It's hard to see what William Kristol brings to the discussion on anything.  Today he analogizes the Republican and Democratic parties to the ruling and opposition parties in Britain, via, get this, a George Orwell essay on Kipling.  Kristol writes:

“In a gifted writer,” Orwell remarks, “this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality.” Kipling “at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like.” For, Orwell explains, “The ruling power is always faced with the question, ‘In such and such circumstances, what would you do?’, whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions.” Furthermore, “where it is a permanent and pensioned opposition, as in England, the quality of its thought deteriorates accordingly.”

If I may vulgarize the implications of Orwell’s argument a bit: substitute Republicans for Kipling and Democrats for the opposition, and you have a good synopsis of the current state of American politics.

The "vulgarization" overlooks the entirely unavoidable fact that the US government is designed with three branches.  If a party controls one of them–say, Congress–then that party isn't an opposition party.  Alright, so the premise of this piece is strained.  But what about the main point, someone may wonder.

Having controlled the executive branch for 28 of the last 40 years, Republicans tend to think of themselves as the governing party — with some of the arrogance and narrowness that implies, but also with a sense of real-world responsibility. Many Democrats, on the other hand, no long even try to imagine what action and responsibility are like. They do, however, enjoy the support of many refined people who snigger at the sometimes inept and ungraceful ways of the Republicans. (And, if I may say so, the quality of thought of the Democrats’ academic and media supporters — a permanent and, as it were, pensioned opposition — seems to me to have deteriorated as Orwell would have predicted.)

So this stuff Orwell–I can't believe he actually used Orwell–said about the opposition party was merely a means of saying the "quality of thought" of the "opposition" and its "academic and media supporters" has "deteriorated."  One would be curious to know how, in particular–or jeez even in general–the "quality of thought" of the academic and media supporters has "deteriorated."  Could Kristol at least give an example of this particular claim?

The freakish, yes freakish, thing about this article is that Kristol goes on to use this Orwellian premise to complain about the Democrats' obstruction of legislation aimed at protecting private companies from the legal consequences of their participation in   warrantless–and therefore illegal–surveillance:

But the Democratic House leadership balked — particularly at the notion of protecting from lawsuits companies that had cooperated with the government in surveillance efforts after Sept. 11. Director McConnell repeatedly explained that such private-sector cooperation is critical to antiterror efforts, in surveillance and other areas, and that it requires the assurance of immunity. “Your country is at risk if we can’t get the private sector to help us, and that is atrophying all the time,” he said. But for the House Democrats, sticking it to the phone companies — and to the Bush administration — seemed to outweigh erring on the side of safety in defending the country.

He should have worked Orwell into that paragraph.

4 thoughts on “Kristolspeak”

  1. The whole of this torturous, inelegant misappropriation of Orwell (and how deliciously ironic that the administration he praises by proxy in this article has become veritable masters of doublespeak. No forthcoming Orwellian odes in that vein from Kristol, I’d wager) is simply a vehicle for an ad hominem attack on Democrats who had the temerity to defend the Constitution in the face of The Man Who Would Be King. Kristol has penned some doozies since his Glorious War of Right began, but this thinly veiled piece of spittle really pushes the envelope. How can they really justify giving this administration parrot a full time column?

  2. This will be long. I apologize.

    Here’s few bits of Orwell that Bill must’ve overlooked:

    “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.” Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

    “While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.”

    The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

    Hmmm….Frank Luntz and Dick Cheney’s ears must be burning.

    “T[he] invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.”

    Stay the course…smoking gun becomes a mushroom cloud…death tax…Danger to Amerkuh…war on terrah…Oh, sorry, I must’ve lapsed into my morning mantras. Onward.

    “[O]ne ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

    Just…bravo. Pundits and politicians cannot and will not improve our national discourse. _We_ have to do this.

    The whole essay is here:

    It’s well worth a read.

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