The Catholic Thing
Bill Kristol is the Standard Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 19 April 2013

When Jody Bottum interviewed at The Weekly Standard to take over as literary editor he stipulated that, if the magazine ever began to rethink its pro-life position, that would be the day Bottum quit. William Kristol drew his finger along the desk, tapped it for emphasis and said, We are square on life and getting squarer.

One Standard editor tells how he used to use a pro-life article written by Kristol as a copy-editing test and a way to warn any pro-choicer who might have qualms about working for a pro-life magazine.

Do a site search at The Weekly Standard on social issues and you find – alone  among conservative magazines? – a publication that  has never wavered on them. Okay, maybe once, when Noemi Emery published a piece early on about how, for electoral reasons the GOP might reconsider abortion.

But it’s not just on the life issues the Standard has been solid. Todd Akin and the “war on women” notwithstanding, the life issues are increasingly easy to support. Much harder than abortion is the marriage question and on this The Weekly Standard has been square and getting squarer, too.

Sadly, it seems to be alone.

You can hardly crack open a conservative magazine or website these days and not read an article about how gay marriage is inevitable, that it is the conservative or otherwise right thing to do, and that traditional marriage supporters ought to just pipe down.

The biggest disappointment is National Review, where even conservative stalwarts like Jonah Goldberg have gone squishy on the marriage question. National Review does have proponents of traditional marriage. And its overall editorial position remains good. But there are deserters – and it seems like the issue is becoming a jump ball for them.

The American Conservative, founded by social conservative Patrick Buchanan, seems to have gone all in for homosexual marriage. They actually published an essay by Jon Huntsman that the editors entitled “Marriage Equality is a Conservative Cause.” The pro-gay Human Rights Campaign couldn’t have written a better headline. The best the American Conservative seems to muster is Rod Dreher who is solid on the question but constantly preaches defeat.

Not the Weekly Standard.

You cannot say the unflappable position of the Weekly Standard comes down to one man. Although I cannot vouch for the social conservative bona fides of their entire masthead, most of the top editors – Fred Barnes, Richard Starr, Claudia Anderson, Christopher Caldwell, and Andy Ferguson – are known social conservatives. Still a great deal of credit for the Weekly Standard not abandoning the social issues can be given to one man, William Kristol.

       The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol

Just last week Kristol criticized the herd-like attitude of “political leaders and alleged intellectual leaders just kind of jumping on the [same-sex marriage] train because it looks fashionable…” He put the question to conservatives, who once believed in tradition, whether it was wise to throw out, “thousands of years of history and what the great religions teach, and lets just embrace it because, hey – you dont want to be on the other side from a TV show that has 20 millions viewers.”

Kristol mocked those conservatives who think we ought to be following twenty-somethings, who don’t know much of anything anyway. He calls the conservative parade toward homosexual marriage “pathetic.”

During the Todd Akin problems last year, conservatives practically wet their pants in condemning Akin’s admittedly stupid comments. Not Kristol. He may have wanted Akin gone – I don’t know, he never said – but he argued that flogging Akin was desperate and hadn’t worked. Quoting Lincoln, he suggested they try genuinely friendly persuasion.

Kristol is not new to controversial social issues. Way back in the mists of 1999 he published a book with Christopher Wolfe called Homosexuality and American Public Life. The book and the conference that spawned it looked at – among other things – natural-law arguments about the morality of homosexual acts. I suspect that Kristol would make these same arguments today, even though they are way outside most current political discourse.

Where does this come from? Perhaps it’s the influence of friends. For years, the Kristol family took a summerhouse with Gary Bauer and his family. And one of Kristol’s closest collaborators has been social conservative éminence grise Jeff Bell, who says Kristol has always been strong on the social issues.

Likely, it also comes from religion. Commenting on his own faith, Kristol’s father Irving, an unbeliever, nonetheless said that while he was not a pillar of the Church, he was like a flying buttress, supporting it from the outside. Irving’s son, however, is an observant Jew who, it’s said, cannot be found on the High Holy Days.

Kristol believes the protection of unborn life and the importance of marriage are parts of the natural law and a vital Western inheritance. Besides being right unto themselves, he also understands that the several partners in the Reagan coalition, including social conservatism, is a single cloth that cannot be cut up to fit the fashions of the present moment. Conservatives do this at their peril.

There are others who hold these truths, yet remain silent. Kristol does not hesitate to wade into the public fray. For this, we all owe Bill Kristol a mountainous debt of gratitude and our regular prayers. He could have caved. But he never has. Bill Kristol is square and getting squarer. May his tribe increase.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (18)Add Comment
written by Frank, April 19, 2013
Kristol's mother, Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote a tour de force, "On Looking Into The Abyss."
It's not an easy read but you get a clear understanding that between his mother and father of Bill Kristol's grounding.
written by AugustineThomas, April 19, 2013
Well God bless Bill Kristol..

Don't worry boys, I'm holding up the flag high on the comment section over there at National Review Online, really letting them have it every time they get a hip and progressive streak after watching an episode of the View or something..

(By the way, I would add that most forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty and ninety somethings at this point in history--at least the American ones I've met--don't seem to have much wisdom either, or else they would never have raised such fools!)

written by Bangwell Putt, April 19, 2013
A psalm prayer for Bill Kristol:

"May the Lord answer you in time of trouble,
the name of Jacob's God keep you safe.
May he send you help from the sanctuary,
and sustain you from Zion.
May he receive the tokens of all your meal offerings,
and approve your burnt offerings.
May he grant you your desire
and fulfill your every plan. Psalm 20

written by Beddoo, April 19, 2013
I can't agree with Mr. Ruse on this one. Kristol may be one of the few left in the conservative media who is still standing up for traditional marriage.

