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?