Home / General / The (Nominally) Democratic Bill Kristol

The (Nominally) Democratic Bill Kristol


Speaking of hack narratives that were of dubious accuracy even in 2004, it’s hard to be more consistently wrong in a more predictable way than Mr. William Galston.

How many people out there have read Liberal Purposes?  Between my skepticism that liberal(ish) Straussianism is something that should even be attempted and the abject uselessness of his it’s-always-1984-and-the-Democrats-have-to-be-more-reactionary punditry I’ve never read it, but I also know a lot of smart people find it impressive.

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  • laura

    Well, *someone* needs to replace Mickey Kaus.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Personally, that’s a position I’d just as soon leave unfilled.

      • laura

        Sure as there will always be another Matt Stoller, somebody will always be there to fill the Kaus slot.

        • I just can’t wait for the next Matt Stoller…..

    • Jonas

      Those goats aren’t going to blow themselves…

    • Manta

      He’s filling a much needed gap in the punditry.

  • Gabriel Mares

    Liberal Purposes was an important contribution to a debate that was hot 20 years ago…as such, it was timely and important, but re-reading it now you won’t get the same urgency. A lot of the stuff is now just taken for granted in understanding the liberal project. Which I suppose is a sign of success.

    • laura

      Yeah, and since I just snarked about Kaus, the same goes for The End of Equality. Things have changed since 1990.

      • Scott Lemieux

        So, really, is the End of Equality not-terrible? It’s hard to imagine Kaus extending an argument to more than 5 pages.

        • The End of Equality is like most books of its type: better as a long article than a book. But yes, once upon a time, an argument about the need for liberal Democrats to recognize the importance of civic equality alongside income redistribution probably needed to be made, if only to whatever remnants of the Democratic coalition that weren’t willing to grant that the DLC had a point and still somehow believed Mondale and Dukakis could have turned it around. What Gabriel Mares said about Galston is right for Kaus as well; the communitarian critique is still valuable, I think, but its direct applicability to Democratic electoral politics has long since been learned.

          • Matt

            the communitarian critique is still valuable

            I’m not sure I’m willing to grant that it was ever valuable, seeing how it was mostly based on bald mis-readings and the like, so I am certainly not willing to grant this.
            (Individual communitarians often had interesting things to say, of course, but mostly when they were not in any plausible way in conflict with liberalism.)

        • laura

          It’s been a few years since I read it, but I pretty much agree with Russell. It reads like somebody who is a discouraged but serious-minded liberal, not a bitter, unfocussed hack like Kaus has been for the past decade.

          • laura

            Well, except that Dukakis was a pretty model New Democrat. A good case could be made that the party had internalized pretty much everything it needed to internalize by 1988, and the DLC was already a dangerous rump-regional organization.

        • Eric

          I read End of Equality a few years ago and it was pretty good. Kaus made his arguments there more carefully than he bothers to in his blog now.

          You could definitely see the origins of modern Kaus in it, though– most of the book was a reasonable and dry theoretical discussion of equality as a goal, and Kaus only seems to get passionate towards the end of the book, when he arrives at the practical implications of his arguments: it’s time to cut welfare for the poors.

          The book basically ends up being emblematic of modern Kaus: specific conservative arguments and goals in the short term, because maybe that will lead to hazily-defined liberal goals someday.

  • djw

    I assume I must have read some of his serious work at some point, but if I did it made no lasting impression on me whatsoever. I’m pretty sure I used an essay of his on religious accommodation and liberalism in a class once, but again, no memory.

    • I never actually read all the way through Liberal Purposes; I read enough to understand what I agreed with about his argument, and didn’t feel a need to go on. His stuff on liberalism and religion in Liberalism Pluralism is pretty solid. I’m enough of a populist to appreciate his insistence on respecting white working class politics, but I’ve never understood the way he’s continually banged on about it; perhaps he’s never been able to admit to himself that Hillary lost the primary.

  • Cole’s Rusty Pitchfork

    Speaking of Registered Democrats (TM), we know Dick Morris is a shameless douche nozzle. But this
    is practically self-parody. It’s as if he’s conducting an experiment. Like he’s saying, “How far can I dumb it down till even
    Jonah Goldberg starts calling me a dipshit?”

  • Wow that’s a lot of wrong.

    Galston has some intelligent things to say about the structural elements of the race here, but wow does he faceplant on how it unfolded.

  • tt

    This is pretty weak, given that Weigel engages in the same kind of baseless speculation about the hearts of the American people that Galston does in the pieces he quotes. Voters in exit polls (which are mostly worthless anyays) saying their top priority is a president “caring about people” isn’t actually evidence that the Bain attacks worked. If you’re not willing or able to do rigorous statistical analysis you have no basis in saying which campaign strategies worked or did not, and that applies equally to Weigal and Galston.

    • John

      I agree that that point is somewhat weak. The rest of Weigel’s points are pretty straightforward, though, and Galston seems clearly wrong.

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