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March 31, 2002
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George F. Will, a professed conservative, has criticized President Bush, not once (on steel tarrifs), not twice (on policy towards Israel), but thrice (on campaign finance reform) this month. Am I missing something, or is Bush not adequately protecting his right flank?

Granted, Will is a conservative of the tory variety, but it's still a noticeable change in tenor since fawning over Bush's decision on stem-cell research.
posted by sillygwailo (34 comments total)

 
george f. will, the next to die in the war against terrorism.

oh wait! not yet. people are watching. shhh.
posted by jcterminal at 4:00 AM on March 31, 2002


you act like will is a complete suckass. it's not like he's rush or drudge.
posted by tsarfan at 4:38 AM on March 31, 2002


If you think back to 1988, Will called Bush a "lapdog". There is bad blood between these two, but it is nothing new.

Happy Easter!
posted by Oxydude at 4:46 AM on March 31, 2002


What if instead of crony-ism, Will is simply a free thinking individual who analyzes things, comes out usually on the right, but at this particular juncture, the right is betraying reality. I just read his piece on Israel and Thomas Friedman's in the NYTimes. They've got a similar timbre. It has nothing to do with Right, Left, Middle, it has to do with Arafat being a liar, and it being dangerous to America to placate a known liar who goes back on every promise, declares jihad at will, and claims, upon hearing that Israel is moving into his compound with tanks, "oh, umm, now we're ready to consider peace. Stop bullying us with your tanks as we blow up our children in your pizzarias, supermarkets and discos."

That's what Will is talking about. The responsibility of the fourth estate is to keep elected officials from getting complacent. There's only so many times you can hear Ashcroft say "If you disagree about anything, then the terrorists have won" without starting to think for yourself, and that's exactly what Will has done. Thought for himself.
posted by swerdloff at 4:50 AM on March 31, 2002


What if instead of crony-ism, Will is simply a free thinking individual who analyzes things, comes out usually on the right, but at this particular juncture, the right is betraying reality.

George Will seems like a doctrinaire conservative to me. It seems more likely that Will believes Bush is going too far to the middle, especially in regard to steel tariffs and campaign finance reform.

Will makes Michael Oren's upcoming book on the Middle East sound interesting. Does anyone know if it's worth a read? I'd like to learn more about the topic from someone who isn't grinding an ax for either side in the Israel/Palestine conflict.
posted by rcade at 5:05 AM on March 31, 2002


For a baleneced view, you need voices from each side . I suggest bitterlemons This site takes different topics each weeks and has opions from two Israelis and two Palestinians, all of whom are articulate, highly educated. Thus, even within each "side" there is a diverse opion, and this helps to illustrate that diversity too.
posted by Postroad at 5:19 AM on March 31, 2002


The website Postroad mentions is http://www.bitterlemons.org/.
posted by jameschandler at 7:05 AM on March 31, 2002


Ah, George Will is OK. He loves baseball and wears a snappy bow tie. What's not to like?

BTW, Happy Easter, you nuts.
posted by jonmc at 7:40 AM on March 31, 2002


This is only a topic to people that believe that conservatives all think in terms of a single monolithic mindset. They never have, and never will. It's good that a "discovery" of sorts is evidenced in this FPP, but it is not the discovery of a conservative acting any differently than he ever did, but the awakening of the poster to the fact that maybe there is healthy debate within conservative circles (as there is in liberal circles - but when a liberal agrees with a democratic president, is the agreement framed as "fawning"?).

Actually, this particular issue is simply the norm of what happens in US politics. The traditional wisdom is that one campaigns from the extremes, but one governs from the middle. George Will is fairly consistant about conservative principles. He's an intellectual, and analyzes from a basis of philosophy. Bush is the President, and pure ideology virtually never is successful for long in the day to day gritty work of governance.

