As I listened to Sarah Palin's recent phone call with "Nicolas Sarkozy," I couldn't help thinking about Bill Kristol.
I think about Bill Kristol far too much. I almost never used to. Before he began writing his Monday column in the New York Times, I rarely saw him on television. Whenever I did, I was mostly mesmerized by his uncanny resemblance to Bob Woodward (whom he no longer resembles) and his incredibly self-satisfied, smug, smirky demeanor. It was my theory that his need to please the Republican White House -- a need that seemed to trump his alleged intellect and even the factual evidence on hand -- must stem from some unresolved issues with his father, the famous Irving Kristol, one of the first neo-conservatives. But I didn't dwell on it, because I saw so little of him. And in any case, I truly couldn't stand him. I just couldn't stand him.
I don't enjoy being in this position. I much prefer to be perversely fond of people others find problematic. I am crazy about Pat Buchanan, for example, and I have fantasies of following him around for a day in order to find out what it's like to never ever be off the air. I am utterly entranced by Keith Olbermann, and I watch his show in much the same way others go to hockey games. Don't get me started on Chris Matthews: I am practically in love with the guy. But it seemed impossible to find a way to like Bill: he was just too irritating.
And then, unaccountably, amazingly, astonishingly, he was hired by the New York Times to write a once-a-week column. You cannot imagine the thrill of horror that passed through New York on hearing the news. The Times already had a conservative columnist (of whom I was already perversely fond), and one conservative columnist was quite enough, thank you. Then Kristol's column began. I read it religiously every Monday. And slowly but surely, I became infatuated with him. How could I not? The man could not write his way out of a paper bag. His column was simply awful. Reading it was like watching someone dance on the head of a pin: his need to prove to his base that he hadn't gone over to the other side was so strong, his need to please his constituency was so moving, that I began to wish he would quit his job as editor of the Weekly Standard and become a Times columnist full-time. It was certainly not going to inconvenience him: the column couldn't have been taking him more than about twenty minutes to write. And it was great having him there, visible, so people like me could see what people like him were like. He was wrong about everything. It was such a comfort.
In recent months, I have thought about Bill more and more. Every time someone turned over a rock, he crawled out from under it. In Jane Mayer's recent New Yorker piece on Sarah Palin, for instance, he turned out to be the man who'd discovered Palin, during a cruise of Alaska, and brought the news of her potential stardom back to the New World. And of course he was one of the reasons why we'd gone to war in Iraq. Iraq. Sarah Palin. The man was uncanny. Last week I watched him on Jon Stewart, insisting that McCain might yet pull an upset. "It's not a psychodrama," he said. "It's only an election."
People like me sometimes wonder what it would be like to be involved in mistakes that end up killing people; we wonder about sleepless nights and remorse and guilt. Bill Kristol exists to remind us that these are pathetic liberal fantasies, and that some people are never sorry. Only last week I saw Kristol on television continuing to defend Sarah Palin: she was a bright woman, he was saying, who'd simply been mismanaged by the McCain campaign.
Which brings me back to Sarah Palin's radio phone call with the Canadian comedian who pranked her into thinking he was Nicolas Sarkozy. As I listened to it, increasingly horrified, I couldn't help thinking about Bill Kristol and hoping that somehow, he would have to spend eternity locked in a room listening to a continuous tape of it.
There are rumors that the New York Times is not going to renew his contract. I just pray they're not true.