William Kristol and the Failure of Conservatism

There is unexpected sense in William Kristol’s column in today’s New York Times. The column is mostly incoherent. He begins by claiming “Conservatives have been right more often than not — and more often than liberals — about most of the important issues of the day…” He is oblivious to how miserably conservatism has failed, not only being unable to respond to the problems of the day but for becoming out of touch with reality.

We have seen the failure of modern conservatism, at least as practiced by the Republican Party, in their failure to respond to warnings about the threat of al Qaeda, their failed response the 9/11 attack (going so far as to attack the wrong country), their failure in responding to Katrina, and their failures on the economy.

Their fundamental ideas have been rejected when Americans saw how conservative claims of supporting freedom are lies as Republicans rationalized the government interfering in individuals lives from attempting to eliminate abortion rights, attempting to limit access to contraception, attempting to limit embryonic stem cell research, and intruding in personal end of life decisions in the Terri Schiavo case.

While some might have written off the anti-intellectualism of George Bush as an amusing quirk, the rapid ascendency of Sarah Palin has demonstrated that this hostility towards reason is the future of conservatism.

Conservatism has deteriorated into an authoritarian and theological movement which will ignore all facts, including basic science, when the facts conflict with their ideology.

Beyond making claims that conservatism was somehow a success, and that “Conservative policies have on the whole worked” Kristol writes that the success of liberalism depends upon Obama. While that might be true in a narrow sense related to electoral success, the success of ideas transcends any one individual.

This nation was founded based upon liberal ideals, and it is liberalism which made it great–often with conservatives such as Kristol kicking and screaming in their futile attempts to deny the reality of the modern world.

After paragraphs of incoherency, the column finally says something which makes sense:

This is William Kristol’s last column.

Just as conservatism has failed, William Kristol has failed at writing coherent columns. Just as it is time for the Republicans to go from Washington, it is time for William Kristol to go from The New York Times. His final column (along with so many others) showed why as this announcement is the only line which makes any sense in today’s column.

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  1. 1
    Stephen Rose says:

    I think this is more the failure of gridlock government than of conservatism.  By taking that head on Barack has staked territory that is beyond the liberal-conservative lingo. The real problem will be to make his brand of centrism work.  His inaugural combined a rejection of gridlock politics with a summons to hope and virtue. Sounds sappy but I think if he is successful people will concede that these labels mean little or nothing anymore. 

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Many of the failings were due to incompetence or ideas independent of ideology. For example, they failed to pay attention to the warnings about al Qaeda before 9/11 due to a belief that a non-government entity couldn’t do serious damage. That isn’t really an ideological position. On the other hand, their poor reaction to 9/11 was motivated by ideology as they tried to use 9/11 as an excuse to push their prexisting neoconservative goals.

    Their failings on Katrina, as well as to respond to other problems including health care and climate change, are directly related to their ideology.

  3. 3
    Jim Kelly says:

    Kristol does overreach to claim conservative’s are right on such sweeping issues as jihadism, education, and the family.  But it’s hardly fair to say the opposite either.  They’ve got a few good ideas in there, and the last Democrat to take on health care signally failed  as well.  

    And I’m still waiting to hear the liberal idea to fix the core health care problem: it costs too much to provide.  The average person needs to be able to afford the average lifetime’s medical bills; no other system is sustainable.  How do we pull that off?

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:


    “They’ve got a few good ideas in there”

    They are becoming harder and harder to find as conservatism increasingly becomes an authoritarian, theocratic philosophy which is unable to respond to problems beyond its increasingly narrow world view. (I am referring to the Republican Party and the portion of the conservative movement which backs them. There are of course conservatives with good ideas, but they are generally written of as RINOs or otherwise ostracized from the conservative movement.)

    “last Democrat to take on health care signally failed as well.”

    A supporter of Clinton’s plan could easily debunk your statement by pointing out that she failed to get her plan passed. That is completely different from a plan failing in action–as has happened with so many Republican policies. However, as I opposed HillaryCare, I will also say that not all Democratic plans are correct either.

    There is no easy fix to health care. Democratic plans such as those advocated by John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 will not solve all problems. What is important is that they represent a considerable improvement over the status quo, while conditions worsened as a result of Republican policies.

  5. 5
    Jim Kelly says:

    “There are of course conservatives with good ideas, but they are generally ostracized from the conservative movement.”

    I completely agree.  There are a lot of Bible-free conservatives reeling with a WTF reaction to the Bush years.  I’d also say there are a lot of hard-left types who likewise base their policies on good-vs-evil rather than a careful analysis of what will work, leaving the Democrats with similar challenges speaking with one sane voice.  

    Unlike HillaryCare, Bush’s prescription drug plan got implemented, badly–perhaps that’s what you’re talking about?  Health care as a whole has of course gotten much more expensive over the past decade, but it’s a stretch to pin responsibility on either party.  Our scandalously inefficient system is a weird knot of market-driven parts, government-managed parts, and simple inertia.  As you say, there is no easy fix.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    With regards to Bush I’m referring to both his Medicare plan along with the increase in number of people who are uninsured or seriously under-insured. You might not be able to blame either party, but the Republicans have only provided ideas which would worsen the problem while the Democrats have offered improvements.

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