In the Arena


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Bill Kristol has, for the past twenty years, played neoconservative wise man with gradually diminishing effect. His major claim to fame was coming up with the recalcitrant strategy–vote no!–that turned Republicans like Bob Dole away from reforming health care in 1994. This was considered brilliant at the time. Ever since, he has been known for 3 things:

–a continuing reputation for strategic brilliance, resting on the same old, same old strategy…Just vote no. This has riddled and rendered silly the vast bulk of his columns in recent years.

–a non-stop bellicose neoconservatism when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, a need to locate mortal enemies anywhere he can. Absurdly, in the 1990s, with regard to China. Lethally, in the 2000s, with regard to Iraq and then (and now) Iran.

–introducing Sarah Palin to a waiting world, touting and defending her (even now).

So it’s no surprise that Kristol has added his name to the hilarious tendency on the right to predict THE UTTER FAILURE AND COMPLETE COLLAPSE OF THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION. And he has now cited me as evidence that such is the case. He quotes me–accurately, (an infrequent event at the Weekly Standard)–as saying that Obama may be blowing a real chance for reform. Well, yes. I wrote that last week. I questioned Obama’s domestic policy tactics. Still do. But I find the President’s economic and social policies a vast relief after the quantum-ignorance of the Bush Administration…and I still think we have a very good chance of passing a significant and much-needed health care reform this year.

Kristol goes on to cite various polls in which Americans declare themselves conservatives. True enough, until you ask them about specific policies–stimulus, health care reform, no war with Iran, etc etc. Then they’re liberals. And he arrives at this absolutely fantastic conclusion about me, Paul Krugman and David Brooks:

Why such long faces? Because they realize that, despite the financial meltdown on the Bush administration’s watch and the errors of omission and commission by the GOP over the last decade, the American public hasn’t fundamentally rethought their turn in 1980 away from big government liberalism.

This is, of course, lazy hackery. And wishful thinking. The fact is, we may be at a hinge of history, a natural correction after the conservatism of the past 30 years. We are certainly in the midst of a  turn toward moderation after the radical right-wing excesses of the Bush Jr. years. But we can’t possibly know the whole story yet. A lot will depend on Obama’s success or failure–and it is way too early to predict that as well. Actually, with some exceptions, I think Obama is off to a pretty good start–and a very good start overseas. Since the President is not an ideologue, he will want to make adjustments along the way. (Additional help to state and local governments will be necessary next year–some will call this a second stimulus package.)

But the hyperbolic squirming on the right remains a vastly entertaining show…and a reminder of what we’re well rid of.