Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Nothing New Here

I used to think that when William Kristol wrote for the New York Times, the pressure of turning out a weekly column explained his carelessness and inanity. But now that he’s writing monthly for the Washington Post, it’s apparent that it wasn’t the tight deadline that was to blame; his vapidness and silliness are timeless.

Take for example his column today in which he lists the ways to play “D” — as in defense — against President Obama (isn’t that cute; he’s learning basketball lingo to show he’s tragically hip). He lists five areas of attack — all starting with “D”: debt, defense, diplomacy, detention, and docs (health care) — that he thinks the Republicans can use to win back seats in Congress and the hearts and minds of the public, and he admits it won’t be easy.

No, the payoff from a policy confrontation with Obama won’t be immediate. The economy appears to be set for a short-term uptick. Obama remains popular. Many of his proposals look superficially attractive. But we haven’t yet had a thorough airing of their implications, to say nothing of their real-world consequences if they are enacted.

So one should assume Obama will stay strong through the summer and perhaps even the fall. But 2009-10 could be the winter of Obama’s discontent. Republicans should be making the case against Obama’s policies now so that citizens know whom to blame next year.

Apparently Mr. Kristol hasn’t been paying much attention since January; the Republicans have blamed Mr. Obama for everything from winter weather to the flat tires on their golf carts, and all they’ve done is make themselves look petty and childish in the process. As for Mr. Kristol’s checklist, the Republicans have so far been unable to come up with a plan for any of his “vulnerable” spots other than to say No. The GOP leadership acts as if the massive debt and economic slide was caused by somebody other than eight years of profligacy under the Bush administration, and the defense budget was stretched to the limit by trying to fight two wars, one of which was started on lies and demagoguery. Mr. Kristol’s idea of diplomacy seems to be that anything short of a polite “Bite Me” to the world is appeasement, and that keeping Gitmo open is a shining example of American justice that even the North Koreans are leery of. As for health care, Mr. Kristol’s biggest worry is that the Obama administration will have learned something from the Clinton administration’s failure in 1993-1994 and actually get something passed. Mr. Kristol, you’ll recall, led the fight against those reforms not because he was concerned about the health care system but because he was afraid that if it actually worked and millions of Americans stopped worrying about their skyrocketing medical bills and how to pay for them, it would be bad news for the Republicans at the polls.

That’s the crux of Mr. Kristol’s arguments for his fellow Republicans: don’t bother to come up with any new ideas; just oppose all the ones the president puts out there. He may think that will work politically — as if he’s been so right in the past — but if he’s going to use the basketball metaphor, then he should remember that you don’t score the most points while you’re on defense; you do it on offense. I’m surprised he doesn’t know that; he and the GOP have been really offensive lately.