Joe Conason’s Journal

Bill Kristol and other American "chicken hawks" henpeck Republican defectors.

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Axis of demagogy
Military service isn’t a prerequisite for advocacy of military action, but those who haven’t served ought to temper their enthusiasm for shedding other people’s blood, if only as a matter of civic etiquette. Warrior pundits might also think carefully before they slur combat veterans who dare to dissent from the war-making mindset.

This advice is intended for the likes of Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor and former Enron consultant, whose voluntary enlistment in the “culture war” doesn’t lend him an officer’s stature (even though he did direct those courageous air strikes on “Murphy Brown” for Dan Quayle). Kristol’s latest editorial denunciation of Republicans questioning the rationale for invading Iraq rudely crosses those lines. Indeed, Kristol’s attack on the “axis of appeasement” carries a whiff of sectarian vitriol reminiscent of neoconservatism’s roots in the old ultra-left. Anyone who disagrees with the party line on Iraq is an “appeaser” and possibly a tool of Saudi interests.

The aim of Kristol’s argument is to silence doubters by branding them as disloyal, not just to this president but to American interests and ideals. It is demagogy and it is merely offensive, not effective.

Kristol was clearly stung by Sen. Chuck Hagel’s challenge to Pentagon adviser Richard Perle last Sunday, when the Nebraska Republican wondered aloud whether Perle might want to join the first wave of troops entering Baghdad. Placing Hagel among the appeasers and calling him bitter and dishonest as well, Kristol unwittingly emphasizes the senator’s point by comparing him with Pat Buchanan. Although Buchanan has abandoned his hawkish past, the right-wing commentator is permanently on the list of those who liked war just fine as long as others did the fighting. That is all too fair a description of many, though not all, of the current hawk faction in the press and the Pentagon. For a further ornithological analysis of the “chicken hawks,” see Matthew Engel in the Guardian.
[3:16 p.m. PDT, August 20, 2002]

High rollers, low brows
When Bill Clinton was president, the very idea that a political contributor would be invited to spend the night at the White House was enough to shock the conscience of the nation — including quite a few loudmouthed members of Congress who had sold more to their donors than a sleepover. But now, as with so many other things, the tone in Washington has changed. Inviting high-rollers to stay over at the people’s house (where the people, for security reasons, are no longer invited) is just fine, so long as none of the guests are high-falutin’ intellectuals or Hollywood intellectuals. That was the message of Adam Nagourney’s slightly puffy account of the Bush White House guest list released last Friday. In one sentence, without specifics, Nagourney opines that Clinton was more systematic and energetic in using the White House for fundraising, but that topic no longer inflames him or the rest of the press corps. (A few specific names may still be found in the Associated Press story here.)

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What intrigues our journalists now is the contrast between Bush, a person of little curiosity who likes to turn in by 10 p.m., and Clinton, who enjoyed the mental stimulation of the “celebrities” who dined with him. “The evenings are notable, a few of Mr. Bush’s guests said today, for their lack of pretension or gravity.” I can’t help thinking that Nagourney accepted the spin that gravity equals pretension — a convenient equation for a president with a short attention span and an aversion to critical thinking.

Speaking of the Times, don’t miss Paul Krugman today.

Edison’s flickering bulb
According to Josh Marshall, the plummeting price of Edison Project stock ($23 a year ago, 85 cents today) may cause some additional embarrassment to the profit-school firm’s founder Chris Whittle, who borrowed money from Edison to buy its own stock and used that same stock as collateral for the loan. Edison, still touted by school-voucher advocates and other conservative adversaries of public education, seems to be headed for a flaming finale someday — despite additional financing it has received in recent weeks. A parent activist from San Francisco has set up a Web site that examines the company from what might politely be termed a critical perspective. For a happier viewpoint, see Edison’s own site .
[8:41 a.m. PDT, August 20, 2002]

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