Kristol, lite

I have to admit disappointment in the decision to “award” William Kristol column space in the Times. The Times is my one morning paper out here in Oakland, and its op-ed page is already filled with a shocking amount of rehashers and pop-psychologizers – Dowd, Herbert, Collins, Rich. Cohen is usually a weak read, too. You get real polemics and/or analysis only from Krugman and Brooks. Based on his other writing, I’d predict that Kristol will resemble nobody at the Times so much as Thomas Friedman. Both see their function as agenda-pushers, policy-salesmen. There is a distinct shoutiness to their prose styles. Both give me a headache.

This is also how Kristol has gotten himself called a “thug.” It’s a bit self-pitying to complain that Bill Kristol has gotten thuggish on you or your magazine. It’s only writing, after all. But the complaint, made most notably by Jonathan Chait, has a kernel of validity. That is, as an agenda-pusher, Kristol has an irritating tendency to aim his attacks not on the faulty ideas of his opponents, but on the weakness of their character. He aims higher than the textbook ad hominem, though. It’s not your hidden interests he wants to expose. It’s your chicken-heartedness. Like an old-school football coach, he wants to separate the team players from the shirkers, the winners-at-heart from the simpering losers. You secretly want to lose in Iraq, as he has it in the Standard ’s current leader. Or, to change the animal metaphor, you, if you won’t buck up and bomb Iran, are a weak horse.

This is, for starters, a tiresome way for such a brilliant guy to write. But there’s also something self-undermining in its unseriousness. When the New Republic experiences one of its periodic disasters of fabulosity and Kristol jumps in to peddle the kitsch that “They don’t support the troops!,” you can’t help smelling opportunism in the bathos. Bill Kristol cannot possibly think in such moldy slogans. So why does he write in them?

The result, for me anyway, is that I treat Kristol much like I treat his fellow soap-boxer, Friedman. I assume from the get-go that he’s trying to sell something, and, when he starts with the shouting, as he inevitably does, I roll my eyes.

There’s cause enough already to roll your eyes when you read the Times op-ed page.