But I would suspect that this is because he wants to keep evangelicals firmly in the GOP tent. Why? Because evangelicals are uncritical supporters of Israel and thus not likely to utter a peep of protest as Kristol lobbies for the US to get involved in more wars in Islamic countries---Syria, Libya, and of course Iran, which he and his neo-con buddies have been itching to bomb for years.

This is the raw political calculation of someone who throughout his career just repeats GOP talking points.

His dad Irving was a great and important thinker in the embryonic conservative movement--he supported the welfare state (social security, medicare, UI) as an essentially conservative institution--which is something that would disqualify him these days.

But Bill Kristol is a hack who's had very few original ideas in his life! But he makes alot more money than his dad ever did as a GOP propagandist on Fox News.
written by Athanasius, April 19, 2013
Even Bret Stephens at WSJ, who is usually clear-headed, is promoting same sex marriage with very incoherent arguments. Thankfully the WS is holding firm. Also, The Public Discourse has had some excellent articles defending traditional marriage.
written by Dan Deeny, April 19, 2013
Very fine article. Thank you.
written by Manfred, April 19, 2013
Before we cut Mr. Kristol's likeness into Mt. Rushmore we might want to consider his support, along with Robert Kagan,and many others, of the Neoconservative thrust to "democratize" the Middle East's Muslim nations. There is not enough space here, but Mr. Kristol's (and many others') fingerprints are all over the Iraq War. As I recall the popular number is "100,000" Iraqis died in that war. I ask a similar question as Rabbit Angstrom, the protagonist in John Updike's Rabbit at Reat asks, "Without the Cold War, what's the point of being an American?" With abortion, infanticide, perverts marrying, all with strong Government support, what is the point of being an American?
written by Sue, April 19, 2013
Ditto to Manfred. Kristol may claim to be square on prolife but he also professes to be "squish" on torture:

"“I’m ambivalent on torture,” replied Kristol. “I’m a bit of a squish on torture.” After saying he “respects” Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) position that torture is “unwise and unnecessary and wrong for the U.S. to do,” Kristol made the case for allowing the United States to torture through waterboarding..."

To be more weasely than John McCain - that's an accomplishment. Pack of neocons.
written by G. Tracy Mehan, III, April 19, 2013
All praise to Bill Kristol and The Weekly Standard for standing tall on marriage. But you should add The American Spectator to the list of stalwart conservative publications. Several contributors have weighed in on this issue. For instance:
written by Maggie-Louise, April 19, 2013
" and what the great religions teach"

I am always very uneasy when anyone talks about "the great religions". What exactly would those religions be? Other than orthodox Christianity, the only one that qualifies that I can think of would be Judaism. "The great religions" is one of those stock phrases that professors of English Comp. 101 warn freshman students against using. It's one of those cliches that people who think and speak in cliches uses.
written by Austin Ruse, April 20, 2013
Great also describes Islam which is the faith of a billion people after all.
written by Maggie-Louise, April 20, 2013
"Great also describes Islam which is the faith of a billion people after all."

Ah. I see. Greatness is measured in numbers now. I was always taught that greatness was not a quantifiable commodity, but rather was measured by less tangible attributes such as evidence of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, which sum up all the virtues that comprise greatness. Times change, I guess.
written by Austin Ruse, April 20, 2013
I read your comment and went immediately to a dictionary and realized Kristol, being a devout Jew with deep respect for Christianity, probably was referring to size, as does the dictionary.
written by Maggie-Louise, April 20, 2013
"probably was referring to size, as does the dictionary."

Dear Mr. Ruse,

Well, under that definition, Teddy Roosevelt or perhaps Taft must have been our greatest president, and Lincoln (depending on whether you consider height or girth), one of our least. The United States, then, is surely a great nation, regardless of what moral depths and depravity the country might sink to. However, it can certainly never be as great as The Union os Soviet Socialist Republics was or Russia is.

I have to admit that my dictionary also lists "large" as the first definition, although I wonder in what way a religion can be considered large, since any religion is but a set of intangibles--beliefs, principles, ideas. Numbers of people are not a religion no matter how many or how few. Since the entire world population of pre-Christian times (with the exception of some Jews after Abram of Ur) was pagan, on a percentage basis, that would make paganism the greatest religion ever.

I don't know, Mr. Ruse. The phrase "great religion" still sounds like a cliche to me. Mr. Kristol is a very good man, and I don't for a minute question his religious conviction or sincerity, but I haven't heard him say anything profound or even substantial in a very long time. But we can both pray that he holds the line in his Standard.

Thank you. It's been fun.
written by Austin Ruse, April 20, 2013
great[ greyt ]
1. unusually or comparatively large in size or dimensions: A great fire destroyed nearly half the city.
2. large in number; numerous: Great hordes of tourists descend on Europe each summer.
3. unusual or considerable in degree, power, intensity, etc.: great pain.
written by Manfred, April 20, 2013
What I find interesting is that these billion people who follow the Quran, as well as millions of Black Africans for whom aberrosexuality is a definite taboo, will be the allies of the Catholic/Evangelical remnant in the U.S. How many more "Boston Massacre" type events does anyone think this Country can afford?
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 21, 2013
You mean there is, after all, a difference between immutable truths and pragmatism?
written by Peter Wolfgang, April 21, 2013
"Bill Kristol is the standard" and so, in my book, is Austin, for even getting into this topic and then covering it so well. "Do a site search at The Weekly Standard on social issues and you find – alone among conservative magazines? – a publication that has never wavered on them." Yes, and Austin is alone among conservative writers in saying such things aloud. No one person alone fills the shoes of the late Fr. Neuhaus but Austin is his natural successor in one of my favorite aspects of Neuhaus' writing: scoring serious magazines that are conservative (or claim to be Catholic: Hi, Commonweal!) in the light of truth.

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