Skip to comments.George Will: the Old Maid in the Popcorn Bag
Posted on 10/23/2005 10:26:02 PM PDT by Checkers
Those of us who support the nomination of Harriet Miers (even reluctantly) were warned repeatedly that we would be devastated, blown away, and inundated by the Noahide deluge of Hurricane Gamma, George Will's unanswerable final whirlwind of rhetorical devastation of Harriet Miers. Instead, all we got was a spritz of seltzer down our pants.
Will's meticulous retailing of yawn-inducing epithets ("perfect perversity," "discredits," "degrades," "justifications," "deficit of constitutional understanding," "gross misunderstanding of conservatism," and "persons masquerading as its defenders" -- all from the first paragraph!); his hand-waving dismissal of counterargument (his entire final paragraph -- see below); the by now comical snobbery ("crude people"), looking down a sharpened beak at the ants crawling about his Ozymandian feet; all this does surely leave me breathless... but with an amazed sense of loss, not cowed submission.
Lately, Christopher Hitchens has turned into the most articulate defender of the global war on terrorism in the administration. Well actually, outside the administration; but he may as well be a presidential spokesman. Hitchens' denunciations of the Left's politics of bending over coupled with their moist invective of personal destruction -- which now takes the place of any attempt at rational debate of the war, its history, purpose, and effect -- has made him, much to his discomfort, the Cassandra of the death of Socialism as a serious force in world affairs: he sees where his beloved Left is headed and what is going to happen, but he cannot get them to beware of Moslems bearing rifts. No more eloquent spokesman for the conservative virtues of liberal western democracy now exists than Chris Hitchens, which must drive the poor man mad.
Did space aliens sneak down and switch the souls of the two polemicists, Will and Hitchens?
I rummaged through George Will's column looking for the big pop; instead, I'm holding just an old maid in my hand: the kernal is barely cracked, just enough to release its meagre store of steam, not enough to burst open and rattle the pot with its noise. The cherry bomb that fizzled. One of my mother's sneezes, where she gasps for air, teary eyes as wide as millstones; she flaps her arms and turns fire-engine red -- then nothing more than the squeak of a deferential churchmouse.
Oh, I cannot stand it. Let's jump right into some of Will's incisive invective.
"Such is the perfect perversity of the nomination of Harriet Miers, it discredits, and even degrades, all who toil at justifying it.... Other arguments betray a gross misunderstanding of conservatism on the part of persons masquerading as its defenders.
Miers' advocates, sensing the poverty of other possibilities, began by cynically calling her critics sexist snobs who disdain women with less than Ivy League degrees."
Practically the first words out of Will's pen betray the very quality of discrimination that has served him so admirably for so long... until now, in his dotage. Which "Miers' advocates" would those be? Anyone in particular? In this case, a careful study of the record reveals that these advocates consist of Ed Gillespie -- assuming one is willing to look at a cap gun and call it a Howitzer. Will bravely shoulders that duty: so Gillespie said (according to Will) not only that "her critics" (all of them?) were "sexist" but that they were "snobs" as well.
Did Gillespie say "snobs?" Did anyone? I'm certain someone must have... and in the new world of Will's rhetorical cannonade, that is enough; what was said by one was said by all.
No longer can Will discriminate between one charge (sexism) and another (snobbery), or even between one man and another. Would collectivism be one of those new understandings of conservatism of which Will rises in defense? Alas, in George Will's case, this may not represent degeneracy: a man who calls himself a "Tory" can hardly claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan, or any other American conservative, can he? He rises and falls with the collectivist nature of Europeanism, where even parties on the right see people only as ordinals, never cardinals.
The sharpest piece of recent political dissection I have read is William F. Buckley, jr.'s "In Search of Anti-Semitism," the lengthy essay that underpinned the all-antisemitism issue of the National Review. In the essay, Buckley managed to disciminate between Joe Sobran, whose anti-Zionism, Buckley concluded, had metastasized into full-bore antisemitism -- and Patrick J. Buchanan, who Buckley absolved of that sin (at that time; revisiting, he might come to a different conclusion today). That is, Bill Buckley treated the two as individuals, not as representatives of some class of people.
The latter precisely describes Will's entire sloppy column; it is "Crown Heights" reasoning, named after the infamous New York pogrom: when a car in the motorcade of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson ran a red light in Crown Heights, New York City, striking and killing a seven year old black child named Gavin Cato, a mob of black residents, vowing retaliation, went and found the nearest Jews they could and assaulted them. Two men were murdered: Yankel Rosenbaum, for being Jewish -- and Anthony Graziosi, for looking Jewish. It mattered not to the rioters who actually drove the car or whether the collision was intentional; one Jew (or bearded man in black) was the same as any other, and intentions are always irrelevant in tribalist warfare.
