By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Kristol mails it in

Bill Kristol barely rouses himself in his New York Times column today. Simply as a student of opinion journalism, I’m amazed at the extent to which he’s willing to make assertions without even trying to back them up.

Today’s effort isn’t a bad column because he’s a conservative, but because he’s so lazy. Here are three examples:

1. “McCain’s impetuous decision to return to Washington was right. The agreement announced early Sunday morning is better than Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s original proposal, and better than the deal the Democrats claimed was close on Thursday. Assuming the legislation passes soon, and assuming it reassures financial markets, McCain will be able to take some credit.”

I have not seen one account of the negotiations that shows John McCain had anything to do with the outcome; I’ve seen quite a few that suggest his parachute jump was a distraction. I make that point not to claim that I’m right, but to explain the conventional wisdom that Kristol, as McCain’s advocate, needs to puncture.

As if. Here was Kristol’s golden opportunity to work those inside connections and tell us why everyone is wrong; to say that McCain did X and Y, and that it’s time he got some credit, damn it. Kristol doesn’t even try.

2. “McCain needs to liberate his running mate from the former Bush aides brought in to handle her — aides who seem to have succeeded in importing to the Palin campaign the trademark defensive crouch of the Bush White House. McCain picked Sarah Palin in part because she’s a talented politician and communicator. He needs to free her to use her political talents and to communicate in her own voice.”

As we have all seen, Sarah Palin can’t answer simple questions about any issues of national and international importance. The reason McCain’s aides have been so parsimonious about her public appearances is that she stumbles every time she opens her mouth. We wouldn’t be talking about how she’s being handled if she could answer the questions.

Again, the columnist’s job is to tell us why everyone is wrong — to explain, on the basis of evidence, that the reason her interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric were so damaging was because McCain’s handlers have gotten inside her head and made it impossible for her natural wisdom to flow forth. Or whatever. In other words, give us some plausible explanation for us not to believe our own lying eyes and ears.

And again, Kristol doesn’t bother.

3. “On Saturday, Obama criticized McCain for never using in the debate Friday night the words ‘middle class.’ … 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 [Jeremiah] Wright’s church — a passage entitled ‘A Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.'”

Why, yes, the McCain campaign might very well consider doing that. Would it be a good idea? Who knows? Kristol doesn’t make any attempt to try to characterize what the brochure says.

Wright has indulged in some pretty nasty rhetoric. But he is, after all, a minister. If Wright calls on people to disavow “the pursuit of middleclassness,” might he be urging them to eschew materialism in favor of service to one’s fellow men and women? Who knows? What we do know is that, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, Kristol manages to insinuate that Wright was seeking a race war against bourgeois society.

How much is he getting paid for this?

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  1. mike_b1

    Another reading of Wright’s message could be his listeners should pursue excellence, and not settle for mediocrity. Nothing wrong with that, either, unless you are a five-time college dropout or the self-styled worst student in the history of the US Naval Academy. But if you come from a broken home, raised by your grandparents, moved from state to state (and even country to country), then why the hell should anyone be impressed that you graduated top of your class from the best law school in the world? Hell, that’s a negative!

  2. Tim

    For The New York Times, I think Bill Kristol is analogous the Washington Generals, the team who the Harlem Globetrotters have invariably trounced for the past 38years. Kristol has been so dependably and atrociously wrong on so many of his predictions and prognostications (The Iraq War will be a piece of cake, the economy is in swell shape, bombing Iran would be wise foreign policy, etc.) that liberals take some measure of comfort with him: if Kristol is the best The Right has to offer, theirs is a pathetic and intellectually bankrupt enterprise. On the opposite side of the political spectrum, Alan Colmes plays the same role Fox News.

  3. awk

    Every column Kristol has written for the New York Times has exhibited the same tendencies: laziness, unsubstantiated assertions, embarrassingly sophomoric writing, and rigid adherence to Republican politics. He’s not even a Conservative ideologue. His only frame of reference is that of the partisan sports fan transported into the political arena. I applaud the Times’s willingness to hire columnists opposed to their own editorial stance. But you have to wonder why they wouldn’t give the space to a real commentator, not a thinly disguised party apparatchik.

  4. Ani

    Both McCain and Kristol succeed somewhat at their own agendas whenever we pay attention to their distracting antics.

  5. O-FISH-L

    Dan, speaking of “mailing it in,” may we expect an apology or correction on your classic from last Thursday at 2:08 PM?”Maybe I’m reading to [sic] much into this. But if congressional Republicans wanted to help John McCain, wouldn’t they have slowed things down and tried to make it look like McCain’s parachute drop onto Capitol Hill was — well, if not exactly crucial, then at least helpful?””Instead, Republicans and Democrats HAVE REPORTEDLY JUST ABOUT WRAPPED UP (emphasis added) the legislation, leaving McCain looking foolish, and with nothing better to do Friday evening than to head to Mississippi for the first presidential debate.”—Some four days later and thankfully nothing is wrapped up. In fact, thanks to the congressional Republican slow down you claimed wasn’t happening, the bill in its current form is far different from the Bush-Pelosi giveaway that you had sailing through on Thursday. Who’s looking foolish again?

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: Nothing to apologize for. That’s what credible press reports were saying at the time. I am guilty of blogging.

  7. Peter Porcupine

    DK – why is any conservative labeled a party apparatchik, while a Maureen Dowd or a Frank Rich or a Nat Hentoff are praised as non-partisan paradigms of wisdom?I’m not crazy about Kristol – Krauthammer is a far better writer, IMHO – but an apparatchik? That’s just nonsense.And as far as ignoring those with other points of view as one poster suggests – well, that’s what got us into this financial fix, isn’t it?

  8. Ani

    I would distinguish between a “point of view” and a “distracting antic,” just as I would distinguish between someone pestering me (to whom I would respond) and someone stalking me (whom I would ignore).

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Dowd? Ask Clinton and Gore how much of a Democratic partisan she is. Hentoff? Pro-life, entirely unpredictable. Frank Rich? OK, one for you.I imagine the reason people refer to Kristol as an “apparatchik” is that it sounds better than “tool.”

  10. Doug Shugarts

    Will one of the illustrious ‘conservatives’ on this thread please remind us who’s in charge of the GOP?Bush? He can’t get his Wall Street rescue proposal past his own party. McCain? He is not the leader of the GOP heading into the election, and he’s not setting policy or an agenda for Republicans.There is a total leadership vacuum in the GOP, and no spent force like Kristol or Krauthammer has an idea worth discussing.These are the final days of a faux conservative movement that abandoned its principles and integrity long ago to fight a culture war that’s already lost.

  11. Peter Porcupine

    Mr. Shugarts – Personally, I am working on reviving the ghost of Sen. Goldwater.

  12. Doug Shugarts

    Ms. Porcupine:If you need a ride to the exhumation, I’ll give you the cab fare.Remember this Goldwater quote from ’92, when he spoke of the ‘new’ conservative movement (and of Jesse Helms in particular):“I don’t like being called the New Right; I’m an old, old son-of-a-bitch. I’m a conservative.”I disagree with most of Goldwater’s convictions, but I do believe that the GOP needs a strong advocate for restraint in all things.

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