Tariffs, for instance, (in fact protectionism in most forms), runs against the core beliefs of Will's brand of conservatism (in general, unions support them, and the far right - Buchanan and his gang - support them, but moderate conservatives do not). It is only a surprise that he'd oppose Bush if one think that all Will does is look at Bush's decisions, accept them as good without thinking, and then try to build an intellectual basis for them. He doesn't, and never has. He's simply being entirely consistant with conservative principles, and either supports, or critisizes a given President based on that.

It is not very unusual, though, for a President to get in power and act in a way that draws critisism from his patry's intellectuals. If you think Bush using tariffs in the case of one industry is news, it is quite minor compared to Clinton arguing for, and ultimately passing the NAFTA ... which also resulted in a lot of liberal intellectuals who "fawned" over Clinton in some areas absolutely crucifying him publically.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:45 AM on March 31, 2002


Will gets on my nerves, but his take on campaign finance reform -- it seems to come straight from Senator Mitch McConnell -- isn't easily dismissed. In fact I've never heard anyone seriously address it.

Campaign finance reform seems like the worst case of cynics-exploiting-idealists to come down the pike in a long time. If Bush is signing the bill, you had better believe there's something in it for him. Either he believes it will be struck down, or he thinks it will benefit Republicans. But it's OK because everyone who supported this bill believed the same thing.
posted by coelecanth at 8:01 AM on March 31, 2002


George Will, while a second rate writer IMO, is nothing if not consistent within his neo-conservative ideology, which he holds to solidly, sometimes at the expense of coherence. Will specializes in hyperbole wrapped in a kind of easy gentility, and in that I give him a lot of credit as a polemicist.

He severely blurred the line between advocacy and activism and lowered the bar for journalism with this stunt, in which he coached Reagan for a debate which he then went on television and purported to critique. We now have political operatives/journalists such as Gergen and Stephanopolous because of a revolving door Will did a lot to install.

As it happened, Reagan shared most of Will's views, though there were rare times when Will criticized Reagan for concessions to Democrats and to public opinion, as Will is now doing to Bush.
posted by Ty Webb at 9:30 AM on March 31, 2002


An interesting take from this week's Economist. They basically say that W has turned into John McCain (the article is in the subscribers section, but The E gradually makes some articles free during the week).
posted by costas at 9:38 AM on March 31, 2002


George Will, while a second rate writer IMO, is nothing if not consistent within his neo-conservative ideology, which he holds to solidly, sometimes at the expense of coherence. Will specializes in hyperbole wrapped in a kind of easy gentility, and in that I give him a lot of credit as a polemicist.

Yes ... and worse, much worse than that, most of the time the man is simply mind-bogglingly dull. But he is utterly consistant in his expression of a particular philosophical orientation.
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:38 AM on March 31, 2002


The people to be suspicious of are the sycophants who claim to follow a certain philosophy but then betray those principles in order to kiss up to an opportunistic leadership. I appreciate Will's consistency and read him with interest, even though I disagree with many of his positions.

Apparently Norman Mailer recently took Will to task for comparing George Bush's use of language to Ernest Hemingway's. Anyone read Mailer's piece?
posted by homunculus at 10:24 AM on March 31, 2002


Mailer wrote a letter to the Boston Globe in response to Will's March 12 column. "To put George W. Bush's prose next to Hemingway is equal to saying that Jackie Susann is right up there with Jane Austen." The Globe's web site has the full text available for purchase (see heading "For Whom the Will Toils"), but here's a short commentary by Michael Ryan of tompaine.com. "When a mighty predator makes a meal of a slow-witted, defenseless, helpless creature, one can hardly help but cringe."
posted by Dean King at 12:07 PM on March 31, 2002


MM: when a liberal agrees with a democratic president, is the agreement framed as "fawning"?

By conservatives? Of course it is, you betcha!

MM: This is only a topic to people that believe that conservatives all think in terms of a single monolithic mindset. They never have, and never will.

