Sunday, October 19, 2008

Is Bill Kristol ever right?

Jon Stewart once asked, "Oh Bill Kristol, are you ever right?" I'm reluctant to believe anyone can be consistently wrong; the whole even-a-broken-clock-is-right-twice-a-day theory. But William Kristol might be a clock that's just off by enough to be wrong all the time. Today, in his latest column for the NYTimes (a paper his own conservative friends consistently mock) he tries to take a populist tack, arguing that Americans are not stupid or uninformed. At first, he had me wondering if, for once, he was on to something. Considering Obama's poll numbers, for a moment I thought he might be vying for a position in the conservatives-attacking-conservatism movement we're going to hear a lot from over the next few years. Instead, he tried to make a case for Joe the (well, not really a) Plumber. Seriously, Bill, I think Jon Stewart may have you pegged.

I know the anger over Obama's clumsy "spread the wealth around" comment must have lit a fire under dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, but if Joe the Plumber really is one of the intelligent and informed electorate Kristol is talking about, then he could probably hear the fact that both candidates are talking plenty about spreading wealth around. At the last debate, Joe's debate, McCain, after deriding any spreading of wealth, and after proposing a spending freeze, talked at length about his $5000 tax credit for health coverage. That's spreading the wealth. If Americans are intelligent and informed, they know that. They also know that it won't cover the cost of most of their care now, let alone when they are old, so it amounts to spreading around the wealth, but doing so ineffectively. That's what Americans, the intelligent and educated ones, are sick of. We don't dislike the conservative's line on free market economics, even if we disagree and even when it proves intellectually bankrupt as it has these last few weeks, nearly as much as we dislike their penchant for consistent, ideologically driven mismanagement of government. Of course they think government is bad: they do their best to make it so every chance they get.

Kristol not only threw down with some Latin etymology, tracing the root of "Vulgar to "Vulgaris", but he even quoted Horace. I'm not sure if he was trying to show that conservatives are educated elites, or if he was trying to say the "common people" could appreciate this linguistics lesson, but either way it felt condescending and not particularly illuminating. Then, he put to rest any misconception that a nuanced study of history might inform his politics by writing: "Most of the recent mistakes of American public policy, and most of the contemporary delusions of American public life, haven’t come from an ignorant and excitable public. They’ve been produced by highly educated and sophisticated elites."

No, they've been produced by highly educated and sophisticated elites who were willing to work for George W. Bush, who is neither. But then, the term "Sophisticated" comes from the Greek sophos or sophia, meaning of "wise" or "wisdom", and I'll bet there are a lot of hacks who worked for Dubya who are now reconsidering the wisdom of that career move.

I'm not sure if Kristol was telling conservatives to stop looking down on the common people, or if he was telling us common folks that the elites aren't to be trusted as much as a plumber who isn't a plumber, but one thing is abundantly clear: We can trust the vulgar masses a lot more than we can trust Bill Kristol.

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