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Bill Kristol Wants His Culture War Back

It’s always a bit disconcerting to find oneself agreeing with a figure as odious as Bill Kristol, but he’s right to call out conservatives for their naked contempt for the American auto industry, especially when compared with their solicitousness for the even more screwed up financial sector. With Kristol, though, you can pretty much assume bad faith (and if you couldn’t, he gives it away by listing, as a feature of the bailout bill he supports, the fact that it would shift “difficult decisions to the Obama administration”). Thus I disagree with Noam that this constitutes some sudden outbreak of reasonableness on his part.

So what’s with his newfound objections to GOP class warfare? Perhaps it’s because the Republican Party likes to keep its anti-union side a bit more on the down low. After decades in which conservatives pretended to be the champion of average working people, the drama in Detroit is the starkest possible illustration of the GOP’s essentially plutocratic nature. Tom Frank could scarcely have invested a more telling scenario. Here are Republican Senators actively fighting for lower wages and more foreign corporate ownership! Here they are blithely dismissing the need for domestic industry! Here they are grousing about working people getting overly generous retirement benefits and health care! In the face of this reality, the narrative that has sustained the party since Nixon--one in which decadent liberal elites are the real enemies of the hardworking silent majority, with all their sturdy volkish virtues--is exposed in all its naked preposterousness. And that narrative is one that Kristol desperately wants to preserve.
After all, Kristol is the heir to a neoconservative tradition that needed that narrative to look at itself in the mirror. The former socialists who spawned (literally) the current generation of right-wing pundits always liked to feel that they, and not the sneering radical chic intellectuals and activists they reviled, were the champions of the plain people. Kristol tries to keep this idea alive in his column, writing, ridiculously, that most “limousine liberals are embarrassed by their political alliance with the workers who built those limousines.” This slur might have had some validity four decades ago, but it has not a shred today, when Jim Webb is a hero of the Democratic Party. Rich liberals lionize unions, and, like rich conservatives, tend to romanticize the earthy authenticity of the working class. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim Robbins has already optioned the story of the workers who sat in at Chicago's Republic Windows & Doors.) Kristol, though, is deeply invested in keeping the categories of the Nixon-era culture war alive. Without them, the pseudo-populist Joe-the-Plumber pandering that constitutes Palinism--Kristol’s preferred cultural mode--is revealed as a con. “Senate Republicans now run the risk of being portrayed as Marie Antoinettes with Southern accents,” he writes. In other words, they risk being portrayed accurately.
--Michelle Goldberg