Having recently re-read George Orwell's essay "Notes on Nationalism" and currently in the middle of David Brock's Blinded by the Right (not to mention Conason's superior Hunting of the President from last year), it's worth noting that there really was (is?) a VRWC. While many conservatives were and are of the old school variety- ideological, but not without integrity- there has been an increase in the Nationalist conservative: those who are so enmeshed in the idea of their side winning that they'd do anything, say anything to make it happen (including Ted Olson for example; some of these folk were quite rewarded for their efforts). To folks like these, and their presently very muted counterparts on the left, it's not spirited political debate but outright Holy War where they are the just and mighty warriors doing battle with the Evil opposition which is in league with Satan. Therefore- to their way of thinking- it was perfectly okay to break every legal and ethical rule, to slander and character assassinate, to support a politician who in theory you'd actually disagree with- except that the only true ideology held by these people is that of defeating the Evil Opposition. If the poster erred, it was in thinking Will was one of these folks. While he is decidedly partisan, he's not, as far as I can tell, some kind of Manichean sociopath.

So while it might be unfair to say all conservatives are like these Stalinist right-wingers, the reality is that over the last 10-15 years, since the Reagan era was crippled in its last two years by Iran-Contra, there has been a well-organized, well-funded conservative movement to quite literally destroy the opposition with any means possible short of actual assassination (and had Gore ended up in the Oval Office, I wouldn't be surprised if a Cessna piloted by Ann Coulter was crashed into the Rose Garden). Part and parcel with that is remaking the legend of Reagan into some kind of Living God, and promoting every Republican including George Bush as a Good Man and Good President no matter what he does.

homunculus: The people to be suspicious of are the sycophants who claim to follow a certain philosophy but then betray those principles in order to kiss up to an opportunistic leadership

That's what I'm saying...
posted by hincandenza at 12:24 PM on March 31, 2002


Having recently re-read George Orwell's essay "Notes on Nationalism" and currently in the middle of David Brock's Blinded by the Right (not to mention Conason's superior Hunting of the President from last year), it's worth noting that there really was (is?) a VRWC.

Reading anything to balance your perspective, or only looking for confirmation of what you already believe?

Therefore- to their way of thinking- it was perfectly okay to break every legal and ethical rule, to slander and character assassinate, to support a politician who in theory you'd actually disagree with- except that the only true ideology held by these people is that of defeating the Evil Opposition.

Sums up - rather perfectly - the left wing during the Clinton administration.

" ... since the Reagan era was crippled in its last two years by Iran-Contra, there has been a well-organized, well-funded conservative movement to quite literally destroy the opposition with any means possible short of actual assassination ..."

Yes ... and what has now come to be called the "Borking" a nominee is the Democrats acting high-minded?. Politics has gone downhill the last couple of decades, but if you for a minute attempt to say the ring wing has some powerful single mindset that is willing to do almost anything to win, while the left wing is some poor hapless victim that loses because it has a diversity of voices and only plays nice - well, that's just rubbish. Democrats play every bit as dirty as Republicans do. In fact Clinton broke entirely new ground in terms of what was considered permissible in politics.
posted by MidasMulligan at 12:58 PM on March 31, 2002


Here's an interesting piece by Chait in the New Republic about the peculiar worshipfulness of many conservatives, personified by Peggy Noonan. I wouldn't lump Will in with these types, though he's certainly not above the occasional indulgence in Reagan-necrophilia.

it's worth noting that there really was (is?) a VRWC.

Yes, and it's also worth noting that Clinton was (is) a crook.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:59 PM on March 31, 2002


From hincandenza's link:

As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit. It is difficult if not impossible for any nationalist to conceal his allegiance. The smallest slur upon his own unit, or any implied praise of a rival organization, fills him with uneasiness which he can relieve only by making some sharp retort.

That made me think of you Midas.
posted by crasspastor at 1:17 PM on March 31, 2002


what has now come to be called the "Borking" a nominee is the Democrats acting high-minded?.

