alien & sedition.
Friday, March 02, 2007
  Bill Kristol Is Feelin' Fine

In a Time column, everyone's favorite neocon tells us why "Republicans are smiling" despite their losses last November.
[M]y fellow conservatives and Republicans are pretty upbeat. After a rough 2006, conservative magazines are seeing an uptick in subscription renewals, right-wing websites are getting more hits, and Republican and conservative groups here at Harvard (yes, Harvard!) seem invigorated.
Why all the good vibrations? Try not to act surprised when I tell you that Kristol cites his very own pet "surge" as reason one. Said surge, and the artful new arrangement of the deck chairs that accompanied it, "gave hope to those who still think success is possible in Iraq." Which includes nearly everyone at the Weekly Standard.

Reason the second: the Democratic Congress.
It's difficult to be in charge of Congress, especially when your grass roots are pushing you to do something about the war, and it's hard to do anything without seeming to undercut the troops or denying Petraeus a chance to succeed.
Indeed - if you are Bill Kristol, and you are thoroughly convinced by your own talking points, then you look right past the part where the majority of Americans want the Democrats to do something about the war, regardless of GOP nonsense about "undercutting the troops," and you can't help but smile serenely.

Of course, Kristol's real best hope is that the Democrats continue to believe what he's saying. Certainly the public will not look kindly on Democrats in 2008 if they fail to do - or even try - what they were elected to do in 2006: take the war out of the hands of failed ideologues like Kristol, and bring the troops home.

Kristol likes the look of the Republican field and thinks the Democratic field seems quite beatable. It's the kind of analysis you could get going either way, so make of it what you will. In this case, it seems to me like a fairly pedestrian exercise in partisan framing - considering the audience for which he's writing. At any rate, the most interesting reason for Republican revivification Kristol offers is number five:
Fresh ideas. I don't sense that conservatism is exhausted. There's new thinking on domestic policy that could serve as the basis of an interesting agenda for the G.O.P. nominee. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam explain in their forthcoming book on "Sam's Club Republicans" how the G.O.P. can do a better job of responding to the anxieties of working and middle-class Americans in areas like tax policy and health insurance, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center's Yuval Levin suggests a complementary policy agenda--"Putting Parents First," he calls it--aimed at those same swing voters. In foreign policy, the U.S. will still be at war in 2008--and despite Bush's travails, Republicans still seem likely to be able to claim to be the party of American strength.
Once you've stopped laughing over the part about Republicans being "the party of American strength," spare a thought for what Kristol's saying about domestic policy. I'll have a look at this "Putting Parents First" thingy, and maybe at the "Sam's Club Republicans" book as well. The point is not that Republicans can do anything signficant to help ordinary Americans - as we've seen from their record over the last six years. Conservatism seems ideologically exhausted, not re-invigorated.

But they'll be going around telling everybody that they have great ideas for taxation and health care. And it's on that storytelling front where they tend to win control of the national political narrative. Like I said, I'll check out these texts Kristol cites as examples of the great wealth of conservative ideas. If there really is anything innovative, I certainly will give them their due. But I suspect that, as with so many other conservative "ideas," what I'll find are a lot of cynical old anti-government time bombs dressed up in shiny packaging.

In one respect, however, Kristol is entirely correct: "It's worth remembering," he says, "that off-year elections often aren't predictors of the outcome of the next presidential one." 1994 told us nothing about 1996, nor did 1986 auger anything for 1988. If we think Democrats can coast to victory in 2008 based on general public disdain for Republicans alone, without any bold and well-articulated ideas, without any clear and unapologetic attempt to end the deeply unpopular war in Iraq, without actually doing anything in the next two years - then we're in for a nasty surprise.

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Critical analysis of the American conservative movement from a progressive perspective. Also some stuff about the Mets.

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