I know Kristol has a brain somewhere in his head, but sometimes he does a good job hiding it.
Consider our last four presidential elections. If voters had simply looked at the biographies of the major-party candidates, they would have chosen George H. W. Bush in 1992, Bob Dole in 1996, Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. Instead, they rejected four veterans who served in wartime (and who also had considerable experience in public life) for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who had lesser résumés, both civilian and military.Of those, how many times did Kristol get behind the candidate with the better résumé? Maybe 1996? How many times did he get squarely behind a disastrously bad president, despite his lack of qualification and lack of service to the nation? At least twice. I spoke to a life-long Republican last year who commented on his voting history, "I only made two mistakes, and both of them were named 'George Bush'". Kristol seems happy to say, "Yes, that guy made a mistake," but refuses to concede the implication for his own bad choices.
Campaign consultants like to say elections are about the present and the future more than the past. To the degree they are about the past, they’re about the very recent past: “What have you done for me lately?” But we don’t even hear that question much anymore. Today’s campaigns are designed to capture the present and imagine the future.Let's be honest, Bill Clinton makes Kristol's list while Reagan does not, only because of the disaster that is George W. Bush. We could push it back further - look at, say, 1980 and 1984? Whatever you think of his record in office, isn't Reagan the quintessential example of the triumph of image over experience at the ballot box?
These comparisons also implicate a subjective question: What exactly is it that constitutes "good experience" for a presidential candidate? Being a governor? Being a Senator? Serving in the House of Representatives? Business experience? Maybe part of the problem is that Kristol's sense of what constitutes the best qualifications for the Presidency don't correspond to those of the electorate.
If we look at Kristol's voting history, unless he's admitting that he will let an infatuation for a candidate overwhelm his common sense or objectivity, he's not even accurately describing his own preferred résumé. Here, Kristol depicts "military service plus a long Senate career" as the ultimate résumé for a Presidential candidate, but his personal record betrays his contempt for such a résumé in practice. There are even hints of it in this attempt to buttress McCain. Compare and contrast:
McCain knows this. As an elected official, he’s never rested on his P.O.W. laurels, remarkable though they are. He’s been a major player in the Senate — in foreign policy and military matters, and as a successful sponsor of (sometimes misguided) domestic reform legislation.versus the next paragraph,
As a presidential candidate, McCain is running, as one would expect, a substantive foreign policy campaign, as shown by his fine speech last week before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. But with recession on the horizon, three-quarters of the American public thinking the country’s on the wrong track, and the president and Congress at historically low approval levels — shouldn’t we be seeing more of McCain the domestic reformer?Has Kristol truly lost track of what other right-wingers (including the lunatic fringe) and Republican party hacks have said about McCain's domestic record? Let's look to George Will: By signing on to McCain-Feingold, G.W. Bush "forfeited his right to be trusted as a custodian of the Constitution". From the perspective of the political right, isn't that just one of the "sometimes misguided" domestic policies Kristol references? Immigration "amnesty" anyone?
Am I surprised that McCain wants to depict himself as a set of bookends - from "war hero" to "elder statesman"... with a lot of experience in between, but let's not look at it too hard? No. I'm also not surprised by jingoistic campaign slogans. (I think he's currently going with something like "Americans For John McCain, An American President For Americans In America".) If Kristol is truly advocating for McCain to take up the mantle of "Mr. Domestic Policy", he needs to talk to some of his colleagues about the possible ramifications to McCain's campaign.