Tag 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.

Opposition party

The other week I was going to post something about how Obama reads criticism closely and takes it seriously.  This, I think, is a praiseworthy intellectual habit.  Perhaps the following item, however, means that he is taking it too far:

Barack Obama took the next big step in his Republican charm offensive on Tuesday night, when he dined with several of the nation's most prominent conservative pundits.

The president-elect arrived at the Chevy Chase, Md., home of syndicated columnist George Will shortly after 6:30 p.m., according to a press pool report. Greeting him at the residence were other luminaries of the conservative commentariat, including the Weekly Standard's William Kristol, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post.

The odd-couple gathering led to speculation that Rush Limbaugh, who said that he was in D.C. for a "secret meeting," was also in attendance. "I'm just offering, a personal trip, nobody even has to know about this," the notorious and combative talk show host wrote on his website.

Alas, a source close to the transition confirms, Limbaugh was definitely not in attendance during the dinner affair — likely disappointing some in the conservative blogosphere, knowing full well the fury that would have caused among progressives.

Nevertheless, Obama's choice of dining partners seem likely to cause its fair share of hair-pulling and eye-rolling. As the pool reporter, Ken Bazinet of the New York Daily News, penned in his write up: "This is for real, folks. The bloggers are going to love this one."

Obama has pledged to be a uniter once in office. He's also said he is willing to take policy suggestions from any source, regardless of ideological affiliation, as long as they work. So far, he's living up to his word.

I wonder who did the cooking.

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.

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.

Nattering nabob

The death of conservative icon William F. Buckley led someone, I don't remember who, to eulogize that "he loved his own ideas more than he hated theirs."  He wasn't, in other words, one of those "liberals are fascists" or "party of death" types that dominate conservative thought these days.  I can't really say for certain whether that's true.  My suspicion, however, is that it isn't.  Helping me along with this suspicion is William Kristol.  Writing in today's New York Times, he says:

In my high school yearbook (Collegiate School, class of 1970), there’s a photo of me wearing a political button. (Everyone did in those days. I wasn’t that much dorkier than everyone else.) The button said, “Don’t let THEM immanentize the Eschaton.”

There you see an example of the influence of Bill Buckley, who died last week at age 82. For it was Buckley who had promulgated this slogan, as an amusing distillation of the thinking of the very difficult historian of political philosophy Eric Voegelin. I’d of course not read Voegelin then (there’s a lot of him I still haven’t read, to tell the truth). But the basic thought was: Don’t let ideologues try to create heaven on earth, because they’ll deprive us of freedom and make things a lot worse.

To read Buckley growing up in the 1960s was bracing. Buckley and his colleagues — some merrily, some mordantly —  mercilessly eviscerated the idiocies of the New Left. They also exposed the flaccidity of the older liberalism. If, like me, you already had a sense from listening to most of your peers and some of your elders that a lot of what they believed was silly (or worse), you couldn’t help but be attracted to Buckley.

That doesn't paint a rosy picture.  Aside from the obsession with the worst caricature of the opposition (with the ever present but equally silly idea that their idiocy guarantees the legitimacy of your view–it doesn't), Buckley's slogan has a kind of ironic ring to it.  Conservatives have now embraced those people who literally want to bring about the Eschaton.  Just ask John Hagee.

*minor edit for sense above–"loved his ideas more than he hated THEIRS"–apologies–I posted too damn early in the morning. 

**minor edit in "minor edit"–thanks Jem.