Monday, February 18, 2008

Broken Kristol

In today's New York Times, William Kristol plays a George Will trick: quote a celebrated author and then use that author to make a point that has no relationship to the actual thinking of the author quoted. George Orwell today gets dragooned into Kristol's column with Rudyard Kipling thrown in for good measure.

Berkeley University Professor Brad DeLong goes to the trouble of quoting Orwell in context, just in case there might be any doubt that Orwell was some sort of neocon before there were neocons. (For the George Will trick to be even a plausible rhetorical gambit, Kristol has to assume that the audience has no actual knowledge of the author quoted, and is too lazy to check it out.)

But the real howler is not the ill-use Kristol makes of Orwell, but the ludicrousness of the claim he purports to make.

To quote: "Having controlled the executive branch for 28 of the last 40 years, Republicans tend to think of themselves as the governing party — with some of the arrogance and narrowness that implies, but also with a sense of real-world responsibility. "

Of course, what distinguishes the last 8 years of Republican control of the executive branch has been its determination not to assume any real-world responsibility. Pass a tax cut, but pay for it? Start a war, but plan for it?

The case-in-point real-world responsibility is, as in all of Kristol's NY Times editorials, just the latest Republican talking points (Robert Novak basically wrote the same column in today's Washington Post, with trial lawyers serving the same function as Kristol's Orwell). Namely, he argues that in refusing to grant legal immunity telecommunications companies that helped the government spy on Americans (to quote again: "certain legal arrangements regarding surveillance abilities"--talk about Orwellian New Speech!) the Democrats are putting the nation (and not George W. Bush) at risk. Of course, to prove this point Kristol parades a group of Bush appointed lackeys saying so, pretends they are "non-partisan" and then goes on his merry way, actual proof and real world evidence apparently not something that needs to be part of an argument (well, he got the arrogance and narrowness right). Exactly where "responsibility" comes in allowing large corporations to evade the consequence of breaking the law is of course an point never considered.

That Kristol could think, and the New York Times put in print, that Orwell somehow believed that it is OK for governments to spy on its citizens in itself boggles the mind. He should have saved the money he spent on Orwell's essays and spent it on Orwells 1984.

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