Thursday, August 6, 2009

William Kristol is a Big, Fat, Idiot

Okay, so the title isn’t original, and doesn’t even describe Kristol accurately (I am referring strictly to the words “big” and “fat”), but just as this title sought to capture how abhorrent Rush Limbaugh had become to Al Franken, so it expresses my surprisingly strong antipathy for one of the Right’s most respected strategists and intellectuals (now there’s an impoverished political movement for you).

Last October, with these unlovely thoughts regarding Kristol permeating my very being, I traveled to the 92nd Street Y, New York’s top site for stimulating lectures and panel discussions, to hear a group of pundits and politicians address the question “How Should Jews Vote” in the 2008 presidential election. On the panel was Kristol, of course, joined by former New York Mayor Ed Koch, the Rabbi and Tikkun Editor Michael Lerner, and Jane Eisner, Editor of the Jewish Forward newspaper. It was moderated by former CNN Anchor Aaron Brown.

After about 60 minutes of a fairly dull and uneventful program (the whole thing can be viewed on YouTube), the conversation got around to a consideration of race. As the other participants referred to race as a taboo subject, one that Americans are very reluctant to discuss, an irritated Kristol broke in and said that when it comes to race “all we DO is talk about it.” He seemed to be saying that race is no longer important and added that the “huge majority of Americans are not racially bigoted.” The crowd stirs and someone shouts something from the front of the audience which is barely audible, but if you strain to hear, you might catch it. The voice is mine (from the second row this time) wailing, “How can you say that?!” Mr. Kristol is so piqued by this rude eruption that he glares down on the front rows (presumably me) and barks impatiently, “I can say THAT because 65 million people are about to vote for Barack Obama.”

I get so riled by his cluelessness and condescending tone that I’m sort of bouncing up and down in my seat, and the guy next to me thinks he has to settle me down by patting my arm and whispering soothingly, “Calm down, calm down, it’s only William Kristol. You know, he really doesn’t matter that much.” This brings me up short. I turn to my right and stare at the profile of this wise and gentle man and am reassured that, of course, he’s correct.

Afterwards, everyone is milling around in the lobby outside the auditorium at the Y and there, right in front of me, is William Kristol standing by himself with what looks like a derisive grin on this face. I have a chance to say hello and perhaps offer my apologies for getting so worked up, but I don’t. I just stand there, a bit embarrassed and trying to take his measure. It is a very cool October night and I watch him pull on his simple overcoat and stroll out onto the streets of the Upper East Side. I still feel angry with him and myself. With him, for taking ideological positions that are selfish and out of touch, all while being so arrogantly sure of himself; and with myself, for lacking the capacity and perhaps even the will to understand him, grant him some slack, and, I guess, for acting on a desire to put him down in public. I’m heartened by the fact that he doesn’t matter all that much, but, of course, am also painfully aware that compared to him I don’t matter at all. And, given his access to media outlets of all kinds, even that little bit of mattering can change people’s lives for the worse. This thought reignites my fury, as I, too, abandon the 92nd Street Y and stomp out into the cold night.


  1. In my dream, I am a guest on The O'Riley Factor, and somehow I overcome this master of derision and, using words like 'bloviator' and 'arrogant nincompoop', put him in his place as I wax poetic on topics of reproductive justice and freedom of choice. But, of course, the reality would be so different....
    People like Kristol and O'Riley make their living by keeping the odds on their side and never giving those with contrary opinions an opportunity to have the last word.
    I'd like to think that they don't really matter, but I'm afraid that they do when they tell their listeners what to be afraid of and who to blame for it.

  2. And it is at our peril that we underestimate these people. Well over 20 years ago, a man we both loved was warning people about a fellow named Rush Limbaugh long before he became prominent. He recognized how dangerous he was when most of the rest of us just dismissed him as, well, a big, fat idiot. How right he was and how wrong we were.