THE PLANK AUGUST 22, 2007
My latest TRB column is about how Bill Kristol (and, to some extent, neoconservatism in general) has abandoned its idealism and its intellectual content, and has sunk to hoary, illiberal pro-war arguments. Matthew Yglesias chides:
this is silly -- neither Kristol nor The Weekly Standard has changed. It's just that The New Republic used to join up with neoconservatives to bully people who disagree with its foreign policy views and now TNR is being bullied. It wasn't The Weekly Standard that this article calling John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt un-American. Nor was in The Weekly Standard that published this article about how liberals don't want to invade Iraq because they don't like advancing America's interests. Nor was it The Weekly Standard that analogized MoveOn to Stalin-controlled Communist agents.
This is a strange rebuttal. He doesn't even attempt to contest my argument that Kristol's public discourse was once driven by idealistic humanitarian goals (nevermind how successfully his methods would achieve them) and has since abandoned them. He simply assumes it away and moves straight into an ad hominem attack on -- well, not even on me, but the publication I write for, by citing several past TNR articles that purportedly fall into the same vein as Kristol's writing.
He probably assumes, correctly, that his audience will not read the articles he cites and will simply rely on his characterization of them. But his characterization is highly misleading. The article on Walt and Mearsheimer calls them "un-American" because it points out that ethnic lobbying on foreign policy is a venerable American tradition. Krauthammer's piece conceded that "Liberalism does not lack for patriotism" and that "American liberals are not pacifists," but argued that liberals are averse to using American power in the pursuit of pure national interest, except in the case of self-defense. Beinart's article did analogize Moveon's opposition to fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan to left-wing communist fellow travelers, but an analogy is not a comparison.
You can disagree with some of these articles -- and I mostly disagree with Krauthammer and partially disagree with Beinart -- but I don't see how you can call them bullying or deny that they lack real intellectual content. What Yglesias is doing here is simply defining "bullying" so broadly that his definition sweeps up almost any foreign policy criticism of liberals from the right. Indeed, by his definition, much of Yglesias's own writing -- which frequently compares his opponents to Nazis -- would qualify as bullying also.
In any case, even if he were right -- even if TNR printed articles that were nothing more than mindless sloganeering -- I don't see how this in any way refutes my argument that Kristol's writing has become less idealistic and more reminiscent of classic right-wing jingoism.
Update: Ross Douthat criticizes my column on the grounds that TNR has not editorialized about Iraq since May. It's logical non-sequitur day at the Atlantic!