Bill Kristol is the Standard

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 Center for Family & Human Rights (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.