Thus, if Ed Gillespie says something that can be interpreted as tarring all critics, including conservative ones, with the brush of sexism or elitism, it is right and proper to today's George F. Will to lash out in retaliation against all "advocates" of Miss Miers' nomination (that is, advocates of waiting to hear what the woman has to say in the hearings). We are all "degrade[d]," we are all guilty of Gillespie's sin, all including Hugh Hewitt and Bill Dyer and Dafydd ab Hugh -- regardless whether Gillespie even meant what Will inferred; intentions are irrelevant to Will.
(But not to Amy Ridenour. Displaying a willingness to listen that eludes Prince George, she writes:
"(I just received a gracious phone call -- especially considering what I have been writing -- from Ed Gillespie. He made a compelling case that he was not referring to conservatives when he referred to some critics of the Harriet Miers nomination with the terms "sexism" and "elitism," but to others who said things that, when he described them, did sound rather sexist and elitist.... I believe him when he says he didn't means us with those words.)"
Worse, Will's simplistic denunciation does not even understand the charge -- of which he, more than anyone, is truly guilty. The "elitism" or "snobbery" charge is not that the Rebel Alliance looks down upon Miers because she graduated from Southern Methodist University; the charge is that her critics insist that only a person who is a particular kind of professional legal intellectual qualifies for the Supreme Court. Those who make that argument are fond of analogizing the Court to brain surgery; Charles Krauthammer (another snob) japed on Brit Hume Friday, if you needed brain surgery, would you go to a podiatrist? But the Court was never intended to be the supreme legal university; if judicial conservatives are to be believed, the primary purpose of the Supreme Court is to adjudicate disputes, not churn out postdoctoral dissertations on arcane and occult points of constitutional doctrine.
But I must not spend forever on a couple of sentences (though I could). Here is Will's refined elucidation of Miers advocates as know-nothings:
"In their unseemly eagerness to assure Miers' conservative detractors that she will reach the ``right'' results, her advocates betray complete incomprehension of this: Thoughtful conservatives' highest aim is not to achieve this or that particular outcome concerning this or that controversy. Rather, their aim for the Supreme Court is to replace semi-legislative reasoning with genuine constitutional reasoning about the Constitution's meaning as derived from close consideration of its text and structure. Such conservatives understand that how you get to a result is as important as the result. Indeed, in an important sense, the path the Supreme Court takes to the result often is the result."
By contrast, Miers' advocates (all of them) must understand none of this; I'm sure Will's clarification comes as an eye-opener to Hugh Hewitt, for example. In an earlier piece, Will was more explicit:
"[President Bush] has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the course of their prepresidential careers, and this president, particularly, is not disposed to such reflections."
This is the high-verbal lynching carried to the point of low comedy.
Of course a judge must understand the Constitution; but caselaw (common law) is equally important, including an understanding of contracts, torts, legislation (state and federal), and every other area of the law besides con-law that might pop up in a legal dispute. Nobody is an expert in all; every justice must rely on the writings of specialists (often previous judges that they quote at length... at great length).
But equally, every justice must look within himself to decide where he lands when the experts disagree -- which inevitably is always. Judicial philosophy is indeed important, as judicial conservatives and liberals alike argue; and contrary to Will's later snoot-cocking, I do not consider it "inappropriate" for senators to inquire into the nominee's opinions on past cases to determine her judicial thinking. But the "brain-surgery" analogy is infantile; it paints judging as merely a narrow technical skill, rather than a balancing act of competing verities that collide in the instance of a single set of facts.
Reducing the Court to a gaggle of lecturing professors is not only offensive, it's a blunder. Intellectuals, especially truly clever ones, can talk themselves into anything. There is good reason why so many of the brightest lights of the twentieth century talked themselves into joining the Party -- but Ronald Reagan never did. Room must be made on the Court for a person grounded in sanity and the real world, rather than airy theory and lugubrious rhetoric.
Harriet Miers may very well not be that person; I do not know her -- that is the best argument for the Rebel Alliance, that nobody really knows her but George W. Bush. But Will could drip the same sneer with equal indiscrimination onto anybody who fit the Ronald Reagan profile, not simply Miss Miers: if you are not an effete, egocentric, snide, condescending, etherial, arrogant, elite intellectual -- preferably, one who sports the ridiculous affectation of a bow tie -- then you need not apply for the position, in Will's determination.
His argument is sloppy, ugly, and self-important. But can we really expect more from a man who accepted the twin lures of lucre and the chance to strut and fret on a weekly basis in order to stay on at This Week? Will remained long after all the real journalists had left, throwing in his lot with the limp-brained, talentless, preening, no-count, wriggling, pencil-necked, geeky political hack George Snuffleupagus to carry the torch of David Brinkley forward into the twenty-first century.
This is Will's brave, new world, the tiny pond in which he chooses to shimmer. He holds court in Chevy Chase (not quite in but definitely of the Beltway) -- in the pages of the Washington Post -- on the set at ABC treating a former Clinton campaign operative as his journalistic equal (he is probably right) -- looking down his bespectacled nose at the lower classes, such as evangelical Christians (the "crude people" who resort to the "incense defense" of Harriet Miers) -- and whose favorite political figures are all from Europe... yet he has the chutzpah to pontificate to the rest of us about the nature of conservatism. Will, who never attended law school, lectures us on the duties of those who would interpret the law. He is not a minister, but he incessantly enunciates the Gospel of St. George, in which the only mortal sin is to be "unseemly."
