Joe Klein's Latest Adventure in Missing the Point: Taking Bill Kristol Out of Context

August 24th, 2010 12:33 PM

Time magazine's Joe Klein yesterday did what he does best: take one paragraph from a neoconservative's column and blow it out of proportion and out of context in order to go on an extended screed bashing conservatives in general and neocons in particular.

Writing for his magazine's Swampland blog yesterday, Klein addressed Bill Kristol's editorial for the August 30 Weekly Standard print edition entitled, "He's No Muslim, He's a Progressive."

Klein started off with a backhanded compliment:

Well, it's good to learn that there are limits to Bill Kristol's tactical skeevery. He clearly states here that Barack Obama is not a Muslim. No winks, no nods, no gratuitous McConnellesque "If he says he's not, that's okay with me."

With that out of the way, Klein dove into his screed:

But read the editorial all the way through and you get to this paragraph:

It's similar with the Community Center Formerly Known as the Ground Zero Mosque. Today's progressives are multiculturalists. They're inclined to make grand claims about the positive merits of a multicultural, non-judgmental mosaic replacing our old, uniculturalist melting-pot view of America. But when political realities force them to retreat, as Obama has done in the mosque controversy, from a proud multiculturalism to a narrow defense of the right to the free exercise of religion and the right to build on private property, they're in trouble. The free exercise of religion and respect for private property are not a promising agenda for progressives.

Say what? Is Kristol actually admitting that his crowd, including his aspirational hand-puppet Sarah Palin, have been arguing against the conservative themes of the "free exercise of religion and respect for private property?"

Um, no, Joe. Here are the paragraphs immediately preceding and following the one you quoted (emphasis mine)

So progressivism seeks to bring big changes to our backward country. Progressives like to dream about passing “the most progressive legislative agenda .  .  . not just in one generation, maybe two, maybe three.” But when progressivism has to give up its grand transformational claims, then we’re back in the world of reality and results, of the practical consequences of policy choices. A political debate over consequences rather than intentions, and over the real world rather than an imagined one, is one that is, as it has been for a long time, good for conservatives and bad for progressives.


Progressivism is in retreat. Obama’s problem isn’t that people falsely think he’s a Muslim. It’s that the public is correctly concluding he’s a garden-variety multiculturalist progressive. So November’s election won’t just be a repudiation of one non-Muslim president. It will be a repudiation of a multiculturalist progressive worldview—and of the bitter elites who cling desperately to that worldview and are consumed by antipathy to most Americans, who don’t.

Kristol was arguing that with the Ground Zero mosque issue as with health care reform and various other issues, progressives are envisioning themselves as more enlightened than the general public, whose views must be damned when they stand in the way of advancing a progressive agenda. Progressives live in a la-la land where good intentions matter more than the unintended consequences they spawn. That's Kristol's point. 

Yet Klein insists that the thing he admires about true conservatives is that they are realists:

Here are some conservative principles I admire: Foreign policy realism, budget discipline and a belief in (carefully regulated) markets as the best vehicles for delivering prosperity and even some forms of government services. The best conservatism has a healthy respect for complexity and a deep skepticism about the perfectability of human nature.

For one who admires people who have "a healthy respect for complexity," Klein is determined to ignore or dismiss the true complexity of the Ground Zero mosque issue.

Klein failed to point out a single conservative leader who insists that the First Amendment doesn't apply to Muslims. The issue has always been the impropriety and lack of sensitivity of building a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, particularly given the controversial remarks Feisal Rauf has made about the U.S. being an accessory to the 9/11 attacks and his refusal to label Hamas a terrorist organization.

But perhaps complexity and nuance are a little too much to ask from Joe Klein, particularly when doing so means he has to logically wrestle with his political opponents rather than demonize them.