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Just Desserts

I made a gratuitous crack about Bill Kristol's intelligence in this post, and some time after writing it, I wondered: Had I been unjust to him? I mean, he's the son of two impressive intellectuals (Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb), he earned a PhD from Harvard with conservative heavyweight Harvey Mansfield, and over the years he has occasionally shown himself to be a thoughtful guy. On the other hand, his magazine (The Weekly Standard) contributed mightily to the debasement of political and cultural commentary during the late 1990s, he seems to think unilateral American militarism is the solution to every problem in the world, and his columns for the New York Times over the past year (including his defenses of Sarah Palin's qualifications for the Vice Presidency) have been genuinely embarrassing. Still, did judiciousness demand that I treat him with more respect?

Luckily his column this morning eased my mind. Apparently repeating a comment he made the day before on Fox News Sunday, Kristol expressed admiration for Dick Cheney's defense of himself (in an interview with Chris Wallace) for having once told Senator Patrick Leahy to go fuck himself. Cheney's self-defense amounted to saying, "I thought he merited it at the time." To Kristol, this is a statement of uncommon wisdom: 

No spin. No doubletalk. A cogent defense of his action — and one that shows a well-considered sense of justice. . . . Indeed, if justice is seeking to give each his due, one might say that Dick Cheney aspires to being a just man.

Let's think about this for a minute. (Don't worry, that should be more than enough time.) An SUV cuts me off in traffic. I call the driver an asshole under my breath. Now imagine someone sitting down to interview me later about the incident. (No need to suppose his last name is Wallace.) "Why did you do it?" he asks. My answer, without question, would be: "Because at the moment I called the other driver an asshole, I was convinced that the description was apt." In other words, I thought he merited it at the time. Just like "just man" Dick Cheney. Indeed, I wonder: Has any human being ever directed foul language at another person without thinking that the object of his anger deserved the epithet? I very much doubt it. 

So yes, Dick Cheney does think and act according to the imperatives of justice (understood as deserving, which is only one of its senses). But so does just about every other human being. And yet Bill Kristol, who studied Aristotle with Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, thinks this makes Cheney worthy of praise. Which means either that Kristol is tacitly acknowledging how poorly regarded Cheney really is by this point -- or else it means that my crack at Kristol's expense was richly deserved.

Phew, what a relief.