Monday, September 17, 2018

Commentary: Bill Kristol Is Not Yet Out

I've just been reading on Breitbart a tirade against Bill Kristol, which features a comparison between this supposedly falling neocon star and the author's friend Tony, who landed in jail after stabbing his ex-wife's lover.  Just like Tony, who unsuccessfully tried to attract his divorced wife's attention, Bill, we are told, is going nuts in expressing his contempt for Donald Trump.  But like Tony, who in a fit of frustration destroyed his own life, Bill may be self-destructing as he disses a transformed conservative establishment.
I'm not sure that this labored comparison works since I've no idea what the equivalent is in Bill's case to Tony "being sent to jail."  Anyhow I've seen other more forceful recent attacks on Kristol from Trump-supporters and even vanilla conservatives, and while I fully share their distaste for their target, I doubt that any of them is entirely correct.  If my own understanding of the conservative movement is accurate, then Kristol's critics assume a degree of flexibility in their movement that's not really there.  The current conservative movement came to be what it is because of those interests that shaped it.  Its donor base is made up noticeably of supporters of weapon procurement and foreign policy hawks.  These benefactors are very much in line with Kristol's Weekly Standard and the Washington Free Beacon, run by Bill's son-in-law, Matthew Continetti.  Paul Singer, Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson, and other backers of neoconservative enterprises and Washington "conservative" think-tanks are unlikely to abandon Bill Kristol simply because he's taken whacks at The Donald, whom most of these donors also hate – or barely tolerate.  Nor has Kristol broken all ties to his old associates.  He never followed George Will's lead in dissociating himself from the Republican Party.  Indeed, he remains a registered Republican and is still something of a "#NeverTrump conservative."
Moreover, the conservative movement, at least since the end of the Cold War, has excommunicated right-wing dissenters but never to my knowledge those who have leaned too far toward the left.  During the Cold War, expulsions took place because of insufficient belligerence toward the Soviet Union, as in the case of my deceased friend Murray Rothbard, but only rarely because conservative publicists were deemed too far to the right.  But since the 1980s, expulsions have occurred because the excommunicated were considered right-wing nuisances.  As Jonah Goldberg points out, it was necessary for the movement to "throw friends and allies off the bus from time to time."  Those who stressed racial disparities, criticized civil rights legislation, or were viewed as "isolationists" in foreign policy, and therefore accused of fascist sympathies, have been the recent targets of conservative movement purges.  Equally suspect have been those deemed insufficiently pro-Israel, which is not surprising, given the movement's donor base and its desire to attract Christian Zionist support.
Kristol has been guilty of left-wing deviationism, but with extenuating circumstances.  He shares the foreign policy interests of conservative donors, and even while he opposes Trump's plan for a military parade (because he loathes Trump), he has underlined his continued devotion to the military.  He remains on excellent terms with the mainstream media, which should enhance his desirability as a "moderate" conservative, as opposed to someone who might be mistaken for an Alt-Right sympathizer.  Most importantly, like his friends David Frum and Bret Stephens, Bill has distanced himself from the conservative movement because he rejects Donald Trump and his attempted restrictions on immigration.  Unlike Jason Richwine, John Derbyshire, and others who were cast into outer darkness for being too far on the right, Kristol turned his back by his own volition on his erstwhile colleagues.
Further, since the conservative movement engages with the liberal media and since this interaction depends to some extent on enjoying tolerable and even amicable relations with one's debating partners, mainstream conservatives wish to remain clubbable.  They've no desire to look too reactionary in dealing with an influential opposition, just as they wouldn't care to give that unflattering impression in trying to attract socially liberal but militarily aggressive potential donors.  Mainstream conservatives also have an interest in being published in the Washington Post or, even better, being invited to become "house conservatives" at the New York Times.  I couldn't imagine how it would advance their careers (and yes, we are talking about making it professionally) if they contributed to a race realist website or ascribed the Civil War to causes other than slavery.  
Except for his recent move toward the left, it is hard to find anyone who meets the requirements of being a normative conservative better than Bill Kristol.  This is the case even without factoring in another one of his many assets: his longtime family ties to the New York journalistic and publishing community.  One may reasonably predict that if Kristol decides to return to the fold, he'll be welcomed back by pro-Trump and anti-Trump Republicans alike.  Fox News features both schools of opinion.  It also showcases an avowed Hillary voter, Ralph Peterson, who is perpetually calling on the president he voted against to bomb some faraway country.  But this is not surprising.  Loads of self-described conservatives, including Peggy Noonan and Francis Fukayama, wrote puff pieces about Obama in 2008 and may well have voted for him.  But none of these Obama enthusiasts lost his standing within the conservative movement because of an excusable lurch to the left.  It is entirely possible that if Bill condescends to return, all recent diatribes against him will disappear from conservative movement archives, just as Hillary's classified emails vanished from her computer.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in American Thinker and has been rerun with permission of its author.


Paul E. Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for twenty-five years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of thirteen books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe. He serves as head of the editorial board of The San Francisco Review of Books.

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