Tag Archives: Bill Kristol

Desperate but not Serious

In sauce that’s good for the goose is good for the gander news, Bill Kristol’s editorial at The Weekly Standard,Critical but not Serious” reads like a list of great moments of schadenfreude for the Left.  He identifies the problem for the Democrats:

The left isn’t serious. It’s in meltdownbut as resistant as ever to serious reflection on why. It’s been in the driver’s seat for so long, culturally and institutionally, and it so enjoyed its eight years of control of the White House that it can’t now come to serious grips with its critical situation. After all, if you’ve got a lot of faith in History, and if the arc of History now bends toward Trump—what’s a progressive to do?

OK, so the Left isn’t serious, and the Democratic Party has a huge political challenge ahead of it, and they’ve only got their intransigence to rely on.  That, surely, gives Kristol the deep tingly schadenfreudens!  OK, so how does it look for thoughtful and serious Republicans?

For those committed to constitutional government as opposed to administrative control, to self-government as opposed to the nanny state, to free markets as opposed to centralized power, and to strength and leadership abroad as opposed to weakness and retreat, the Republican party has been the organization (more or less) seriously advancing these principles.

Is it still? It’s true that Donald Trump, no adherent to traditional Republicanism, managed to effect a hostile takeover of the party at the presidential level in 2016. President Trump is a problem for Republicans seeking to be serious; a problem sufficient, perhaps, to prevent much that is serious from being achieved in the next four years.

Oh, that sounds bad, too.  If only Republicans had control of, say, one or two houses of government.  Then they could, you know, move forward with their thoughtful legislative agenda.  Or exercise some control over the overrreach of a President they don’t agree with.  That would take, you know, a serious person.  But, as Kristol sees it, that’s politically impossible.

The spirit of our age is hostile to serious men. That spirit is a strange combination of cynicism and hysteria, of irony and bombast. It would be soberly inspiring if some in the Republican party would stand up against that spirit and show themselves to be the hommes sérieux of our time.

Yes, but, you see, the fact that one must make such a rallying cry is evidence that no such people have (or are likely to) show themselves.  But if it’s not the case, one can always just say it’s “the spirit of our age” that prevented such people from coming forward.

Notice the double standard of the situation here.  And notice that the Democrats have plenty of people who’ve come out to criticize and resist the Trump agenda on the basis of their conscience.  That’s not serious by Kristol’s lights (for whatever reason); however, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have positions of leading Congress, and they seem too afraid of the President to do anything.  Kristol’s view is: The Zeitgeist Diddit. 

Play their game

Fig. 1: Scientist

From Eric Alterman at the Nation:

A week before his 2009 inauguration, President-elect Barack Obama chose as his first high-profile social engagement a dinner party at George Will’s house, where he was joined by William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks. Obama no doubt intended to demonstrate his desire to reach across the ideological divide and engage his neoconservative critics in a healthy debate. Conservatives saw a president they could roll.

I remember that meeting distinctly.  A few paragraphs later:

The primary difference between liberalism and conservatism, at least in theory, is that the latter is an ideology and the former isn’t. Conservatism, as Milton Friedman argued, posits that “freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself.” Liberalism, however, as Lionel Trilling observed, “is a large tendency rather than a concise body of doctrine.” And while John Kenneth Galbraith helpfully pointed out that only those programs and policies that honor “the emancipation of belief” are worthy of the term, liberalism, at bottom, is pragmatism. Conservatives desire low taxes and small government because this is how they define freedom. They like to pretend that liberals prefer the opposite in both cases, but the truth is that liberals are OK with whatever works.

Though I’m not a fan of these dinner-party distinctions between liberals and conservatives, my own contribution would be this: the conservatives here described (the ones who met Obama in 2008) engage in a type of discourse liberals do not engage in.  I used to think that liberals should learn how to play their game.  Now I’m not so sure.

 

Anyway, just for fun, here’s Alterman’s reductio of George Will:

Will, undoubtedly America’s most prominent conservative intellectual, thinks that rape victims enjoy their “privileges,” that Ebola can be spread through the air, and that global warming is a hoax. Faced with the fact that 97 percent of climatologists have formed a scientific consensus about man-made climate change, he responded, “Where did that figure come from? They pluck these things from the ether”—as if his own purposeful ignorance were a counter to empirical data.

Like I say, I’m not so sure one should learn how to play that game.

Strategery

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 Politico.com 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.

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]:

Yikes.

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.