A Conservative Prognosis

Short, round in the middle, and balding on the top, William Kristol resembles nothing if not an aging torpedo. A torpedo that is, perhaps, past its aerodynamic prime, but still not something you want fired in your direction. As his introduction noted, Kristol has, in a variety of capacities, been involved in “every political fight in the last quarter century.” Throughout his recent talk at the University of Chicago, entitled “2012: A Year of Decision,” however, the conservative commentator didn’t seem so much a fighter as a measured, thorough thinker.

Turning first to history, Kristol gave a quick, almost medical evaluation of the two presidential candidates, running over their vital signs before moving on to more complex issues. Obama’s chances, he admitted, look pretty good. Incumbents generally have an advantage, especially if they aren’t challenged in the primary. And since 1986 every president that took the White House from the opposing party has held it for at least eight years.

On the other hand, he pointed out, Obama’s approval rating currently hovers at around 46 percent–hardly what you want heading into election season, especially since that rating often translates directly into a president’s share of the vote in the general election.

Moving on to Romney, Kristol couldn’t resist bemoaning this year’s motley selection of candidates. Kristol’s fervent, and failed, attempts to urge Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Congressman Paul Ryan, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to enter the race were a source of a fair amount of good-natured, self-deprecating humor. But a small amount of genuine vexation shines through. After rattling off the qualifications of each of 2012’s past presidential hopefuls, he took a pause–“I mean what kind of field is that, really?”

Kristol admitted that Romney was a weak candidate in the primaries, but pointed out that he’s been doing better lately since “he realized he had to tell people what he was going to do as president.” As he stacks up against Obama, both of the candidates are intelligent, successful men, but Kristol believes that “Obama is a more attractive American story.”

From a decidedly right wing, fast-talking pundit, a certain amount of bluster is assumed. However, Kristol retained a highly self-conscious, at times even self-mocking tone. When asked about what an Obama victory would mean, Kristol responded with even-handed irony: “You know, I can usually talk myself into thinking that the country will survive, and that conservatism will survive.”