On Bill Kristol’s Critique of Cartoonism

I guess I’d ask the always wrong William Kristol if “cartoonism” is, like pornography, something that is devilishly hard to define but easy to spot? Because I get that Donald Trump is somehow a facsimile of an actual Republican politician, and that, despite being a nominee for president, he’s not quite meant to be taken literally or seriously. I even acknowledge that Trump provides the dictionary definition of “cartoonish” in his unrealistically simplified “build-a-wall” policies and his sickly humorous exaggerations (95% of blacks will vote for me!).

But when Kristol says “when we descend from a politics with cartoonish touches to a politics of cartoonism, we become unmoored,” I have to wonder “unmoored from what?”

In the end, what was the conservatism of Bill Kristol ever moored to?

I mean, we’ve all seen the debacle that is Florida politics, which offers a bipartisan feast of disgrace and degradation. I’m beginning to wonder if anyone or any party is moored to anything anymore.

But Kristol, in particular, interests me. What does he really stand for other than neoconservatism? Anything?

Bueller?

And how is Trump really a departure for other conservatives? They do, after all, seem to like him.

I don’t even need to pick the low-hanging fruit (Kristol, more than anyone, promoted Sarah Palin as a potential running mate) to question the premise of Kristol’s case here. His old boss, Dan Quayle, was chosen despite his cartoonish characteristics because he was young and blonde and conventionally handsome and socially conservative and Midwestern, but not because he knew the first thing about Mikhail Gorbachev or Ayatollah Khomeini or Saddam Hussein.

Without getting into the strong points Ronald Reagan brought to the table, it’s not in dispute that he was a B-List actor by training and disposition. It was easy for him to be a facsimile of a president, and easy for us to suspend our disbelief.

Even Eisenhower was brought from central casting, as he was far less a Republican than an established leader of men. He was chosen because an actual Republican, like Robert Taft, was never going to be acceptable.

Or maybe you bought George W. Bush as a brush-clearing rancher, but I hope you noticed that Laura moved them out of that place about five minutes after they left the White House and bought a more appropriate dwelling in the Dallas suburbs where the couple actually belongs.

It seems to me that the Republicans have only ever been politically successful when they’ve given us some kind of put-on. When they’ve given us someone real, like Dole or McCain, the people have regurgitated them with extreme prejudice.

There’s something cartoonish about the right, and Trump seems like a natural successor or consequence. Kristol says that “conservatism in particular suffers” from cartoonism, “since so many conservative arguments are appeals to reality against wishfulness and oversimplification.”

But that seems to always be a variation on “the poor will always be with us so it’s pointless to take my money to buy a pauper’s kid a school lunch.”

This is what has passed on the right for decades as realism and seriousness.

But it’s always been a charade. It’s also a cloak or a mask for selfishness and greed that they gussy up in Bill Buckley style and sell us as intellectualism.

It’s not that I don’t see the cartoonish nature of Trump. It’s that I see fake jokes everywhere I look, and I still haven’t found what any of it’s moored to other than a dollar sign.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.