Kristol plays the Marx card

Predictably, the far right has settled on a red-baiting strategy while attacking Obama.

By Steve Benen

Published April 14, 2008 5:05PM (EDT)

The right seems to take inordinate pleasure in red-baiting Democrats, and today, the New York Times' Bill Kristol joins the parade.

I haven't read much Karl Marx since the early 1980s, when I taught political philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Still, it didn't take me long this weekend to find my copy of "The Marx-Engels Reader".... My occasion for spending a little time once again with the old Communist was Barack Obama's now-famous comment at an April 6 San Francisco fund-raiser. Obama was explaining his trouble winning over small-town, working-class voters: "It's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

This sent me to Marx's famous statement about religion in the introduction to his "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right": "Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of a soulless condition. It is the opium of the people."

I don't expect much in the way of intellectual seriousness from Kristol, but if he wants to understand how wrong he is, he might want to pick up his un-dog-eared copy of "The Marx-Engels Reader" again. Andrew Sullivan notes that the comparison doesn't make any sense.

Regardless, I'm as struck by the messenger as I am the message. Kristol helps define elitism. He makes a considerable amount of money arguing in support of tax cuts for millionaires and military adventures that burden low-income families disproportionately. He's had every advantage in life, and now gets paid ridiculous sums to write regrettable items for the nation's most prestigious news outlet. Kristol probably visits small towns, only to tell his very wealthy friends about how "quaint" they are once he returns to the D.C. cocktail-party circuit and Fox News green room.

Kristol's most notable contribution to public policy came in a 1993 memo he wrote to congressional Republicans, explaining that they had to destroy any effort to pass a national healthcare bill, not because the policy was flawed, but because it would "give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party." If tens of millions of Americans were left uninsured, so be it -- the goal, Kristol said, was to help the Republican Party, not those without insurance.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, used some clumsy language to describe a real phenomenon in struggling communities, where working-class families have fallen behind thanks to the policies embraced by Bill Kristol. Obama, whose faith is genuine, has, like Hillary Clinton, presented a policy agenda that might actually help these communities for a change.

Kristol concluded, "[W]hat has Barack Obama accomplished that entitles him to look down on his fellow Americans?" Oddly enough, I'm tempted to ask Kristol the same question.

Steve Benen

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