A conservatory of Ldotter blogs.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

I feel at my nerdiest. . .

. . .when stories like the intra-ideological battle between Kristol and Podhoretz stirs me to take sides and await the next volley -- especially when both sides insist that there's nothing to the story. Part of me says, "Oh, who are you guys kidding? Go ahead and belt him good, John." Another part of me says, "Geez. If I cared about this kind of stuff, I'd subscribe to People."

But, there is some substance to the matter of the dispute which should be considered on its own merits, regardless of the two people involved and their respective family legacies and conservative credentials. I've agreed and disagreed with both men in the past, but won't bother to try and put them on a scale. They're both honorable, principled men, and for the most part, closely aligned. And, it strikes this blogger that the least constructive angle to take with regard to the supposed dispute is to impute their respective takes on Donald Rumsfeld's performance to disloyalty or ambition -- especially when wrongheadedness would serve as an ample explanation.

Admittedly, I haven't followed John Podhoretz as closely as I have Bill Kristol. But, that's more a result of the fact that Podhoretz isn't as prevalent a media figure as Kristol, rather than a matter of choice. It's simply that Kristol is more available.

Having watched and listened to Kristol over the years, one memory has stuck with me more than any other. It's a sketchy memory where specifics are concerned -- I don't recall exactly where he said it, nor exactly when -- but the basics have remained with me for several years, now.

If memory serves, Kristol was on one of the left-right talk shows (Crossfire, perhaps) with the erstwhile sane and conservative Ariana Huffington, sometime around the elections of 1996, when the GOP seemed to be adrift. The discussion was essentially a "where do we go from here" affair, as the two discussed the best course for the GOP if it were to remain a viable political party. And, unless I'm mistaken, it was just about the time that Huffington began her leftward migration.

The two found much agreement on one idea, and that was the concept of "Good Government Conservatism". They both seemed to feel that the conservative tendency to lay the blame for all of humanity's ills on government was responsible for the disfavor in which the public held the GOP at that time. And both submitted that conservatives would be better served if they embraced the good that government can do for people, rather than constantly harp on its shortcomings. And, to my mind, that's not an entirely unreasonable position.

Not coincidentally, it was about that time that both Kristol and Huffington became boosters for the coming candidacy of John McCain. Both lauded his purported independence, idealism, and "straight talk" as qualities for which Americans were starved.

All of this is not to suggest (as some do) that Kristol is no longer eligible for the "conservative" label. In fact, he's been quite vocal in decrying the the Bush administration's seemingly devil-may-care attitude toward spending. And he deserves credit for that, if consistency is to be considered a virtue.

But, one would hope for a little more consistency from Kristol when it comes to supporting straight talk and reform, which Donald Rumsfeld has undeniably made a hallmark of his tenure. He inherited a military that was poorly equipped to deal with the threat it currently faces, and has set about making the necessary changes, to the chagrin of many lobbyists and entrenched interests in the Pentagon, as well as several senior senators -- including the straight-talking reformer himself, John McCain. And, when questioned about the progress of the war and the level of preparedness in waging it, stated his answer in matter-of-fact terms. For that, he's had his words selectively quoted and placed in a context so completely foreign to the spirit in which they were made as to invite ridicule from anyone with any sense of honesty.

One has to wonder whether or not Kristol's dissatisfaction with Rumsfeld's performance has a little to do with his loyalty to McCain, given the senator's apparent conviction that he's the better man for the job, and Kristol's obvious desire to see him become President. I'm in no position to say. But, what I am in a position to say is that Kristol's assertion that the troops "deserve a better defense secretary" was a cheap appeal to the public's reverence for our military personnel, and it struck me as gratuitous, and completely devoid of context.

What Rumsfeld has accomplished as Secretary of Defense, in the face of a powerful, long-established opposition with its own motives, while keeping an eye toward the conflicts we will inevitably face in the future -- and actively waging the battles we face in the present -- is nothing short of herculean. To attempt to drive a rhetorical wedge between him and the people he commands in the execution of that task is unseemly, at best.

So, in this instance, John Podhoretz is the voice of reason and perspective. Whether or not there's an actual feud between the two men is an issue for the gossip pages.

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