Kristol is Anything But Clear (Or Honest) on Obama, Patriotism, and Ego

Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 09:04 PM

Back to Monday's "trifecta of the absurd" editorial page, and Bill Kristol's shameless attempt to spin some fairly simple and harmless statements by both Barack and Michelle Obama into a tapestry of wrongness and culthood (frankly, I don't care if its a word; it fits).

Kristol's latest attempt at a NYT column was titled "It’s All About Him," and took both Michelle and Barack Obama to task for, according to Kristol, massive grandiosity, ego, and, essentially leading a messianic cult. Being Kristol, of course, he doesn't actually state those conclusions, he more or less asks whether others might conclude that. Sort of like Fox News using the bottom of the tv screen to ask the kind of "questions" that clearly lead viewers to the answer that Fox desires. Like, "Will Obama's election lead to a market crash," or "Did Hillary carve up a newborn baby to harvest its organs for her family?"

Kristol supposedly managed to get his Harvard undergrad degree in 3 years, has taught at Harvard and Penn, and has been a mover and shaker in the circles of power for more than a decade. So I think I'm justified in assuming that he's not intellectually handicapped. Yet he has to make some amazingly wrong assumptions, and engage in some incredibly distorted reasoning, in order to reach his Fox-like questions.

Take for example, his opening description of why Obama's answer to a reporter's question indicates Obama's insufferable ego (emphasis added):

Last October, a reporter asked Barack Obama why he had stopped wearing the American flag lapel pin that he, like many other public officials, had been sporting since soon after Sept. 11. Obama could have responded that his new-found fashion minimalism was no big deal. What matters, obviously, is what you believe and do, not what you wear.

But Obama chose to present his flag-pin removal as a principled gesture. “You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.”

Leave aside the claim that “speaking out on issues” constitutes true patriotism. What’s striking is that Obama couldn’t resist a grandiose explanation. Obama’s unnecessary and imprudent statement impugns the sincerity or intelligence of those vulgar sorts who still choose to wear a flag pin But moral vanity prevailed. He wanted to explain that he was too good — too patriotic! — to wear a flag pin on his chest..

So much for the value of a Harvard degree. Or is this deliberate, a raw case of disingenuousness? Who gives a crap? Kristol's full of it, one way or the other. He's either too intellectually handicapped to be allowed to pontificate, or too zealously partisan to be taken as anything other than a shameless propagandist.

Kristol shortens Obama's "issues that are of importance to our national security" to just "issues." And he pretends to believe that Obama was saying that this is all that patriotism amounts to, rather than citing it as an example of patriotism in the context of 9/11, the Iraq war, and how wearing symbols seemed to have become the substitute for patriotism.

Obama "couldn't resist" a grandiose explanation? Really? Sounds like he simply answered the question that he was asked. Since when is it a bad thing for a politician to answer the question he's asked, rather than trying to duck it or concoct some pallid articulation designed to not offend rather than to inform? That's what Kristol really means. Why else label Obama's answer "imprudent?"

And come on, if Obama's answer does impugn the sincerity or intelligence of those who still wear the flag pin, isn't the reverse also true--that wearing the flag pin impugns the intelligence or honor of those who have chosen not to wear it? In fact, isn't this the inherent nature of any disagreement between people on public issues? But, of course, Obama did not explicitly or implicitly impugn anyone. He simply stated his view of the matter. The impugning was supplied after the fact by Mr. Kristol.

And of course Kristol has to close by contrasting Obama and McCain, as follows:

It’s fitting that the alternative to Obama will be John McCain. He makes no grand claim to fix our souls. He doesn’t think he’s the one everyone has been waiting for. He’s more proud of his country than of himself. And his patriotism has consisted of deeds more challenging than “speaking out on issues.”
First, good disclosure there, Mr. Kristol. You don't see any reason to disclose your role as a McCain advisor when writing something like that?

Second, good tactic to leave your statement at the level of extreme generality: McCain's patriotism has consisted of "deeds more challenging than speaking out on issues." What deeds, Mr. Kristol? And what does your view here say about your own patriotism, Mr. Kristol? Has it extended one inch beyond speaking out in favor of all things neoconical (still don't care if its a word) and working behind the scenes to further your personal view of American Empire?

For what it's worth, two quotes come to my mind writing this: Goering's famous:

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
and Mencken's:
The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.
Kristol has been at the front lines of agitating for war in the Middle East (though not at the actual front line in the Middle East), and now disingenuously questions the patriotism of a politician who is confronting the despair of the good citizens. Another productive day at the partisan office for Mr. Kristol.

And save your time, no, I'm not a die-hard Obama fan with a knee jerk defense of anything critical of him. I'm very much afraid that we don't have anyone in the running who can return this country to the road to sanity--let alone to sanity itself. I'm just absolutely sure that Kristol Boulevard leads only to the same long term disaster that jingoism always leads to. And equally sure that advocacy which resorts to Kristol's tactics is advocacy of the damned.