A few weeks ago, I went to the Butler Board Room (above the AU basketball court) to see Bill Kristol, a neoconservative analyst and editor-at-large. There were about 60 people present, many of which were undercover progressives like me. Bill Kristol is a prominent conservative pundit and also a “Never Trumper”. Kristol’s typical policy leanings are smaller government with conservative values.
When I heard Kristol was going to discuss the future of conservatism my ears perked up. It was a chance to hear a different point of view than my own. I was expecting a thoughtful view on strategy and tactics from an experienced veteran.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really get any of that. Instead Mr. Kristol presented mundane ‘facts’ with questionable veracity. It was noteworthy that he seemed very afraid to get anything wrong, instead choosing to add a ‘maybe’ or a ‘perhaps’ to nearly every phrase.
His main thesis was that the next 20 years in politics maybe, sort of, could possibly, be similar to the 1960s and 70s, during which political parties were a bit more complicated and shake ups happened frequently. Politicians like Goldwater, LBJ, and Nixon were able to reshape their parties and our society at large. I don’t think what Kristol was necessarily wrong that we are headed into a period similar to that, but I have almost no confidence he was right either.
This is due primarily to Kristol’s rhetorical style. Firstly, Kristol’s speech was fairly dry. Most of the hour-long talk was spent explaining his theory of how we arrived at a Trump presidency with a democratic House of Representatives. For some reason, he listed every presidential nominee and major 3rd party candidate from JFK to Reagan. Secondly, and more importantly, I had trouble getting past the aforementioned qualifiers he added to hedge any value judgments he made. They often left me wondering if he actually believed what he was saying or just proposing that these things might be true.
My main takeaways were that he liked moderation and that when speaking I should make sure to not overly rely on hedging words. He proposed that two moderate parties are essential ingredients for a healthy Democracy. It’s a simple idea, but maybe I could use that as a frame of reference when trying to persuade conservatives in the future. Lastly, being confident seems to help get your point across.
In summary, Bill Kristol wasn’t a fantastic speaker and I learned more from thinking about the way he spoke than what he actually said. While it was worth my time I probably wouldn’t go again if he offered another talk.