Join me, dear reader, in yet another inquiry into the role in American political life of William Kristol. My goal is not merely to point out, yet again, his miserable record of prognostication relating to the invasion of Iraq. That’s now a given. And in fact, while Kristol has been spectacularly wrong, he has not been the wrongest of the top two Weekly Standard editors. That honor would have to go to executive editor Fred Barnes, who, oblivious to what almost all Americans and (finally) most pundits now know, continues to portray George W. Bush as a heroic figure and successful President.
But while Barnes is a bad joke to most, his colleague Kristol continues to add to his panoply of powerful pundit positions. Not only is he EiC of The Weekly Standard, a semi-regular columnist for the Washington Post, a Fox News analyst and a frequent face on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show; he is also a regular columnist for Time. By any measure he remains, as Bernard-Henri Lévy once deemed him, America’s “archetype of the neoconservative.” What this means in Kristol’s case is that what may look like journalism to the naked eye, and is passed along as such by his editors and producers, is really something quite different.
Make no mistake: Bill Kristol is an extremely smart fellow with good manners and a likable demeanor. Because he is so smart, it’s all but impossible to believe that he believes many of the things he says and writes. But if one looks for a consistent pattern to Kristol’s perpetual wrongness, it’s not hard to discern. For Kristol is less interested in being correct than in advancing his side’s interests. He’s not a journalist; he’s an apparatchik working undercover as a man of the press.
Back in 1993, when Kristol admitted to just being a Republican strategist, he made a name for himself by writing a strategy memo in which he altered the course of American politics by convincing Republicans not to compromise with the Clinton Administration healthcare plan but to destroy it. “Any Republican urge to negotiate a ‘least bad’ compromise with the Democrats, and thereby gain momentary public credit for helping the president ‘do something,'” he wrote, “if it can be beaten, it unravels other things. We have to beat the Clinton plan period, no ifs, ands or buts.”
Note that he ignores not only the problems of tens of millions of uninsured Americans but also the merits of the plan itself. The issue was power, pure and simple. If you’re seeking to locate the moment in which the era of right-wing Republican recalcitrance–which ended so badly for the party in the 2006 elections–was, um, crystallized, this memo gets my nomination.
OK fine, you say. He was not yet a journalist. And while his Manichean machinations on behalf of the Republican Party may strike one as morally questionable, they cannot be held against his journalism. That may be true, but I would argue that Kristol has changed hats, not stripes. How else to explain that nearly every time a major issue confronts the nation, his analysis is not merely wrong but spectacularly so, and always in the same direction, regardless of evidence or expertise. Observe: