January 25, 2008

In his latest editorial in The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol expressed a general satisfaction with the non-Ron Paul major Republican candidates”€”all seem just fine to him, what’s everyone complaining about? Kristol chalks up the prevailing sense of unrest among the conservative base to the fact that it’s caught up “€œwaiting for Reagan,”€ that is, expecting that perfect conservative movement ideologue with copies of NR and Human Events tucked under his arm to run for office.

Kristol claims that such a figure probably won”€™t ever appear and advises the conservative movement instead to try to make one of the less-than-inspiring candidates its own:

“€œWhat it means to be a serious, successful, and mature political movement is to take men like these”€”one might say to take advantage of men like these”€”in order to advance one’s principles and causes.”€

Of course, one could object that Kristol is oblivious to the Reaganite candidacy spontaneously arising within the GOP—Mike Church’s fantastic homemade video makes this clear:

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But then, perhaps these are the “principles and causes” Kristol has in mind. To see what he’s actually up to, it’s useful to inquire into the ways that this “€œserious”€ and “€œmature”€ conservative movement we”€™re all a part of is in the process of molding the candidates into its image, “€œtaking advantage”€ of them even.

One issue that jumps out is immigration, and to be sure, many in the GOP have changed their tune due to base outrage. Romney, who might seem to have Wall Street Journal “€œopen border”€ instincts, has come on board. Mike Huckabee, whose instincts are clearly of the wispy brotherhood of man variety and had bad amnesty-granting habits as a governor, now talks of ending immigration from Terrorist nations. Even John McCain, the sponsor of the first amnesty bill and the backer of the second, says he’s now “€œlistening”€ to the base.     

But then Bill Kristol doesn”€™t care about immigration reform, and in fact he warned the GOP against pursuing restrictionism and becoming a party of “€œknow-nothing yahoos.”€ Candidates beginning to sound a bit like VDARE.com contributors is definitely not the kind of molding Kristol has in mind. 

On red-meat issues like limited government, the conservative movement’s abject failure to influence the GOP is obvious enough; with abortion, candidates have made some promises and claimed some changes of heart, but little else.

What thus fills Kristol with such confidence about the conservative movement’s candidate-shaping power has little to do with any recognizable conservative principle or cause and much more with the fact that when asked whether the invasion of Iraq was worth the blood and treasure in last night’s debate, each member of the conservative mainstream obsequesiously kowtowed to the Kristol party line. (Paul proved himself an exception to this trend, of course.)

Given Romney’s talent for rebranding himself and enacting many a “€œturn around,”€ he might seem a likely figure to be aware of stock-holder unrest and devise a plan for getting the hell out of Iraq. Instead, he’s stood tall, supporting the invasion, supporting Rumsfeld, supporting Kristol’s “€œsurge,”€ supporting David Petraeus… Kristol seems perfectly content for Romney to flip-flop on a host of issues”€”form abortion to immigration to gay rights”€”but on the war, never. Huckabee is an analogous case; his public statements and writings have reveled a man generally ignorant of international affairs, but Kristol is perfectly content with his candidacy”€”so long as he offers us a quaint easter-egg analogy in support of the war.

Kristol is awfully pleased with all the candidates because he has essentially brought them all in line.

This past editorial certainly wasn”€™t the first time that the powers of the éminence grise was discussed in the pages of The Weekly Standard. When the term “€œneocon”€ was first being tossed around by the mainstream media just after the invasion, Bill’s father wrote a short piece offering a definition of the school of thought largely associated with his name. Kristol père left little doubt as to what neoconservatism was about”€”an effort “€œto convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.”€ (And by “€œmodern democracy,”€ he means making the conservative movement feel right at home with a therapeutic welfare state, unending commitments abroad, and a conflation of Israel’s national interest with America’s.)

Irving thought of himself as taking up a long-term strategy of subversion; William speaks as the voice of the movement. Irving thought of himself as an outsider, William as the man at the helm.


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