Being Bill Kristol
WASHINGTON — One can understand why The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol would try to nullify Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy, but smearing all baby boomers in the process seems a stretch of veracity in the service of a blank page.
In the June 1 issue of the conservative magazine he co-founded, Kristol writes that we’ve had enough already with boomer presidents. They’re all a bunch of losers, he says in so many words, causing exactly no one to lose sleep.
I don’t usually single out other commentators, but I’m making an exception — not because I’m a woman, or a boomer, or a Hillary Clinton supporter (though Kristol makes me want to be one), but because despite being wrong about most everything, he remains an influential voice in politics.
Basically, Kristol posits that the past three presidents — all boomers — were “indulged” do-nothings and part of a generation who only “aspire to the appropriate attitude and affect, and seek the suitable sense and sensibility.”
Poor guy. Who’s he hanging with? And should we tell him he’s a baby boomer, too? Kristol, 62, snuggles his self-loathing like a blankie.
“Accomplishments are old school,” he writes. (I’ve got news for you, honey. Boomers are old school.) “Accomplishments are what their parents, conventionally patriotic and earnestly bourgeois, labored and strove for. Baby boomers, by contrast, aspire rather than labor, and seek rather than strive.”
Whose parents? Kristol’s weren’t exactly manning the dikes — or the ’burbs. His father, Irving Kristol, was a public intellectual and columnist, and his mother, Gertrude Himmelfarb, is a scholar and historian.
What wonderful good luck to be born of such parents, who could indulge their children with an intellectually stimulating home and a fine education, and to be spared the earnest pursuits of the bourgeoisie.
One naturally wonders, meanwhile, what Kristol considers an accomplishment. Did Steve Jobs accomplish anything by revolutionizing communications through creation of the Apple kingdom? What was the civil rights movement? Just a dream, I suppose. Women’s rights? Never mind. The World Wide Web? Come on, Bill.
Kristol lavishly praises the greatest generation. Who doesn’t? I liked them, too, but I just called them my parents.
He points out that earlier presidents — from Harry Truman to George H.W. Bush — “all had accomplished things, often difficult things, in their personal and public lives before they ran for president. … That all served in the military is only a small part — though a telling part — of the story. The boomer presidents, of course, didn’t serve, or barely served.”
OK, I’ll give him that one.
But is Kristol suggesting that only those who have served in the military should become president? That would be one way of vastly reducing the pool of female candidates. By “barely served,” he must be referring to George W. Bush, since Bill Clinton didn’t serve and Barack Obama, b. 1961, was underage during Vietnam, which ended in 1975.
Kristol, on the other hand, was prime cannon fodder during the final years of that war, but he was busy at Harvard, from which he was graduated magna cum laude — no small accomplishment, I’m sure he’d agree.
Speaking of which, were the 58,000 troops who died in Vietnam merely seeking rather than striving? All right, fine, too harsh. Besides, it’s not that Kristol is averse to war. He vigorously supported the war in Iraq and has defended it since.
Although then-Sen. Hillary Clinton also supported the war, Kristol maintains that she would merely be another in a boomer trend that needs to end. Perhaps. Or is there something else? Is it the Clinton in Hillary he doesn’t like? Kristol led the charge to defeat her efforts to reform health care as first lady. Or is it the woman in Clinton he finds so offensive? Perhaps he prefers women in flirty skirts and high heels to sturdy women in pantsuits? It was he, after all, who pushed Sarah Palin as the worthiest running mate for John McCain.
Probably all of the above and something more. Implicitly — and rather coquettishly, I might add — Kristol just defined the terms of his assault on Jeb Bush. Rather than say that Bush is merely another of those indulged boomers, he laid it all at Hillary Clinton’s feet, damning the past three presidents, insulting millions of his own cohorts, and revealing a measure of self-contempt in the process.
Perhaps Kristol was exorcising some of his own demons with this column — resolving long-simmering issues resulting from having been an indulged, Ivy League boomer who didn’t serve in the military and whose accomplishments are in the vein of commenting on the actions of others.
Not that there’s anything wrong with writing opinion for a living.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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