10 March 2008

Kristolize That Thought

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

I love writing – and one reason is for the challenge of engaging with an issue without necessarily disclosing my own beliefs too much. (Although I often do). The semi-cryptic, wholly clear but hard to interpret, quickly dashed-off lines often feel the best in the process of writing; whether they have a healthy life beyond that is more difficult to determine.

This is all very much on my mind after reading William Kristol’s rather amusing column in today’s New York Times, “McCain’s Daunting Task,” about the opportunities that await their pursuit by Senator John McCain in his campaign for the presidency. Kristol’s piece contains lines such as:

“George Bush [approval rating] looks likely to remain stuck in the 30s. Factor in the prospect of a recession (the bad housing and job market reports at the end of last week were politically chilling) and the fact that a large majority already thinks the country’s going in the wrong direction.”

Hmmm. In framing the observation as he has, it seems like Kristol is implicitly disagreeing: quietly asserting that, in fact, the country is not going in the wrong direction. And yet...

“If any Republican can defend conservative principles and policies, at once acknowledging Bush’s failures while pivoting to present his own biography and agenda to the voters, McCain can.”

Wait – Bush has had failures? Now I’m confused! I would really like to see Kristol articulate these failures publicly, in the Times or elsewhere, in a clear and open fashion. The last time I checked, the GOP (Kristol included) seemed hell-bent on denying there were any problems with the Bush administration, and generally seemed most anxious to sweep it all quietly under the rug. The crumbs of history.

However, if Kristol’s opinion about the capability deficient Bush administration is hard to put one’s finger on, it only gets murkier with this doozy:

“He [McCain] could persuade the most impressive conservative in American public life, Clarence Thomas, to join the ticket.”

Well I’ll be! Justice Clarence Thomas is the most impressive conservative in American public life the way that Chauncey Gardiner was an important businessman and political analyst. Thomas, it should be noted, says almost nothing from the bench. He asks few questions of those before the Court. He authors few opinions of his own, concurring or otherwise.

But the value of this whole column suddenly becomes quite clear: Kristol is giving us important insight into the state of the GOP these days. For apparently, in Kristol’s mind, the definition of an impressive conservative is one who says little, asks few questions, and – when push comes to shove – does even less.


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