The latest in the J-School’s Delacorte Lecture featured Fox News contributor and Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol. In a room packed with J-School students and retirees hoping Kristol would use the opportunity to “debunk” global warming, political peer Adam Shapiro listened on.
Professor Victor Navasky (former longtime editor of The Nation) introduced Kristol by mentioning his work for the Reagan and Bush administrations and the McCain 2008 campaign. Navasky then told the audience to brace for “something completely different.”
Kristol began by thanking the Columbia Journalism School for being “fair and balanced” enough to invite a conservative to speak. He candidly talked about becoming Republican, explaining that being conservative was a form of rebellion growing up on the Upper West Side. He half jokingly explained that he later read books to justify the prejudices he developed.
Kristol focused most of his lecture on his belief that the internet is radically reshaping the political and media landscape. Despite his “normal inclination as a conservative to debunk claims of novelty,” he posited that in the last twenty years things have changed at unprecedented speed. As a conservative, he’s enthusiastic about the changes the internet is bringing and sees them as healthy for democracy and good for the individual.
However, he thinks this is only the beginning, comparing it to the invention of the steam engine when people sensed horses would become passé but couldn’t predict passenger trains or cars. Kristol predicts that the next thing to be radically challenged will be university campuses. He compared a physical university campus to a Borders book store; it may be nice but ultimately feels archaic and inefficient.
He shifted to politics today and why he thinks we’re approaching a new era of American politics. He admitted that elites have never failed more than the housing crisis and haven’t been held accountable for their failings. He noted that the nomination of Mitt Romney was almost a caricature of this reality and played into stereotypes the public has about Wall Street and Washington elites. He predicts politics will continue to take an increasingly populist bent and will look more similar to the European political landscape.
He cited Sarah Palin and Obama (in 2008) as people who tapped into populist fervor. He posited that we’re living in a rather unique historical moment that is fluid and unpredictable, and in which we’ll see movements start from the bottom, against elites, which will have profound effects on the direction of the country.
In concluding, Professor Navasky asked how someone who comes across as so reasonable can support such unreasonable social programs, which elicited chuckles.