Monday, November 17, 2008

Kristol: The Light is Coming On

Better late than never, I suppose. William Kristol is finally figuring out that the Republicans screwed up the economy.

The Bush administration will leave behind probably the most severe recession in at least a quarter-century. Fairly or unfairly, this will be viewed as George Bush’s economic meltdown.

If Republicans and conservatives don’t come to grips with what’s happened, and can’t develop an economic agenda moving forward that seems to incorporate lessons learned from what’s happened — then they could be back, politically, in 1933.

From 1933 to 1980, Republicans repeatedly failed to convince the country they were no longer the party of Herbert Hoover — the party, as it was perceived, of economic incompetence, austerity and recession (if not depression).

Only two Republicans won presidential elections in that half-century, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon. Both were able to take the White House only because we were mired down in difficult wars, in Korea and Vietnam. And Ike and Nixon were unable — they didn’t really try — to change the generally liberal course of domestic and economic policy. The G.O.P.’s fate on Capitol Hill was worse. The party controlled Congress for only 4 of those 47 years.

That’s what happens when a depression begins on your watch and when you can’t offer a coherent explanation of how and why it occurred and what you are going to do differently.

I think he gets it: most Americans care more about their jobs and being able to own a home — and pay the mortgage — than whether or not the gay couple next door wants to get married. Or, as Bill Clinton said, it’s the economy, stupid.

Of course, Mr. Kristol’s primary concern isn’t just the economic well-being of the nation. After all, John McCain got a “respectable” 46% of the vote. (If the roles had been reversed and Sen. Obama had gotten 46%, he would have called it a “resounding defeat and the death knell of liberalism for the next five generations.”) Mr. Kristol sees economic re-thinking on the part of conservatives and Republicans as their way back to power. Because, to him, that’s all that really matters.