Monday, November 03, 2008

Election day musings

On the day of the most momentous and pivotal U.S. election in recent memory, I ponder the question undoubtedly on everyone’s mind: I wonder if Bill Kristol ever gets tired of being wrong.

There are a handful of thoughtful and intelligent conservative writers and commentators I regularly read because it makes little sense to only ever read the stuff you know you already agree with; to paraphrase Slavoj Zizek, it is far more intellectually productive for left-leaning thinkers to argue with smart conservatives than to agree with mediocre liberals.

William Kristol—NY Times columnist, founder and editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard, chairman of the Project for the New American Century, and general all-around neoconservative mouthpiece—is not one of them. I do eagerly await his Monday column, because it so frequently offers the kind of laugh that goes well with coffee in waking me up to a new week. I usually follow that up with dropping into Andrew Loman’s office to ask, “Hey, did you read Kristol this morning?” … and the hilarity continues.

Hilarity tempered with disgust and irritation, mind you, as Kristol is celebrated as a bastion of the intellectual right and has possessed in the past a very influential voice within the neoconservative movement. Except that he has effectively been wrong about everything. Not just most things: everything.

He said, for example, at the beginning of October that Obama could be beaten if the McCain campaign would “take the gloves off” and let Sarah Palin go after Obama about William Ayers. And she did … and we saw just how well that worked. Just a week later, Kristol was opining that McCain should “fire his campaign” and go back to being himself, eschewing the kind of Rovian tactics he was advocating in the previous column.

Back during the Democratic Primaries, he characterized the unguarded moment when Hilary Clinton teared up as “manipulative,” and suggested it was the reason she won New Hampshire; speaking of the constituency of women voters, he said “White women are a problem, that's, you know—we all live with that.” After McCain tapped Sarah Palin as his running mate—a choice he celebrated unequivocally—he then turned around and blasted criticism of her as “sexism.”

He has been one of the most indefatigable champions of the war in Iraq, of the Patriot Act, and of all of the mutable rationales offered for invading Iraq in the first place; he was among those predicting that it would be a cakewalk, that those calling for higher troop numbers were alarmists, that the American soldiers would be treated as liberators. His support of the Iraq war is perhaps unsurprising, considering that the Project for the New American Century (a collective including such signatories as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) was calling for the invasion of Iraq when it was first founded in 1998.

So it was with a feeling of dread that I read the first sentence of his column yesterday: “Barack Obama will probably win the 2008 presidential election.” Uh-oh. I suppose I can balance that dread with the memory of all his “advice” to McCain/Palin over the last few months, and how all that has panned out. Fortunately, in the sentences following this pronouncement, dear Bill provided me with his trademark comedy: “If he does, we conservatives will greet the news with our usual resolute stoicism or cheerful fatalism. Being conservative means never being too surprised by disappointment.”

Oh, where to even begin … “resolute stoicism”? “cheerful fatalism”? Methinks my friend Bill hasn’t been introduced to Sean Hannity and Anne Coulter—though as a regular contributor on Fox News, I don’t entirely know how he’s avoided this. He’s apparently (lucky for him) never heard Rush Limbaugh in full swing, and I guess he must have been backpacking in Nepal or something during Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings, and thus missed conservatives’ progressively more vitriolic attacks in print and on air. And he evidently hasn’t been reading the back-and-forthing on political blogs over the last few months.

And besides the glaring fact of the historic awfulness of the Bush Administration, exactly what “disappointments” have Republicans had to deal with over the last eight years? I suppose the 2006 midterms count … but other than that, a lock on two branches of government and some serious inroads into the third doesn’t seem like something to make Republicans need to blink back tears. If Obama wins tonight, I look forward to seeing just how “stoic” and “cheerful” the American Right is over the next eight years.

With the increasingly partisan temperament of U.S. politics over the last ten-fifteen years, an increasingly toxic national discourse polarizing the ends of the political spectrum and the ascendancy of Rovian campaign tactics to the national norm, there’s only one person I can point to who possesses “resolute stoicism” in the midst of the maelstrom—and he’s the guy I hope and pray to see some time late tonight passing 270 electoral votes.

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