With millions of people unemployed, finding a new job for a well-heeled Washington insider might seem like a low priority for Americans but I still believe it would be sensible and humane to find Bill Kristol another job. The poor fellow has spent years working in politics, and it just isn’t working out for him – or anyone else.
Mr Kristol is of course the son of neoconservative theorist Irving Kristol. Neoconservative families are unusually rich in political commentators. Irving Kristol’s contemporary and ideological comrade Norman Podhoretz produced the columnist and editor John Podhoretz. Right-leaning historian Donald Kagan produced the neoconservative theorists Robert and Frederick. Conservative literary agent Lucianne Goldberg is the mother of conservative columnist Jonah. Granted, left-wing commentary can run in families as well – the journalist Claud Cockburn spawned similarly fiery socialists Alexander and Patrick – but no political tendencies rival neoconservatism for being a family affair.
The young William cut his teeth in electoral politics, working for the Democrat Daniel Moynihan and then the Republican Alan Keyes, before serving in Ronald Reagan’s administration under secretary of education William Bennett. Kristol was described as being ‘Dan Quayle’s brain’ when he was chief of staff for the vice president of George H.W. Bush, which is something like being Donald Trump’s sense of restraint or Hillary Clinton’s sense of cool.
Kristol really rose to prominence as founder and editor of the Weekly Standard and founder and chairman of the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century, otherwise known as PNAC. The Weekly Standard, which folded last year, had an excellent arts section and produced terrific writers like Christopher Caldwell and Andrew Ferguson, but it will not be remembered for those achievements any more than Breitbart will be remembered for its sports coverage. At the Standard and PNAC Kristol promoted an ambitiously, indeed hubristically, hawkish foreign agenda for the United States that helped to enable the absolutely catastrophic invasion of Iraq and the long, grim war in Afghanistan. Kristol had promised a ‘two-month war’ in Iraq. If we consider that war to have ended in December, 2011, we can conclude that he was off by a factor of 53.
Somehow, Kristol remained an influential figure in American politics. In 2008 he cheerfully predicted that Barack Obama would not win a single primary against Hillary Clinton. When the young Obama became the Democrat nominee, John McCain called on Kristol’s political genius. Kristol suggested that he choose the obscure Alaskan Sarah Palin as his VP. This gambit was not quite an unqualified success.
In recent times Kristol has been a prominent ‘NeverTrump’ conservative. The genteel, liberal, cosmopolitan, hawkish ‘conservatism’ of Kristol is perhaps the antithesis of the crass, populist, ‘America first’ agenda Trump campaigned on. Kristol has been distinguishing himself as a man behind a series of quixotic alternative Republican candidates. In 2015 Kristol promised a serious anti-Trump ticket for Republicans who disliked the former Apprentice host’s boorishness, nativism and protectionism. ‘Just a heads up over this holiday weekend,’ he tweeted, ‘There will be an independent candidate – an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance.’ This turned out to be the little-known National Review columnist David French, who, for all his personal and professional virtues, was a little-known National Review columnist.
Undaunted, Kristol went on to promote a former CIA man named Evan McMullin, who was so unmemorable that the sharpest Jeopardy! contestant would struggle to remember who he was. Now, three years on, Kristol is pushing a conservative radio host named Joe Walsh as a primary challenger. Joe Walsh is not even the world’s most famous Joe Walsh. The Eagles’ guitarist would probably have a better chance.
Joe Walsh (the radio host) was a passionate Donald Trump supporter who called Kristol a ‘twit’ who should ‘just stay in Israel.’ Now that he has turned against the Donald, though, for his ‘bullshit and drama’, the two have become allies. Kristol told the New York Times:
‘The fact that he was a Tea Party congressman who voted for Trump in 2016 gives him an ability to speak to Republican primary voters that ‘Never Trumpers’ like me don’t have.’
There is not nothing to this. But the fact that as a millennial I am better suited to speak to young people than William Kristol does not mean I stand any chance of unseating PewDiePie as the world’s top YouTuber. I don’t want to hold Walsh’s past against him. Anyone can change and I too once said and wrote a lot of stupid things. Instead, I want to hold his present against him: he has none of Trump’s fame or charisma, and he has no ideas or compelling worldview. He has as much chance of defeating Trump as John Hickenlooper has of winning the Democratic nomination, and Hickenlooper has dropped out.
So, I ask again, can we find a new line of work for Bill Kristol? His political activities are embarrassing him – and, of course, have done a lot of harm to the world. As much comic value as his madcap schemes might have, it would be compassionate of us to salvage some dignity for the man. Could he go into finance? Or law? Or golf club management? Alternatively, we could set up a think tank called Defending US Law and Leadership or whatever where he could produce reports and press releases and we could all smile and nod before filing them in the trash can.