Category Archives: William Kristol

Plato on Sophistry

From the Meno:

How could that a mender of old shoes, or patcher up of clothes, who made the shoes or clothes worse than he received them, could not have remained thirty days undetected, and would very soon have starved; whereas during more than forty years, Protagoras was corrupting all Hellas, and sending his disciples from him worse than he received them, and he was never found out. For, if I am not mistaken,-he was about seventy years old at his death, forty of which were spent in the practice of his profession; and during all that time he had a good reputation, which to this day he retains: and not only Protagoras, but many others are well spoken of; some who lived before him, and others who are still living. Now, when you say that they deceived and corrupted the youth, are they to be supposed to have corrupted them consciously or unconsciously? Can those who were deemed by many to be the wisest men of Hellas have been out of their minds?

Made me think of Bill Kristol et alia.

A last column

A puzzling reflection from William Kristol's last column in the New York Times:

We don’t really know how Barack Obama will govern. What we have so far, mainly, is an Inaugural Address, and it suggests that he may have learned more from Reagan than he has sometimes let on. Obama’s speech was unabashedly pro-American and implicitly conservative.

"Unabashedly pro-American"–that's deep thinking.  "Implicitly conservative," well, that's obviously just wrong.  I wonder who they'll hire to replace him.  Perhaps Ben Stein.


Much like everyone else, terrorists aim to achieve an objective.  They are not extra-rational, off-the-charts insane, quite often the contrary.  They are capable of some rather cold calculation.  The colder the better (for them).  The immediate objective of most terrorist acts is to bring violence upon people.  Who the people are doesn't necessarily matter.  But the second objective of the terrorist is that the response to their terrorism further their cause.  So if terrorists from region x or ethnicity y or religion z kill a bunch of people of a different region, ethnicity, or religion, they want as their second objective indiscriminate violence to be brought upon them and their non-terrorist fellows.  That violence will create more sympathy for their cause, more terrorists, and so forth.  Why?  Because that violence (1) legitimizes their cause; (2) treats them as combatants, in a war, which is what they want.  Someone explain this to that maniac Bill Kristol, who just does not get it.  He writes:

Consider first an op-ed article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times by Martha Nussbaum, a well-known professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago. The article was headlined “Terrorism in India has many faces.” But one face that Nussbaum fails to mention specifically is that of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamic terror group originating in Pakistan that seems to have been centrally involved in the attack on Mumbai.

This is because Nussbaum’s main concern is not explaining or curbing Islamic terror. Rather, she writes that “if, as now seems likely, last week’s terrible events in Mumbai were the work of Islamic terrorists, that’s more bad news for India’s minority Muslim population.” She deplores past acts of Hindu terror against India’s Muslims. She worries about Muslim youths being rounded up on suspicion of terrorism with little or no evidence. And she notes that this is “an analogue to the current ugly phenomenon of racial profiling in the United States.”

Quite the contrary.  Nussbaum's goal, unlike Kristol's, is not to create more terrorists by treating every muslim as complicit in the actions a few.  Kristol's bloodthirsty cluelessness is in even greater evidence in the following passage:

Jim Leach is also a professor, at Princeton, but he’s better known as a former moderate Republican congressman from Iowa who supported Barack Obama this year. His contribution over the weekend was to point out on that “the Mumbai catastrophe underscores the importance of vocabulary.” This wouldn’t have been my first thought. But Leach believes it’s very important that we consider the Mumbai attack not as an act of “war” but as an act of “barbarism.”

Why? “The former implies a cause: a national or tribal or ethnic rationale that infuses a sacrificial action with some group’s view of heroism; the latter is an assault on civilized values, everyone’s. … To the degree barbarism is a part of the human condition, Mumbai must be understood not just as an act related to a particular group but as an outbreak of pent-up irrationality that can occur anywhere, anytime. … It may be true that the perpetrators viewed themselves as somehow justified in attacking Indians and visiting foreigners, particularly perhaps Americans, British and Israeli nationals. But a response that is the least nationalistic is likely to be the most effective.”

If, as Leach says, “it may be true” the perpetrators viewed themselves as justified in their attacks, doesn’t this mean that they did in fact have a “rationale” that “infused” their action?

Leach's point is that these terrorists should not be characterized as legitimate political agents involved in a war with the West of us.  Of course they have a rationale, and a purpose, but it's one that ought not to be entertained by granting them privilege of our bombs.

Speak directly to the folks

Bill Kristol barely makes sense even when he's shilling for his candidate:

As for the campaign, Palin made clear — without being willing to flat out say so — that she regretted allowing herself to be overly handled and constrained after the Republican convention. She described the debate on Thursday night as “liberating,” and she emphasized how much she now looked forward to being out there, “getting to speak directly to the folks.”

Since she seemed to have enjoyed the debate, I asked her whether she’d like to take this opportunity to challenge Joe Biden to another one.

There was a pause, and I thought I heard some staff murmuring in the background (we were on speaker phones). She passed on the notion of a challenge. But she did say she was more than willing to accept an invitation to debate with Biden again, and even expressed a preference for a town hall meeting-type format.

