A story that I love is the one where Jody Bottum met with Bill Kristol about a job at The Weekly Standard. Jody told Kristol that the day the Standard wavered on the question of abortion would be the day Jody quit. Jody says Kristol “drew his finger along the desk, tapped it for emphasis and said, “We are square on life and getting squarer.”
Back in those long-ago days, the Standard used a pro-life article written by Kristol as a copy-editing test. This to warn any pro-choicer that this magazine was pro-life. The Standard was loaded with social conservatives—Fred Barnes, Richard Starr, Claudia Anderson, Christopher Caldwell, and Andy Ferguson.
Kristol wrote, “The truth is that abortion is the bloody crossroads of American politics. It is where judicial liberation (from the Constitution), sexual liberation (from traditional mores), and women’s liberation (from natural distinctions) come together.”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Kristol said, if the GOP “cannot earn a mandate to overturn Roe and move toward a post-abortion America, then in truth, there will be no conservative future.”
This Bill Kristol would have been celebrating with us after Dobbs overthrew the federal abortion regime. Instead, he said, “one thing [pro-choicers always said is that pro-lifers just want to control women’s bodies. And part of me thinks this is right.” He wanted Biden to make a defense a Roe a centerpiece of his campaign for president.
Putting aside the life issues, Kristol was solid not only on same-sex marriage, the conservative march toward which he called “pathetic,” he was solid on homosexuality. He published a book with Christopher Wolfe called Homosexuality and American Public Life that came with a conference. They argued, among other things, that homosexual acts are against the natural law. Can you even imagine such a thing these days?
Kristol actually convened a conference in Georgetown on the question of curing the homosexual impulse. He vigorously defended the idea that men can be brought out of homosexuality. He published a piece defending sodomy laws. In a 1993 interview with Larry King, he said the modern gay rights movement was a “tragedy.”
And now? The new Kristol attacks parents who want to protect their children from LGBT propaganda. He says new parental rights bills “stigmatize and shame gay and transgender people under the guise of protecting children from inappropriate conversations about sex.” He said a pro-gay-marriage Republican lost an election in Virginia because he wanted to treat “gays as humans worthy of respect and dignity…he was not willing to be cruel to the Americans that Republican voters hate.”
It is said the old Kristol was influenced by his close friend, Christian conservative Gary Bauer. Their families took a summer house together. Another influence was Catholic political strategist and strong social conservative populist Jeffrey Bell. It is said also that Kristol was an observant Jew. Maybe Kristol was merely a strong believer in the Fusionist three-legged stool: strong national defense, smaller government, social conservatism.
For Kristol, though, true also for George Bush and others in the coalition, the Iraq War became the ne plus ultra of conservatism. To hell with the three-legged stool. To hell with the life and family issues, especially. They were sacrificed to military adventurism and nation building in the Middle East. That was our first glimpse of what came later.
The later thing was Trump. Trump broke Kristol. Demolished him. Some people have thought Kristol broke from Trump on the day Trump condemned Kristol’s war in Iraq. A senior editor at The Weekly Standard told me the Trump animus in the halls of The Weekly Standard long predated that. Whatever it was, Kristol seemed willing to have the Standard shuttered over his hatred of Donald Trump. Editors from those days say the atmosphere at the Standard was dark, even suicidal. Clearly, the Standard committed suicide by turning on its readers and donors.
With the death of the Standard, Kristol and colleagues cashed whopping checks from a leftist billionaire to start something called The Bulwark, which is a sometimes-vulgar nearly-always hate-fest on all things Republican. Kristol seems to want the Republican Party destroyed. At the very least, Kristol is now an adjacent member of the Party of Death.
I admit it. I admired Bill Kristol immensely in those old days. I believed him when, in a White House briefing, he said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that the people of Iraq, the cradle of civilization, were poised to become a democracy and spread it across the Middle East. How wrong we all were.
I believed he was pro-life and pro-marriage and stood against the sexual revolution, including its sodomy caucus. In this column I have borrowed heavily from a recent essay from Andrew Sullivan who asks Kristol why he has never explained his rather abrupt 180-degree change of views on these key issues. Indeed, Kristol has not explained how and why he has changed so profoundly on the social issues. Maybe he never cared in the first place. Maybe he lied to Jody Bottum in that first meeting way back when. Maybe he lied to us all along.
I published a column in 2013, a big wet kiss called “Bill Kristol is the Standard” that was all about his outspoken, fearless defense of life and family. I take it all back.