest improvements there occurred under Bill Clinton's watch.  Now, if you consider Clinton's centrism to be essentially conservative -- as some Dems do -- then you can argue that this is a point for your own side.  But if you think of Clinton as the most successful conservative on domestic issues, why didn't you support him?  Hmmn?

We will grant you Communism, and consider education an equal-opportunity disaster.

In all fairness, Kristol allows that conservatives

... also have some regrets. They’ll have time to ponder those as liberals now take their chance to govern.

Fair enough.  They have some regrets.  This might have been a good time to name them, if only in the interest of helping to rejoin a national discussion that is moving on past your tired partisanship.

And that's what Kristol can't absorb.  His whole point is to declare that Obama is a liberal, and to challenge him to be as good a liberal as FDR was.  This would be a perfectly reasonable thing to have said if an avowed liberal had actually won the election -- and several were running.  They lost, because Americans made it pretty damned clear that this wasn't a year for the conventional polarities of right and left.  Why do you think McCain called himself a "maverick" every two minutes, and kept Lieberman tethered to his waist?  And Obama made a point of being not only post-racial but post-partisan, an idealist perhaps but above all a pragmatist, committed to governing based upon facts -- precisely the opposite of Bush's discredited ideology-first approach. 

Kristol has a chance to get it.  He claims that the inaugural address "suggests that [Obama] may have learned more from Reagan than he has sometimes let on."  Well, yes -- except that he did let on about this, in an interview during the campaign and in some of his published writing.  

But what Obama admits to having learned from Reagan is the power of strong communication and new ideas.  Kristol misses the point completely when he gloats that "Obama’s speech was unabashedly pro-American and implicitly conservative," because it spoke about the Founding Fathers, the Constitution and the rule of law.  Is he truly so deluded -- so blinkered by his inherited partisanship -- that he believes these things are the exclusive province of the right?  If so, he is more than a little dim.

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