Monday, August 4, 2008

To the Editor: Fire William Kristol

When The New York Times decided to add conservative political commentator William Kristol to its op-ed columnist line up, I was not pleased. The idea was that a good op-ed page should present a multi-faceted view of the issues facing the nation. Known for being a "liberal rag" and the butt of most "liberal media" jokes, The Times' editorial board felt it necessary to give a token right-wing nut job a weekly column. In theory, this is fair enough - we liberals always rag on FOX News for being a pawn of the far-right wing of the Republican party, so we should promote fairness and balance, right?

I'm all for fairness and balance, and I think intelligent authors like David Brooks can certainly bring some balance to such an unabashedly liberal op-ed page. The problem is that Bill Kristol just isn't a very good writer. Now, I'm no literary genius, but I'm not writing for The Times, either. Kristol's columns, unlike Brooks's, are rarely thoughtful - that is, they hardly ever shed new light on an issue. His columns read like talking points sent out by the McCain campaign. The title of a recent column was "Be Afraid. Please." The object of the proposed fear was, of course, Barack Obama, or more specifically, the havoc Obama would bestow upon America if he were President while the Democrats control Congress. Mr. Kristol extols the benefits of divided government, noting with an un-Times-like lack of eloquence,

You really should be alarmed about a President Obama rubber-stamping the deeds of a Democratic Congress next year. A President McCain, on the other hand, could check Congressional appetites — as well as work across the aisle with a Democratic Congress in a bipartisan spirit where appropriate.

Yes, because divided government has worked so well since 2006 when the Democrats won control of Congress. Given Senator McCain's recent shifts to the more extreme right-wing of his party and his appalling lack of dignity, there is no reason to suspect that his White House would be any more willing to cooperate with a Democratic Congress than the current administration. Moreover, with Kristol's logic in mind, one might have expected to see him campaigning for Democratic candidates for Congress in 2006, arguing that an unchecked majority is bad for democracy.

Maybe I missed it.

And today, Kristol provided us with what I'm sure he thought was some brilliant insight with his article titled "How to Pick a V.P." I guess we can overlook the fact that he doesn't even touch on the choice Obama faces (that would just be asking too much). What we cannot overlook is the fact that he is just regurgitating what the cable news networks have been saying for weeks now. Oh, Mitt Romney would bring useful executive experience to the ticket? Bobby Jindal would represent the new era of the Republican party, echoing the Obama campaign's call for change? Tim Pawlenty would please staunch conservatives who don't want McCain to try any funny business with his pick? Meg Whitman would provide "outsider" cred while appealing to women?

None of these are revelations. These points have all been made numerous times by the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC and FOX News and so on.

So, it's not just that Kristol is preaching a thoughtless, uninspired, trite sermon on conservatism. Worse, his thoughtlessness is about two to three weeks behind the rest of the media.

Times, I understand what you were going for hiring Kristol, I really do. But, he's been a failure. He's not doing the job of presenting a thoughtful, informative, provocative conservative voice for the op-ed page. If you want another conservative voice, use your own David Brooks as a model. But it's clear to me - Bill Kristol is no David Brooks.

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