It's important to distinguish between what happened to Bork and what happened to Clarence Thomas. Bork is an extremely outspoken partisan with a habit of draping his legalese with self-righteous religiosity. He deserved to be vigorously opposed and rejected by Senate Democrats because his constitutional views are fundamentally at odds with many Americans, I would say with a majority.

What happened to Thomas was markedly more tawdry. The Democrats used his unsuccessful attempts at getting a date to try and tar him as a sexual harasser. This is the politics of personal destruction that has since infested our politics, and which came to bite the Dems on the ass when they nominated and elected a philandering intern-diddler.

There was more than enough reason to oppose Thomas' nomination without that junk, considering he had spent only about eighteen weeks as a federal judge, was very little published, and was otherwise spectacularly unqualified for the Supreme Court, and he has not distinguished himself at all during his tenure. Bush I's nomination of Thomas was about as base an example of tokenism as one could find, which is why Dems., as supporters of affirmative action, had to find other reasons to oppose the nomination.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:19 PM on March 31, 2002


excuse me, eighteen months as a federal judge.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:23 PM on March 31, 2002


I gotta side with Ty for once. Bork did get Borked, but he did (probably still does) hold some truly weird opinions on the Constitution, and probably would have been a detriment to the SCOTUS. And the 2nd person nominated after Bork (let us not forget Douglas "Doobie" Ginsburg in the interim), Anthony Kennedy, was also a conservative, but his confirmation went quite smoothly. Thomas was definitely the first true hardcore Borking.

Of course, I vehemently disagree with Ty's final sentence. If Thomas's nomination was merely affirmative action in action (heh), then the Dems, as AA supporters, should have been jumping for joy. And if they would not or could not because certain areas of their claimed ideology turned out to trump others when it really mattered, the only honorable thing to would have been to oppose Thomas on his record, or lack thereof, and let him stand or fall by a confirmation vote. There were no "other reasons" to be found; The Dems had no legitimate reason to even attempt to FIND "other reasons" to oppose the nomination, as pure partisanship is not the point of the Senate confirmation process. It is precisely that attitude on the Democrats' part - that having attained power and many of their original goals, they thus had the right, or at least excuse, to use any means necessary to retain them when times and attitudes started to change - that has led to the devolution into partisan pissing matches that we've seen throughout the 1990s on both sides of the aisle.

It's also what's caused the stagnation of the Democratic Party, as they've been stuck in that "hold onto power/outdated ideological wins by any means necessary" mode ever since the Bork/Thomas era, instead of evolving into a party that an actual sizable majority of people would still want to vote for in the present day (Cf. Labour in the UK).
posted by aaron at 2:21 PM on March 31, 2002


That made me think of you Midas.

Read my first post. It was just pointing out principles that held equally on the left and on the right. hincandenza, as he so often does, responded with an extreme left-wing viewpoint. I responded to it once again from the political center - yes, politics is nasty, but yes, both parties are equally to blame. Odd that it would be me, and not him, that it "makes you think of".

Odd as well that he would even write something about "nationalists" that applies so thoroughly to himself.
posted by MidasMulligan at 2:24 PM on March 31, 2002


Ty:
That Jonathan Chait article, I read it a day or two ago, was trying to find it again when I initially posted but could not. Noonan's kind of a loon; as I've said in the past, her writing- especially about Reagan but also w/r/t Bush- is less political screed than religious witnessing.

MM: Sums up - rather perfectly - the left wing during the Clinton administration.

Exactly how? I don't recall a $73M investigation into Newt's adulterous affair and eventual divorce. You gonna provide evidence even remotely as detailed as Conason or Lyons did- y'know, actual documentation etc, etc? This is what I'm talking about- you hurl a slur like "sums up... the left wing during the Clinton administration" but there really wasn't any evidence that either the Clinton administration or the "left wing" was engaged in the kind of extremely well-organized, well-funded operation to smear Clinton with half-truths and outright lies in the hopes of dethroning him. Many of these Warriors of Justice are on record as admitting that they knew what they said wasn't true but was justifiable because it was in pursuit of the greater good of attacking the Evil KKKlinton.

