Last week, The Weekly Standard held a mid-term summit conference at The Broadmoor. The Weekly Standard's editor, Bill Kristol, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer headlined an all-star lineup of conservative minds for two days in discussion about the mid-term elections and the important issues facing America.
Kristol, noted for his wit and clarity, sat down with Gazette editorial board member Pula Davis to give his unique insight on several questions and topics.
Gazette: Right after Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, you wrote that if Obama was a good president he could save liberalism. That probably won't come to fruition, but what do you think will be Obama's legacy?
Kristol: I wrote that in the last column I wrote for the New York Times. I remember taking heart from sentences in the president's inaugural address and saying maybe he will be a president who will reassert America's role in the world and embody and revitalize liberalism, instead of what I felt was a sort of decadent liberalism that had come to dominate the Democratic Party and the left. But I've been disappointed. I guess that was more of a hope. I think at home he's really not done much in the way of fresh thinking. He's really pushing the same liberal agenda that liberals have pushed for a long time. And I think that's not working out well at all, so I don't think he's going to have a successful presidency.
Gazette: Do you have any thoughts on what Obama's reasons could be for his inactive foreign policy?
Kristol: I think he feels action has really proved detrimental. Not just that sometimes there are unintended consequences. Some acts of the U.S. abroad have not been managed as well as others, and there have been some bad patches and some mistakes in judgment.
But he really does believe that fundamental mistakes we've made since the Cold War was getting involved when we didn't need to get involved and that often backfires. And therefore I think his policy reflects that deep belief that the U.S. is often not really a force for good when it intervenes around the world. I don't agree with that, but that's been a consistent belief of his really from when he was in college. That's probably one of the most consistent beliefs he's had over his entire life.
Gazette: You've said you were frustrated with "war weary" America. What do you think war does for us as a country?
Kristol: History has shown that if we are not willing to fight abroad or at least threaten to stand with our allies and use force abroad, the world can get awfully dangerous, awfully fast. And a lot of people get killed and a lot of dangers to the U.S. itself will mount. Part of leadership is saying we're all weary of this event, war, weary of other aspects of assuming responsibility, but that doesn't mean that is a sound policy. A sound course going forward is in a sense to be guided by our weariness. I do think President Obama has really used war weariness as an excuse for taking what seems to be the easier course. History would suggest that the ultimate consequence is that we will end up having to intervene and do so later when the situation is less favorable.
Gazette: Hillary Clinton will probably be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. Who do you think can successfully oppose her?
Kristol: We have some good Republican possibilities. We don't really know how they'll do in a presidential campaign. I think it is healthy to have a lot of candidates and see who emerges.
The paradox of American politics right now can be summed up in two facts. If President Obama's approval rating stays where it is today, which is around 42 percent, history would suggest the Democrats have a poor chance of retaining the presidency in 2016. In the last 67 years, if a president leaves office with a low approval rating, his party does not usually succeed in holding the White House. Republicans should be favored in 2016.
On the other hand, I am a little spooked or struck by the fact that in the matchups between Hillary Clinton and Republican possible nominees, she's very consistently ahead, by quite a bit, 7, 8 or 10 points. Some of that is that she's much better known, but it does suggest to me that she's a sufficiently distinct brand that maybe she can overcome a referendum on eight years of Obama while Obama's at 42 percent. So I can argue this one either way. That's what makes for an interesting race in 2016.
Gazette: What's your take on Chris Christie?
Kristol: A very talented politician - damaged a little bit by the bridge scandal. The question with him is there's a lot of sizzle there, but where's the steak? There may be steak. He's a lively interesting guy; he's witty, strong. But he'll need to have a really strong conservative agenda; all these guys will need a real conservative agenda.
Gazette: And what about Bobby Jindal?
Kristol: An interesting character, too. He has been an impressive governor, if you look at education reform or health care, in a tough state to govern. He would raise very high interest in terms of accomplishments. He looks less like a traditional Republican nominee or like a traditional president than some of the other possibilities, and maybe that's good. Maybe its time for a change.
Gazette: What about the Colorado mid-term races this November? John Hickenlooper and Mark Udall are up for election. Do you think the results are important to the national scene?
Kristol: Governor's races tend to be more about the performance of the governor. But senator is more complicated. Senate races can get nationalized. Colorado is on the short list of states that could make the difference - it could be the 51st Republican victory, the 51st Republican senator in Washington.
Gazette: On legalized recreational marijuana: What are you hearing nationally about Colorado?
Kristol: In the last 2-3 months, nationally people are starting to notice that the unintended consequences of legalized marijuana are not that great. It does have all kinds of secondary effects on crime, public safety, kids, the general atmosphere and the political climate, social and cultural climate in the state. I think its an interesting case study where something can go through and people have certain expectations and it turns out that the real world surprises you in some ways. I am curious to see whether the voters here will have second thoughts. I would say nationally that the momentum has stalled. I think if you asked people six months ago, they would have said, "Oh, yeah, it would be legal in another 10 states in the next two years." I'm not so sure that's the case anymore.
Gazette: Immigration is another polarizing issue; what are your thoughts?
Kristol: I've become more conservative on that issue just watching what's happened in the last few years. I do think conservatives were worried that any kind of amnesty would be a magnet for more people to come in and we have yet to secure the border, which is a precondition of responsible legalization for those who are already here. I think they were right. I would be for legalization but not for citizenship. I think for the short term what needs to be done is to stop people from flooding across the border. Stop what is a terrible situation, which is very bad for them (the minors), with the coyotes making money off their parents.