In addition to the very perplexing murmuring, is the idea that somehow a debate is an opportunity to speak directly to the folks.  It isn't–you're supposed to engage with the other candidate.  That's the point.  It's clear that she doesn't get it and Kristol doesn't even care.


Stay classy, Bill Kristol

William Kristol has a strategy for raising the level our national discourse as the election draws near:

That debate is important. McCain took a risk in choosing Palin. If she does poorly, it will reflect badly on his judgment. If she does well, it will be a shot in the arm for his campaign.

In the debate, Palin has to dispatch quickly any queries about herself, and confidently assert that of course she’s qualified to be vice president. She should spend her time making the case for McCain and, more important, the case against Obama. As one shrewd McCain supporter told me, “Every minute she spends not telling the American people something that makes them less well disposed to Obama is a minute wasted.”

The core case against Obama is pretty simple: he’s too liberal. A few months ago I asked one of McCain’s aides what aspect of Obama’s liberalism they thought they could most effectively exploit. He looked at me as if I were a simpleton, and patiently explained that talking about “conservatism” and “liberalism” was so old-fashioned.

Maybe. But the fact is the only Democrats to win the presidency in the past 40 years — Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — distanced themselves from liberal orthodoxy. Obama is, by contrast, a garden-variety liberal. He also has radical associates in his past.

The most famous of these is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and I wonder if Obama may have inadvertently set the stage for the McCain team to reintroduce him to the American public. On Saturday, Obama criticized McCain for never using in the debate Friday night the words “middle class.” The Obama campaign even released an advertisement trumpeting McCain’s omission.

The McCain campaign might consider responding by calling attention to Chapter 14 of Obama’s eloquent memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” There Obama quotes from the brochure of Reverend Wright’s church — a passage entitled “A Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.”

So when Biden goes on about the middle class on Thursday, Palin might ask Biden when Obama flip-flopped on Middleclassness.

The answer, so it seems, is for McCain and Palin to turn the campaign away from issues that matter towards petty, false and irrelevant matters of "character."  It's one thing third-tier minds such as Kristol says these kinds of things themselves, it's quite another when they advocate others think and act as they do.  The one is just embarrassing, the other is criminal.

Hope weaver

One definitive feature of the op-ed page is that you can say anything that might possibly remotely have a possibility of being someone's actual view–not that it has to be true, someone just has to believe that it could be.  This, I think, is the only way one might explain Bill Kristol's latest piece.  He writes:

Meanwhile, the Republican Party — which had nominated a Bush for president or vice president in six of the last seven elections — chose as its nominee a troublemaker who was George W. Bush’s main challenger in 2000 and his sharp critic for much of his administration. John McCain wasn’t on particularly good terms with either the G.O.P. establishment or the leaders of the conservative movement — yet he won. He then put on a Republican convention that barely acknowledged the existence of the current Republican administration.

And he chose as his running mate Sarah Palin, one of the least-known outsiders to be picked in modern times, and the first woman on a Republican ticket.

This in turn sent other establishments into a frenzy.

The media establishment was horrified. Its members expressed their disapproval. Palin became more popular. They got even more frustrated. And so we had the spectacle last week of ABC’s Charlie Gibson, one of the most civil of the media bigwigs, unable to help himself from condescending to Palin as if he were a senior professor forced to waste time administering a Ph.D. exam to a particularly unpromising graduate student.

The campaign narrative that McCain–who voted with Bush 90 percent of the time and who vows to continue most if not all of Bush's disastrous policies–is a "troublemaker" is astoundingly false.  Aside from the depressingly true remark at the end of the quoted passage, Palin also represents in every respect the hard right wing of the party–and she too embraces the glorious policies of that consummate outsider, the rebel from Texas, George W. Bush, current President of the United States.

Argumentum ad dictum

I can think of the Latin for "bumper sticker" (argumentum ad scriptum bigae in posteriore?).  But Bill Kristol gives us another example in today's Times (see here for another):

But the next morning, as I drove around the Washington suburbs, I saw not one but two cars — rather nice cars, as it happens — festooned with the Obama campaign bumper sticker “got hope?” And I relapsed into moroseness.

Got hope? Are my own neighbors’ lives so bleak that they place their hopes in Barack Obama? Are they impressed by the cleverness of a political slogan that plays off a rather cheesy (sorry!) campaign to get people to drink milk?

And what is it the bumper-sticker affixers are trying to say? Do they really believe their fellow citizens who happen to prefer McCain are hopeless? After all, just because you haven’t swooned like Herr Spörl doesn’t mean you don’t hope for a better world. Don’t McCain backers also have hope — for an America that wins its wars, protects its unborn children and allows its citizens to keep more of their hard-earned income?

But what if all those “got hope?” bumper stickers spur a backlash? It might occur to undecided or swing voters that talk of hope is not a substantive plan. They might be further put off by the haughtiness of Obama’s claim to the mantle of hope. This hope restored my spirits.

Before they fell again. Later that day, I read a report of a fund-raising letter from Obama on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, arguing that “We must have a deadlock-proof Democratic majority.”

