Has William Kristol seen the light?

After my long absence from thinkPOP, I return this morning with a take from William Kristol in the NY Times. Anyone that has read thinkPOP knows I usually disagree deeply with Kristol, but this week he seems to have seen the light on a new way forward for conservatives and the GOP, my favorite passage:

I don’t pretend to know just what has to be done. But I suspect that free-marketers need to be less doctrinaire and less simple-mindedly utility-maximizing, and that they should depend less on abstract econometric models. I think they’ll have to take much more seriously the task of thinking through what are the right rules of the road for both the private and public sectors. They’ll have to figure out what institutional barriers and what monetary, fiscal and legal guardrails are needed for the accountability, transparency and responsibility that allow free markets to work.

And I don’t see why conservatives ought to defend a system that permits securitizing mortgages (or car loans) in a way that seems to make the lenders almost unaccountable for the risk while spreading it, toxically, everywhere else. I don’t see why a commitment to free markets requires permitting banks or bank-like institutions to leverage their assets at 30 to 1. There’s nothing conservative about letting free markets degenerate into something close to Karl Marx’s vision of an atomizing, irresponsible and self-devouring capitalism.

If this is the beginning of a new conservative moderation on the political landscape, I for one will welcome it.


William Kristol Begs: Let McCain be McCain

In his NY Times Column this week, William Kristol wants McCain to fire his campaign staff and work from the gut. He writes:

The McCain campaign, once merely problematic, is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional. Its combination of strategic incoherence and operational incompetence has become toxic…. 

…What McCain needs to do is junk the whole thing and start over. Shut down the rapid responses, end the frantic e-mails, bench the spinning surrogates, stop putting up new TV and Internet ads every minute. In fact, pull all the ads — they’re doing no good anyway. Use that money for televised town halls and half-hour addresses in prime time…

The problem of course with this line of reasoning is that it somehow separates McCain from the campaign he is running. Kristol seems to believe a more coherent, more economically learned candidate is buried within the McCain campaign somewhere. That deep down America really wants John McCain, they just don’t know it because the spin masters have done such a terrible job. Kristol would have us think that the wild machinations from “the fundamentals are strong” to this being economic armageddon don’t instill a lot of confidence in most voters even if Sarah Palin calls them “Joe Six-Pack.”   

Or maybe Kristol is doing what pundits always do, blaming the campaign staff for their candidates slide, instead of the candidate himself. McCain’s campaign has made some missteps, but we will never know which were generated by Rick Davis and his team and which came from McCain himself. This election was supposed to be all about Obama, yet McCain can’t seem to keep himself out of the spotlight and out of the realm of judgment. The non-suspension of his campaign is the biggest case in point. Only John McCain could decide it was time to make himself the center of attention during an economic hurricane. And we’ll never know if it was the campaign or John McCain that decided Sarah Palin would be the Hail Mary Pass that would win this game. What we do know is McCain approved it. 

The real problem the McCain campaign is up against is there’s no good way to couch his economic message, foreign policy views, or general shoot-from-the-hip demeanor as anything other than very similar to George W. Bush. Sure people may see McCain as more competent, but on policy there is little separating the two. That’s not spin, it’s fact. 

If anything a candidate with such a flawed platform in these times needs to commend his staff for keeping it this close. I thought Obama was supposed to have been up by double digits by now? Let’s leave the campaigns alone and just see this for what it is a candidate misshapen for the times is against a candidate of the moment, no amount of non-campaigning will fix that.

Kristol and the Bailout

It says something about this financial crisis that it has me and William Kristol in agreement. I’ve used words in the past like “pin-head” and “moron” to describe him. But this morning’s column is a calm and sober assessment of crisis. There are serious questions to be asked about this bailout. Both in practical operational terms, and in the longer term. 

While I recognize the need for immediate action, failing to think this through and craft a plan with some semblance of long-term thinking will only serve to hurt us a few years from now. So for once, William Kristol and I agree.


Guys and Gals, take a breath and think this one through,