The Plank

More On Bill Kristol

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Over at National Review yesterday, Ramesh Ponnuru--a conservative I respect and enjoy reading--criticized Jonathan Chait's column
on Bill Kristol. In particular, Ramesh said, Jon has unfairly seized upon a particular passage in Kristol's recent editorial about liberals and the troops. It's the passage where Kristol wrote:

Having turned against a war that some of them supported, the left is now turning against the troops they claim still to support. They sense that history is progressing away from them--that these soldiers, fighting courageously in a just cause, could still win the war, that they are proud of their service, and that they will be future leaders of this country.

Ponnuru acknowledged that this is "an overheated and unfair statement," but went on to suggest that "Perhaps Jonathan Chait has made overheated and unfair statements from time to time? I don't think it would be reasonable to take one of those statements and use it to create a theory of his essential thuggishness."

Well, sure. Jon has made overheated and unfair statements from time to time. So have I. So has everybody. But this wasn't just a throw-away line. It was the premise of the whole article. That is why, I imagine, it appeared under the headline "THEY DON'T REALLY SUPPORT THE TROOPS."

Yes, the editorial spent much of its time discussing the Scott Beauchamp articles--which, as Jon freely admitted, were the subject of some legitimate questioning. But Kristol used those stories to make a broader point about TNR's motives--and those of war critics generally. That broader point is what attracted Jon's scrutiny.

And rightly so. Kristol's outburst was hardly out of character, after all. In yet another signed editorial that ran in February, Kristol asked whether Republicans would "desert the troops" by supporting a non-binding resolution against the surge--a measure he termed "anti-surge, anti-Petraeus, anti-troops, and anti-victory resolution." ("Anti-surge," "anti-troops," apparently they mean the same thing...) One week later, after that resolution passed the House, he wrote that "The national Democratic party has become the puppet of antiwar groups. These groups do not merely accept--reluctantly--American defeat in the Middle East. They seek to hasten it. Some seem to welcome it." And then, just a few weeks ago, there was the cover Jon mentioned in his column--the one featuring an American soldier, viewed through what looks like a gun-sight, and the headline "DOES WASHINGTON HAVE HIS BACK?"

In these same articles, Kristol also made more level-headed arguments about policy. He has every right to express those opinions and, lord knows, he can speak to the issue with more authority than I can. But I know enough to spot demagoguery when I see it. And that's precisely what we have here. Over and over again, Kristol has tried to disqualify his political opponents from debate by suggesting they don't support the troops, don't want a strong America, or don't have firm moral principles.

The approach reminds me a lot of Zell Miller's unhinged speech at the Republican Convention in 2004--which, as I said at the time, bore more than passing resemblance to the speeches of a certain Wisconsin senator who served during the 1950s. The only difference is that, unlike Miller, Kristol still has respectability in Washington. Kinda makes you wonder why.

--Jonathan Cohn

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