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
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.
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
immigration 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.