I am astonished that Will did not openly campaign for John Kerry, they are so much alike. Perhaps Will was put off by Kerry's overemphasis on athletics: except for baseball, which Will sees as "contemplative," a form of meditation, perhaps, he seems uncomfortable with exhibitions of manhood.
In the end -- the last paragraph -- Will anticipates that some conservatives (or in my case, anti-liberals) may have the bumptious presumption to disagree with his assessment. He prepares for that eventuality with the classically liberal best defense: the cerebral threat.
"As for Republicans, any who vote for Miers will thereafter be ineligible to argue that it is important to elect Republicans because they are conscientious conservers of the judicial branch's invaluable dignity [almost as good as seemliness]. Finally, any Republican senator who supinely acquiesces in President Bush's reckless abuse of presidential discretion -- or who does not recognize the Miers nomination as such -- can never be considered presidential material."
Well! Who could argue with that?
This column is a sad chapter in the long twilight denouement of George Will's career. I doubt the Rebel Alliance can see its errors; they have long since dropped into a form of tribalism themselves, in which any anti-Miers remark is embraced as a sacrament, even if it comes from Arlen Specter or Patrick Leahy (the new arbiters of conservative judicial competence). Doubtless, the Alliance will seize upon the Will piece to wave as they lurch through the streets, sharpened writing quills in hand, looking for some "Miers advocates" to stab (any will do). See how easy collectivist caracature can be?
And that, too, is sad.
Is flip-flopping illegal on FR?
The rift is not between the left and the right, the liberals and the conservatives, but between the new and the old, the new thinkers and the defenders of the status quo. It's becoming more apparent that something much more profound is in play here eliciting these irrational responses and hysteria over different ways of doing things.
Will still defends the old elitism -- rather than the new egalitarianism that shifts the power from the old eastern liberal insitutions (Harvard, New York Times, Washington D.C., to the populism founded in western, frontier, egalitarian impulses and independence. Anybody west of the Mississippi is considered a cowboy -- instead of the preferred effete intellectual snob.
"Is flip-flopping illegal on FR?"
I don't know.
But try not to use the phrase "I actually did support Harriett Miers...before I didn't support her."
Nope. The FR poll on Miers has gone from a bare plurality supporting her nomination to a clear one opposing her. is
AUNTHARRIET; BOWTIEDPOPINJAY; CALLTHEWAAAAMBULANCE; CRAPNOMINATION; GEORGEFWILL; HARRIETTMIERS; MIERSLIARS; WILLNAILSIT;
Keyword abuse by both sides of the Miers debate. And to repeat my earlier question, where is the policy that restricts keywords to search terms, so that I make sure I (and others) don't violate it accidentally?
Conservatism still has a way to go, it seems.
<< .... Arlen Specter or Patrick Leahy -- the new arbiters of conservative judicial competence. >>
They are the ones with all the say - so, who cares what to call them?
[Just so long as they reject the hapless Miers]
"AUNTHARRIET; BOWTIEDPOPINJAY; CALLTHEWAAAAMBULANCE; CRAPNOMINATION; GEORGEFWILL; HARRIETTMIERS; MIERSLIARS; WILLNAILSIT;
Keyword abuse by both sides of the Miers debate. And to repeat my earlier question, where is the policy that restricts keywords to search terms, so that I make sure I (and others) don't violate it accidentally?"
When I started the thread, the only keywords I entered were: BOWTIEDPOPINJAY; GEORGEFWILL; HARRIETTMIERS.
Did I violate a rule?
Hugh Hewitt gives little George the spanking he desperately needs: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1507525/posts
Just the opposite. The anti-Miers crowd lost the argument quite some time ago. Outside of FR, most of Bush`s harshest critics have been among conservative pundits like Will, Kristol and others who have been engaged in a public lynching of Miers. A action that is meant to punish Bush, but in reality one that will only help to undermine the time he has left in office.
We prefer posters do not mess with the keywords. Some posters have been suspended or banned for repeated spamming or vulgarities or screwing around with the keywords.
If George Will wants to run for president in 2008, there's nobody who's going to say he can't.
Until then, George the Lesser should defer to George the Great.
Then why is the nomination in sufficient trouble that the White House has seen the need to "relaunch" it?
And why do the pro-Miers sycophants spend more time ripping into questioning conservatives than in coming up with a single solitary reason why she's more qualified to sit on the Supreme Court than someone whose stance on the Constitution of the United States is actually KNOWN? Someone like, say.... George Will?
"If George Will wants to run for president in 2008, there's nobody who's going to say he can't."
Why, the Conservative Party, of course.
Mr. Will, you're no Maggie Thatcher!
And Mr. Bush, you're no Ronald Reagan.
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