I'll be awaiting your book on the similar operations on the Left, presumably funded by Alec Baldwin no doubt.

MM, the difference between me and actual Nationalists is that I don't think "conservatives" are evil or a monolithic block of Satan-worshipping fascists. I do think some conservatives are deeply misguided. I'm again not talking about the old schoolers, like the pompous yet restrained and erudite Bill Buckley, with whom I disagree but who, because of his inherent integrity was able to grow to recognize that the Drug War (criticized by liberals for some time) was in fact a huge mistake. Nor am I referring to George Will who I disagree with almost all the time, and is a bit more of a mudslinger, but nevertheless isn't a radical. Now compare that to the neo-Stalinists like Grover Norquist (et al), who seem to craft their politics less out of ideological integrity than personal, emotional issues writ large onto their imagined power struggle with the {insert enemy "Other" of choice here}. To these people, political difference isn't a stimulus to healthy debate but a salvo to a cultural Cold War; eventually, the policy issues become irrelevent because the only true issue was winning itself. One thing that ain't is good for democracy.

Oh, and don't even pretend you're coming from some anti-Establishment populist political center. That's either disingenuous or outright delusional.
posted by hincandenza at 3:01 PM on March 31, 2002


In some singing 5th grade classrooms, George Will wouldn't want to be labeled a "Tory."
posted by sheauga at 3:17 PM on March 31, 2002


Odd as well that he would even write something about "nationalists" that applies so thoroughly to himself.
I think it's just an example of selection-bias. If everyone you choose to associate with has similar beliefs, you'll assume those are average, "center" beliefs. If you don't associate with people whose beliefs you disagree with (extremely common) this can lead to an amazing skew because nobody's going to raise a serious challenge and it's easy to assume that this happens because there aren't any rational opposing viewpoints ("We all agree because it's the only right answer").

This can become particularly amusing when you have, say, devout left-wingers ("government will solve everything from acne on up") complaining about those annoying libertarians who just won't listen to reason. To make things even more exciting, toss in a few common mistakes like assuming disagreement exists only because the other party either didn't understand your argument or is actively evil..
posted by adamsc at 3:37 PM on March 31, 2002


I just want five minutes inside Sheauga's brain. It would be the most fascinating ride ever made. (That's a compliment, BTW.)
posted by aaron at 4:04 PM on March 31, 2002


George Will recently compared Bush’s speaking style to Hemingway and John Wesley. Norman Mailer responded.

“Well, one is hardly familiar with John Wesley's sermons, but I do know that to put George W. Bush's prose next to Hemingway is equal to saying that Jackie Susann is right up there with Jane Austen.”

“It's the truth that you should never trust anybody who wears a bow tie. Cravat's supposed to point down to accentuate the genitals. Why’d you wanna trust somebody whose tie points out to accentuate his ears?”
— State and Main
posted by raaka at 4:20 PM on March 31, 2002


If Thomas's nomination was merely affirmative action in action (heh), then the Dems, as AA supporters, should have been jumping for joy.

Maybe they should have, but there's nothing "merely" about a SCOTUS nominee. We shouldn't be surprised that a bunch of politicians abandoned their professed principles for larger political strategy. Bush did exactly the same thing, by the way, by nominating Thomas who, as I said, was not qualified for the spot by any stretch of the imagination, and was tapped because he is a conservative black man. Tokenism is the only word for it, as Bush obviously felt that he couldn't handle the fallout of nominating a non-black to Thurgood Marshall's former seat. Pure base politics on both sides, though to be fair the Dems eventually did vote to confirm him.
posted by Ty Webb at 5:13 PM on March 31, 2002


To these people, political difference isn't a stimulus to healthy debate but a salvo to a cultural Cold War; eventually, the policy issues become irrelevent because the only true issue was winning itself. One thing that ain't is good for democracy.

And you don't think there is a faction of the democratic party equally this extreme? Really?

