The Corner

Kristol V. Kusnet I

As I mentioned yesterday , Bill Kristol’s column in the Washington Post contained an allusion to his father’s most famous quote. In response, David Kusnet offers a particularly snide attack on Kristol at the American Prospect’s site. He criticizes Kristol for attacking Gephardt and for using his “daddy’s” formulation. He writes:

…[T]he younger Kristol’s hint that Gephardt is soft on terrorists and rogue states is as farfetched as his father’s claim that earlier generations of liberals were soft on communism. After all, Gephardt helped draft the bipartisan congressional resolution authorizing military action in Iraq; he also supported the administration’s actions against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Gephardt has paid dearly for this, losing many potential supporters who might have been drawn to his progressive policies on economics, trade and health care but see him as too bound to George W. Bush, not too soft on Saddam Hussein.

I don’t mind Kusnet defending Gephardt. Kusnet’s a labor guy and what else would you expect from him in the American Prospect? But then again, I do remember that Harold Meyerson — the Prospect’s Editor-at-Large — offered a slightly different take on Gephardt’s allegedly heroic and principled support of the war. Meyerson wrote in the Washington Post just this week that Gephardt’s reasons for supporting the war had less to do with principle than Kusnet would have us believe. Meyerson wrote :

If anyone has personified the failure of the Democratic establishment to provide the party with a distinct profile during the Bush presidency, it’s Gephardt. As House Democratic leader, Gephardt clung to Bush’s Iraq policy until it all but unraveled over the past month. Gephardt’s endorsement last fall of the administration’s war resolution effectively derailed a bipartisan effort in the Senate to require the White House to win more international backing.

There was supposedly a method in this madness: By taking the war issue off the table, Gephardt argued, the Democrats could turn the midterm election campaign to questions of domestic policy, presumably their strong suit. We’ll never know if this could have worked, because Gephardt and his fellow congressional leaders never developed a domestic message.

To millions of die-hard Democrats, it looked as if their party had sacrificed its principles on the altar of pragmatism and then had nothing pragmatic to offer. Neither conscience nor opportunism was given its due, and the rank-and-file was mightily indignant.

Hmmmm. It seems to me that Kusnet’s Golden Boy — according to Meyerson, not me — was at least in part willing to send American boys and girls into harm’s way in order to advance a narrow political agenda. Perhaps Gephardt is indeed a bit more fickle on issues of war and security than Kusnet would have us believe.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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