Bill Kristol's Guide to Falling Upward
This morning I received word that William Kristol will be awarded a Bradley Prize of $250,000 from the the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. "The Bradley Foundation selected William Kristol for his outstanding achievements in a wide range of activities affecting the development of public policy from national and international perspectives," said Michael Grebe, the foundation's president and chief executive officer, in a statement. "He is a widely respected conservative leader."
I got to thinking. I mean I am technically a professor of English, and I even have the honour of having been appointed to be on the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. But I have never seen the words "outstanding achievements" used quite in the way above, save perhaps the way my 11-year-old uses the word "literally" to mean "figuratively" - as in "I literally died, when you told that story about you and mom in high school to my friends, dad." I tend to be a fuddy-duddy when it comes to the defence of accepted usage and correct grammar, but perhaps it is not too late for me to loosen up a bit.
Consider the following. By now, readers must be familiar with the litany of malfunctions that apparently occur when Kristol predicts the future. For those in need of a crash course:
• 18 September 2002, Kristol promised: a war in Iraq "could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East".
• 21 November 2002: "We can remove Saddam because that could start a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy."
• 20 February 2003: "Look, if we free the people of Iraq we will be respected in the Arab world. ... France and Germany don't have the courage to face up to the situation. That's too bad. Most of Europe is with us. And I think we will be respected around the world for helping the people of Iraq to be liberated."
• 1 March 2003: "We talk here about Shiites and Sunnis as if they've never lived together. Most Arab countries have Shiites and Sunnis, and a lot of them live perfectly well together." Also: "Very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president."
• 5 March 2003: "I think we'll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction and when we liberate the people of Iraq."
• 1 April 2003: "And on this issue of the Shia in Iraq, I think there's been a certain amount of, frankly, Terry, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular."
It would be unfair, however, to focus merely on his wrongness. Kristol has many other achievements. Among the most impressive, in my view, would be his self-conscious, indeed, almost proud revival of the politics of Joe McCarthy, a guy most of the rest of us thought had been pretty well discredited. I do not say this cavalierly. But if you can give me a better explanation for the following, I'm listening.
Back in July 2003, Kristol got mad at congressional Democrats who he thought were not being sufficiently supportive of the Iraqi invasion. He crafted a column about their dastardly deeds that read in part: "But the American people, whatever their doubts about aspects of Bush's foreign policy, know that Bush is serious about fighting terrorists and terrorist states that mean America harm. About Bush's Democratic critics, they know no such thing."
In employing that particular phraseology, Kristol was unmistakably choosing to honour and echo his father Irving Kristol's infamous defence of McCarthy's red-hunting tactics. In the journal Commentary in 1952, Kristol pere wrote: "For there is one thing that the American people know about senator McCarthy; he, like them, is unequivocally anti-communist. About the spokesman for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing."
From there Kristol went on to attack, in explicitly McCarthyite terms, what he called the "Dominique de Villepin left". Among its denizens:
Teddy Kennedy wing of the Senate Democrats, the Nancy Pelosi faction of the House Democrats, a large majority of Democratic grassroots activists, the bulk of liberal columnists, the New York Times editorial page and Hollywood. These liberals - better, leftists - hate George W Bush so much they can barely bring themselves to hope America wins the war to which, in their view, the president has illegitimately committed the nation. They hate Don Rumsfeld so much they can't bear to see his military strategy vindicated. They hate John Ashcroft so much they relish the thought of his justice department flubbing the war on terrorism. They hate conservatives with a passion that seems to burn brighter than their love of America, and so, like M de Villepin, they can barely bring themselves to call for an American victory.
If you think that columns and predictions like those, will get you a) your own magazine, b) a regular column in the Washington Post, c) a regular gig on ABC's This Week, d) a regular column in Time magazine, d) a regular gig on Fox when you lose your ABC gig, e) a column on the op-ed page of the New York Times, f) another column in the Washington Post when you lose your Times gig and g) $250,00 of Bradley cash ... well, you'd be wrong. There's actually more to it than that.
For instance, Kristol did not merely land that Times gig by being wrong about virtually everything and McCarnthyistic about those who disagreed. He did it by being wrong and McCarthyistic about the very people who were hiring him. If you read the above carefully you noticed the presence of Kristol's soon-to-be-colleagues on the paper's editorial page in his personal Hall of Hatred. But for those not paying careful attention, he was willing to spell it out.
For instance: "I think it is an open question whether the Times itself should be prosecuted for this totally gratuitous revealing of an ongoing secret classified programme that is part of the war on terror." (Fox News, 2 July 2006) And: "I think the justice department has an obligation to consider prosecution." (Fox News, 25 June 2006)
Now throw in the fact that the guy responsible for writing the treasonous editorials defended him and attacked the people who objected. "The idea that the New York Times is giving voice to a guy who is a serious, respected conservative intellectual - and somehow that's a bad thing," explained Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal at the time. "How intolerant is that?"
OK, so the Times gig did not work out. He phoned it in, screwed up on his facts a lot, fought insider battles with John McCain's staff in public and fell lustily in pundit love with the embarrassing Sarah Palin. To top things off he predicted a McCain victory, and just to the put the icing on the soufflé, he went on the Daily Show and told people not to read the New York Times.
"Through the Bradley Prizes, we recognise individuals like William Kristol who have made outstanding contributions, in hopes that others will strive for excellence in their respective fields," the press release continues.
"Outstanding", indeed. I see that at least 75 people were killed and 120 wounded in two explosions in Iraq Friday morning, in a war zone that continues to cost this country over a billion dollars a month. And what's so weird about it is that, according to Kristol: "We've [already] won the war." In the case of that statement, the Center for American Progress's Matt Duss pointed out: "I suppose if one redefines 'won' as 'completely failed to produce any of the positive effects I previously insisted would be forthcoming, but avoided the very worst imaginable outcome."
Say what you will about this Kristol fellow, in a time of economic downturn, he sure knows how to keep the lexicography business humming.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009