Someone once claimed that all arguments are "ad hominem."  By this he obviously didn't mean that all arguments commit the fallacy of the same name, but he meant rather that all arguments are directed at some particular person's beliefs.  Regardless, the same principles of charity would apply.

Now this isn't the worst of Kristol's argument, as it is merely a set-up for an even sillier claim [continuing directly]:


But then it occurred to me that one man’s “deadlock-proof” Democratic majority is another’s unchecked Democratic majority. Given the unpopularity of the current Democratic Congress, given Americans’ tendency to prefer divided government, given the voters’ repudiations of the Republicans in 2006 and of the Democrats in 1994 — isn’t the prospect of across-the-board, one-party Democratic governance more likely to move votes to McCain than to Obama?

These are all certainly reasons related in the right kind of way to the conclusion (they won't elect Obama), but Kristol is guilty of two big mistakes.  The first is a priorism–while the evidence he mentions relates to the conclusion (even though the claim about the dissatisfaction with the "democratic" congress is misleading), the availability of empirical data makes such recourse to a priori notions unnecessary.  One can, in other words, track poll data now–poll data which paints a rather different picture (so he at least ought to argue against that).  Second, the repudiation of majorities 12 years a part does not demonstrate much (it's only two instances) about American distrust of one-party rule–besides, in neither of those years were their Presidential elections.

**update: here's someone's suggestion for bumper sticker: adfixum in obice.

I’m also a client

Success is hard to measure.  It's especially hard to measure when the standard moves.  So Iraq.  This, unfortunately, is how success is now described:

Gen. David Petraeus testified Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He noted that the number of security incidents in Iraq in the past week had fallen to the lowest level in over four years. And he held out the prospect, despite “tough fights and hard work” that lie ahead, of “an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis.”

They said there would be flowers.  Now we'll have to make due with the "prospect" of an Iraq something like the one we found when we got there. 

Of course, lest we forget, Iraq is not only an ally in the war on terror, it's also a client–I mean, it's also the central front.

Movement of the People

Here are more things that don't really go together:

I might add that both Democratic campaigns missed an opportunity last week. They seem not to have noticed that the date of the first Seder, April 19, was also the 233rd anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. So, a few days before Pennsylvanians vote, the candidates could have commemorated not just the Exodus from Egypt but also “the shot heard round the world,” thus identifying themselves all at once with political liberation, religious freedom and — yes! — the right to bear arms.

The story of Exodus involves, at the very least, a movement of a large mass of people from one place to another, better one.  The story might fit the Pilgrims, what with their desire to live religiously pure lives in someone else's country, but that didn't have a whole lot to do with religious freedom–or at least the freedom of religions other than their own.

Crystal balls

Like his colleague David Brooks at the New York Times, William Kristol has been pretty much wrong about everything in the past several years (and probably before).  But wrongness, when it happens, just doesn’t happen.  There’s always a reason for it.  So I believe now, at least.

I’m not going to explain the wrongness of William Kristol–he’s wedded to an incoherent ideology, for instance.  I don’t know if that’s true, and besides I don’t have access to Kristol’s mental states.  So if  you read this and you’re a conservative, notice that I haven’t said "conservatives are wrong in their core beliefs."  Wrongness always happens in the particulars. 

I’m interested in the wrongness of his reasons.  To that end, let’s take a look at one or two.  In today’s column, he opposes the following claims:

But it’s one thing for a German thinker to assert that “religion is
the sigh of the oppressed creature.” It’s another thing for an American
presidential candidate to claim that we “cling to … religion” out of
economic frustration.

And it’s a particularly odd claim for
Barack Obama to make. After all, in his speech at the 2004 Democratic
convention, he emphasized with pride that blue-state Americans, too,
“worship an awesome God.”

That’s obviously not a contradiction or some kind of less rigorous "tension" or "inconsistency."  As explanations go, Obama’s seems fairly innocuous.  He’s clearly talking about a certain motivation for religion as distinct from say, God, the object of those religions.  Attacking this weak version of Obama’s remarks is what you might call a "straw man."
A little charity on Kristol’s part would help him see this.  But I ask perhaps too much.

Here’s another:

Then there’s what Obama calls “anti-immigrant sentiment.” Has Obama
done anything to address it? It was John McCain, not Obama, who took
political risks to try to resolve the issue of illegal immigration by
putting his weight behind an attempt at immigration reform.

Furthermore, some concerns about unchecked and unmonitored illegal
are surely legitimate. Obama voted in 2006 (to take just
one example) for the Secure Fence Act, which was intended to control
the Mexican border through various means, including hundreds of miles
of border fence. Was Obama then just accommodating bigotry?

Anyone ought to be able to see the difference between criticizing "anti-immigrant sentiment" (which applies to both legal and  immigrants) fomented by Kristol’s partners on the right and supporting "unchecked and unmonitored illegal immigration."   Being against the latter, of course, doesn’t make you for the former.  This amounts to, I think, a kind of red herring.  Concern about "Illegal immigration" bears only a slight resemblance to "anti-immigrant sentiment" of the "bigotry" variety.