William Kristol, "Will Obama Save Liberalism?" January 26
I was afraid Bill was going to choke in the final inning and actually say something that wasn’t instantly and flatly contradicted by observable reality, but he stepped up like a champ and protected his streak.
SPENT the weekend watching films, great and near-great, partly by accident. The 120-hour U-Verse DVR limit is too skimpy for me, and there's no upgrade or way to hook up an external drive, so I have to record anything I want to save, and the cheap-ass DVD recorder I bought for the purpose is quirkier than a roomful of Siamese cats. In response I do what I always do faced with balky equipment: I revert into shamanism, spouting various incantations and making the 21st century urban equivalent of blood sacrifices. I could, I suppose, just read the manual, but there are a couple of problems with that: a) I did read the manual, initially; what is now required is studying the damn thing; b) this is, I think, more effort than ought to be required by any piece of machinery costing less that $100; it ought to be like a fuckin' Chevy Chevette: obvious place to put the key, standard, intuitive, readily visible means to choose between 'D' and 'R', and no radio; and c) it's buried somewhere in the twenty-eight columnar inches of my manuals and warranties file, which dates to 1977. No, they're not in order. What kind of question was that?
The set-up requires (this much is science) that the set remained tuned to the recording, which, until a recent upgrade, meant it had to be performed on the main teevee, the only one which could play recorded material. As a result I try to slip recording time in at odd hours. One of the magickal oblations involves leaving the set on, since nearly every time I haven't the recording gets fucked somehow. I think that's the technical term. Anyway, this meant that beginning early Friday I watched the filmic, arty, Royal Shakespeare Company Lear from 1971, followed by Paths of Glory and Easy Living, which I watched in part. Then Friday night my Poor Wife was making sure the bedroom remote had the same hair-trigger as the two downstairs, until she landed on Dr. Strangelove, fortuitously at the beginning of the scene with George C. Scott and his secretary, which stopped her dead in her tracks in a way Slim Pickens changing from helmet to cowboy hat in a crisis might not've, and we watched the rest of the way through.
My knees were objecting to being kept in bed after that, so I came downstairs and watched The Rules of the Game, my first purchase upon belated entry into the DVD world, a film I've seen thirty times and still see differently on each viewing. After that I went looking online for Ruggles of Red Gap (the real one) for my Poor Wife's birthday, but found the only available copy is an import missing (so someone says at Amazon) a scene. (This is an abomination; where's Criterion?) This led me Sunday morning to check out the racks at Fry's, and bring home Criterion's The 3rd Man, not as a birthday present but a replacement for the copy she'd bought some time ago at Half-Price Books, which came from Alpha Video, specialists in fast and indifferent transfers of a collection of copyright-free films taped over rabbit ears and stored in a car trunk for twenty years, apparently. We watched Shadowing the Third Man, an excellent 90-minute documentary about the production, though it controversially suggests that Orson Welles was something of a jerk, and my Poor Wife reports that she can't see the later, goateed Orson without hearing John Candy doing him on SCTV, so now I can't, either. She went to bed; I treated my insomnia to Fellini's The White Sheik.
This was supposed to be the long way around (please, O Reader! you expect that, no?) of noting how much I enjoyed the escape, but then I ran into Kristol's column and the conflicting note at the end:
This is William Kristol’s last column.
Which cannot possibly be true, beyond the bounds of the Times Op-Ed Ward (hence the conflict; I feel no need of having Bill Kristol to kick around, which we'll have anyway). And somehow with the opening words (I did not yet realize it was the swan song, of sorts, of the fugly duck, the trumpeter chickenhawk):
All good things must come to an end. Jan. 20, 2009, marked the end of a conservative era.
Since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, conservatives of various sorts, and conservatisms of various stripes, have generally been in the ascendancy. And a good thing, too! Conservatives have been right more often than not — and more often than liberals — about most of the important issues of the day: about Communism and jihadism, crime and welfare, education and the family. Conservative policies have on the whole worked — insofar as any set of policies can be said to “work” in the real world. Conservatives of the Reagan-Bush-Gingrich-Bush years have a fair amount to be proud of.
I saw my weekend in an entirely different light. I had watched two of the films most admired in cinema history for, among other things, the presentation of human morality as confused and complex, not black and white (for that matter, even the Sturgis-penned Depression-era screwballs break the mold; the Ur-libertarian banker and his profligate playboy son have hearts as well as bathroom fixtures of gold, while the clucking hens of Boys' Companion Magazine are ready to think their narrow-minded worst of someone). Fellini gently chided morality for its tone-deafness; if Strangelove and Paths of Glory painted their villains in broader strokes, still they were fools as well as murderous martinets. And from Lear, of course, not just the foul corruption of power, but the swift cosmic retribution for utter stupidity in statecraft.
Good Lord; I'd been watching thirty years of "conservative ascendancy".
There's really no question about the discrepancy; Kristol's had the best education money can buy. His recurring mantra, that the last thirty years of "Conservatism", viewed through the prism of "Conservatism", has been a roaring success, provided one filter out all evidence to the contrary, is a function, not a bug-wit.
We would, just for starters, argue that this "ascendency"--not of "conservatism" with or without quotes, but of Rightist extremism--dates to Nixon's brilliant and cowardly Southern strategy, and thus has crested forty. And we'd ask What's been accomplished? The Crackpot Rightist litany of complaints is the same as it ever was; Sarah Palin's gurgling hardly differs from Spiro Agnew's. Reproductive rights, despite four decades of hammering, still reside with the individual where they have not been rodent-gnawed at the edges; we're more diverse and multi-cultural than ever. Backwoods moralism is everywhere on the run, even in your own party last election, Billy. Public school biology classes are still part of the science curriculum, and prayer is restricted to silent, individual efforts to see one's classmates burst into flames, or to get laid. If a facile hero-worship still rules common sense in the matter of military spending and global adventurism, well, 'twas ever thus, at least since the Whisky Rebellion, and exempting brief periods when the public's lust for Glory ran headlong into the Army's Need for Cannon Fodder (I'm sorry. Did that hurt, Bill?). No amount of post-defeat lying about Iraq is going to usher us on to Damascus, Billy-boy. You got your shot, you ran with it, and you broke the Army, and US hard-power capabilities, worse than Nam did. We celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday now, not Bull Connor's. Even the National Review's stopped calling him a Red. I think.
But hey, everyone has his reasons, as Renoir said. It hasn't been all disaster. There's all the tax-cutting, though we might be forced to mention that thirty years covers the period between Reagan grandstanding about signing the trillion-dollar debt ceiling and the Bush administration handing us trillion-dollar debts per year. The single-handedly defeated Soviets are
And Bill Kristol