William Kristol wrote his last column for the New York Times Monday, and I'm sure every reader who appreciated good writing said, "Good riddance."
Kristol is a triple threat as a columnist: he can't write, he can't think, and he is error prone. I read his first couple of columns and then an occasional one when I thought the topic might interest me. I typically found that even though the topic might have been of interest, his pedestrian, doctrinaire writing, carelessness with facts, and lack of original ideas or worthwhile insight bored and angered me before I reached the last three or four paragraphs, so I inevitably gave up.
Kristol's banality has nothing to do with his being a conservative; it has to do with him being dumb. His ineptness is best exemplified by comparing his final column, titled "Will Obama Save Liberalism?" to a column written the next day by the Times’ well-established, brilliant conservative columnist David Brooks.
Kristol's last column began with the following:
All good things must come to an end. January 20, 2009, marked the end of a conservative era.
Since Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, conservatives of various sorts, and conservatisms of various stripes, have generally been in the ascendancy. And a good thing, too! Conservatives have been right more often than not - and more often than liberals - about most of the important issues of the day: about Communism and jihadism, crime and welfare, education and the family. Conservative policies have on the whole worked - insofar as any set of policies can be said to "work" in the real world. Conservatives of the Reagan-Bush-Gingrich-Bush years have a fair amount to be proud of.
"All good things must come to an end?" I'll let you guess where his head has been for 20 years.
Here's how David Brooks began his column titled "What Life Asks of Us" on Tuesday:
A few years ago, a faculty committee at Harvard produced a report on the purpose of education. "The aim of a liberal education" the report declared, "is to unsettle presumptions, to defamiliarize the familiar, to reveal what is going on beneath and behind appearances, to disorient young people and to help them to find ways to reorient themselves."
Brooks goes on to explore the meaning of education, the philosophy of individualism, the value of institutions, and the meaning of life – no easy task – but he manages it intelligently. David Brooks and columnist colleagues Gail Collins, Frank Rich, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Herbert, Thomas Friedman, and Paul Krugman contribute to making The New York Times the best news website in America – truly the journal of record for the first draft of history.
But you have to wonder why Kristol, who can barely play Class A ball in the shadow of the above big-league superstars, got the column in the first place. Conventional wisdom and gossip has that it was Pinch Sulzberger's decision. It was rumored that he wanted to have another conservative voice on the paper in addition to David Brooks. Perhaps Sulzberger thought Kristol could be a replacement for William Safire. How dumb was that?
The day after Kristol's last column appeared in the Times, the Washington Post announced Kristol would be writing a column for that influential publication. Katherine Weymouth is the publisher of the Washington Post.
Guess what Pinch Sulzberger, Katherine Weymouth, and William Kristol all have in common? They are all three members of the Lucky Sperm Club. Arthur Sulzberger's family owns voting control of the Times, Katherine Weymouth is the granddaughter of Katherine Graham, and William Kristol is the son of Irving Kristol, the godfather of neoconservatism, a brilliant writer and intellectual, and founder and co-founder of several magazines, including The Public Interest.
We don't really know if Pinch, Katherine, or William would have reached the pinnacles of journalism if they hadn't all been members of the Lucky Sperm Club. But after reading William's lousy columns, you have to wonder about the motivation underlying his being hired. As with most motivations, the reasons for his hiring were probably unconscious, but that's the way of the world in the privileged confines of the Lucky Sperm Club.
Probably Pinch and Katherine should have read one of Irving Kristol's quotes before they hired his son:
"The trouble with traditional American conservatism is that it lacks a naturally cheerful, optimistic disposition. Not only does it lack one, it regards signs of one as evidence of unsoundness, irresponsibility."