Oh, and don't even pretend you're coming from some anti-Establishment populist political center. That's either disingenuous or outright delusional.

Well, my my, while I realize it's apparently your self-appointed mission to make sure that nasty Midas don't get away with anything, please do be a dear and at least pretend to actually read my words, won't you? Where exactly did I say I was from an "anti-establishment" position? "Populist"? While I am sorry if I often don't exactly fit the tidy little image you seem to have of me in your head, we are using words here ... and my exact ones are these:

"Read my first post. It was just pointing out principles that held equally on the left and on the right. hincandenza, as he so often does, responded with an extreme left-wing viewpoint. I responded to it once again from the political center - yes, politics is nasty, but yes, both parties are equally to blame. Odd that it would be me, and not him, that it "makes you think of".

I was, and still am saying that American political culture has been greatly degraded over the past couple of decades. That both parties are responsible, and both have gotten fairly disgusting in the tactics they will stoop to. The extremes of both parties, of course, say that the other party is much worse. I think Will's just dull. Buchanan is an idiot. Gingrich was corrupt and slimey. I also think Chomsky is an idiot, and that Clinton was corrupt and slimey ... all of which are opinions shared by a good majority of Americans.

You are the one that paints himself as an "anti-establishment populist" ... but don't even "pretend" you're some middle of the road moderate ... you're on the extreme left of the political spectrum.
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:50 PM on March 31, 2002


there has been an increase in the Nationalist conservative: those who are so enmeshed in the idea of their side winning that they'd do anything, say anything to make it happen

That's a strange comment. I would love to see some names of these "conservatives." Since the left has so overtaken the culture and the government, it's laughable that those on the left still whine about the demagoguery of the right. There can be no equating any "winning" conservatives with any faction on the left, because the left is much more powerful; there is no balance between left and right.

...his constitutional views are fundamentally at odds with many Americans, I would say with a majority.

Another function of the left was to inculcate their agenda through educational systems. The fog of that has prevented many Americans from understanding what the Constitution actually says and what the judiciary is actually supposed to do. So, perhaps, it is true that many would not agree with Bork's positions.

Bork did get Borked, but he did (probably still does) hold some truly weird opinions on the Constitution, and probably would have been a detriment to the SCOTUS

The fact that you think his thoughts are "truly weird" maybe proves the point made above. If you'd rather see the judicial activism that has pervaded the system rather than interpretation of laws and the powers that the Constitution actually provides the judiciary, it seems that it is you that has the truly weird ideas. Sadly, they are ones that many people share because they do not understand America or its principles.
posted by alethe at 11:46 PM on March 31, 2002


The Democrats used his unsuccessful attempts at getting a date to try and tar him as a sexual harasser.

I think when you're extolling the virtues of Long Dong Silver to a coworker and asking if her pubic hair is on your Coke can, you've gone way beyond an "unsuccessful attempt at getting a date." There were better reasons to oppose Thomas, but I think his disturbing sexual behavior in the workplace was pertinent.

It was also the inspiration for one of the funniest Saturday Night Live skits ever, when Sens. Kennedy, Heflin, and Biden grilled Thomas on the best methods to pick up women.
posted by rcade at 7:20 AM on April 2, 2002


I think when you're extolling the virtues of Long Dong Silver to a coworker and asking if her pubic hair is on your Coke can, you've gone way beyond an "unsuccessful attempt at getting a date."

Yes, it's called being a creep. And it's not against the law (not yet anyway).

There were better reasons to oppose Thomas, but I think his disturbing sexual behavior in the workplace was pertinent.

I think Chris Rock put it best: "if Clarence Thomas looked like Denzel Washington, there wouldn't have been a problem."
posted by Ty Webb at 7:42 AM on April 2, 2002


It's definitely against the law for a superior to create a hostile work environment through unwelcome and offensive sexual conduct or speech. Whether Thomas reached that high-water mark or not is debatable, but I don't think you can argue that what he did is legal without question.
posted by rcade at 9:52 AM on April 2, 2002


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