Bill Kristol’s culture of conservative victimhood

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

At The Weekly Standard, that bastion of occasionally intelligent conservative commentary, Bill Kristol examines the ongoing investigations into the allegedly illegal or otherwise unethical behavior of four prominent conservatives: Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby. Here’s Kristol’s assessment:

What do these four men have in common, other than their status as prosecutorial targets? Since 2001, they have been among the most prominent promoters of the conservative agenda of the Bush administration. For over four years, they have helped two strong conservatives, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, successfully advance an agenda for change in America. To the extent these four are sidelined, there is a real chance that the Bush-Cheney administration will become less successful…

Meanwhile, a kind of ideological criminalization of active, visible conservatives has become almost second nature to the left and the elite professions, including journalism and teaching, in which they predominate…

Why are conservative Republicans, who control the executive and legislative branches of government for the first time in living memory, so vulnerable to the phenomenon of criminalization? Is it simple payback for the impeachment of Bill Clinton? Or is it a reflection of some deep malady at the heart of American politics? If criminalization is seen to loom ahead for every conservative who begins successfully to act out his or her beliefs in government or politics, is the project of conservative reform sustainable?

We don’t pretend to have all the answers, or a solid answer even to one of these questions. But it’s a reasonable bet that the fall of 2005 will be remembered as a time when it became clear that a comprehensive strategy of criminalization had been implemented to inflict defeat on conservatives who seek to govern as conservatives. And it is clear that thinking through a response to this challenge is a task conservatives can no longer postpone.

The problem with Kristol’s analysis lies in his own partisanship and his inability to look with disinterestedness at what are some fairly serious accusations. For him, the investigations reflect an atmosphere of “them” against “us” — specifically of Democrats and liberals against Republicans and conservatives. That is, he and his friends on the right are the good guys promoting “the conservative agenda of the Bush administration” (whatever that means: is it really all that conservative?) and “successfully [advancing] an agenda for change in America” while his enemies on the left are engaging in “a kind of ideological criminalization of active, visible conservatives”.

Call it Bill Kristol’s culture of conservative victimhood: We are innocent victims of partisan persecution! We didn’t do nothin’!

(Rather odd for a half-neocon, half-Straussian, no? — and I say that as a Straussian myself.)

But here’s the question he dare not ask: What if DeLay, Frist, Rove, and Libby are (gasp!) guilty?

Yes, it does seem that something is rotten on Kristol’s beloved right. There are ongoing investigations and much that is merely alleged, but could it really be that there’s no fire behind all the smoke?