You can count on William Kristol for a good laugh.
Since Ronald Reaganâ€™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 â€” and more often than liberals â€” 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 â€” insofar as any set of policies can be said to â€œworkâ€ in the real world. Conservatives of the Reagan-Bush-Gingrich-Bush years have a fair amount to be proud of.
Translation: The ideas of Reagan-Bush-Gingrich-Bush conservatives don’t work in the real world, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t completely successful by the standards of Reagan-Bush-Gingrich-Bush conservatives, because their standards don’t have anything to do with the real world, either.
Some say the best part of Kristol’s column is the very end:
This is William Kristolâ€™s last column.
But I say, damn. The New York Times has canceled its best comedy sitcom.
Kristol goes on to say,
What we have so far, mainly, is an Inaugural Address, and it suggests that he may have learned more from Reagan than he has sometimes let on. Obamaâ€™s speech was unabashedly pro-American and implicitly conservative.
Obama appealed to the authority of â€œour forebears,â€ â€œour founding documents,â€ even â€” political correctness alert! â€” â€œour founding fathers.â€ He emphasized that â€œwe will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.â€ He spoke almost not at all about rights (he had one mention of â€œthe rights of man,â€ paired with â€œthe rule of lawâ€ in the context of a discussion of the Constitution). He called for â€œa new era of responsibility.â€
In some ways the speech was conservative, because truth be told, in the U.S. liberalism is “conservative” by most dictionary definitions of the word “conservative.” Contemporary conservatism, on the other hand, is radical and reactionary. But of course Kristol implies that conservatism owns the patent on patriotism, not to mention virtues like “responsibility” and the “rule of law,” even though conservatism in the real world stands for blowing off responsibility and the rule of law. The key to understanding the rightie brain is to appreciate that the real world doesn’t count for anything with them.
Kristol gets one thing right:
Liberalismâ€™s fate rests to an astonishing degree on his shoulders. If he governs successfully, weâ€™re in a new political era. If not, the country will be open to new conservative alternatives.
Michael Tomasky says pretty much the same thing at The Guardian. In a nutshell, if Obama’s more progressive programs do work in the real world, “Obama will make us a liberal country again.”
We’re not a nation of amateur political philosophers debating Locke down at the bowling alley. What we are is a practical people, and after the wreckage left by Bush, the above seems practical. And if it works, Obama will make us a liberal country again, in which a mostly forgotten tradition of shared sacrifice for the common good will be reasserted.
In other words, if Obama succeeds we can look forward to at least a couple of decades in which the Right’s “every man for himself, and me first” ethos will be replaced with a sense that we’re all in this together.
Of course, in our most progressive moment of the past we were not really all in this together. Racial minorities were shut out, and women were kept in second-class status. The really audacious thing an Obama era promises is that, finally, we might really be what we have always said we wanted to be — a nation in which all of us are created equal.
The Right gained ascendancy mostly by stoking resentments and dividing us into a multitude of warring factions that could be manipulated for maximum political advantage. Their “shining city on a hill” is a cruel, greedy, vindictive place. Can we look forward to being compassionate, generous and supportive of each other? Imagine.