The problem with Bill Kristol is not just that he's shameless partisan hack, but that he is a profoundly unimaginative one. Take today's
GOP strategy memo column, perhaps his worst to date, in which he argues that John McCain is an "exceptional" candidate who transcends the GOP brand. As evidence Kristol cites the fact that McCain is essentially tied with Obama in national polls. True enough, but doesn't that demonstrate that McCain has already reached his ceiling -- and that he can only go down from there -- while the Democrats have been in a primary battle for months that hasn't noticeably damaged them?
But suddenly Kristol takes an entirely new tack. He cites three developments that are "promising for McCain" -- as if to say McCain could use the help (so much for the exceptionalism argument). First Kristol recounts the GOP loss in MS-01 last week -- as if to prove that he is soberly facing reality -- and then turns to the old chestnut about "working-class, culturally conservative voters" in places like West Virginia being critical to Democratic prospects. Second, he looks with glee upon the California same-sex marriage ruling, rolling out the usual boilerplate about the American public not wanting judges "making social policy from the bench." Lost in his penetrating analysis is any evidence that the American public thinks of same-sex marriage as an important issue. In fact, according to a Pew poll conducted at the end of last year, it ranked dead last among voters' concerns. But hey, things could change!
Finally, Kristol digs up the Bush line about appeasement from his speech to Israel’s Knesset. Oddly, however, Kristol thinks this will damage Obama because "it can’t be in Obama’s interest to divert voters from a focus on gas prices or health care to the question of what he hopes to achieve by negotiating with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad." Huh? What happened to gay marriage? It's obvious what Kristol's doing here. He's picking all of the things he believes or wishes to believe are true about the public's beliefs and then alternatively gives them preference, depending on what stage of his argument he's in.
And then he swerves into a different argument altogether. He notes that between 1968 and 1988, Republican presidents were elected five out of six times, even though Democrats consistently won Congress. The public prefers Republican presidents, Kristol is arguing, and the results from 40-20 years ago proves it. To Kristol, the American political and cultural landscape remains unchanged since 1968. The emerging Republican majority is always ... emerging.
So to review: 1) Republicans will win because McCain is an exceptional candidate. 2) Republicans will win because the American public is with them demographically, culturally, and on pocketbook issues. 3) Republicans will win because the political environment is the same as it was when Kristol was in college. To wit:
This year’s election could see a return to this cold-war model -- a strong-on-national-security and supporter-of-middle-American-values Republican presidential candidate prevailing, while at the same time voters choose a Democratic Congress. Last week’s developments -- in West Virginia, Sacramento and Jerusalem -- have increased the odds of such an outcome.
I know it's been asked a thousand times before, but why is William Kristol writing a column for the New York Times?