Joe Klein vs. Bill Kristol: The Obama Shill Attacks

Yesterday, Joe Klein wrote a piece titled "Bill Kristol's Blues: The Republican Party is Still Looking Backward" at Time. It's ostensibly an attack on Bill Kristol's recent assessment of the 2012 race, but in fact that's just a jumping off point for Klein. His real target is, as always, the Republican Party. 

Kristol's piece is intended to frame the coming election. The GOP is not facing Jimmy Carter, Kristol says; therefore, Republicans should not count on a sudden break right this November. Rather they should view this year as more akin to 2004, i.e. troubled but still potent incumbent faces a challenger with a questionable background (and trouble heating up his own party). Kristol's advice is that the GOP must run a smarter race than Kerry did in '04 to win. That means not running a campaign that snipes at the particulars of Obama's first term but one that looks forward. Less biography, more promise. Less Kerry, more Clinton. To do this, Kristol argues, the GOP nominee will need to explain what the alternatives are going forward:

Can he explain how an Obama second term would be even more dangerous and damaging than the Obama first term has been? Can he explain that we’re heading off a cliff of debt and deficit if Obama’s fiscal policies are allowed to continue? Can his campaign make vivid the harm Obama’s tax hikes and regulations will do to the economy, and Obama-care to our health care system and our country? Can he explain what a second term of Obama judicial appointments will do to our courts? Can he explain the damage an Obama second term will do to self-government, and limited government, and constitutional government in America? Can he conduct a campaign that describes how much more dangerous the world might look in 2016 if we continue Obama’s foreign and defense policies? Can the Republican campaign present a choice of paths for the future, à la Paul Ryan’s budget and his explanation of it, rather than simply complain about the recent past and the difficult present?
From that paragraph, Klein somehow gets that all of Kristol's prescriptions are backward looking:
You may have noticed that, with the exception of Paul Ryan’s deficit-busting, Medicare-privatizing budget, all of the things that need to be explained are attacks on Obama’s first term.
Actually, no, I didn't notice that. Possibly because it's not true. There is a difference between harping on the $5 trillion Obama has added to the deficit (so far) and telling Americans that we can't afford $5 trillion more even as Social Security and Medicare are floundering. The same is true with regard to the courts. Kristol is not suggesting the GOP re-litigate the Kagan confirmation; he is saying that the GOP nominee must explain (for instance) how close we've come to abandoning the limited government established in the Constitution and how those limits might be wiped away if Obama gains a second term. The whole point of the paragraph (and Kristol's piece) is that a campaign which rests in past arguments is a loser. What's needed is someone who can "make vivid" the path America is traveling into the future. And then, once that's done clearly, present an alternative path. But Klein's reading of Kristol is so dense, you have to wonder if he even understood the column he was attacking. And it doesn't improve from there:
that is one of the essential problems with today’s Republican party: it has no intellectually honest vision of the future, no answers except “no” and “less” (or “more” when it comes to the military). Such answers can be semi-plausible when dealing with budget matters, but there are real problems the country is facing that it might be nice for Republicans to address.
This is dishonest in two ways. First, when two opposing parties fight over the same turf, the role of the defense is always to deny to offense turf. That's true on the football field and it's true of political parties. The party on defense, the one not in the White House, will inevitably be saying "no" more than the party on offense. 

But secondly and more importantly, Klein's reading of recent history is complete garbage. It was President Bush who attempted to deal with Social Security's fiscal problems during his second term. This is something Democrats universally opposed. In the 8 years since, what have Democrats done about the problem? They've insisted loudly that it didn't exist. Quoth Harry Reid last year, "Social Security is fine." Republicans have also proposed two plans to deal with the impending collapse of Medicare. What have the Democrats done? They've run Mediscare attack ads to insure the ship of state keeps heading for the iceberg. Democrats also passed an entirely new entitlement program (Obamacare) which almost no one thinks will address costs. Meanwhile, Democrats up to and including the President, have spent countless hours in the last 8 months promoting a silly "Buffett Rule" which will raise $31 billion over the next 11 years. The President devoted another weekly radio address to it last week. This is what the Democrats propose as a serious reform to deal with our $1 trillion plus deficits? Is this is a plan, Joe Klein, or a cover story? 

And the situation is even more clear on the state level, where GOP leaders like Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, and Scott Walker have said openly that it is time to deal with public pensions which are bankrupting states and also with poor education. What have Democrats done? Flee the state and hide out to avoid votes. Demand re-call elections. Compare Republicans to Hitler and run millions in negative ads to maintain the status quo for their union supporters. The idea that Republicans have no prescription for the future is simply a laughable inversion of reality. Republicans have offered solutions at great political risk (see latest WI polling) while the President and his party have engaged in three years of dithering and wasteful spending that doesn't begin to address our fiscal problems. 

What is the President's plan for dealing with Social Security and Medicare? There isn't one. What is his plan for cutting the deficit by half (something he campaigned on in 2008)? He hasn't got one. What is his plan for raising school standards? All we know is he opposes choice and competition. Can't afford to upset his teacher's union pals, not even for the sake of a few hundred thousand kids stuck in failing government schools. Instead of plans for our most serious problems, we have a 10-year budget window that is expected to add $6-7 trillion to the debt we already have on the books. 

That's the President's real plan. Keep spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave even as he keeps talking like a sober priest about "being his brother's keeper" and "social Darwinism." Joe Klein's version of reality would be laughable if the stakes weren't so serious. For the record, dealing with problems we face as a nation isn't "nihilism." Ignoring them is. And that's been a Democratic specialty for some time.


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