Political Commentator Kristol 4/10/14 04/09/14 11:18:00 PM
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On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the CRE Summit, William Kristol is the event’s first nationally known keynote speaker.
Political Commentator Kristol Tells
Workers to Pay Attention to Politics
By Julien R. Fielding
The Daily Record
William Kristol, founder and editor of The Weekly Standard and political commentator at ABC News, delivered the keynote address at the Commercial Real Estate Summit last week in Omaha, beginning his hour-long speech talking about his days (1983-85) at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where he said he was the “token conservative.”
1984 was an election year, and Republican president Ronald Reagan had won his re-election by a landslide – he even won by a narrow margin in the predominantly Democrat-voting state of Massachusetts.
Paul Tsongas, U.S. Senator from the state, had stepped down, opening the seat for someone else. That person was John Kerry. Kristol, of course, voted for the other candidate, and years later, when he met Kerry, he was proud to tell the now Secretary of State that he had voted against him in his “first Senate race.” The comment didn’t go over well with the “humorless” Kerry, Kristol recalled.
When “Tip” O’Neill, a liberal Democrat, who was House speaker from 1977 to 1987, was up for re-election, Kristol said that he also voted against the incumbent, but later discovered that the person for whom he had voted was a member of the Communist Party.
“Those were the politics in Cambridge,” he said. This caused him some woe in 1985, when Kristol moved to Washington D.C.
While interviewing for a position at the White House – he would serve as the chief of staff to Secretary of Education William Bennett under President Reagan, and later to Vice President Dan Quayle during the Bush administration – he admitted that he had accidentally voted for a Communist.
“The lady was totally stone-faced, and she told me that ‘it wasn’t a laughing matter,’” he said. “That held up my appointment for two months. That’s why Reagan was such a great president.”
But that was then, a time when politics were more predictable, he said. “We are in a new era that’s very volatile and fluid. The degree of back and forth in politics is really unusual, and the same is true of policy. Voters aren’t happy with either party, and since no one’s happy, voters move back and forth. That’s not bad, but when you are in the middle of being shaken up, it isn’t fun. It’s a new world; it’s not bad, just unnerving. If I were a businessman, my advice would be to pay more attention to politics. And don’t take things for granted.”
In 2014, we shouldn’t see much happening with policy, especially not in the next six months, he said. Governmental gridlock will continue to be the norm, primarily because candidates who were elected or reelected during that last election, including the President, felt that they were being sent, or retained, in Washington, D.C., to make a difference; to change the status quo, and they aren’t about to compromise.
On the subject of the November 2014 elections, he said that they could “go one way or another.” A lot depends on President Obama’s approval rating – which is about 42 percent. Unless something happens to improve those percentages, Kristol claims “Republicans might do well. They may pick up a few seats, and, as long as we don’t lose the Senate, it could be a good Republican year. We need to have a strong year. That will change things, and it would mean a different dynamic.”
Especially in recent years, Democrats have been seen as the younger party; the forward-looking party, and Republicans have been seen as the older candidate party. But that’s changing, he said.
For instance, in Nebraska, Ben Sasse and Shane Osborn, both Republicans running for U.S. Senate, and Beau McCoy, a Republican running for Governor, are all younger than 50. And this is a trend that one sees throughout the country. (They join other “young,” more established Republicans, such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.) Republican candidates are getting younger, and their backgrounds are proving to be more “interesting.” Kristol said that he’s been impressed with the up-and-comers.
Kristol sees the U.S. trekking along until 2016, which should prove to be a “big year,” a pivotal year. Rarely does a political party win a third-term, he said, so a “third-term for the Democrats would be staggering. If a Republican wins the Presidency, the government is going to be very different.”
Right now, even though New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is getting a lot of press – he hasn’t yet announced his bid for the Presidency – there aren’t any Republican favorites for the job, he said. “However, many candidates in their 30s and 40s would like to run,” he said.
Hilary Clinton hasn’t announced her 2016 run, either, and yet, Kristol seemed fairly confident that it was likely that she would. And if she does, he said, she is going to have to “defend Obama’s foreign policy,” which could prove troublesome for her. “2016 will be one of the most interesting elections in a long time,” he said.
Speaking of foreign policy, Kristol was critical of President Obama in that regard. “We’ve gotten very comfortable in a world that’s pretty safe,” he said. “Once that tips away, my biggest worry is that we will look weak and not very serious. It is dangerous.”
He explained that he was recently in Japan, meeting with senior officials, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who asked Kristol, in English, “What happened in Syria?”
The Prime Minister’s concern was that the United States had warned Syria that there was a “red line” (with regard to chemical weapons), but when the country stepped over it, “we did nothing … it was stunning to him.”
Why? Because tension in East Asia is growing among the countries of China, North Korea, and Japan, and Japan isn’t in the best position, military-wise, to deal with that. In accordance with its constitution that was directed by the United States, Japan is supposed to “forever renounce war as a sovereign right” and to never maintain land, sea, or air forces. (It’s a self-defense only policy.)
Furthermore, it signed a treaty in 1951 giving the U.S. the right to maintain troops, and a military presence, in its country. So what will the U.S. do should the situation escalate? There is “bi-partisan support for the support of Japan,” but, Kristol said, with defense cuts planned and with the Obama administration exhibiting a laissez-faire attitude, if a real threat arises in the Gulf or in Asia, we are “on the edge of not being able to do what we’ve done in the past. Over the next two-and-one-half years, foreign policy will be important.”
When asked by an audience member about Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s “pivot to Asia” proposal, Kristol was equally unimpressed. “That lasted about a year. Our failure to respond to Syria and to Crimea … what does that say if China decides to take some Japanese islands?”
In addition to founding The Weekly Standard, Kristol has been a political analyst for ABC News and is a regular on ABC’s This Week and on ABC’s special events and election coverage. He also appears frequently on other leading political commentary shows including CNN’s Crossfire, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and Fox’s Special Report. He has published widely on areas ranging from foreign policy to constitutional law to political philosophy. He has co-edited several books, including The Neoconservative Imagination (with Christopher DeMuth, 1995), Educating the Prince: Essays in Honor of Harvey Mansfield (with Mark Blitz, 2000), and Present Dangers (with Robert Kagan, 2000). He is the co-author, with Lawrence Kaplan, of the best-selling 2003 book, The War Over Iraq. Kristol received both his A.B. (1973) and Ph.D. (1979) from Harvard University.
Now in its 25th year, the CRE Summit was held at the CenturyLink Center. This is the first time that they have welcomed a nationally recognized speaker.