Wednesday, December 15, 2004

George Will Make Facile, Boneheaded Arguments

Read this gem from the latest George Will:

Liberalism’s problem with the Moore/MoveOn faction is similar to conservatism’s 1960s embarrassment from the claimed kinship of the John Birch Society, whose leader called President Eisenhower a Kremlin agent.

Oops, forgot to tell you to move any breakable, throwable objects out of arm’s reach first. After all, as part of that “Moore/MoveOn” faction of liberalism—and I am quite aware of Will’s sneaky elision from straw man to straw organization, the very kind of duplicity I’m sure he accuses Michael Moore of in his work—I don’t particularly appreciate becoming part of an analogy that equates my beliefs with those of the John Birch Society, which was racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic, even if looked at kindly (and to do that you need to peek behind the sheets some of them wore).

The joke, of course, is Will has much more in common with the JBS than any liberal. The JBS was famous for its “US out of the UN” program in the 1960s; George Will wrote, “The United Nations is not a good idea badly implemented, it is a bad idea” in March 2003. (BTW, Mr. Oxford and Princeton, you want a semi-colon and not a comma between the two independent clauses in that sentence.)

Of course I’m playing a bit of an intellectual game myself, for his point is that the JBS is as extreme as MoveOn is extreme. Still, it’s tarring the progressive left in a mean-spirited, emotionally dishonest (and sadly too often very effective) way.

I could let this moment pass if any the rest of Will’s recent column really made sense, but this quote merely is the lowest blow in what Will passes off as well-thought brilliance but is nothing but intellectual cage match wrestling with foreign objects allowed. He attacks by association with the line, “When Moore sat in Jimmy Carter’s box at the 2004 Democratic convention, voters drew conclusions about the party’s sobriety,” even though Tom Tomorrow has explained what really happened that day: “The mundane truth, if anyone’s in the least interested, is that we were on the skybox level of the Fleet Center because Michael had just done O’Reilly’s show in the Fox booth, and we were making our way down the hallway and Michael was getting mobbed, and one of the Carters happened to see us and invited us to take refuge in their skybox.” Despite Will's claim, it wasn’t voters who drew conclusions, but rather rightwing pundits like Will who don’t bother to get all the facts, or ignore them when they are inconvenient (no wonder the Bush White House is so loved by them).

Then there’s this passage, when he first quotes, then takes on, Robert Kuttner:

Bill Clinton won election by declaring, as a matter of values, that people who work hard and play by the rules should not be poor. Middle America forgave him for treating gays as people.

Ponder that second sentence. Kuttner could not resist a spasm of moral vanity. He had to disparage “middle America,” which means most of America, as so bigoted it denies the humanity of gays.

Beyond Will’s odd diction (I guess for conservatives, any time a liberal gets close to the word “moral” some perverted sexual twist needs to be evinced), and his quick and sloppy equation of middle and most, Will (and Kuttner, alas) seems to forget that Clinton was pro-gay, as long as you didn’t ask and he didn’t have to tell. Then there’s that Defense of Marriage Act Clinton had no problem signing. Then there’s this trail of broken syllogisms that Will might want to, um, ponder. (What a pretentious prick! Oops, too close to spasm….):
1) Humans love each other.
2) As an expression of their love, humans believe in committing themselves to life-long relationships.
3) Therefore, only straight people can get married.

Like the Energizer Bunny, and with a head just as stuffed with fluff, Will doesn’t let up. He attacks the left for its anti-interventionist stand, claiming, “Responsible Democrats believe that, as Sen. Joe Biden says, there is an ‘overwhelming obligation’ to use ‘the full measure of our power’ against radical Islam.” Of course for Will this means the war in Iraq is Good, and ignores that no matter how terrible, Saddam Hussein did not have WMDs, could not threaten the U.S., was not connected to 9/11, and, in fact, was distrusted by Osama Bin Laden for being a secular (that means not radically Islamic enough) leader.

Ultimately Will claims the Democrats have to "excommunicate" (those rightwingers just can't keep religion out of their politics, can they?) the Moore/MoveOn wing of the party, and particularly any anti-war notions, to succeed. What he doesn't point out is that means they will finally succeed in becoming the Republicans.

I guess what saddens me most (beyond having to share a first name with him and W.—how could my parents have done that to me?) is George Will is universally considered the reasonable, rational rightwing columnist. Please. Logic and truth value are as impossible to find in his work as it is impossible to find WMDs in Iraq, a sober Bush daughter after 11 pm, or Clarence Thomas’ pre-Justice days’ thoughts about abortion.


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