It’s possible, perhaps even usual, to be a good writer and a poor thinker. Never having read anything by Bill Kristol, I assumed that literary talent must explain why the New York Times was giving him the most desirable platform in American journalism.
Then his first column came out. Here’s how it began:
Thank you, Senator Obama. You’ve defeated Senator Clinton in Iowa. It looks as if you’re about to beat her in New Hampshire. There will be no Clinton Restoration. A nation turns its grateful eyes to you.
But gratitude for sparing us a third Clinton term only goes so far. Who, inquiring minds want to know, is going to spare us a first Obama term? After all, for all his ability and charm, Barack Obama is still a liberal Democrat. Some of us would much prefer a non-liberal and non-Democratic administration. We don’t want to increase the scope of the nanny state, we don’t want to undo the good done by the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and we really don’t want to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory in Iraq.
I won’t waste time on precisely why this is such an awful piece of writing; for that, go here. And I can’t tell you why the Times hired him, except that their stated reason — to give right-left balance to the editorial page — cannot possibly be the real one. A couple of hours poking around the right-wing blogosphere would turn up any number of conservatives who think and write far better than Kristol. And they’d come a lot cheaper.
I suspect Kristol got where he is the same way George W. Bush did: family connections. Kristol’s father is the unspeakable neocon elder Irving Kristol, who was a longtime friend of the unspeakable former editor of the New York Times, the late Abe Rosenthal, whose son, Andrew Rosenthal, became editorial page editor of the Times a year ago.
I have friends, too, and one of them has a friend at the Times, and that friend told my friend who just emailed me “the delicious inside detail that (a) the editors told him, ‘Look, Bill, you actually have to write these by yourself,’ and (b) the copy editors decided to let him… speak in his own voice!”
(Incidentally, since I’ll bet you didn’t know, either — nep•o•tism: mid 17th cent.: from French népotisme, from Italian nepotismo, from nipote “nephew” (with reference to privileges bestowed on the “nephews” of popes, who were in many cases their illegitimate sons).)